Chapter Seven, Part 2
Originally published 2/12/2006.
Continued from last post.
Mrs. Bennet was prevented replying by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss Bennet; it came from Netherfield, and the servant waited for an answer. Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled with pleasure, and she was eagerly calling out, while her daughter read:
"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."
I suppose we can forgive Mrs. Bennet this over-eagerness; to get her daughters married off is hardly the most hateful motive in the world.
"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read it aloud.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,--
"If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tete-a-tete between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers.-- Yours ever,
This letter puzzles me exceedingly. Any help here would be appreciated. I guess one thing that puzzles me is this: when is the "tete-a-tete" Miss Bingley speaks of? Has it already happened, and if so, when? Or is it a tete-a-tete to which she is inviting Jane? Second question: why must the tete-a-tete not end without a quarrel? Is Miss Bingley being sarcastic or ironic? Finally, is there any indiscretion here? I would initially say there was not.
"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell us of that."
"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."
Here we see Mrs. Bennet's imbalance: all propriety must bend before her desire to get her daughters married off.
"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.
"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night."
"That would be a good scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home."
I think Lizzy is being sarcastic with the word "good" here. She is staying aloof, I think, from Mrs. Bennet's ignoring proprieties, and perhaps merely to be funny is ostensibly entering into the spirit.
"Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs."
Mrs. Bennet here, explaining why the Bingleys will not be able to send Jane home.
"I had much rather go in the coach."
"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are they not?
Mrs. Bennet tries to enlist the aid of other reasons why Jane cannot have the carriage; perhaps they are a bit desparate. I am not sure.
"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."
Mr. Bennet here.
"But if you have got them to-day," said Elizabeth, "my mother's purpose will be answered."
This one, after thinking about it, puzzles me, too. According to Mrs. Bennet, what would serve her purpose is for precisely one horse to be available. So why does Lizzy say "them?"
She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged;...
The "she" here is Lizzy, though for a long time I thought it was Mrs. Bennet. Rather silly of me, considering it says "her father."
...Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. Her hopes were answered; Jane had not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission; Jane certainly could not some back.
"This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!" said Mrs. Bennet more than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all her own...
Austen says it all.
...Till the next morning, however, she was not aware of all the felicity of her contrivance. Breakfast was scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brought the following note for Elizabeth:
"MY DEAREST LIZZY,--
"I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones-- therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me-- and, excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.-- Yours, etc."
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness-- if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders."
Always interesting how "problem children" end up being the progeny of your spouse, and not you, isn't it? Thus it's "your daughter" for Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh! I am not afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her if I could have the carriage."
Supreme hypocrisy. Mrs. Bennet will send Jane to go for a pleasure trip on horseback in the hopes she will get wet and have to stay the night, whereas she will not stir her foot in a much more morally engaging visit unless she can have the carriage. Now, perhaps there is a health reason interfering here.
Elizabeth, feeling really anxious, was determined to go to her, though the carriage was not to be had; and as she was no horsewoman, walking was her only alternative. She declared her resolution.
Goody-goody two-shoes? Maybe, maybe not.
"How can you be so silly," cried her mother, "as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there."
The mistake of Mrs. Bennet, Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, and a little of Darcy even: to take a perfectly good principle like good manners (looking well and good to put others at their ease) and blow it out of proportion.
"I shall be very fit to see Jane-- which is all I want."
"Is this a hint to me, Lizzy," said her father, "to send for the horses?"
"No, indeed, I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner."
A fair statement by Lizzy to mitigate, perhaps, the effort to which she is putting herself. Or perhaps it is to chastise the others for their laziness. Take your pick.
"I admire the activity of your benevolence," observed Mary, "but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."
Another brilliant observation of Mary's. It is practically a self-evident tautology if you think about it for half a second. Her statement, while true, does not really apply here. What is in question is "how much is required?" To determine that is the real question.
"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Catherine and Lydia. Elizabeth accepted their company, and the three young ladies set off together.
This chapter to be continued one last time...