Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chapter Twenty-eight

Originally published 10/22/2006.

In Chapter Twenty-eight, Lizzy arrives at Hunsford, the "humble abode" of the Collinses. There are the usual opening pleasantries, rendered somewhat odious by the officious presence of Mr. Collins. And yet Lizzy finds that Charlotte is reasonably well-off, especially considering that she is in a position to forget Mr. Collins a good bit of the time, Mr. Collins indeed being a forgettable person and negligible in all importance. Austen is quite merciless in her attacks on the poor clergyman's sense. However, we must not suppose that Austen has it in for clergymen in general; one need only read Mansfield Park to realize that. Still, Austen's critique puts us on alert that ministers, alas, can be foolish right along with the best of them.

Every object in the next day's journey was new and interesting to Elizabeth; and her spirits were in a state of enjoyment; for she had seen her sister looking so well as to banish all fear for her health, and the prospect of her northern tour was a constant source of delight.

When they left the high road for the lane to Hunsford, every eye was in search of the Parsonage, and every turning expected to bring it in view...

We are soon to find out how well-rewarded such impatience usually is.

...The palings of Rosings Park was their boundary on one side. Elizabeth smiled at the recollection of all that she had heard of its inhabitants.

At length...

As promised, here is how well-rewarded their impatience is.

...the Parsonage was discernible. The garden sloping to the road, the house standing in it, the green pales, and the laurel hedge, everything declared they were arriving. Mr. Collins and Charlotte appeared at the door, and the carriage stopped at the small gate which led by a short gravel walk to the house, amidst the nods and smiles of the whole party. In a moment they were all out of the chaise, rejoicing at the sight of each other. Mrs. Collins welcomed her friend with the liveliest pleasure,...

Surely we are not to wonder at this: poor Charlotte, with very few sensible people in sight, can hardly contain herself for delight at having some intelligent conversation. Precisely the same thing happens when a new mother greets her husband when he comes home for the evening. She has likely had no intelligent conversation all day, whereas he has been talking with his colleagues at work. So she bombards him with questions immediately upon his arrival, thinking that he wants nothing more than to answer such a barrage. What he really wants is a little peace and quiet for just a little while. And then maybe after dinner he can talk more. So there's an application of this truth. That situation is obviously not in effect here, as I doubt Lizzy minds discussing just about anything with Charlotte.

...and Elizabeth was more and more satisfied with coming when she found herself so affectionately received. She saw instantly that her cousin's manner were not altered by his marriage; his formal civility was just what it had been, and he detained her some minutes at the gate to hear and satisfy his inquiries after all her family. They were then, with no other delay than his pointing out the neatness of the entrance taken into the house;...

Quite unnecessary and officious. These are to be the watchwords for just about everything Mr. Collins says; he might as well not have opened his mouth. As Ronald Weasley would have said, "Blimey, what a waste of wind."

...and as soon as they were in the parlour, he welcomed them a second time, with ostentatious formality to his humble abode, and punctually repeated all his wife's offers of refreshment.

To me, this seems reminiscent of Austen's description of Sir William in the previous chapter: "...his civilities were worn out, like his information." Mr. Collins can have nothing new to offer. While this does not necessarily mean he should never say anything, it is a good bet that whatever he does say should be small in volume.

Elizabeth was prepared to see him in his glory; and she could not help in fancying that in displaying the good proportion of the room, its aspect and its furniture, he addressed himself particularly to her, as if wishing to make her feel what she had lost in refusing him. But though everything seemed neat and comfortable, she was not able to gratify him by any sigh of repentance, and rather looked with wonder at her friend that she could have so cheerful an air with such a companion. When Mr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom,...

Austen using her classic understated double negatives to great comic effect here.

...she involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear...

Why is this wise? So that Charlotte may at least respect her partner in public. Charlotte is intelligent enough to know what Mr. Collins is; in her situation it is perhaps wiser not to dwell on the absurdities, indeed, to turn as blind an eye as possible towards them.

...After sitting long enough to admire every article of furniture in the room, from the sideboard to the fender,...

No doubt encouraged in this by Mr. Collins, for surely Lizzy would not dwell on furniture for quite so long. She would admire things for the sake of Charlotte, but furniture can only hold your attention for so long. give an account of their journey, and of all that had happened in London, Mr. Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden, which was large and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which he attended himself. To work in this garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible...

Lizzy believes, and it's probably true, that Charlotte encourages him in this in order to get him out of the house and out of her way. You have to give it to Charlotte here: she's doing her best to respect her idiotic husband, nor is it half bad. If she could only have had a sensible husband, she could have accomplished much more than mere survival.

...Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind...

This strikes a very deep chord with me. I have a tendency to analyze everything in great detail, just like Mr. Collins here. And no doubt, there are areas that do have great beauty, but for which I cannot see it. Mr. Collins literally cannot see the forest for the trees. And I'm the kind of person, as my brother Lane would say, who can't see the trees for the ants on them. In any case, where do you stop analyzing beautiful things because it would destroy their beauty? It's a delicate balance, for there are some things that become more beautiful upon detailed analysis, to a point. Wisdom tells us when to stop, perhaps. We should be careful not to let veneration wholly die.

...He could number the fields in every direction, and could tell how many tress there were in the most distant clump. But of all the views which his garden, or which the country or kingdom could boast, none were to be compared with the prospect of Rosings, afforded by an opening in the trees that bordered the park nearly opposite the front of his house. It was a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground.

In the BBC version, Lizzy says that last sentence, and Mr. Collins, not to be outdone, says, "It is more than well-situated; it is excellently situated. And what you call rising ground, is a hill, Miss Eliza!" Charlotte replies, "Indeed." Charlotte's reply is absolutely perfect comic timing, and just the right response for someone as dense as Mr. Collins.

From his garden, Mr. Collins would have led them round his two meadows; but the ladies, not having shoes to encounter the remains of a white frost, turned back; and while Sir William accompanied him, Charlotte took her sister and friend over the house, extremely well pleased, probably, to have the opportunity of showing it without her husband's help...

I rather think "help" is a bit sarcastic, don't you? One thought that struck me here is that here is a situation which provides a foil against which Mr. Bennet, in his speech to Lizzy advising her against Mr. Darcy, can (even without his knowledge) rely on in attempting to persuade her. With this living example, Lizzy can imagine what it would have been like had she married Mr. Collins. Indeed, Mr. Collins is hardly leaving such contemplation optional. Lizzy sees what Charlotte has to put up with, and perhaps believing herself possessing a bit less patience than Charlotte, could imagine the misery in attempting to mismatch reality with what she must do. In short, marriage to Mr. Collins would have required that Lizzy be Jane. It may be that Lizzy thinks of this, and that is why she is so affected by Mr. Bennet's entreaties.

...It was rather small, but well built and convenient; and everything was fitted up and arranged with a neatness and consistency of which Elizabeth gave Charlotte all the credit. When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really an air of great comfort throughout, and by Charlotte's evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.

She had already learnt that Lady Catherine was still in the country. It was spoken of again while they were at dinner, when Mr. Collins joining in, observed:

"Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her...

"...need not say..." is the equivalent of "It goes without saying..." Norton Juster, in his Phantom Tollbooth, rather made fun of that remark. Why say it, then?

...She is all affability and condescension,...

The word "condescension" nowadays can have a positive or negative connotation. Clearly, Mr. Collins wishes to use the word with all its positive connotations. I wonder if the negative connotation was understood in Austen's day. If so, it would surely be ironic that reality requires the negative connotation in describing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

...and I doubt not but you will be honoured with some portion of her notice when service is over. I have scarcely any hesitation in saying she will include you and my sister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us during your stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship's carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship's carriages, for she has several."

Quite unnecessary to mention that Lady Catherine has several carriages. For while Lady Catherine is undoubtedly an important person, Lizzy has been around other important people who just might exceed the threshold of one carriage (to be eligible for Mr. Collins's attentions, anyway).

"Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed," added Charlotte, "and a most attentive neighbour."

That could be taken in more than one way!

"Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference."

There is no human being on this earth who qualifies for that description. Indeed, I am not sure but what Mr. Collins has made an idol out of Lady Catherine. Consider that he views all his prosperity as owing to her. This is no doubt true in terms of secondary causes. But God made Lady Catherine favorably disposed to him in the first place. And he's a clergyman, for crying out loud!

The evening was spent chiefly in talking over Hertfordshire news, and telling again what had already been written; and when it closed, Elizabeth, in the solitude of her chamber, had to meditate upon Charlotte's degree of contentment, to understand her address in guiding, and composure in bearing with, her husband, and to acknowledge that it was all done very well. She had also to anticipate how her visit would pass, the quiet tenor of their usual employments, the vexatious interruptions of Mr. Collins, and the gaieties of their intercourse with Rosings. A lively imagination soon settled it all.

I should think Austen means for us to conclude that Lizzy thinks she will enjoy her stay. After all, she has enough sense in Charlotte to counterbalance the absurdities of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine. What's not to like?

About the middle of the next day, as she was in her room getting ready for a walk, a sudden noise below seemed to speak the whole house in confusion; and, after listening a moment, she heard somebody running upstairs in a violent hurry, and calling loudly after her. She opened the door and met Maria in the landing place, who, breathless with agitation, cried out--

"Oh, my dear Eliza! pray make haste and come into the dining-room, for there is such a sight to be seen! I will not tell you what it is. Make haste, and come down this moment."

Elizabeth asked questions in vain; Maria would tell her nothing more, and down they ran into the dining-room, which fronted the lane, in quest of this wonder; it was two ladies stopping in a low phaeton at the garden gate.

"And is this all?" cried Elizabeth. "I expected at least that the pigs were got into the garden, and here is nothing but Lady Catherine and her daughter."

Spoken like a true farmer, and with an evident lack of "proper deference," as Mr. Collins would put it, towards the high and mighty estate of Rosings.

"La! my dear," said Maria, quite shocked at the mistake,...

It is not to be wondered at whether Maria shares Lizzy's views on Lady Catherine. Rather, she takes her father's sometimes overly courteous view.

..."it is not Lady Catherine. The old lady is Mrs. Jenkinson, who lives with them; the other is Miss de Bourgh. Only look at her. She is quite a little creature. Who would have thought that she could be so thin and small?"

"She is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind. Why does she not come in?"

Lizzy here, asking a question which might or might not be charitable. Lizzy, we understand, is prejudiced against Lady Catherine (and probably therefore her daughter). It follows that she might be over-reacting here. What think you?

"Oh, Charlotte says she hardly ever does. It is the greatest of favours when Miss de Bourgh comes in."

Perhaps it is just an American mind, but it seems to me that the idea of "conferring a favour" in this grandiose way might be a bit over the top. True greatness does not overly stand on ceremony, and does not despise the lowly.

"I like her appearance," said Elizabeth, struck with other ideas. "She looks sickly and cross. Yes, she will do for him very well. She will make him a very proper wife."

"Him" being Mr. Darcy, of course. Recall that in Chapter 16 Mr. Wickham informs Lizzy of the quite correct notion that Miss Anne is intended for Mr. Darcy, at least by the late Mrs. Darcy and Lady Catherine.

Mr. Collins and Charlotte were both standing at the gate in conversation with the ladies; and Sir William, to Elizabeth's high diversion, was stationed in the doorway, in earnest contemplation of the greatness before him, and constantly bowing whenever Miss de Bourgh looked that way.

Obsequious. One bow is understandable. Constant bowing is not.

At length there was nothing more to be said;...

I like the "at length"; it provides a bit of comedy to the scene. Austen may perhaps be poking fun at her own sex.

...the ladies drove on, and the others returned into the house. Mr. Collins no sooner saw the two girls than he began to congratulate them on their good fortune, which Charlotte explained by letting them know that the whole party was asked to dine at Rosings the next day.

Interesting how Mr. Collins can't even get a story from the right end up. Couldn't he have noticed that Lizzy was not privy to the phaeton conversation? In that case a congratulation with no preamble would have been quite confusing. On the other hand, we weren't expecting great things from Mr. Collins.