Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chapter Thirteen, Part 1

Originally published 4/9/2006.

Like Mr. Bennet, "I am impatient to meet him." Him in this case is Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins provides some fantastic light relief. And also fodder for my pen, er, keyboard.

"I hope, my dear," said Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast the next morning, "that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."

Some might think this is hypocrisy; as in, we'll put on a good dinner for an honored guest, but what we normally have is no big deal. I disagree. If you read the parable of the prodigal son, you will see that those who are home all the time can have a party whenever they want. There can be very good reasons to celebrate at one time, and yet be frugal at others. However, I do think it might have been a good idea to advise his wife earlier than this.

"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in-- And I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home."

Here's Mrs. Bennet exhibiting bona fide pride. As C. S. Lewis put it, the worst kind of pride is that kind which does not so much exult in being good at this or that, but in being better at it than our neighbor. Mrs. Bennet is looking down on her neighbor, Mrs. Lucas, because she cannot have the dinners that she has. All this is ludicrous, because of course Mr. Darcy, and probably also Mr. Bingley, both can afford much better dinners than she can.

"The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."

Here Mr. Bennet has a little fun, and I'm not so sure it's at the expense of his family.

Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled. "A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure!...

Mr. Bingley is a stranger, is he? I wouldn't have thought it by this time. Here is the apparent absence of rational thought in Mrs. Bennet coming to the fore.

...Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. But--good Lord! how unlucky! There is not a bit of fish to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell-- I must speak to Hill this moment."

"It is
not Mr. Bingley," said her husband; "it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life."

This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and his five daughters at once.

Not excepting even Jane and Lizzy, you notice. This leads me to believe that Lizzy and Jane both want to get married, as did most young women of the day. They will be choosy, especially Lizzy, but they do want to get married. It is probably considered unseemly to appear exceptionally desirous of it, however. I'm treading on dangerous ground here, because I think "The Rules" are stupid. And yet, there is a grain of truth to them, I think. This idea that Lizzy wants to marry is in contradiction to what many modern feminist authors would have us believe, imposing their 21st century viewpoint on the 19th century, and naturally getting it wrong.

After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained:

"About a month ago I received this letter; and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention...

This is hilarious. Early attention? The difference between a month and a fortnight is a fortnight: about two weeks. I should think two weeks an abnormally long time to respond to a letter. We know from other places in the book that Mr. Bennet is a very delinquent correspondent, among other responsibilities. See Chapter 50, in the fifth paragraph.

...It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases."

I think Mr. Bennet is intentionally provoking his wife here. He no doubt knows that Jane and Lizzy have tried to explain the nature of an entail to her (see the paragraph after next), and so is trying to get his wife to react. I think the BBC version backs this up in the way Mr. Bennet says this line. Mrs. Bennet reacts predictably.

"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it."

This is ad hominem circumstantial, to be sure: to Mr. Collins will go my house and estate, and not to my children. Therefore, Mr. Collins is evil.

Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

"It certainly is a most iniquitous affair," said Mr. Bennet, "and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn...

O, the sarcasm.

...But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself."

"No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it is very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could he not keep on quarreling with you, as his father did before him?"

Yet more folly. She wants supposedly Christian people to go one sinning? Her morality at this point is highly questionable.

"Why, indeed; he does seem to have had some filial scruples on that head, as you will hear."

Mr. Bennet sets up this absurd letter with a rather innocuous statement.

"Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,
"15th October.

"Dear Sir,--
"The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with anyone with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance,-- 'There, Mrs. Bennet.'-- My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England...

It is difficult to know where to begin. First of all, this is an insufferably long sentence. Second of all, even to have doubts as to whether two people should attempt to be reconciled is to misunderstand Matthew 18 utterly. Thirdly, to "demean" himself to Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a too high valuation of the world. Pastors should make their congregations uncomfortable through conviction of sin. Their duty is not to act like imbeciles.

As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within in the reach of my influence;...

Fair enough.

...and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures are highly commendable,...


...and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive-branch...

As Lizzy says later, why is he apologizing for something he didn't do, can't change, and no doubt doesn't want to change?

...I cannot otherwise than be concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends-- but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'ennight following,...

I think se'ennight means "sevennight." So he's going to stay from Monday to Saturday.

...which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day...

He doesn't really have to mention this. It's expected that you get someone to cover your place if you're going somewhere and cannot perform your regular duties.

...-- I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

Time to break. See you next post.