Monday, November 05, 2007

Chapter Fourteen

Originally published 4/16/2006.

Here in Chapter 14, we have what reminds me of that moment in the movie Miss Congeniality, where the trainer says, "One brief, shining moment, and then that mouth." For it is here, and only here, in the illustrious Chapter 14, that Mr. Collins has his single, solitary, and in all other ways isolated word of good common sense. Fear not. I will point it out to you.

This is another short chapter, so I will do it all at once. Sorry, Lane.

During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness. Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort, appeared very remarkable. Mr. Bennet could not have chosen better. Mr. Collins was eloquent in her praise. The subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with a most important aspect he protested that "he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank-- such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both of the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen anything but affability in her. She had always spoken to him as she would to any other gentleman; she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood nor to his leaving the parish occasionally for a week or two, to visit his relations. She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion; and had once paid him a visit in his humble parsonage, where she had perfectly approved all the alterations he had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself-- some shelves in the closet upstairs."

Aye, we can already see the pride coming to the fore. Lady Catherine is proud, and shows it by suggesting that various home improvements should be made (read as, "You will make these alterations.) This implies that her residence, Rosings, is superior to the parsonage which, while no doubt true, is not something that Lady Catherine needs to parade around at every opportunity. The phrase "noblesse oblige" comes to mind.

"That is all very proper and civil, I am sure," said Mrs. Bennet, "and I dare say she is a very agreeable woman. It is a pity that great ladies in general are not more like her. Does she live near you, sir?"

"The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship's residence."

Mr. Collins here.

"I think you said she was a widow, sir? Has she any family?"

Mr. Bennet.

"She has only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property."

Mr. Collins.

"Ah!" said Mrs. Bennet, shaking her head, "then she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is she handsome?"

"She is a most charming young lady indeed. Lady Catherine herself says that, in point of true beauty, Miss de Bourgh is far superior to the handsomest of her sex, because there is that in her features which marks the young lady of distinguished birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her from making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not have otherwise failed of, as I am informed by the lady who superintended her education, and who still resides with them. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies."

Mr. Collins. I don't suppose there is anything wrong with this bit of conversation. That will soon change, as it does so often in Austen.

"Has she been presented? I do not remember her name among the ladies at court."

Mr. Bennet.

"Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine one day, has deprived the British court of its brightest ornaments. Her ladyship seemed pleased with the idea; and you may imagine that I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies. I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine, that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."

I would comment on Mr. Collins here, but Austen herself, by what follows, more than adequately explains this folly.

"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, "and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?"

"They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."

Mr. Collins, who is not all there.

Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.

The Kiera Knightley version at this point, hereby abbreviated KKn, almost goes over the top, and portrays Mr. Bennet and Lizzy having a great deal of difficulty concealing their mirth. I think Jane probably catches on to the absurdity as well.

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels...

Sad, sad creature. Novels, good novels, teach us so much! Indeed, the present work has been teaching me a great deal. This is no doubt a not-so-subtle jab at various narrow-minded people who think that truth cannot be conveyed in fiction. I don't know how they get that opinion, as Jesus Christ used fiction as his primary teaching tool in the parables. Those narrow-minded types we have still with us, unfortunately. I would almost rather say that the truth is more easily conveyed in fiction than in non-fiction. In fiction, you see, the author can contrive his created world to leave out distracting details so that he can teach precisely what he wants. The real world is so much more complicated, and so much more grey versus black and white, that it can be very difficult to learn anything from history. Which is why too many people don't even try, a different extreme which we should also avoid.

...Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:

"Do you know, mamma, that my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town."

Rude, rude, rude. Yes, Mr. Collins is a boor; that is no excuse for such interruptions.

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin."

Here it is, as promised. Mr. Collins's sole moment of glory. Alas, it is not nearly enough to atone for the avalanche of pomposity he so universally exhibits elsewhere. But truly, if you examine this statement, there is so much truth to it. Before you ladies attack me with something like, "But Mr. Collins is really pointing out the deficiencies of ladies in order to elevate his own sex," which might very well be true, let me ask you: is what he says true, or not? I think the Christian life should focus on our own sins and faults, not so much the sins of others. So Mr. Collins may not be doing the best thing here in saying this, since he does not realize that his statement will quite go over Lydia's head, thus violating the principle of conversation that the listener must be within your realm of influence or authority, and that you must have some probability of success. Mr. Collins, therefore, while speaking truth, does not speak it in love. However, if you are on the receiving end of a comment like this, the wise thing to do is overlook the deficiencies of delivery, and focus on its truth, which is manifest.

Then turning to Mr. Bennet, he offered himself as his antagonist at backgammon. Mr. Bennet accepted the challenge, observing that he acted very wisely in leaving the girls to their own trifling amusements...

Knowing as I do that Mr. Bennet thinks his daughters to be very foolish, viz. his statements in Chapter 7, I am inclined to think that Mr. Bennet may not be sarcastic here. He may mean what he says, especially since it's probably true.

...Mrs. Bennet and her daughters...

Probably excluding Lydia.

...apologised most civilly for Lydia's interruption, and promised that it should not occur again, if he would resume his book; but Mr. Collins, after assuring them that he bore his young cousin no ill-will, and should never resent her behaviour as any affront, seated himself at another table with Mr. Bennet, and prepared for backgammon.