Originally published 10/1/2006.
In Chapter Twenty-five, Austen introduces two very important minor characters, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. The Gardiners are in some ways a foil, a mitigating influence. The Darcies and Bingleys and Hursts think that, aside from Jane and perhaps Lizzy, there is not a sensible person connected with the Bennet family. The Gardiners are a living counterexample to this claim.
After a week spent in professions of love and schemes of felicity, Mr. Collins was called from his amiable Charlotte by the arrival of Saturday. The pain of separation, however, might be alleviated on his side, by preparations for the reception of his bride; as he had reason to hope, that shortly after his return into Hertfordshire, the day would be fixed that was to make him the happiest of men. He took leave of his relations at Longbourn with as much solemnity as before; wished his fair cousins health and happiness again, and promised their father another letter of thanks.
The Bennets will be unable to avoid another letter of thanks.
On the following Monday, Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn. Mr. Gardiner was a sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly superior to his sister,...
I don't know why this escaped me before; I had always supposed Mrs. Gardiner to be the blood relative, but this plainly indicates that it is Mr. Gardiner who is the natural brother of Mrs. Bennet.
...as well by nature as education. The Netherfield ladies would have had difficulty in believing that a man who lived by trade, and within view of his own warehouses, could have been so well-bred and agreeable...
Here's that foil I mentioned above.
...Mrs. Gardiner, who was several years younger than Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips, was an amiable, intelligent, elegant woman, and a great favourite with all her Longbourn nieces. Between the two eldest and herself especially, there subsisted a particular regard. They had frequently been staying with her in town.
While it is true that opposites attract, it is also paradoxically true that likes attract. Surely Jane and Lizzy are like their aunt in being amiable, intelligent, and elegant.
The first part of Mrs. Gardiner's business on her arrival was to distribute her presents and describe the newest fashions. When this was done she had a less active part to play. It became her turn to listen. Mrs. Bennet had many grievances to relate, and much to complain of. They had all been very ill-used since she last saw her sister. Two of her girls had been upon the point of marriage, and after all there was nothing in it.
Austen mercifully, uh, summarizes Mrs. Bennet's comments, even though she gives a whole paragraph below. The original was undoubtedly longer and, be it hard to imagine, even more intolerable.
"I do not blame Jane," she continued, "for Jane would have got Mr. Bingley if she could. But Lizzy! Oh, sister! It is very hard to think that she might have been Mr. Collins's wife by this time, had it not been for her own perverseness...
Something ought to be said here, but I don't quite know what.
...He made her an offer in this very room, and she refused him. The consequence of it is, that Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I have,...
The very worst of all evils.
...and that the Longbourn estate is just as much entailed as ever. The Lucases are very artful people indeed, sister. They are all for what they can get...
And Mrs. Bennet isn't?
...I am sorry to say it of them, but so it is...
Oh, yes, very sorry indeed. If so sorry, why say it? It's the old gossip weakness in full swing.
...It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted so in my own family, and to have neighbours who think of themselves before anybody else...
In my experience, and I somehow think it's representative, most neighbors think of themselves before anyone else. Whether this is a good thing or not is something else.
...However, your coming just at this time is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of long sleeves."
The cure of all female evils is... shopping? Well, for Mrs. Bennet maybe.
Mrs. Gardiner, to whom the chief of this news had been given before, in the course of Jane and Elizabeth's correspondence with her, made her sister a slight answer, and, in compassion to her nieces, turned the conversation.
Very compassionate indeed.
When alone with Elizabeth afterwards, she spoke more on the subject. "It seems likely to have been a desirable match for Jane," said she. "I am sorry it went off. But these things happen so often! A young man, such as you describe Mr. Bingley,...
An important qualifier, since there are also many men who are not at all like the following:
...so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks, and when accident separates them, so easily forgets her, that these sort of inconsistencies are very frequent."
"An excellent consolation in its way," said Elizabeth, "but it will not do for us. We do not suffer by accident. It does not often happen that the interference of friends will persuade a young man of independent fortune to think no more of a girl whom he was violently in love with only a few days before."
Here is Lizzy's prejudice coming to the fore even in attempting to persuade her Aunt Gardiner of the officiousness of Bingley's friends. Lizzy does not show a great deal of restraint.
"But that expression of 'violently in love' is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea...
Apparently Austen's world had cliche's just as much as ours. What Mrs. Gardiner says here is still true.
...It is as often applied to feelings which arise from a half-hour's acquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how violent was Mr. Bingley's love?"
"I never saw a more promising inclination; he was growing quite inattentive to other people, and wholly engrossed by her. Every time they met, it was more decided and remarkable. At his own ball he offended two or three young ladies, by not asking them to dance; and I spoke to him twice myself, without receiving an answer. Could there be finer symptoms? Is not general incivility the very essence of love?"
I can't help but laugh at this reply of Lizzy's. As Mrs. Bennet said in one of her rare ludic moments, "And lovers are of all people the most disagreeable." I get the impression that Jane Austen likes to make fun of lovers. And again, what Lizzy says about lovers is still true today. I have seen lovers do some very rude things to people: public displays of affection being the worst offenders.
"Oh, yes! of that kind of love which I suppose him to have felt...
Now this is an interesting comment. It seems to insinuate that Mrs. Gardiner thinks Mr. Bingley does not love Jane with a "real, strong attachment." If so, then this leaves the "real, strong attachment" kind of love with the possible option of not being generally uncivil to others. What think you, dear readers?
...Poor Jane! I am sorry for her, because, with her disposition, she may not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to you, Lizzy; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner...
I'm sure Mrs. Gardiner is teasing; she wouldn't wish a jilting on Lizzy just because Lizzy could recover quickly! No, surely, either she is teasing, or she means that given a jilting, it were better than it should have happened to Lizzy than to Jane. In other words, a best-of-a-bad-lot situation.
...But do you think she would be prevailed upon to go back with us? Change of scene might be of service-- and perhaps a little relief from home may be as useful as anything."
Elizabeth was exceedingly pleased with this proposal, and felt persuaded of her sister's ready acquiescence.
It is indeed a kind proposal. To be kind to a jilted person means to do every honorable and kind thing in your power to distract them from their woes. Still, Jane's steady disposition is most definitely not easily moved. She likes Bingley, even loves him. And when someone like Jane bestows her love on someone, she doesn't move though all the world conspire against her.
"I hope," added Mrs. Gardiner, "that no consideration with regard to this young man will influence her. We live in so different a part of town, all our connections are so different, and, as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbable that they should meet at all, unless he really comes to see her."
This is an entirely reasonable sentiment, since meeting with Bingley would defeat the purpose.
"And that is quite impossible; for he is now in the custody...
Interesting choice of word there, don't you think? Lizzy has seen quite readily how easily Darcy guides Bingley. The chief evidence for this is in Chapters Eight and Ten: the conversations at Netherfield while waiting for Jane to recover. Lizzy might very well be putting a bit of spite in the way she says this, because she probably regards Bingley's pliability as a weakness in this case. She resents it, surely, because of its ill effects.
...of his friend, and Mr. Darcy would no more suffer him to call on Jane in such a part of London! My dear aunt, how could you think of it? Mr. Darcy may perhaps have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month's ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it;...
This is Lizzy's prejudice again; we know this to be false. Darcy goes about the poor readily enough as it is, though with pride.
...and depend upon it, Mr. Bingley never stirs without him."
"So much the better. I hope they will not meet at all. But does not Jane correspond with his sister? She will not be able to help calling."
Mrs. Gardiner here.
"She will drop the acquaintance entirely."
Lizzy, who rightly divines the character of Miss Bingley, makes a very bold statement here. In reality, someone like Jane would by no means sever a relationship such as she has with Miss Bingley. Jane is too good for that.
But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley's being withheld from seeing Jane, she felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced her, on examination, that she did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes she thought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, and the influence of his friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Jane's attractions.
Miss Bennet accepted her aunt's invitation with pleasure; and the Bingleys were no otherwise in her thoughts at the same time, than as she hoped by Caroline's not living in the same house with her brother, she might occasionally spend a morning with her, without any danger of seeing him.
So Jane understands the reason for this departure, and wants to go along with it. That is another thing jilted people do; they are sometimes so emotionally weak from the heavy toll that they gladly accept the charitable things others do even if they wouldn't otherwise. Now, Jane might have accepted the invitation most any time, but I would claim that her jilted status makes her more amenable to going.
The Gardiners stayed a week at Longbourn; and what with the Phillipses, the Lucases, and the officers, there was not a day without its engagement. Mrs. Bennet had so carefully provided for the entertainment of her brother and sister, that they did not once sit down to a family dinner...
What a misguided thing Mrs. Bennet does here, and I'm sure Austen means to censure her. Family dinner is a fine thing, and good conversation brings wonderful memories.
...When the engagement was for home, some of the officers always made part of it-- of which officers Mr. Wickham was sure to be one; and on these occasion, Mrs. Gardiner, rendered suspicious by Elizabeth's warm commendation, narrowly observed them both. Without supposing them, from what she saw, to be very seriously in love, their preference of each other was plain enough to make her a little uneasy; and she resolved to speak to Elizabeth on the subject before she left Hertfordshire, and represent to her the imprudence of encouraging such an attachment.
What is the imprudence? Well, Mrs. Gardiner, in the next chapter, explains that it is fortune. Some might exclaim against such a "mercenary" view of matrimony, but remember that women in those days were much more dependent on men than they are now. I make no comment as to the relative merits of the Austenian age versus ours, though my readers could probably guess what I would say as to this aspect. Since women were more dependent on men, they had to be more choosy as to the kind of man they married, or they would find themselves unprovided for. (You're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, so I'm not going to.)
To Mrs. Gardiner, Wickham had one means of affording pleasure, unconnected with his general powers. About ten or a dozen years ago, before her marriage, she had spent a considerable time in that very part of Derbyshire to which he belonged. They had, therefore, many acquaintances in common; and though Wickham had been little there since the death of Darcy's father, it was yet in his power to give her fresher intelligence...
In today's world, I can't help thinking of the CIA or NSA or FBI here. The meanings are similar, and then again not-so-similar.
...of her former friends than she had been in the way of procuring.
Mrs. Gardiner had seen Pemberly, and known the late Mr. Darcy by character perfectly well. Here consequently was an inexhaustible subject of discourse. In comparing her recollection of Pemberly with the minute description which Wickham could give, and in bestowing her tribute of praise on the character of its late possessor, she was delighting both him and herself. On being made acquainted with the present Mr. Darcy's treatment of him,...
See how Wickham plies his trade everywhere, even duping someone so upright as Mrs. Gardiner. Wickham does indeed expose Darcy publicly everywhere he is not likely to receive a reprimand for it.
...she tried to remember some of that gentleman's reputed disposition when quite a lad which might agree with it, and was confident at last that she recollected having heard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-natured boy.
And you see the result of Wickham's poison: Mrs. Gardiner is now about as prejudiced as Lizzy. Let this be a warning to you all: Lizzy and Mrs. Gardiner are both intelligent, kind, amiable people. Even such people as they can fall prey to the wiles of someone who "looks fair and feels foul."