Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chapter Five

Originally published 1/29/2006.

In Chapter Four, we had a discussion of the assembly between Jane and Lizzy. Chapter Five is the discussion of the assembly between the Bennet family, less Mr. Bennet of course; and the Lucas family, probably less Sir William Lucas.

Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, in quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James's had made him courteous.

About the only thing that comes to mind here is 2 Thessalonians 3:10: "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." Austen sums it up nicely with the statement, "The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly."

Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs. Bennet...

This rather says something both about Mrs. Bennet's smarts and about her pride; she will not be a close companion to someone who is much smarter than she is.

...They had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth's intimate friend.

That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.

Isn't that always the way with ladies? As Dave Barry once said (paraphrase), "Women are quite capable of discussing, for three days, an event that took eight seconds to actually happen."

You began the evening well, Charlotte," said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to Miss Lucas. "You were Mr. Bingley's first choice."

Finally! Mrs. Bennet says something that does not make her look foolish. But, true to Mrs. Bennet's character, Austen inserts the words, "with civil self-command," indicating that this statement is a struggle for Mrs. Bennet. She'd much rather lay into Miss Lucas (Charlotte). Incidentally, one thing I should like to explain in the unlikely event that you, the reader, are unaware of it: "Miss Smith," for the English, always refers to the eldest Miss Smith present. If you wish to refer to a younger sister, you must include her first name thus: "Miss Violet Smith."

"Yes; but he seemed to like his second better."

This is Charlotte Lucas speaking. Notice how free of self-pity this statement is. At least, thus I infer from Charlotte's next statement where she freely talks about what Mr. Robinson said.

"Oh! you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. To be sure that
did seem as if he admired her-- indeed I rather believe he did-- I heard something about it-- but I hardly know what-- something about Mr. Robinson."

Here is Mrs. Bennet attempting to be nonchalant, and failing miserably. She knows it it would be unkind to triumph over Charlotte because Jane is so pretty, but her desire to get her daughters married off overpowers her anyway.

"Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson; did not I mention it to you? Mr. Robinson's asking him how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and
which he thought the prettiest? and his answering immediately to the last question: 'Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point.'"

This really is unselfish of Charlotte, to praise Jane indirectly whilst knowing herself to be unjustly ignored by the young men. Notice that Austen introduces Charlotte as "a sensible, intelligent young woman," well before it comes out that everyone (trumpeted by Mrs. Bennet of course) thinks her rather plain. Mr. Bingley, to his credit, later on calls her "a very pleasant young woman." Because Austen introduces Charlotte in this fashion, it occurs to me that perhaps Austen is critiquing the habit of men to judge women by their appearance.

"Upon my word! Well, that is very decided indeed-- that does seem as if-- but, however, it may all come to nothing, you know."

Hold your breath; Mrs. Bennet may have actually managed to say something here that is completely sensible and unoffensive to anyone. It is still possible that her thoughts may have been something like, "Well, I know I have to hedge my bets, but I'm so happy; we've won already!"

My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Eliza," said Charlotte. "Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he?-- poor Eliza!-- to be only just tolerable."

Charlotte here pities Lizzy, and I think does so in a way that is not condescending. Modern people tend to dislike pity, especially Americans, because they want to think they can make it on their own. But that is hardly the case with any of us.

"I beg you would not put it into Lizzy's head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half-an-hour without once opening his lips."

Mrs. Bennet here. This is an interesting comment. We know from later on that Darcy has many excellent qualities, even now. Mrs. Bennet here is assuming that not speaking to someone is a sign of being disagreeable. The Bible says otherwise, and has many Proverbs about the advisability of holding your tongue in many situations. If Darcy had nothing good to say, then he was smart not to say anything; it was not necessarily being disagreeable. It might have been disagreeable, but not necessarily. This is difficult for me to determine, because Austen's culture was different from ours. The things people were expected to say and do are different. It is my impression that in Austen's day, people were expected to say more than we do now. We also know that, statistically anyway, men tend to say fewer words in a day than do women. There is no reason to suppose men and women were all that different in Austen's day.

"Are you quite sure, ma'am?-- is not there a little mistake?" said Jane. "I certainly saw Mr. Darcy speaking to her."

Regardless of whether it was disagreeable on the part of Darcy, Jane comes to the rescue again. Interestingly, Jane defends Darcy on nearly every occasion. Well, she defends just about everyone on every occasion, except finally Wickham. But even then, Wickham and Lydia are able to visit Jane and Mr. Bingley. Grace rules in Jane's heart.

"Aye-- because she asked him at last how he liked Netherfield, and he could not help answering her; but she said he seemed quite angry at being spoke to."

Mrs. Bennet is determined to attribute the strongest degree of malice to Darcy.

"Miss Bingley told me," said Jane, "that he never speaks much, unless among his intimate acquaintances. With
them he is remarkably agreeable."

This does seem to indicate that the English, at this time, thought that to be agreeable, you needed to talk. Perhaps Darcy is wise, and everyone around him silly.

"I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long. But I can guess how it was; everybody says that he is eat up with pride, and I dare say he had heard somehow that Mrs. Long does not keep a carriage, and had come to the ball in a hack chaise."

This is uncharitable of Mrs. Bennet. She refuses to believe the testimony of Jane (whom Austen clearly regards as sensible), and clings to her own notion that Darcy should have spoken to Mrs. Long. Well, it's quite possible that Darcy had no interest in speaking with Mrs. Long, because Mrs. Long may not have been much worth speaking to. There are such people as boors today and yesterday. I merely point it out as a possibility; I don't think we know whether Mrs. Long was a boor or not.

"I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long," said Miss Lucas, "but I wish he had danced with Eliza."

This is interesting. Charlotte, perhaps, shows her sense here, at least in the first phrase; perhaps in the second as well. Charlotte may already be having ideas about Darcy and Lizzy, thinking they would be a good match. It's too early to really tell, but according to the "marriage rules" of the times, it certainly would have been a good match for Lizzy financially.

"Another time, Lizzy," said her mother, "I would not dance with
him, if I were you."

"I believe, ma'am, I may safely promise you
never to dance with him."

Both Mrs. Bennet and Lizzy here show a propensity to aggravate their prejudice as much as possible. As to Lizzy's statement, they are famous last words.

"His pride," said Miss Lucas, "does not offend
me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I
may so express it, he has a
right to be proud."

In which case it might not even be pride. Humility is accuracy in judgement, both of yourself, and of your relation to God. Humility is not having a world-class pianist claim he is no good at piano. That is false humility. Humility does, however, mean not looking down upon others. Comparison with other people is usually dangerous unless you're comparing yourself to someone better than you for the purposes of imitation. Other than that, it's probably wise to avoid comparisons.

"That is very true," replied Elizabeth, "and I could easily forgive
his pride, if he had not mortified mine."

I'm not sure whether Lizzy is being serious here or not. My hunch is that she is being serious. If so, I do not think her saying this is objectionable. It shows the state of her mind, and is not terribly related to the people around her. Moreover, the people around her probably want to know what she is thinking.

"Pride," observed Mary, who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, "is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us."

This is a classic example of speaking the truth without love. Mary is being highly pedantic here. This statement is absolutely correct, and not really to the point, because people are not really talking about the nature of pride, so much as they are talking about people.

"If I were as rich as Mr. Darcy," cried a young Lucas, who came with his sisters, "I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine a day."

This is a merely cute comment, and we must forgive the high spirits here. What might be the funny aspect is one possible interpretation of Mrs. Bennet's reaction, which is:

"Then you would drink a great deal more than you ought," said Mrs. Bennet; "and if I were to see you at it, I should take away your bottle directly."

Is Mrs. Bennet being serious here, or is she "responding in kind?" You know how adults talk "baby talk." If that is happening here, then surely this is not objectionable. But, based one what we know about Mrs. Bennet's wisdom, one might be inclined to think Mrs. Bennet is being serious, especially since:

The boy protested that she should not; she continued to declare that she would, and the argument ended only with the visit.

This seems quite silly. I distinctly get the impression that Mrs. Bennet is humiliating herself, yet again, by seriously and really acting the boy's age.

This chapter might be an interesting study in gossip, or not. What think you, my readers? Is there any gossip here? The mitigating circumstance is that everything being discussed happened in a public setting. If all events in question are public, then can conversation about such events qualify as gossip? I'm thinking not, actually. My Miriam Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary defines gossip as a "rumor or report of an intimate nature." Surely public events are not intimate. So everyone is off the hook for that charge. But there seems to be plenty of prejudice and uncharitable comments floating around to make up for it.