Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chapter Thirty-four

Originally published 12/3/2006.

As promised, one very fine jilting in this chapter. Darcy in his pride asks Lizzy to marry him, with all the "honest scruples" of the times, especially money, and Lizzy lets him have it. What I find interesting about this chapter is that, in accordance with both Lizzy's and Darcy's characters being established as clever or quick, there are good things both of them say. However, in accordance with both of them being blinded by either pride or prejudice (and which one is blinded by which almost seems to me a toss-up on second thought: both Lizzy and Darcy have elements of pride, and they both seem to be prejudiced), both of them say things they probably shouldn't have said. Darcy retains his gentlemanly ways in the end, and is the first to retreat from the field of battle: I think in conversations that if verbal fights end by retreat, the first to retreat tends to be someone with good character. Also, in this time period, a true gentleman like Darcy (and unlike Collins) would certainly not force his attentions upon an unwilling woman.

When they were gone, Elizabeth, as if intending to exasperate herself as much as possible against Mr. Darcy, chose for her employment the examination of all the letters which Jane had written to her since her being in Kent...

This was almost certainly not wise on her part. Lizzy is bitter toward Darcy. I once heard it said that bitterness remembers the past in painstaking detail because it has good study habits: review, review, review!

...They contained no actual complaint, nor was there any revival of past occurrences, or any communication of present suffering. But in all, and in almost every line of each, there was a want of that cheerfulness which had been used to characterise her style, and which, proceeding from the serenity of a mind at ease with itself and kindly disposed towards everyone, had been scarcely ever clouded...

If true, this is hardly surprising: we know from later on, in Chapter 40, that 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."

However, Lizzy may be reading into Jane's letters a bit of added sadness that may not actually have been there. In the same chapter 40 quoted above, Lizzy remarks that it is "such an opening for wit, to have a dislike of that kind." She prides herself on her prejudice! She might very well be practicing revisionist history on Jane's letters.

...Elizabeth noticed every sentence conveying the idea of uneasiness, with an attention which it had hardly received on the first perusal...

See earlier comment.

...Mr. Darcy's shameful boast of what misery he had been able to inflict...

This boast, I think, is the one Colonel Fitzwilliam mentioned in the previous chapter. Of course, Lizzy sees Darcy as intentionally inflicting misery, whereas we know from the letter that such is not the case.

...gave her a keener sense of her sister's sufferings. It was some consolation to think that his visit to Rosings was to end on the day after the next-- and, a still greater, that in less than a fortnight she should herself be with Jane again, and enabled to contribute to the recovery of her spirits, by all that affection could do.

And here is Lizzy's good side with respect to cheering up Jane. Lizzy is a good sister.

She could not think of Darcy's leaving Kent without remembering that his cousin was to go with him; but Colonel Fitzwilliam had made it clear that he had no intentions at all,...

While clear to Lizzy, I'm not sure whether it's clear to me. When did he do that? At the point when Lizzy thinks (in the previous chapter) "Is this meant for me?"

...and agreeable as he was, she did not mean to be unhappy about him.

While settling this point, she was suddenly roused by the sound of the door-bell, and her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of its being Colonel Fitzwilliam himself, who had once before called late in the evening, and might now come to inquire particularly after her. But this idea was soon banished, and her spirits were very differently affected, when, to her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room...

Lizzy, in some ways, is rather obtuse in romance, don't you think? I'm not sure I've even met a girl who, if I liked her, didn't know very well that that was the case. In Lizzy's case, she's had Charlotte tell her more than once, I think, that she, Charlotte, thinks Darcy is in love with Lizzy. Even after such a comment from someone whose sense she trusts (at least one of the comments came before Charlotte's controversial marriage), she still doesn't get it. Well, very soon she's going to jolly well find out.

...In an hurried manner...

I've never proposed to a woman, but I can imagine it being an extremely difficult thing for the guy to screw up his courage to do. Austen clearly understands this, and carefully illustrates Darcy's discomfort in what I think is rather a comic way.

...he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room...

His awkwardness is palpable, don't you think? I can't read this passage without cringing.

...Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:

"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

The opening salvo. I don't suppose there's anything extraordinarily objectionable about this statement, almost certainly none in Austen's day. In today's world, such repression of feelings would probably be considered reprehensible, though I'm not inclined to agree with that sentiment, certainly not in all circumstances. There are many times when to express my feelings would be very morally wrong.

Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement;...

I don't think we can very much blame him at this point for such a mistaken notion. A man in love can do some pretty silly things (been there, done that), including wishful thinking.

...and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority-- of its being a degradation-- of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.

Quite. There's typical Austenian understatement for you. "Unlikely to recommend his suit?" How about a recipe for disaster? You ladies out there: wouldn't you just love it if some guy walked up to you and proposed in a manner seemingly calculated to insult your family? Would you be likely to accept?

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man's affection,...

We know Lizzy's inattention to money well enough to suppose that Lizzy recognizes Darcy's talents. The way she has spoken to him in previous chapters certainly indicates that she does not think his understanding incapable in the least of grasping her most vague allusions and verbal swordplay.

...and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger. She tried, however, to compose herself to answer him with patience, when he should have done. He concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther,...

I interpret this to mean that Lizzy really wants to be short with him. Based on her answer, which quite clearly states that she entertains quite the opposite view of him that he has for her. In other words, he could practically sink no lower in her opinion.

...and, when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she said:

"In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could
feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot-- I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation."

Austen never does seem to be able to bring herself to put forth a simple "no". It always has to be complicated. But even here, in Lizzy's fiery answer, we see seeds of something else. I really wonder whether Lizzy's answer could have been shorter or not: that's a genuine question to which I don't know the answer, not a rhetorical question. Could she have politely said "no" in a shorter way? What we see in this answer is the space Darcy needs to press Lizzy for information as to why she dislikes him. If Lizzy had been much shorter and final about it, then probably Darcy, being the gentleman, would have simply walked away after some polite good-bye.

Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment...

Anger comes from pride. He thinks himself entitled to her, and when he sees that she rejects him, his pride kicks in and tells him, "No fair!"

...than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it...

Perhaps it is too much to expect anyone to actually have composure, so the appearance of it is probably the best he can do. While I've not been rejected at the point of proposal, I have been rejected several times: it's no barrel of laughs.

...The pause was to Elizabeth's feelings dreadful...

Isn't this interesting? Why would Lizzy be affected at this point? Is she fearing that Darcy will lash out at her? She certainly sees that he is angry, so she might suspect that he would do just that. Or is it her recognition of the honor paid to her? Or maybe something else entirely?

...At length, with a voice of forced calmness, he said:

"And this is the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting: I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little
endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance."

With the gauntlet thrown down of incivility, I imagine the "small importance" is perhaps sarcastic. Either that, of Darcy is doing that which guys so often do and which I've mentioned before: perhaps you recall the Star Trek quote I had earlier from Dr. Crusher who said, "Men like to pretend they're not interested in a woman, even if it's the most important thing on their minds." In any case, I do not think it is of small importance in Darcy's mind.

"I might as well inquire," replied she, " why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil?...

Surely this is close to the mark: Darcy's evident intent and his actual intent are different, but that is not the point. Darcy's comments would insult just about anyone, so most people would probably conclude that was his design.

...But I have other provocations. You know I have...

This is nonsensical on Lizzy's part. Surely Darcy's reaction to her refusal would clue her in that he knows no reason why she should not be madly in love with him.

...Had not my feelings decided against you-- had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?"

As she pronounced these words, Mr. Darcy changed colour; but the emotion was short, and he listened without attempting to interrupt her while she continued:

"I have every reason in the world to think ill of you...

A slight exaggeration, no doubt, but angry people are seldom wise.

...No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other-- of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind."

Lizzy is under a misapprehension here; even so, it probably would have been wise to get Darcy's side of the story before attacking him so vigorously.

She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile of affected incredulity.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Darcy is pretty clueless himself on how his actions and words affect others.

"Can you deny that you have done it?" she repeated.

With assumed tranquillity he then replied: "I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards
him I have been kinder than towards myself."

Elizabeth disdained the appearance of noticing this civil reflection,...

So Austen calls this reflection civil, but Lizzy doesn't even want to appear to notice it.

...but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely to conciliate her.

"But it is not merely this affair," she continued, "on which my dislike is founded. Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided...

This statement is certainly true.

...Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham...

This statement... not so true.

...On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation can you here impose upon others?"

She attempts to knock out the perceived crutch; we know, actually, that there is no crutch. Really, what we have here is Darcy being right for all the right reasons, and yet not able to communicate that rightness in a right way. On the other hand, Lizzy is wrong, but for many right reasons. Certainly, the appearance of goodness ought to accompany, whenever possible, actual goodness. This sort of thing is something Lizzy mentions, again in Chapter 40. Hmm. Methinks Chapter 40 will warrant quite a bit of commenting.

"You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns," said Darcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.

"Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?"


"His misfortunes!" repeated Darcy contemptuously; "yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed."

Quite sarcastic. And we know why very well.

"And of your infliction," cried Elizabeth with energy. "You have reduced him to his present state of poverty-- comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortune with contempt and ridicule."

"And this," cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, "Is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully...

I've nearly been in Darcy's shoes, and I can tell you that a guy always wants to know why a girl rejects him. I don't happen to think he has a right to know, but a charitable woman should probably tell him unless there is a pressing reason not to, especially if the relationship is rather developed, unlike the present case.

...My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps," added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, "these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design...

I can't help but laugh at this. There are many things pride can't abide, but arrogance in someone else's character is probably at the top of the list. Pride, after all, isn't concerned so much about elevating self as it is making sure you're number one, above everyone else. Thus put-downs are extremely common behavior for prideful people. Let us also not forget that pride is the number one sin that anyone commits. All other sins come from this one. It's the great big grand-daddy of them all.

...These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything...

He's probably correct here.

...But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence...

Yes, disguise is wrong. But disguise and witholding information are not the same thing. There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.

...Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?-- to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?"

While the last statement is true, again, Darcy probably shouldn't have said it.

Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said:

"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner."

She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued:

"You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."

Again his astonishment was obvious; and he looked at her with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification...

Ah, there it is. There are the first signs of humility beginning to creep in to Darcy's mind. He realizes just how far out of reach she is at this moment.

...She went on:

"From the very beginning-- from the first moment, I may almost say-- of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike;...

Or perhaps not so immovable... Wise people rarely make such blanket statements, because they know they are likely to have to eat them later. I can't count the number of times I've said to myself, "I'll never do so-and-so," and find myself doing precisely that, especially with regard to things Dad does that I told myself I'd never do. (I love my Dad: he's my hero.)

...and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."

Here is Lizzy being much more direct than she usually is. She pays Darcy the compliment, at least, of being quite as direct as he when the occasion calls for it. She does not beat about the bush.

"You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness."

This is one of the most sensible things Darcy has said in a long time, and certainly the most sensible thing he said in this entire conversation. He sees Lizzy will not be moved, and thus does the only right thing. If my memory serves me right, we will not see another arrogant word from his lips. He will become almost as wise in his words as Bingley.

And with these words he hastily left the room, and Elizabeth heard him the next moment open the front door and quit the house.

The tumult of her mind, was now painfully great. She knew not how to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half-an-hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! That he should have been in love with her for so many months! So much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend's marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case-- was almost incredible!...

Attraction is at work already, I have no doubt. Lizzy is, in spite of herself, attracted to Darcy, I think. This is something the KKn version brings out much better than any other version in this scene, though these thoughts that Austen is relating are perhaps communicated best in the BBC.

...It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. But his pride, his abominable pride-- his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane-- his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited. She continued in very agitated reflections till the sound of Lady Catherine's carriage made her feel how unequal she was to encounter Charlotte's observation, and hurried her away to her room.

Well, that's that. The next chapter is the letter. This chapter, the next, and especially the one following it form the climax of the book. These chapters are where both Darcy and Lizzy start to change. Darcy, we have seen already, has started to change. He is humbled at the end of the interview, and is never the same man again. Lizzy changes after reading the letter. So pride becomes humility, and prejudice becomes clarity of thought. Austen, naturally enough, spends much more time on Lizzy's change of heart than Darcy's, for obvious reasons: Austen was a woman. Stay tuned for the next installment!