Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Chapter Forty

Originally published 2/25/2007.

Here's the big 4-0. Hehe.

In this non-Susan chapter (promise: Lord willing, two Susan weeks in a row), Lizzy tells Jane about Darcy's proposal, and the first part of his letter. Mrs. Bennet manages to contradict herself from one sentence to the next, immediately preceded by Lizzy observing that Jane is not happy.

Elizabeth's impatience to acquaint Jane with what had happened could no longer be overcome; and at length, resolving to suppress every particular in which her sister was concerned, and preparing her to be surprised, she related to her the next morning the chief of the scene between Mr. Darcy and herself.

Miss Bennet's astonishment was soon lessened by the strong sisterly partiality which made any admiration of Elizabeth appear perfectly natural; and all surprise was shortly lost in other feelings. She was sorry that Mr. Darcy should have delivered his sentiments in a manner so little suited to recommend them; but still more was she grieved for the unhappiness which her sister's refusal must have given him.

These thoughts of Jane's prove her later statement that "she always had a use for him," and "never used to think of him as lacking all the appearance of goodness that Lizzy did." Jane, we must know, does not yet know the contents of the letter, and so she is going on the good word of Bingley, and maybe a slight bit on her own observations. Of course, we also know that Jane is predisposed to think well of everyone, though as the next sentence says, she admits freely that no one is perfect.

"His being so sure of succeeding was wrong," said she, "and certainly ought not to have appeared; but consider how much it must increase his disappointment!"

"Indeed," replied Elizabeth, "I am heartily sorry for him; but he has other feelings, which will probably soon drive away his regard for me...

In this, we know that Lizzy is wrong. She does him a disservice here, though perhaps it can be easily pardoned.

...You do not blame me, however, for refusing him?"

"Blame you! Oh, no."


"But you blame me for having spoken so warmly of Wickham?"

Lizzy, who appears to be fishing for blame.

"No-- I do not know that you were wrong in saying what you did."


"But you will know it, when I tell you what happened the very next day."

Lizzy, who then continues:

She then spoke of the letter, repeating the whole of its contents as far as they concerned George Wickham. What a stroke was this for poor Jane! who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual...

As good as it is of Jane to believe the best about everyone, it is not wise to ignore the presence of evil in the world. We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

...Nor was Darcy's vindication, though grateful to her feelings, capable of consoling her for such discovery. Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear the one without involving the other.

This is surely what many modern psychologists would call "denial." Whatever.

"This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy's; but you shall do as you choose."

Since Darcy's story and Wickham's story contradict each other, I rather think that's what Lizzy is after in this statement. She's also trying to be funny and lighten things a bit for Jane, as evidence by the next statement.

It was some time, however, before a smile could be extorted from Jane.

I like the word "extorted" used there. It it a bit unlike Austen's usual style, I think, since it's not really understatement so much as exaggeration. Austen is, perhaps, attempting to communicate the depth of Jane's shock, an idea strengthened in the next paragraph:

"I do not know when I have been more shocked," said she. "Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr. Darcy! Dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered. Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your ill opinion, too! and having to relate such a thing of his sister! It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so."

"Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of both. I know you will do him such ample justice, that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather."

Lizzy. This paragraph I always find incredibly funny.

"Poor Wickham! there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! such an openness and gentleness in his manner!"

Jane here, pointing out the contradiction between his appearance and the reality, which Lizzy expounds on further in a rather clever way:

"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."

"I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the
appearance of it as you used to do."

Jane, with a statement to which I alluded earlier in this post.

"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying anything just;...

This last sentence always puzzled me. What do you think Lizzy means by it?

...but one cannot always be laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty."

"Lizzy, when you first read that letter, I am sure you could not treat the matter as you do now."

Jane, of course, with the impression that Lizzy is being too light for the occasion. Incidentally, my Everyman's Library edition has a rather interesting introduction. I get the distinct impression that the guy who wrote it, Peter Conrad of Christ Church, Oxford, really likes to see himself in print. He thinks the entire theme of Pride and Prejudice is irony, a statement which allows him, in his mind at least, neatly to go on and claim that everyone except, presumably, himself, has utterly misunderstood the book in the past. Nice. Sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card that closes discussion completely. I don't think much of his introduction.

"Indeed, I could not. I was uncomfortable enough, I may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to about what I felt, no Jane to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! how I wanted you!"

I think Lizzy is being gently sarcastic here, pointing out that Jane perhaps sees the world through rose-colored glasses (not necessarily grace-tinted spectacles, as the lovely Susan would say.)

"How unfortunate that you should have used such very strong expressions in speaking of Wickham to Mr. Darcy, for now they do appear wholly undeserved."


"Certainly. But the misfortune of speaking with bitterness...

This is interesting. Jane has just said that it was unfortunate that Lizzy used "very strong expressions" in speaking of Wickham. But now Lizzy speaks of the "misfortune of speaking with bitterness." How do you reconcile this? She uses very strong expressions and speaks them in bitterness? At the very least, I think Lizzy is shifting the focus slightly to a deeper problem than Jane is pointing out. a most natural consequence of the prejudices I had been encouraging. There is one point on which I want your advice. I want to be told whether I ought, or ought not, to make our acquaintances in general understand Wickham's character."

Here is a place where the whole reason for this blog actually shows up in the story: the wisdom of making something known or not. Notice, however, that Lizzy speaks of "ought" or "ought not." Sometimes, things aren't quite that black-and-white.

Miss Bennet paused a little, and then replied, "Surely there can be no occasion for exposing him so dreadfully. What is your opinion?"

"That it ought not to be attempted. Mr. Darcy has not authorised me to make his communication public. On the contrary, every particular relative to his sister was meant to be kept as much as possible to myself;...

Darcy used the words, "I have no doubt of your secrecy." Was it wrong, then, for Lizzy to tell Jane? Surely Jane is discreet. But just because we know someone can keep a secret doesn't mean we should tell them any particular secret. Perhaps Lizzy feels she needs the benefit of another opinion.

...and if I endeavour to undeceive people as to the rest of his conduct, who will believe me? The general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to place him in an amiable light. I am not equal to it...

Lizzy's reasoning is that there must be a good probability of success before you try to influence someone, or you make things worse.

...Wickham will soon be gone; and therefore it will not signify to anyone here what he really is. Some time hence it will be all found out, and then we may laugh at their stupidity in not knowing it before...

She's surely be facetious here, because it wasn't long ago when she didn't know it.

...At present I will say nothing about it."

"You are quite right. To have his errors made public might ruin him for ever. He is now, perhaps, sorry for what he has done, and anxious to re-establish a character. We must not make him desperate."

Jane, with her usual generous measure of grace extended to Wickham.

The tumult of Elizabeth's mind was allayed by this conversation. She had got rid of two of the secrets which had weighed on her for a fortnight,...

I'm assuming Austen means the one secret of Darcy having proposed, and the other that Wickham is a bad man.

...and was certain of a willing listener in Jane, whenever she might wish to talk again of either. But there was still something lurking behind, of which prudence forbade the disclosure. She dared not relate the other half of Mr. Darcy's letter, nor explain to her sister how sincerely she had been valued by her friend...

Why, you may ask? Certainly the information would have been relevant to Jane, and therefore not gossip. I think the reason is that Lizzy can have no hopes that Bingley will come back to Jane. Therefore, mentioning it would only increase Jane's sense of what she had lost, and make her spirits more depressed than ever. Now the BBC takes a bit of a liberty with this scene, and has Jane ask Lizzy whether Darcy mentioned Bingley, and then Lizzy saying that he didn't. That is a white lie, and in my opinion such lies are sins. Of course, if Lizzy really doesn't want to tell Jane or hint or anything, I should think such a direct question would be extremely difficult to dodge. Difficult it may be, but I don't think it's a justification of white lies. Hiding something, like the book portrays this issue, is another matter entirely, and not necessarily equivalent at all to a white lie.

...Here was knowledge in which no one could partake; and she was sensible that nothing less than a perfect understanding between the parties could justify her in throwing off this last encumbrance of mystery. "And then," said she, "if that very improbable event should ever take place, I shall merely be able to tell what Bingley may tell in a much more agreeable manner himself. The liberty of communication cannot be mine till it has lost all its value!"

She was now, on being settled at home, at leisure to observe the real state of her sister's spirits. Jane was not happy. She still cherished a very tender affection for Bingley. Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than most first attachments often boast; and so fervently did she value his remembrance, and prefer him to every other man, that all her good sense, and all her attention to the feelings of her friends, were requisite to check the indulgence of those regrets which must have been injurious to her own health and their tranquillity.

In other words, the opposite of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, who thinks only of self when she gives utterance most vociferously to the depths of her woe, and in fact does injure her health and worry everyone around her because of it.

The promised two-sentence contradiction is coming right up here.

"Well, Lizzy," said Mrs. Bennet one day, "what is your opinion now of this sad business of Jane's? For my part, I am determined never to speak of it again to anybody. I told my sister Phillips so the other day...

There it is: "I'm not going to speak to anyone about, like I told my sister Phillips the other day." One can't help but laugh at this folly, whim, or inconsistency.

...But I cannot find out that Jane saw anything of him in London. Well, he is a very undeserving young man--...

Sour graping it.

...and I do not suppose there's the least chance in the world of her ever getting him now. There is no talk of his coming to Netherfield again in the summer; and I have inquired of everybody, too, who is likely to know."

"I do not believe he will ever live at Netherfield any more."


"Oh well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come. Though I shall always say he used my daughter extremely ill; and if I was her, I would not have put up with it. Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart; and then he will be sorry for what he has done."

Oh, that would be a great comfort indeed, to have your first-born daughter dead, and an "unsuitable" suitor sorry for what he has done. That would cheer me up no end, as it evidently does for Lizzy:

But as Elizabeth could not receive comfort from any such expectation, she made no answer.

"Well, Lizzy," continued her mother, soon afterwards, "and so the Collinses live very comfortable, do they? Well, well, I only hope it will last...

I rather think the underlying meaning here is that Mrs. Bennet hopes it will not last.

...And what sort of table do they keep? Charlotte is an excellent manager, I dare say. If she is half as sharp as her mother, she is saving enough. There is nothing extravagant in their housekeeping, I dare say."

"No, nothing at all."

Lizzy. And, coming up, another delightful contradiction from Mrs. Bennet for free (i.e., without my having trumpeted it at the beginning of this post.)

"A great deal of good management, depend upon it. Yes, yes. They will take care not to outrun their income. They will never be distressed for money. Well, much good may it do them! And so, I suppose, they often talk of having Longbourn when your father is dead...

Here's the setup.

...They look upon it as quite their own, I dare say, whenever that happens."

"It was a subject which they could not mention before me."


"No; it would have been strange if they had;...

And the conclusion. You can see this directly contradicts what she said earlier about being sure the Collins look on Longbourn as quite their own, and talking about it often. At least, I think I may infer this because Mrs. Bennet surely could not expect to know whether such a subject comes up frequently if she did not think Lizzy had heard them talking about it.

...but I make no doubt they often talk of it between themselves. Well, if they can be easy with an estate that is not lawfully their own, so much the better. I should be ashamed of having one that was only entailed on me."

Mrs. Bennet only says this because she's on the "wrong side" of the entailment. If she really did have an entailed estate, I rather think she suddenly wouldn't mind so much, nor question its legality as she does here.

Next two weeks, Lord willing, will both be Susan weeks. In the story, we shall see Lydia and the regiment off to Brighton, and we shall see Lizzy off to Darbyshire (and not the Lakes).