Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chapter Twenty-six, Part One

Originally published 10/8/2006.

Quite a few things happen in this chapter. Mrs. Gardiner gives her promised warning to Lizzy about Wickham; Charlotte gets married; Jane goes to town, does not meet Mr. Bingley, but finds out that she was deceived by Miss Bingley, and Mr. Wickham all of a sudden becomes interested in a different girl for what appear to be purely mercenary reasons. All in all, definitely a chapter to subdivide.

Mrs. Gardiner's caution to Elizabeth was punctually and kindly given...

There's the hard balance, isn't it? You have to admire Austen not only for mercilessly giving bad judgment the axe, but also for providing some good examples to follow.

...on the first favourable opportunity of speaking to her alone; after honestly telling her what she thought, she thus went on:

"You are too sensible a girl, Lizzy, to fall in love merely because you are warned against it;...

How many of us could say the same? There's definitely something to this; Lizzy is not a rebellious girl, nor is she contrary for the sake of being contrary. She does not have to "be in control."

...and, therefore, I am not afraid of speaking openly...

That is, indeed, a good condition under which to warn someone like this. Mrs. Gardiner is paying attention to the concept of "probability of success," and definitely not throwing her pearls before swine. She gives her two cents when it will help, and when she thinks the recipient will be open to it.

...Seriously, I would have you be on your guard. Do not involve yourself or endeavour to involve him in an affection which the want of fortune would make so very imprudent...

Question: is Mrs. Gardiner being mercenary? Or prudent? This is a question Lizzy brings up in the very next chapter, in speaking with her aunt, "Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?" After that follows a detailed discussion on which I will comment next week, Lord willing.

...I have nothing to say against him; he is a most interesting young man; and if he had the fortune he ought to have, I should think you could not do better...

This shows that Mrs. Gardiner is as deceived about Wickham as is Lizzy.

...But as it is, you must not let your fancy run away with you. You have sense, and we all expect you to use it. Your father would depend on your resolution and good conduct, I am sure. You must not disappoint your father."

Here is a gentle but very firm admonition that is quite appropriate to someone Lizzy's age. Lizzy is 20 years old or thereabouts, as we know from her statements to Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Chapter Twenty-nine. This age, it seems to me, is certainly past the most basic insecurities of the teenage years, and, during the years Austen was writing, would certainly want to be considered wise and experienced. Most men and women would have been married about this time. So for Mrs. Gardiner to appeal to Lizzy's sense is surely a good motivation. She also knows that Lizzy and her father have a good relationship, and so she appeals quite rightly to that as well.

"My dear aunt, this is being serious indeed."

"Yes, and I hope to engage you to be serious likewise."

Mrs. Gardiner.

"Well, then, you need not be under any alarm. I will take care of myself, and of Mr. Wickham too. He shall not be in love with me, if I can prevent it."

Lizzy here. It's only my theory, but since Mrs. Gardiner accuses Lizzy directly of not being serious, I conclude that Lizzy's facetiousness consists of speaking of Wickham's heart instead of her own. Mrs. Gardiner is obviously much more concerned about Lizzy's state of mind than of Wickham's.

"Elizabeth, you are not serious now."

Mrs. Gardiner.

"I beg your pardon, I will try again. At present I am not in love with Mr. Wickham; no, I certainly am not. But he is, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw-- and if he becomes really attached to me-- I believe it will be better that he should not. I see the imprudence of it. Oh! that...

The word "that" is italicized in my Everyman's Library edition as well. It seems very strange, for surely it would make more sense to emphasize "abominable" as opposed to "that."

...abominable Mr. Darcy! My father's opinion of me does me the greatest honour, and I should be miserable to forfeit it. My father, however, is partial to Mr. Wickham...

In my opinion, Lizzy here is going through a kind of "On the one hand... on the other hand...," rather like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

...In short, my dear aunt, I should be very sorry to be the means of making any of you unhappy; but since we see every day that where there is affection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate want of fortune from entering into engagements with each other, how can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creatures if I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be wisdom to resist?...

And so the conclusion in terms of her actions follows:

...All that I can promise you, therefore, is not to be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself his first object. When I am in company with him, I will not be wishing. In short, I will do my best."

Do you not find it a little bit funny that Lizzy uses that phrase "in short" twice in one paragraph? I'm strongly tempted to think that Austen put that in on purpose to sort of make fun of it. Here's a sensible woman, Lizzy, who probably likes to think well of herself, especially in matters of sense, and would thus like to appear well-educated and cultured. The phrase "in short," might very well have been a cliche at this time which tired Austen, and so here she may have put this in in order to point out its absurdity. In a discourse this small, surely there is no need to introduce a conclusion with such a high-blown phrase.

"Perhaps it will be as well if you discourage his coming here so very often. At least, you should not remind you mother of inviting him."

"As I did the other day," said Elizabeth with a conscious smile:...

I cannot find out that Austen relates this incident directly; it may be implied by the phrase in the previous chapter, "of which officers Mr. Wickham was sure to be one; and on these occasions, Mrs. Gardiner, rendered suspicious by Elizabeth's warm commendation of him,...

..."very true, it will be wise in me to refrain from that. But do not imagine that he is always here so often. It is on your account that he has been so frequently invited this week. You know my mother's ideas as to the necessity of constant company for her friends. But really, and upon my honour, I will try to do what I think to be the wisest; and now I hope you are satisfied."

Her aunt assured her that she was, and Elizabeth having thanked her for the kindness of her hints, they parted; a wonderful instance of advice being given on such a point, without being resented.

Wonderful indeed. May all people take such constructive criticism so well! The world would certainly be a better place if people were not so ready to be offended at any hints for improvement such as these. Lizzy is the more to be praised for suffering the criticism on such a personal topic as marriage, as Austen points out.

Mr. Collins returned into Hertfordshire soon after it had been quitted by the Gardiners and Jane; but as he took up his abode with the Lucases, his arrival was no great inconvenience to Mrs. Bennet. His marriage was now fast approaching, and she was at length so far resigned as to think it inevitable,...

Hilarious. Regardless of whether you believe the modern psychologists or not, the word "denial" certainly comes to the fore in my mind here.

...and even repeatedly to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she "wished they might be happy." Thursday was to be the wedding day, and on Wednesday Miss Lucas paid her farewell visit; and when she rose to take leave, Elizabeth, ashamed of her mother's ungracious and reluctant good wishes,...

Indeed, Mrs. Bennet is breaking the second-great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourself. Surely anything which redounds to the happiness and betterment of our neighbors ought to give us joy, even if we perceive a disadvantage to ourselves. Thus, for example, the jilted lover ought, really, to rejoice if the woman he loved gets married to another man she loves. But Mrs. Bennet sees that Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins means Lizzy can't marry him, despite it being more like she won't marry him. While some people make too much of marriage and put up imaginary roadblocks, others, like Mrs. Bennet here, put up way too few difficulties to the point of foolishness.

...and sincerely affected herself, accompanied her out of the room. As they went downstairs together, Charlotte said:

"I shall depend on hearing from you very often, Eliza."

That you certainly shall."


"And I have another favour to ask you. Will you come and see me?"


"We shall often meet, I hope, in Hertfordshire."


"I am not likely to leave Kent for some time. Promise me, therefore, to come to Hunsford."


Elizabeth could not refuse, though she foresaw little pleasure in the visit.

"My father and Maria are coming to me in March," added Charlotte, "and I hope you will consent to be of the party. Indeed, Eliza, you will be as welcome as either of them."

The wedding took place: the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and everybody had as much to say, or to hear, on the subject as usual...

Thus slyly does Austen poke fun at people who say things at weddings that are cliched and tired out.

...Elizabeth soon heard from her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been; that it should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been, rather than what was. Charlotte's first letters were received with a good deal of eagerness; there could not but be curiosity to know how she would speak of her new home, how she would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would dare pronounce herself to be; though, when the letters were read, Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every point exactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully, seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which she could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, and roads, were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine's behaviour was most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins's picture of Hunsford and Rosings rationally softened;...

I love that phrase, "rationally softened." I think there is not one modern author who could have written that. No one thinks of anything rational as being soft. A pity, for rational things really can be softer than their alternatives sometimes.

...and Elizabeth perceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know the rest.

I'll break here.