Chapter Nine, Part 2
Originally published 3/5/2006.
Continuation of previous post.
"But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever."
"Yes, indeed," cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. "I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town."
When I first thought about this passage in the light of the appropriateness of conversation, my first reaction was, "Wow, she totally blew it." But then, as I thought about it, I began to wonder. In what, precisely lies the offense? I mean, it's clear from the next paragraph that everyone thinks she committed a serious social blunder. The word "that" that she uses probably refers to variation in society, and the alteration in people themselves to which Lizzy referred. I can think of one thing that is offensive about this: Mrs. Bennet simply contradicts Darcy without giving any reason. Notice the difference between Lizzy and Mrs. Bennet. Lizzy gives a reason, and a sensible one at that, why her study of character can still be interesting even in the country. Mrs. Bennet takes Darcy's comment personally, something Darcy surely never meant. But it seems to me that something deeper is going on here, though I don't know what it is. I'd appreciate any help here.
Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at her for a moment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued her triumph.
Triumph? Only in her mind!
"I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country, for my part, except the shops and public places. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?"
She attempts to rope Bingley into the the debate on her side. This is perhaps another not-so-delicate move on her part. Bingley, though, is adept enough at his good manners that he manages not to offend her, and yet avoids strictly taking her side. This shows to me that Bingley has his own brand of cleverness that is quite beyond Darcy. Here he is:
"When I am in the country," he replied, "I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either."
"Aye-- that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman," looking at Darcy, "seemed to think the country was nothing at all."
Mrs. Bennet speaks! And shows her misunderstanding quite thoroughly. Lizzy points it out to her; by this time the situation really does need some redeeming.
"Indeed, mamma, you are mistaken," said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. "You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in the town, which you must acknowledge to be true."
Lizzy attempts to smooth things over with her mother; it seems to me a bit awkward compared with Mr. Bingley, but perhaps I imagine it.
"Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families."
Mrs. Bennet being irrational again. This statement can't possibly be true.
Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keep his countenance...
Showing that Mr. Bingley does know folly when he sees it; and also has the self-control not to embarass Lizzy. He sees at a glance that Lizzy is anxiously trying to keep her mother from exposing herself, and because this is her mother she's dealing with, it puts her into a difficult position.
...His sister was less delicate, and directed her eyes towards Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother's thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her coming away.
"Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man of fashion! So genteel and easy! He had always something to say to everybody. That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter."
Actually, Proverbs says differently. Few words are better than many words. Mrs. Bingley here is actively jabbing at Darcy. It is quite blunt and unsubtle.
"Did Charlotte dine with you?"
I don't know for sure, but I am fairly confident that this is Lizzy.
"No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about mince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up very differently...
Her daughters are brought up to a life of idleness and dissipation. At least, those are who lacked the discipline to improve their minds. Mrs. Bennet here overlooks the importance of hard work in everyone's life.
...But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so very plain-- but then she is our particular friend."
Mrs. Bennet is gossiping here. No way around it, I think.
"She seems a very pleasant young woman."
Based on the previous paragraph, where Mrs. Bennet directly addresses Mr. Bingley, I would assume this is Mr. Bingley speaking.
"Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane-- one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."
More gossip, though the reason is not necessarily malicious. Mrs. Bennet is trying to excite Mr. Bingley to love Jane, and doing a thoroughly botched affair of it.
"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
I think the word "impatiently" there refers to the idea that Lizzy is impatient with her mother's lack of social graces and good manners. So Lizzy utters a paradox, as evidenced by Darcy:
"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
Lizzy here. This is quite a funny comment, I think.
Darcy only smiled; and the general pause which ensued made Elizabeth tremble lest her mother should be exposing herself again. She longed to speak, but could think of nothing to say;...
Interesting, isn't it? Lizzy could probably have said lots of things, but perhaps not appropriate ones.
...and after a short silence Mrs. Bennet began repeating her thanks to Mr. Bingley for his kindness to Jane, with an apology for troubling him also with Lizzy. Mr. Bingley was unaffectedly civil in his answer, and forced his younger sister to be civil also, and say what the occasion required. She performed her part indeed without much graciousness, but Mrs. Bennet was satisfied, and soon afterwards ordered her carriage. Upon this signal, the youngest of her daughters put herself forward. The two girls had been whispering to each other during the whole visit, and the result of it was, that the youngest should tax Mr. Bingley with having promised on his first coming into the country to give a ball at Netherfield.
Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attention of the officers, to whom her uncle's good dinners, and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance. She was very equal, therefore, to address Mr. Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded him that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it...
Lydia is quite the forward young girl. This is not, I find, usually an advantage in most society. To be at your ease in conversation is one thing, and quite acceptable. To be putting yourself forward seems a bit much.
...His answer to this sudden attack was delightful to her mother's ear:
"I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement; and when your sister is recovered, you shall, if you please, name the very day of the ball. But you would not wish to be dancing when she is ill."
Mr. Bingley perhaps recognizes the folly of Lydia, and quite possibly also the irredeemable nature of it. So he just goes along with it.
Lydia declared herself satisfied. "Oh! yes-- it would be much better to wait till Jane was well, and by that time most likely Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball," she added, "I shall insist on their giving one also. I shall tell Colonel Forster it will be quite a shame if he does not."
Mrs. Bennet and her daughter then departed, and Elizabeth returned instantly to Jane, leaving her own and her relations' behaviour to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of her, in spite of all Miss Bingley's witticisms on fine eyes.
Darcy is into it more and more, I think. He admires Lizzy's hobby of studying character, as he undoubtedly does the same.