Saturday, October 27, 2007

Chapter Twenty

Originally published 6/25/2006.

We have here a most delightful chapter, in which all of Austen's superb comedic timing comes to the fore.

Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love;...

Successful, my foot. Also rather funny is the phrase "left long." Indeed the whole chapter is quite aptly summed up by Mrs. Bennet soon after: "We are all in an uproar."

...for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room, and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect or their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.

This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; she would have been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter had meant to encourage him by protesting against his proposals, but she dared not believe it, and could not help saying so.

Even Mrs. Bennet shows some insight into character when it comes to her pet topic: getting her daughters married off.

"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She is a very headstrong, foolish girl, and does not know her own interest but I will make her know it."

On her favorite subject, she even imagines she can move the far superior mind of Lizzy. To some extent this is some chutzpah.

"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state...

Actually somewhat perceptive. Maybe this would be a candidate for a second sensible statement of Mr. Collins?

...If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity."

"Sir, you quite misunderstand me," said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed. "Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everything else she is as good-natured a girl as ever lived. I will go directly to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her, I am sure."

Ja, but not according to Mrs. Bennet's ideas.

She would not give him time to reply, but hurrying instantly to her husband, called out as she entered the library, "Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her."

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.

Notice that Mrs. Bennet has no doubts as to where he is. Ah, yes. Calm reason and presence of mind are not so disturbed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or maybe Mr. Bennet was so absorbed in his book that he didn't start listening to Mrs. Bennet's outburst until halfway through. That would certainly explain his lack of understanding. The fact of the matter is, on the face of it, Mrs. Bennet's statement is pretty clear and at least explains her position. Mr. Bennet is all typical male.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."

Mrs. Bennet here.

"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless business."

Mr. Bennet. I ask you, dear reader, what is so hopeless about this business?

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."

Mrs. Bennet.

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mr. Bennet. Notice that he does not promise Mrs. Bennet he will make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins.

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well-- and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, sir."

Lizzy here. Notice how orderly Mr. Bennet is in ascertaining the facts. This is how a loving parent should operate: before coming to accusations (though Mr. Bennet, we know, is about to solidly confirm Lizzy in her choice; perhaps his former unconcern over his favorite daughter is based on his trust of her judgement) or taking any action, it is important to get the facts.

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

You could almost believe Mr. Bennet is a lawyer in a cross-examination.

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

Mrs. Bennet. Mr. Bennet follows.

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning,...

Surely she could expect an outcome, at least, no different. She knows her father regards him as a man possessing no very great sense, therefore, she wouldn't expect her father to force her to marry him. She is further confirmed in this belief in the passage later on in the book that I quoted in my comments on the previous chapter.

...but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed.

How could she have persuaded herself that he thought as she did? It was probably done in a moment, by the excess of her emotion clouding her judgement. This happens to many people (certainly not just women) all the time. It's rather dangerous.

"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, in talking this way? You promised me to insist upon her marrying him."

"My dear," replied her husband, "I have two small favours to request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be."

This is certainly final on the part of Mr. Bennet; even Mrs. Bennet understands this.

Not yet, however, in spite of her disappointment in her husband, did Mrs. Bennet give up the point. She talked to Elizabeth again and again; coaxed and threatened her by turns. She endeavoured to secure Jane in her interest; but Jane, with all possible mildness, declined interfering;...

This is exactly what we should expect of Jane.

...and Elizabeth, sometimes with real earnestness, and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied to her attacks. Though her manner varied, however, her determination never did.

And this is exactly what we should expect of Lizzy.

Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had passed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on what motives his cousin could refuse him;...

Douglas Wilson has some stern words to say about this. Mr. Collins is evidently one of those sad males who believe that since a man is the head of his wife, and her leader, that therefore any male whatsoever is qualified to lead any female. But the fact of the matter is that, for any given male, there are no doubt a multitude of women who are, in fact, his betters. And as Wilson would say, Abigail did not go well with Nabal.

...and though his pride was hurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quite imaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother's reproach prevented his feeling any regret.

While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia, who, flying to her, cried in a half whisper, "I am glad you are come, for there is such fun here! What do you think has happened this morning? Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy, and she will not have him."

Is this gossip? Lydia, no doubt, intended it to be such, but Charlotte being such the intimate friend of Lizzy would make her have a right to know. On the other hand, perhaps it would have been better coming from Lizzy directly.

Charlotte hardly had time to answer, before they were joined by Kitty, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had they entered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, than she likewise began on the subject,...

Perhaps it's cruel, but I imagine a row of dominoes falling down, the one causing the other to fall.

...calling on Miss Lucas for her compassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy to comply with the wishes of all her family. "Pray do, my dear Miss Lucas," she added in a melancholy tone, "for nobody is on my side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobody feels for my poor nerves."

Charlotte is much too sensible to join Mrs. Bennet. And Mrs. Bennet, in her usual form, is fancying, because her opinions are silly and nobody joins her in them, that she is ill-used.

Charlotte's reply was spared by the entrance of Jane and Elizabeth.

"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tell you, Miss Lizzy-- if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way,...

One, count 'em, one. Although, naturally, we have the advantage of knowing that, in fact, Lizzy will refuse Darcy later. So we know that Lizzy is picky; such is the appropriate attitude for a woman of her talents. It is not just any man who can lead her. will never get a husband at all--...

This would be known as an invalid generalization. First of all, as already remarked, she is basing her opinion on far too little statistical data. Secondly, even if she had more statistical data that showed Lizzy tending to refuse offers, it would be an invalid conclusion. Because Lizzy rejects unsuitable men in no way implies she would reject a suitable man.

...and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you-- and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word...

Austen's comedic timing comes to the fore, as we see just to what extent Mrs. Bennet is not going to speak to Lizzy.

...I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied."

Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that any attempt to reason with her or soothe her would only increase the irritation...

Question: how many daughters are present? Certainly, it's safe to say Lizzy is there, and the plural indicates at least one other, Jane certainly as indicated above. Charlotte is there. Further on, we note that Kitty and Lydia are also present. So I would hazard a guess that Mary is the only one absent, probably deep in her study of thorough-bass and human nature. It is odd that Austen ascribes enough sense to Kitty and Lydia that they would know not to speak up here. Maybe they have that much sense.

...She talked on, therefore, without interruption from any of them, till they were joined by Mr. Collins, who entered the room with an air more stately than usual, and on perceiving whom, she said to the girls, "Now, I do insist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your tongues, and let me and Mr. Collins have a little conversation together."

I seriously doubt anyone present wants to do anything else. Hence this is rather a needless command. Perhaps Mrs. Bennet wants to assert herself in order to feel herself still capable of doing so.

Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty followed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all she could; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins, whose inquiries after herself and all her family were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking to the window and pretending not to hear...

Question: is Charlotte behaving any better than Lydia? I think we may safely guess that Charlotte has designs on Mr. Collins already. It is certainly in her interest, therefore, to listen in. Lydia has no such intentions, since Mr. Collins does not wear red.

...In a doleful voice Mrs. Bennet began the projected conversation: "Oh! Mr. Collins!"

"My dear madam, " replied he, "let us be for ever silent on this point. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice that marked his displeasure, "to resent the behaviour of your daughter...

Oh, the hypocrisy.

...Resignation to inevitable evils is the evil duty of us all; the peculiar duty of a young man who has been so fortunate as I have been in early preferment; and I trust I am resigned. Perhaps not the less so from feeling a doubt of my positive happiness had my fair cousin honoured me with her hand; for I have often observed that resignation is never so perfect as when the blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value in our estimation...

Sour graping it.

...You will not, I hope consider me as showing any disrespect to your family, my dear madam, by thus withdrawing my pretensions to your daughter's favour, without having paid yourself and Mr. Bennet the compliment...

Insult, rather.

...of requesting you to interpose your authority in my behalf. My conduct may, I fear, be objectionable in having accepted my dismission from your daughter's lips instead of your own. But we are all liable to error. I have certainly meant well through the whole affair. My object has been to secure an amiable companion for myself, with due consideration for the advantage of all your family, and if my manner has been at all reprehensible, I here beg leave to apologise."

Wrong and officious, as usual. As Mr. Bennet says later, "I cannot help giving him [Collins] the preference even over Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law."

Well, the fun is over for this week. I hope you have enjoyed.