Monday, October 22, 2007

Chapter Twenty-four

Originally published 9/24/2006.

Here in Chapter 24 we have some rather philosophical observations on the nature of romantic attachments; Jane shines in her love for all humanity, while Lizzy stands up for the truth. I can't help comparing Jane to a liberal and Lizzy to a conservative (I mean theologically). Jane is more sensible than a liberal, but there are points of similarity.

Miss Bingley's letter arrived, and put an end to doubt...

Austen explains what doubt she's refering to: doubt about whether Bingley will come back before the winter. Chapter Twenty-three portrays this idea of doubt.

...The very first sentence conveyed the assurance of their being all settled in London for the winter, and concluded with her brother's regret at not having had time to pay his respects to his friends in Hertfordshire before he left the country.

While this may be a faithful rendering of her brother's regret, I very much doubt whether Miss Bingley seconds her brother's feelings on this score. Still, I can't very well charge her with hypocrisy.

Hope was over, entirely over; and when Jane could attend to the rest of the letter she found little, except the professed affection of the writer, that could give her any comfort...

Had it been Lizzy in her place, even this would not have given any comfort. But Jane, we know, is a very good person who always sees the good in others. Back to my theological analogy: theological liberals do sometimes have one over on us conservatives. Conservatives are often so used to battling error that we find it hard to see good in anyone. Which, in turn, is almost a denying of the gospel. Shall we say that God does not extend common grace, or that He is working in people who are not perfect? Far be it from us to say that! More on this later.

...Miss Darcy's praise occupied the chief of it. Her many attractions were again dwelt on, and Caroline boasted joyfully of their increasing intimacy, and ventured to predict the accomplishment of the wishes which had been unfolded in her former letter...

This, though, must be grinding Jane's face in the dust. First of all, we know from later on that this is false, as Lizzy instantly resolves it to be. Therefore, to tell Jane these things is extremely dishonest. While Bingley might well not be daily pining away for Jane, we definitely know he's not paying all that much attention to Miss Darcy. Miss Bingley is trying to get Jane to give up hope for Mr. Bingley. And mostly succeeding, I might add, as evidenced by "Hope was over, entirely over."

...She wrote also with great pleasure of her brother's being an inmate of Mr. Darcy's house, and mentioned with raptures some plans of the latter with regard to new furniture.

Elizabeth, to whom Jane very soon communicated the chief of all this, heard it in silent indignation. Her heart was divided between concern for her sister, and resentment against all others. To Caroline's assertion of her brother's being partial to Miss Darcy she paid no credit...

I mentioned this earlier. Lizzy is correct here.

...That he was really fond of Jane, she doubted no more than she had ever done; and much as she had always been disposed to like him, she could not think without anger, hardly without contempt, on that easiness of temper, that want of proper resolution, which now made him the slave of his designing friends, and led him to sacrifice of his own happiness to the caprice of their inclination. Had his own happiness, however, been the only sacrifice, he might have been allowed to sport with it in whatever manner he thought best, but her sister's was involved in it, as she thought he must be sensible himself...

Ah, here is where Lizzy is wrong. We know from later on that Bingley thinks Jane does not care for him, otherwise no power on earth would have persuaded him to leave here. And so Lizzy does Bingley an injustice on account of not knowing the exact circumstances. To her credit, when she does find out, her anger is no longer directed at Bingley but at Darcy.

...It was a subject, in short, on which reflection would be long indulged, and must be unavailing...

Don't you just hate this sort of circumstance? Like Churchill's fanatic, you can't change your mind, and you won't change the subject.

...She could think of nothing else; and yet whether Bingley's regard had really died away, or were suppressed by his friends' interference; whether he had been aware of Jane's attachment, or whether it had escaped his observation; whatever were the case, though her opinion of him must be materially affected by the difference, her sister's situation remained the same, her peace equally wounded.

The sad conclusion. It is also true that Lizzy at least allows him the possibility of not knowing that Jane cares for him. She thinks it unlikely, yes, but she does allow it. That is also to her credit. Partiality for Jane is what leads her to think that all the world must think of Jane the same way she does: Jane on a pedestal, and all as aware of Jane's wishes as she is herself.

A day or two passed before Jane had courage to speak of her feelings to Elizabeth; but at last, on Mrs. Bennet's leaving them together, after a longer irritation than usual about Netherfield and its master, she could not help saying:

"Oh, that my dear mother had more command over herself!...

'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished, no doubt; not likely, though.

...She can have no idea of the pain she gives me by her continual reflections on him. But I will not repine. It cannot last long. He will be forgot, and we shall all be as we were before."

Elizabeth looked at her sister with incredulous solicitude, but said nothing.

As evidenced by what Jane says immediately following, this incredulity, Jane thinks, is about whether or not Jane will forget him. I think Jane might have misread Lizzy, who in my opinion is more likely thinking that it is Bingley who will not forget Jane. What think you? This is a very close parallel to that sitution in Chapter Fifty-four, when Lizzy tells Jane, "I think you are in very great danger of making him as much in love with you as ever." It does not seem to me that Lizzy doubts Jane's word: she knows Jane always says what she thinks.

"You doubt me," cried Jane, slightly colouring; "indeed, you have no reason. He may live in my memory as the most amiable man of my acquaintance, but that is all. I have nothing either to hope or fear, and nothing to reproach him with. Thank God! I have not that pain. A little time, therefore-- I shall certainly try to get the better."

Ah, how well does Jane have her priorities together! She does not think more highly of herself than she ought, and is more concerned about Bingley's character than she is about her own happiness.

With a stronger voice she soon added, "I have this comfort immediately, that it has not been more than an error of fancy on my side, and that it has done no harm to anyone but myself."

All very proper on her side, I'm sure, though it misses the facts. It is, perhaps, the best reaction she could have under the uncertainty with which she has to work.

"My dear Jane!" exclaimed Elizabeth, "you are too good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not know what to say to you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, or loved you as you deserve."

My sentiments exactly.

Miss Bennet eagerly disclaimed all extraordinary merit, and threw back the praise on her sister's warm affection.

Accepting praise properly, or not? Here is a case in point: what is the proper way to accept praise? It might have been better to smile and say, "Thank you."

"Nay," said Elizabeth, "this is not fair. You wish to think all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody. I only want to think you perfect, and you set yourself against it. Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on your privilege of universal good-will. You need not...

We know enough of Lizzy's frankness to believe her capable of that!

...There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense...

Interesting statement, is it not? A pity Lizzy does not apply it universally. All of what she says is true, no? And yet the appearance of goodness in Wickham is enough to overcome any doubts or suspicions outright. Darcy has all the goodness, and Wickham all the appearance of it. It was in the movie Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, 1998 version, where one female character told Tom Jones that it was not enough to be good; you must also appear to be so.

...I have met with two instances lately, one I will not mention;...

Plainly, from below, Jane interprets this unmentioned instance of the disparity between appearance and reality in the question of common sense as pertaining to Bingley. What think you, dear readers? Would you say the same?

...the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!"

"My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins's respectability, and Charlotte's steady, prudent character. Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune, it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for everybody's sake, that she may feel something like regard and esteem for our cousin."

Jane does the best she can. Here is where I mentioned above that I would come back to this liberal/conservative contrast. The liberal is very often willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to the distortion of the truth. The conservative is sometimes so concerned about truth that he believes himself the sole possessor of it and thus distorts his view of other people. Lizzy follows.

"To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness."

That is rather deep. It's also stirring, is it not? I could imagine someone shouting this out at some political rally. Really, of course, we should not, for the sake of any number of people, change the meaning of any of those terms. They are objective truth: as much as the world cavils against such a concept, they cannot escape it. To state that there is no absolute truth is self-contradictory, for you have just uttered an absolute truth. Why is this deep? Because the things Lizzy is distinguishing, one from the other, are surely close in practice. The actions a selfish man takes could easily be very similar, if not identical, to those a prudent man would. Indeed, a prudent man, in a worldly way, could actually be selfish. An other-worldly prudent man could not be, however, and perhaps that is the kind of prudence Lizzy has in mind.

"I must think your language too strong in speaking of both," replied Jane; "and I hope you will be convinced of it by seeing them happy together. But enough of this...

Jane is rather like Bingley, I think. Perhaps you recall the scene in Chapter Ten, when Bingley "wants to silence this" argument. Darcy, no doubt, rather likes argumentation and debate, but Bingley does not. And here, Jane perhaps feels she is arguing against Lizzy, something she probably dislikes. So she changes the subject.

...You alluded to something else. You mentioned two instances. I cannot misunderstand you, but I entreat you, dear Lizzy, not to pain me by thinking that person to blame, and saying your opinion of him is sunk. We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured...

Isn't that a wonderful sentiment? I could wish everyone in the world read that sentence every day, first thing after waking. To have a hard head like that is a beautiful thing. Not to be readily offended is a very beautiful thing. It shows an underlying humility that is quite commendable.

...We must not expect a lively young man to be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us. Women fancy admiration means more than it does."

Not being a woman, I cannot hazard any comment as to its veracity. I can, however, say that saying that about herself to someone close like Lizzy is not a bad thing at all.

"And men take care that they should."

Lizzy looks at it from the opposite viewpoint. I can't help thinking that Jane's way of thinking is more healthy. For Lizzy, in this case, men do the damage through wiful deception. The blame is on the other person. A better attitude, though, is to think that the problem with the world is ME!

"If it is designedly done, they cannot be justified; but I have no idea of there being so much design in the world as some persons imagine.

Jane puts the best face on it, as usual. While she does not abandon the standard of right and wrong, she is certainly willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Lizzy is less willing to do so, a trait that changes in the course of the book. Now, what's interesting is the following statement of Lizzy's: she is willing to put forward the best motive she can think of as the explanation for Bingley's actions, but she is not willing to believe that there could be things she doesn't understand. Jane, you see, is willing to live with mysteries, but Lizzy must find everything out.

"I am far from attributing any part of Mr. Bingley's conduct to design," said Elizabeth; "but without scheming to do wrong, or to make others unhappy, there may be error, and there may be misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to other people's feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business."

"And do you impute it to either of those?"

Jane here.

"Yes; to the last. But if I go on, I shall displease you by saying what I think of persons you esteem. Stop me whilst you can."

Lizzy is self-aware, which is a good thing. She does not commit the same errors as her cousin.

"You persist, then, in supposing his sisters influence him?"


Yes, in conjunction with his friend."


"I cannot believe it. Why should they try to influence him? They can only wish his happiness; and if he is attached to me, no other woman can secure it."

Jane putting the bold face on it, as Puddleglum would say.

"Your first position is false. They may wish many things besides his happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth and consequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance of money, great connections, and pride."

While this viewpoint does not put Bingley's sisters in as good a light as Jane could wish, as evidenced by Jane's following remarks, I think it is very close to the mark. Lizzy understands Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst much better than Jane.

"Beyond a doubt, they do wish him to choose Miss Darcy," replied Jane; "but this may be from better feelings than you are supposing. They have known her much longer than they have known me; no wonder if they love her better. But, whatever may be their own wishes, it is very unlikely they should have opposed their brother's. What sister would think herself at liberty to do it, unless there were something very objectionable?...

Which is exactly what is going on. There is no objection to Jane per se, but there is to her family. The Bennets are not as important in society as the Darcys and Bingleys, and the Bennets, almost all of them, do display a great deal of impropriety. Darcy writes about this in the letter.

...If they believed him attached to me, they would not try to part us; if he were so, they could not succeed...

This, unfortunately, is false. Bingley is attached, but is convinced by Darcy that Jane does not care for him.

...By supposing such an affection, you make everybody acting unnaturally and wrong, and me most unhappy. Do not distress me by the idea. I am not ashamed of having been mistaken-- or, at least, it is light, it is nothing in comparison of what I should feel in thinking ill of him or his sisters. Let me take it in the best light, in the light in which it may be understood."

Elizabeth could not oppose such a wish; and from this time Mr. Bingley's name was scarcely ever mentioned between them.

A fitting end, to be sure.

Mrs. Bennet still continued to wonder and repine at his returning no more, and though a day seldom passed in which Elizabeth did not account for it clearly, there was little chance of her ever considering it with less perplexity. Her daughter endeavoured to convince her of what she did not believe herself,...

Is this strictly honest? Is this a "little white lie?" I can't help thinking that it must be a very complex society indeed where person A tries to convince person B of something person A doesn't actually believe, especially if it is not for any bad motive like in this case.

...that his attentions to Jane had been merely the effect of a common and transient liking, which ceased when he saw her no more; but though the probability of the statement was admitted at the time, she had the same story to repeat every day. Mrs. Bennet's best comfort was that Mr. Bingley must be down again in the summer.

Mr. Bennet treated the matter differently...

This is absolutely hilarious, and Lizzy understands his meaning delightfully well.

..."So, Lizzy," said he one day, "your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is your time. Here are officers enough in Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."

"Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. We must not all expect Jane's good fortune."

Isn't that fun?

"True," said Mr. Bennet, "but it is a comfort to think that whatever of that kind may befall you, you have an affectionate mother who will make the most of it."

Ooo! What a wit.

Mr. Wickham's society was of material service in dispelling the gloom which the late perverse occurrences had thrown on many of the Longbourn family. They saw him often, and to his other recommendations was now added that of general unreserve. The whole of what Elizabeth had already heard, his claims on Mr. Darcy, and all that he had suffered from him, was now openly acknowledged and publicly canvassed;...

Here Austen gives us a clue as to the duplicity of Wickham. It was in Chapter Sixteen that Wickham said, 'Some time or other he will be [exposed] - but it shall not be by me. Till I can forget his father, I can never defy or expose him.' Since I doubt Wickham has, by this time, forgotten the late Mr. Darcy, I conclude that Wickham is going back on his word, something a gentleman, at least in this case, would never have done. I am being hard on poor Lizzy, but at least she sees this in the chapter after the letter.

...and everybody was pleased to know how much they had always disliked Mr. Darcy before they had known anything of the matter.

Miss Bennet was the only creature who could suppose there might be any extenuating circumstances in the case, unknown to the society of Hertfordshire; her mild and steady candour always pleaded for allowances, and urged the possibility of mistakes-- but by everybody else Mr. Darcy was condemned as the worst of men.

So it is that Jane's statement in Chapter Fifty-nine, namely, "I always had a value for him," is true. Jane is not committing the error of "I told you so. Wasn't I right about him all along?" Jane is a very good creature, and we have seen something of that in this chapter.