Chapter Twenty-nine, Part One
Originally published 10/29/2006.
In Chapter Twenty-nine, we see the "superlatively stupid" dinner at Rosings. Lizzy and Lady Catherine meet - and spar. Lizzy clobbers Lady Catherine.
Mr. Collins's triumph, in consequence of this invitation,...
That is, the invitation for Lizzy and company to dine at Rosings.
...was complete. The power of displaying the grandeur of his patroness to his wondering visitors, and of letting them see her civility towards himself and his wife, was exactly what he had wished for; and that an opportunity of doing it should be given so soon, was such an instance of Lady Catherine's condescension, as he knew not how to admire enough.
Further "rubbing it in" to Lizzy. This is, quite simply, pride. And Austen shall not let us forget the absurdity of it. In this case, we see a bit of "conspiracy" going on: Mr. Collins wants to show off; he is therefore very grateful for an expedited opportunity of doing so. So sin seeks company, like we read in Proverbs 1.
"I confess," said he, "that I should not have been at all surprised by her ladyship's asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that it would happen. But who could have foreseen such an attention as this? Who could have imagined that we should receive an invitation to dine there (an invitation, moreover, including the whole party) so immediately after your arrival!"
"I am the less surprised at what has happened," replied Sir William, "from that knowledge of what the manners of the great really are, which my situation in life has allowed me to acquire. About the court, such instances of elegant breeding are not uncommon."
I think, perhaps, that Sir William thinks his son-in-law is saying a bit much, so instead of allowing Mr. Collins to dig himself in deeper by himself, Sir William tries to "one-up" him. I think perhaps in this case it definitely would have been wiser not to answer the fool according to his folly.
Scarcely anything was talked of the whole day or next morning but their visit to Rosings...
We can guess whose influence was instrumental in bringing about this one-sided conversation. It's Churchill's definition of a fanatic again: he can't change his mind and he won't change the subject.
...Mr. Collins was carefully instructing them in what they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms, so many servants, and so splendid a dinner, might not wholly overpower them.
When the ladies were separating for the toilette, he said to Elizabeth,
"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I would advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest-- there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved."
In thus attempting to put Lizzy "in her place," Mr. Collins continues his prideful absurdity. There was positively no need to say what he said. Mr. Collins managed to say absolutely nothing in a grand total of 75 words. Surely Lizzy could understand this was a formal dinner, and she should wear nice clothes? And does Mr. Collins think that the idea of going out and getting better clothes than she already possesses would even occur to her? Yet another prime example of lack of perception.
While they were dressing, he came two or three times to their different doors, to recommend their being quick, as Lady Catherine very much objected to be kept waiting for her dinner. Such formidable accounts of her ladyship, and her manner of living, quite frightened Maria Lucas who had been little used to company, and she looked forward to her introduction at Rosings with as much apprehension as her father had done to his presentation at St. James's.
So Mr. Collins doesn't manage to put Lizzy in her place, but he does manage to get his sister-in-law in her place.
As the weather was fine, they had a pleasant walk of about half a mile across the park. Every park has its beauty and its prospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.
When they ascended the steps to the hall, Maria's alarm was every moment increasing, and even Sir William did not look perfectly calm. Elizabeth's courage did not fail her. She had heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from any extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the mere stateliness of money or rank she thought she could witness without trepidation.
This is quite what we have come to expect from Lizzy. Her heart is in the right place, not paying too much attention to money. We know she doesn't ignore money completely (witness her reaction to Mrs. Gardiner's advice about Wickham). But she does not pay overly much attention to it. Whereas, Maria and Sir William do not have their heart in the right place, and are willing to be actually frightened by the sight of so much wealth. All glory is fleeting.
From the entrance-hall, of which Mr. Collins pointed out, with a rapturous air, the fine proportion and the finished ornaments, they followed the servants through an ante-chamber, to the room where Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson were sitting. Her ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receive them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that the office of introduction should be hers, it was performed in a proper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks which he would have thought necessary.
I can't help but laugh at this. Charlotte is definitely giving Lizzy the benefit of the doubt. Surely the proper nature of the introduction is part of Lady Catherine's initial friendliness. Admittedly, Lady Catherine imbues all her actions with a misplaced pride, but she is genial to Lizzy. I think that may be due to Charlotte, partly.
In spite of having been at St. James's, Sir William was so completely awed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he had but just courage enough to make a very low bow, and take his seat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almost out of her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing which way to look. Elizabeth found herself quite equal to the scene, and could observe the three ladies before her composedly. Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self-importance, and brought Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth's mind; and from the observation of the day altogether, she believed Lady Catherine to be exactly what he represented.
What was that representation again? "... her manners were dictatorial and insolent. She has the reputation of being remarkably clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her auhtoritative manner, and the rest from the pride of her nephew, who chuses that every one connected with him should have an understanding of the first class."
When, after examining the mother, in whose countenance and deportment she soon found some resemblance of Mr. Darcy,...
Do you think Lizzy would have found such a resemblance even if there had been none? Sometimes wishful thinking can cloud judgment.
...she turned her eyes on the daughter, she could almost have joined in Maria's astonishment at her being so thin and so small. There was neither in figure nor face any likeness between the ladies...
Perhaps Austen here answers the question I just posed. Lizzy cannot see any resemblance here, this implying her judgment is sound in the other case.
...Miss de Bourgh was pale and sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little, except in a low voice, to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there was nothing remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening to what she said, and placing a screen in the proper direction before her eyes.
This sentence is so ennervating to me! To think that there is such a person who must be, indeed, shielded even from light, reminds me of the failty of human nature.
After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent...
I wonder who did the sending.
...to one of the windows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was much better worth looking at in the summer.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship's desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. He carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him and then by Sir William, who was now enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, in a manner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could bear...
Someone in my position does tire a little, perhaps, at the abundance of material available for critique of Mr. Collins. You begin to wonder if the man can get anything right!
...But Lady Catherine seemed gratified by their excessive admiration, and gave most gracious smiles, especially when any dish on the table proved a novelty to them. The party did not supply much conversation. Elizabeth was ready to speak whenever there was an opening, but she was seated between Charlotte and Miss de Bourgh-- the former of whom was engaged in listening to Lady Catherine, and the latter said not a word to her all dinner-time. Mrs. Jenkinson was chiefly employed in watching how little Miss de Bourgh ate, pressing her to try some other dish, and fearing she was indisposed. Maria thought speaking out of the question,...
Showing a wisdom beyond that of her father, actually. The proverb says that even a fool, if he keeps is mouth shut, is accounted wise. Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.
...and the gentlemen did nothing but eat and admire.
I'll break here at this absurdity.