Monday, November 19, 2007

Chapter Seven, Part 1

Originally published 2/12/2006.

My brother has asked that I break up these chapters into smaller segments so as to make it easier to comment. So I will experiment this week with this idea.

Chapter 7 has a theme which I will only summarize by the words "more silliness." Interestingly, it's not only Kitty and Lydia who are subject to this charge, but Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and Mr. Hurst.

Mr. Bennet's property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation; and their mother's fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds.

She had a sister married to a Mr. Phillips, who had been a clerk to their father and succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London in a respectable line of trade.

The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner's shop just over the way. The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their sisters', and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters.

Their visits to Mrs. Phillips were now productive of the most interesting intelligence. Every day added something to their knowledge of the officers' names and connections. Their lodgings were not long a secret, and at length they began to know the officers themselves. Mr. Phillips visited them all, and this opened to his nieces a store of felicity unknown before. They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr. Bingley's large fortune, the mention of which gave animation to their mother, was worthless in their eyes when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, Mr. Bennet coolly observed:

"From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced."

This rather direct rebuke is probably warranted; however, the father's previous lack of control make it more likely that he is to blame somewhat for the "vacantness of their heads."

Catherine was disconcerted, and made no answer; but Lydia, with perfect indifference, continued to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he was going the next morning to London.

This passage prefigures a passage late in the book where it talks about the "improvement of Kitty." We can see even now that she can listen to reason.

"I am astonished, my dear," said Mrs. Bennet, "that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own, however."

This is a classic statement of the "Little League Mom" mentality. You've probably seen them: parents whose children absolutely can do no wrong. Whatever you think of Harry Potter, certain it is that Rowling doesn't think much of this, since the Dursleys do precisely this.

"If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it."

This is truly a sensible statement of Mr. Bennet's. It does show, I think, that he takes some responsibility for his bringing up of the children.

"Yes-- but as it happens, they are all of them very clever."

Mrs. Bennet here.

"This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish."

O, the sarcasm. Mr. Bennet manages to ridicule his wife's lack of perception and his two daughters' foolishness all in one breath. I am not sure of the appropriateness of this statement.

"My dear Mr. Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother. When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well-- and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals."

Taken out of context, I don't suppose there is anything wrong with this statement. However, we should all know by now the breath-taking sagacity of Mrs. Bennet. So for her to say "sense of their ... mother" is rather amusing.

"Mamma," cried Lydia, "my aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's library."

This is a non-statement, devoid of meaning, and utterly silly. It is a non sequitur, meaning it does not follow from anything that preceded it; not only that, but it leads to nothing, because of what comes after. Not that Lydia could have foreseen that. I will now continue this discussion in the next post.