Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chapter Forty-eight

Originally published 5/27/2007.

A pretty pickle of hopeless contradictions in this chapter, all delightfully absurd, of course. Mrs. Bennet does a 180 on the subject of wanting Mr. Bennet to come home. The couple are not yet found, but the public at large is quite willing, now that the wolf in sheep's clothing is found out (namely, Wickham), to blacken his reputation as gleefully as they had praised him before (as well as villify Darcy).

The whole party were in hopes of a letter from Mr. Bennet the next morning, but the post came in without bringing a single line from him. His family knew him to be, on all common occasions, a most negligent and dilatory correspondent; but at such a time they had hoped for exertion...

Lazy bum who doesn't understand females.

...They were forced to conclude that he had no pleasing intelligence to send; but even of that they would have been glad to be certain. Mr. Gardiner had waited only for the letters before he set off. When he was gone, they were certain at least of receiving constant information of what was going on,...

Showing Mr. Gardiner to be, at least, more with it than Mr. Bennet in this case. Mr. Bennet is smart, but not always wise. In fact, I just discovered an interesting thought. Compare Mr. Bennet with Darcy. Is there not a striking similarity? They're both highly intelligent, both keen observers of folly in others and perhaps not quite so keen observers of folly in themselves.

...and their uncle promised, at parting, to prevail on Mr. Bennet to return to Longbourn, as soon as he could, to the great consolation of his sister, who considered it as the only security for her husband's not being killed in a duel.

Notice that Mrs. Bennet does not currently want Mr. Bennet to fight in a duel.

Mrs. Gardiner and the children were to remain in Hertfordshire a few days longer, as the former thought her presence might be serviceable to her nieces. She shared in their attendance on Mrs. Bennet, and was a great comfort to them in their hours of freedom. Their other aunt also visited them frequently, and always, as she said, with the design of cheering and heartening them up-- though, as she never came without reporting some fresh instance of Wickham's extravagance or irregularity, she seldom went away without leaving them more dispirited than she found them.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Austen appears to have three main categories of characters. The first category are the pretty nearly universally good ones. This would include the Gardiners, Jane, and I think a good case could be made for Bingley. The second category are the complex characters: the ones who have some good points and some bad ones. Here I would put Mr. Bennet, Lizzy, Charlotte, and Darcy. Then you have the characters who are pretty much all folly. That would be Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, Collins, Lady Catherine, and Aunt Phillips. Note, of course, that this list is not meant to be entirely exhaustive.

All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an angel of light....

I am reminded of that incredible quote from Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, "Coarse natures have this in common with artless natures, that they have no transitions." - Cosette. III. Fulfillment of the Promise to the Departed. VIII Inconvenience of Entertaining a Poor Man who is Perhaps Rich.

...He was declared to be in debt to every tradesman in the place, and his intrigues all honoured with the title of seduction, had been extended into every tradesman's family...

Austen must be sarcastic here, since she obviously portrays Wickham's elopement with Lydia as immoral.

...Everybody declared that he was the wickedest young man in the world; and everybody began to find out that they had always distrusted the appearance of his goodness...

Quite tongue-in-cheek of Austen, if you ask me. Sour-graping it, to say the least. The town wanted a genial young man. When they didn't get it, they second-guess themselves and declare they never really wanted him in the first place.

...Elizabeth, though she did not credit above half of what was said, believed enough to make her former assurance of her sister's ruin more certain; and even Jane, who believed still less of it, became almost hopeless, more especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to Scotland, which she had never before entirely despaired of, they must in all probability have gained some news of them.

Mr. Gardiner left Longbourn on Sunday; on Tuesday his wife received a letter from him;...

That's incredibly good time. Only two days! And no Federal Express to hurry things along a bit. told them that, on his arrival, he had immediately found out his brother, and persuaded him to come to Gracechurch Street; that Mr. Bennet had been to Epsom and Clapham, before his arrival, but without gaining any satisfactory information; and that he was now determined to inquire at all the principal hotels in town, as Mr. Bennet thought it possible they might have gone to one of them, on their first coming to London, before they procured lodgings. Mr. Gardiner himself did not expect any success from this measure, but as his brother was eager in it, he meant to assist him in pursuing it. He added that Mr. Bennet seemed wholly disinclined at present to leave London and promised to write again very soon. There was also a postscript to this effect:

"I have written to Colonel Forster to desire him to find out, if possible, from some of the young man's intimates in the regiment, whether Wickham has any relations or connections who would be likely to know in what part of town he has now concealed himself. If there were any one that one could apply to with a probability of gaining such a clue as that, it might be of essential consequence. At present we have nothing to guide us. Colonel Forster will, I dare say, do everything in his power to satisfy us on this head. But, on second thoughts,...

Interesting that this word is plural. The American idiom is singular.

...perhaps, Lizzy could tell us what relations he has now living, better than any other person."

Elizabeth was at no loss to understand from whence this deference to her authority proceeded;...

I wonder how much of the letter was repeated to Mrs. Bennet. Lizzy was known to have been interested in Wickham at one time, so perhaps it might not have mattered much.

...but it was not in her power to give any information of so satisfactory a nature as the compliment deserved. She had never heard of his having had any relations, except a father and mother, both of whom had been dead many years. It was possible, however, that some of his companions in the ----shire might be able to give more information; and though she was not very sanguine in expecting it,...

"It", meaning, I think, that Wickham's companions in the ----shire might have information on him.

...the application was a something to look forward to.

I think this is sarcastic.

Every day at Longbourn was now a day of anxiety; but the most anxious part of each was when the post was expected. The arrival of letters was the grand object of every morning's impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or bad was to be told would be communicated, and every succeeding day was expected to bring some news of importance.

But before they heard again from Mr. Gardiner, a letter arrived for their father, from a different quarter, from Mr. Collins; which, as Jane had received directions to open all that came for him in his absence, she accordingly read; and Elizabeth, who knew what curiosities his letters always were,...

Hehe. Here's Lizzy being philosophical, and enjoying whatever she can.

...looked over her, and read it likewise. It was as follows:

"I feel myself called upon, by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove...

This is false, as we know from the doctrines of grace. All wounds can be healed by God should He so choose.

...No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune-- or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent's mind...

At which point Collins manages to omit pretty much every argument that could alleviate the misfortune. The next statement I find rather amusing, actually. What good does it do? None.

...The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence;...

That's helpful. Let's tell the unhappy father what he undoubtedly already knows and which, of course, it is most definitely our prerogative to impart. Collins isn't even Bennet's pastor! The next statement is like unto this one.

...though, at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair....

Quite a breach of proper decorum. This is gossip. Lady Catherine doesn't need to know.

...They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?...

And that's terribly comforting, thank you. No doubt there can be no better subject of contemplation than all future possible implications of the present circumstances.

...And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace...

Nanny, nanny, boo, boo.

...Let me then advise you, dear sir, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offense.-- I am, dear sir, etc., etc."

Real Christian forgiveness there. There's nothing like sin for dividing those people who know the reality of grace, and those who don't, like Collins.

Mr. Gardiner did not write again till he had received an answer from Colonel Forster; and then he had nothing of a pleasant nature to send. It was not known that Wickham had a single relationship with whom he kept up any connection, and it was certain that he had no near one living. His former acquaintances had been numerous; but since he had been in the militia, it did not appear that he was on terms of particular friendship with any of them...

All what I call "level one" friends. You have level one friends, who are people to whom you can link face to name, and might engage in friendly banter. You don't hang out with level one friends. Then there's level two friends: you can have serious conversations with such friends, but you don't hang out with them, either. Next is level three friends, who share just about everything, hang out together, etc. Finally, there's level four friends. That what I would call a really good, Christian marriage level of intimacy. Anyway. Wickham has "numerous acquaintance", but he was not "on terms of particular friendship with any of them." Hence I would classify all those people as level one friends. It's an incredibly bad idea not to get into at least level three friends with at least one person in your life, preferably two or maybe a few more. Lots of level three friends is impossible because of time commitment: they're costly. Which is just why they're good in moderation.

...There was no one, therefore, who could be pointed out as likely to give any news of him. And in the wretched state of his own finances, there was a very powerful motive for secrecy, in addition to his fear of discovery by Lydia's relations, for it had just transpired that he had left gaming debts behind him to a very considerable amount. Colonel Forster believed that more than a thousand pounds would be necessary to clear his expenses at Brighton. He owed a good deal in town, but his debts of honour were still more formidable. Mr. Gardiner did not attempt to conceal these particulars from the Longbourn family. Jane heard them with horror. "A gamester!" she cried. "This is wholly unexpected. I had not an idea of it."

In America today, we would probably not have considered gambling to be such a horrible thing. It is a sin, I believe, because it is being a poor steward of the resources God has given us.

Mr. Gardiner added in his letter, that they might expect to see their father at home on the following day, which was Saturday. Rendered spiritless by the ill-success of all their endeavours, he had yielded to his brother-in-law's entreaty that he would return to his family, and leave it to him to do whatever occasion might suggest to be advisable for continuing their pursuit. When Mrs. Bennet was told of this, she did not express so much satisfaction as her children expected, considering what her anxiety for his life had been before.

"What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia?" she cried. "Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?"

The promised 180 on Mrs. Bennet's part.

As Mrs. Gardiner began to wish to be at home, it was settled that she and the children should go to London, at the same time that Mr. Bennet came from it. The coach, therefore, took them the first stage of their journey, and brought its master back to Longbourn.

To save money, presumably. Coaches were expensive when you "ordered them." An interesting contrast to Wickham's extravagance.

Mrs. Gardiner went away in all the perplexity about Elizabeth and her Derbyshire friend...

Meaning Darcy, I think.

...that had attended her from that part of the world. His name had never been voluntarily mentioned before them by her niece; and the kind of half-expectation which Mrs. Gardiner had formed, of their being followed by a letter from him, had ended in nothing. Elizabeth had received none since her return that could come from Pemberley.

The present unhappy state of the family rendered any other excuse for the lowness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairly conjectured from
that, though Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she known nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia's infamy somewhat better. It would have spared her, she thought, one sleepless night out of two.

When Mr. Bennet arrived, he had all the appearance of his usual philosophic composure. He said as little as he had ever been in the habit of saying; made no mention of the business that had taken him away, and it was some time before his daughters had courage to speak of it.

It was not till the afternoon, when he had joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, "Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it."

A glimmer of familial responsibility.

"You must not be too severe upon yourself," replied Elizabeth.

"You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough."

Mr. Bennet.

"Do you suppose them to be in London?"


"Yes; where else can they be so well concealed?"

Mr. Bennet.

"And Lydia used to want to go to London," added Kitty.

"She is happy then," said her father drily; "and her residence there will probably be of some duration."

Fun sarcasm from Mr. Bennet. As if location were enough to please anyone for long.

Then after a short silence he continued:

"Lizzy, I bear you no ill-will for being justified in your advice to me last May, which, considering the event, shows some greatness of mind."

This is not explained at the time, perhaps in order to preserve Kitty's composure. If Kitty learned about Lizzy's warnings to Mr. Bennet, more mischief might ensue.

They were interrupted by Miss Bennet, who came to fetch her mother's tea.

"This is a parade," he cried, "which does one good; it gives such an elegance to misfortune!...

I don't know what this means. Any ideas, dear readers?

...Another day I will do the same; I will sit in my library, in my nightcap and powdering gown, and give as much trouble as I can; or, perhaps, I may defer it till Kitty runs away."

"I am not going to run away, papa," said Kitty fretfully. "If I should ever go to Brighton, I would behave better than Lydia."

You go to Brighton! - I would not trust you so near it as East Bourne for fifty pounds! No, Kitty, I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter into my house again, nor even to pass through the village. Balls will be absolutely prohibited, unless you stand up with one of your sisters. And you are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner."

Mr. Bennet, in what is obviously sarcasm. The next sentence makes that clear. I think Mr. Bennet is being a tad serious. He does not want a repeat of Lydia.

Kitty, who took all these threats in a serious light, began to cry.

"Well, well," said he, "do not make yourself unhappy. If you are a good girl for the next ten years, I will take you to a review at the end of them."

Oh. Thank you very much.

Next week: the light at the end of the tunnel of Lydia's elopement.