Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chapter Seventeen

Originally published 5/7/2006.

This is a shorter chapter, so I don't think I'll subdivide today. This chapter is concerned with setting up the ball at Netherfield, and all the little (and perhaps not-so-little!) thoughts and hopes usually connected with such an event. People do not hold balls like this much anymore, at least not in the US. Perhaps in Britain they still do. It might, perhaps, be a custom that it would be good to re-adopt.

Elizabeth related to Jane the next day what had passed between Mr. Wickham and herself...

Question: is this gossip or not? We can be sure of Jane's discretion, and certainly Lizzy was. But just because you know someone won't go blabbing doesn't mean you tell them. There must be edification going on, and meet words. Perhaps it is because Jane and Lizzy are very close, and want each others' opinion. Thus, it is entirely possible that Jane could influence Lizzy on this matter for good. Furthermore, since Darcy is Bingley's friend, and Jane is interested in Bingley, there is another connection. I'm inclined to answer my question in the negative, but any remarks on your part are, as usual, quite welcome.

...Jane listened with astonishment and concern; she knew not how to believe that Mr. Darcy could be so unworthy of Mr. Bingley's regard; and yet, it was not in her nature to question the veracity of a young man of such amiable appearance as Wickham...

Innocent as a dove, but... not wise as a serpent. Naturally, it is in most peoples' nature to believe truth more easily when it is clothed in beauty. No one likes ugly truths except curmudgeons.

...The possibility of his having endured such unkindness, was enough to interest all her tender feelings; and nothing remained therefore to be done, but to think well of them both, to defend the conduct of each, and throw into the account of accident or mistake whatever could not be otherwise explained.

Thus skirting the edge of a contradiction, if not falling into one completely. Surely, both here cannot be right.

"They have both," said she, "been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea...

Always a possibility, so this is by no means an idiotic thing to say.

...Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side."

Which Jane must at all costs avoid. This is interesting, as blame is one of those things that definitely exists, and I suppose we must pay attention to, just not too much attention. Very often it doesn't matter. Jane understands this to some extent, at least on the "it doesn't matter" side. Perhaps she needs to outgrow a bit of her naivety.

"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane, what have you got to say on behalf of the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? Do clear them too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody?"

A delightful teasing of Jane on the part of Lizzy.

Textual variant time, with the usual votes, please. The Project Gutenberg text has the previous paragraph as you see it. My Everyman's Library edition has the following:

'Very true, indeed; - and now, my dear Jane, what have you got to say on behalf of the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? - Do clear them too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody.'

I am positively certain that the question mark at the end of the paragraph in the Gutenburg text is misplaced, literally a typo.

"Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, one whom his father had promised to provide for. It is impossible. No man of common humanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it. Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him? Oh! no."

This whole reply of Jane's is very interesting in at least one regard: it shows the reader just how disappointing a gossip Jane is. Kind of the heart of gossip is a kind of pride: look at those people over there, how bad they are. Jane's unwillingness to see evil in anyone is quite the deterrent to gossip. Indeed, I am certain that if there were many more Jane's around these days, gossip might not be quite such a prevalent problem as it is. In particular, I find myself in gossipy situations without even realizing it sometimes.

"I can much more easily believe Mr. Bingley's being imposed on, than that Mr. Wickham should invent such a history of himself as he gave me last night; names, facts, everything mentioned without ceremony. If it be not so, let Mr. Darcy contradict it...

Ja, but Lizzy is not going to let Darcy contradict it, because she can't really bring it up. It's not the sort of thing you talk about in polite circles without some extreme provocation, such as Darcy's proposal.

...Besides, there was truth in his looks."

Ditto above about Jane.

"It is difficult indeed-- it is distressing. One does not know what to think."


"I beg your pardon; one knows exactly what to think."

Lizzy, of course.

But Jane could think with certainty on only one point-- that Mr. Bingley, if he had been imposed on, would have much to suffer when the affair became public.

The two young ladies were summoned...

I assume that Mrs. Bennet and the rest of the family, soon to be mentioned, did the summoning. Otherwise, the appearance of the rest of the family would be rather mysterious.

...from the shrubbery, where this conversation passed, by the arrival of the very persons of whom they had been speaking; Mr. Bingley and his sisters came to give their personal invitation for the long-expected ball at Netherfield, which was fixed for the following Tuesday. The two ladies were delighted to see their dear friend again, called it an age since they had met,...

This reminds me of a scene in the book Gone with the Wind, in which several ladies hug each other as if they hadn't seen each other in years, whereas in reality it had been more like... hours.

...and repeatedly asked what she had been doing with herself since their separation. To the rest of the family they paid little attention; avoiding Mrs. Bennet as much as possible, saying not much to Elizabeth, and nothing at all to the others. They were soon gone again, rising from their seats with an activity which took their brother by surprise, and hurrying off as if eager to escape from Mrs. Bennet's civilities.

This illustrates their superficial nature. Mr. Bingley is willing to put up with the absurdity of Mrs. Bennet in order to gain the priceless Jane. His sisters have not yet learned that wisdom.

The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card...

She would consider it that way.

...Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of her brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham, and of seeing a confirmation of everything in Mr. Darcy's look and behavior...

I am not so sure that the pride spoken of in the title of this book is all on Darcy's side. I think we see here a competing pride on Lizzy's part. She has been slighted by Darcy, and would thus like to see him set down, as her mother once wanted Mr. Bennet to do to him.

...The happiness anticipated by Catherine and Lydia depended less on any single event, or any particular person, for though they each, like Elizabeth, meant to dance half the evening with Mr. Wickham, he was be no means the only partner who could satisfy them, and a ball was, at any rate, a ball...

We know that it is considered impolite, actually, to dance with only one partner the whole evening. Balls are not places for romance, though that can certainly result. They are places for socializing. That is the entire point of a ball. So, ironically, Lizzy has lost sight of this a bit in her bid for getting even with Darcy.

...And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it.

"While I can have my mornings to myself," said she, "it is enough-- I think it is no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess myself one of those who consider intervals of recreation and amusement as desirable for everybody."

A statement akin to "intervals of exercise and decent food and drink and sleep are desirable for everybody." Also similar to Mrs. Palmer in the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility: "She'll be wet through when she returns." I'm strongly tempted to reply like Mr. Palmer in the same, "Thank you for pointing that out, my dear."

Elizabeth's spirits were so high on this occasion, that though she did not often speak unnecessarily to Mr. Collins,...

O, yeah. Mr. Collins is still there. Austen has been neglecting him about as much as Lizzy, and justly so.

...she could not help asking him whether he intended to accept Mr. Bingley's invitation, and if he did, whether he would think it proper to join in the evening's amusement; and she was rather surprised to find that he entertained no scruple whatever on that head, and was very far from dreading a rebuke either from the Archbishop, or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, by venturing to dance.

I wonder why Lizzy would suspect the clergy of needing to abstain from dancing. Might it be the same sort of thing many Christians these days think? Dancing is inherently evil? Certain types of dancing, I grant you, have evil tendencies. But certain other kinds are quite unobjectionable, surely. A blanket statement is out of court.

"I am by no means of the opinion, I assure you," said he, "that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself, that I shall hope to be honoured with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of the evening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss Elizabeth, for the two first dances especially, a preference which I trust my cousin Jane will attribute to the right cause, and not to any disrespect for her."

Very officiously said.

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Mr. Wickham for those very dances; and to have Mr. Collins instead! her liveliness had never been worse times. There was no help for it, however...

Although technically women had the power of refusal to dance, it was very rarely done, I'm sure. As I said before, dancing was a social event, not a bunch of romances rolled into one. Therefore, unless you had a really good reason, as a female you had to accept whoever asked you.

...Mr. Wickham's happiness and her own were perforce delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins' proposal accepted with as good a grace as she could. She was not better the pleased with his gallantry from the idea it suggested of something more. It now first struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors...

So Lizzy is second-rate, as we already know.

...The idea soon reached to conviction, as she observed his increasing civilities toward herself, and heard his frequent attempt at a compliment on her wit and vivacity;...

Thus hinting that Mr. Collins is conceited enough that he doesn't even really know how to give a true compliment to someone.

...and though more astonished than gratified herself by this effect of her charms, it was not long before her mother gave her to understand that the probability of their marriage was extremely agreeable to her. Elizabeth, however, did not choose to take the hint, being well aware that a serious dispute must be the consequence of any reply. Mr. Collins might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.

Very wise, no doubt.

If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable state at this time, for from the day of the invitation, to the day of the ball, there was such a succession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once. No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after-- the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her patience in weather which totally suspended the improvement of her acquaintance with Mr. Wickham; and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.

Ah, yes. Life is hard, isn't it? Kitty and Lydia actually have to wait for a good thing? In today's instant McEverything, "I hate waiting," is, along with Inigo Montoya, the cry of us all. As my father used to say quite often, "You'll live." Perhaps true contentment isn't such a bad thing; it certainly contributes greatly to your peace of mind.