Thursday, February 18, 2010

2/18 DP; the P&P Edition

Greetings once again to any august QCs come a-slumming.

Although this seems a fairly light day with relatively hard-to-whiff questions, there is some enjoyment to be derived from being able to tell each of the four letter writers to read *Pride and Prejudice* with particular attention to the situation of one of the characters.

LW1: For some reason, you are hesitant to talk to your sister about her early life, and to explain to her exactly why you don't want to be one big happy family with your siblings and your mother. Were you the only one involved whose life might be affected by the information you are keeping to yourself, that would be one thing, but not to tell your sister she has been reestablishing a relationship with a person who abused her when she cannot remember the abuse seems beyond the pale. It would be instructive to cross-examine you on the exact nature and depth of your resentment of your sister and brother, but maybe some other time.

Your P&P assignment is to attend to the situation of Elizabeth (assisted by Jane) Bennet. She likes the charming and open Mr Wickham, and dislikes the haughty and reserved Mr Darcy. But her opinion of Wickham sinks after she learns of Wickham's attempt to elope with Darcy's sister. In Chapter 40, Elizabeth and Jane discuss discuss the question of whether to make Wickham's true character generally known. Jane thinks not because Wickham might have become truly repentant, Elizabeth because it would have to be done without revealing the particulars necessary to convince a neighbourhood in which Wickham was a universal favourite and Darcy a favourite villain, and because Wickham would soon be leaving with the militia. They say nothing. Some chapters later, their sister Lydia, who has accompanied the colonel's wife and gone with the regiment to Brighton, elopes with Wickham and nearly brings down the entire Bennet family by living with him in London heedless of when they might marry. Surely you want to spare yourself the bitterness of Elizabeth's lamentations.

LW2: Most posters seem to be taking your side, though I am somewhat dubious. The wives in question are polite, as you admit yourself. Perhaps there is just too little common ground for you all to advance much beyond politeness, an endeavour which your husband's poor behaviour is not assisting to succeed. Then too, you describe yourself as being very much in love with someone who, by your own account, is rather a jerk. He's getting off big time on your being so much younger and hotter than his friend's wives, and I would not mind bringing out how much this really bothers you, as well as why the two of you continue to socialize with this circle.

Although Colonel and Mrs Forster are probably the couple who match you and your husband on the age difference, your P&P assignment is to attend to Charlotte Lucas. Without valuing either men or matrimony highly, she designs to marry. Her intelligence and lack of romanticism are offset by her dangerous age of 27 and her general deficiencies of beauty and fortune. But opportunity falls her way when Elizabeth refuses the proposal of her cousin Mr Collins, a clergyman who has obtained a most wealthy and attentive patroness. In the course of a mere two days, Charlotte manages to redirect his proposal to herself. In exchange for a comfortable situation, she surrenders much of the esteem of her closest friend with the consolation of a man of no sense whose company is not agreeable and the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth recovers enough feelings of friendship to visit Charlotte in Chapter 28, and cannot but come away impressed with how well Charlotte manages to arrange her household to her liking, get her husband as much out of the way as possible, and cope with the continuous intrusions of Lady Catherine into every detail of the Collins' domestic existence. Surely none of your husband's friends' wives, who are always, by your own admission, polite, are anything like a match for Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

LW3: Once again, after LW1 from last week, I note and disapprove of a second-party letter. Even if it were deemed a good strategy for the two of you to deny your pasts, I for one would not be comfortable telling you what he ought to do about it. I will say that your husband having a youthful indiscretion reminds me of Mr Bennet, although Mr B's youthful indiscretion was of rather a different nature. In Chapter 42, we see how Mr Bennet, captivated by youth, beauty, and the appearance of good nature which youth and beauty generally give, had selected a wife of weak understanding and illiberal mind, but consoled himself as a philosopher with the amusement that could be derived from her ignorance and folly. Let us hope that your husband does not have cause to emulate Mr Bennet.

However, this makes a nice segue into your P&P assignment, which is to attend to Mrs Bennet. Should you decide to reverse your intended course of parenting, you can use her as an example of how to take the opposing style too far. Rather than learn from her own past, she uses the entry of her youngest daughters into the marriage market as an opportunity to relive her own youth. In Chapter 41, rather than join her husband, Jane and Elizabeth in being pleased by the imminent departure of the regiment, she joins Kitty and Lydia in their despair, recalling the departure of a Colonel Miller twenty-five years previously and attempting as eagerly as either of the youngest girls to persuade Mr Bennet to take the whole family on holiday. A short time later, when Lydia is invited by Colonel Forster's wife to accompany the regiment to Brighton, Mrs Bennet sees no drawback in the scheme and is as delighted as Lydia herself, while Elizabeth risks sisterly disapproval and tries to persuade her father to refuse permission. In the end, while Lydia would likely have gone to the bad anyway, her mother's assistance certainly amplified the magnitude.

LW4: Hardly having anything to say about a predicament that at least rises above that of the previous week's L4 in giving rise to a dispute between husband and wife, I shall round out my response to LW3 by making your P&P assignment a sort of complement to that one. Having seen an example of Mrs Bennet's parenting style, you get to attend to Mr Bennet (as an example of how not to address a social embarrassment) on the grand occasion of the Netherfield ball in Chapter 18. There fate conspires against Elizabeth as event piles upon event. Wickham, whom she still likes at the time, is not in attendance (his friend Denny passing on that Wickham thought it prudent to avoid being in company with Darcy). She must dance with Mr Collins, who apologizes in lieu of attending to the proper steps. Darcy asks her to dance and she is so surprised she agrees. Their conversation while they dance is vexing to each, but the interruption of Sir William Lucas, during which he hints that the evident attachment between Jane and Bingley has given rise to Expectations, is even more so to Elizabeth. After their dance, she has an unpleasant encounter with Miss Bingley, who takes an ineffective jab at Wickham. A pleasant moment of chat with Jane might turn the tide, but then Mr Collins mortifies Elizabeth by actually introducing himself to Darcy, much to the astonishment of the latter. At supper, Elizabeth must not only hear but also observe Darcy hearing Mrs Bennet bragging to Lady Lucas of her delight in the expectation of Jane and Bingley marrying soon. After supper, Mr Collins makes a ridiculous speech before the company, much to the amusement and derision of Bingley's sisters, and then remains by Elizabeth for the rest of the evening, ominously attempting to make himself agreeable to her and preventing her from dancing with anyone else.

But perhaps the coup de grace and one of the more well-remembered quotations in the Austen calendar comes just after the conclusion of supper, before Mr Collins' speech. As is the custom, the conclusion of supper is followed by talk of singing, and, as sure as eggs are eggs, the one young lady in the room who, for want of ever being asked to dance, is always eager to oblige the company on very little entreaty, is Mary Bennet, who refuses to see Elizabeth's look imploring her not to perform. After Mary finishes her song, the slightest hint of a hope is enough encouragement to her to oblige the company with another, an exertion for which her powers are not suited. Elizabeth, consoled only by Jane's and Bingley's being too engrossed with each other to attend, sees Darcy looking grave with Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst looking only too well amused, and finally can only look imploringly to her father for assistance lest Mary remain at the piano all night. But Mr Bennet's parenting style brings little more comfort than his wife's, as he cannot resist the humourous admonition, "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."

In my mind, however, Mr Bennet redeems himself on the next day. As if not punished enough on the previous evening, Elizabeth is forced by Mrs Bennet to grant Mr Collins a private interview. He not only proposes to her, but refuses to accept any attempt she makes to decline, calling her repeated refusals mere words, a matter of form to refuse the first offer or even a second or third, and an affectation of elegant females designed to increase his attachment through suspense. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has advised him to marry, he came to visit his cousins with the intention of marrying one of them, Jane was already attached elsewhere, and he cannot conceive of his proposal (accompanied by a desirable establishment which her own fortune could not claim as her due) being disagreeable to her. Even Elizabeth's ardent claim that Lady Catherine would declare her unsuitable only shakes Mr Collins for a moment. When she has spoken as plainly as she can and he has vowed that she will accept him when her parents approve of the match, he retires to confer with Mrs Bennet. By no means so sanguine as Mr Collins that Elizabeth means to accept him at last, Mrs Bennet can only go to her husband, saying that she refuses to see Elizabeth ever again if she does not marry Mr Collins, and requiring Mr Bennet to insist that Elizabeth accept the proposal. After having Elizabeth brought to them in the library, Mr Bennet recapitulates the situation, and then sums up, "An unhappy alternative is before you. From this day forward, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins - and I will never see you again if you do."

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding tie-in on all counts to P&P, hrumpole! Not that it's any surprise to me, but, I do believe it to be worthy of acknowledgment as it's no small task. Especially the specifics. I shall endeavor over the next few weeks to re-familiarize myself with Ms. Austen's excellent works. As you may recall (if I mentioned it), I'm mid-semester in a rather reading-intensive graduate program (and, alas, I'm not studying Literature this time), so, I hope that you will forgive me if it takes a few weeks, but, I will get back up to snuff.

    This line, regarding LW#1, even though it came early your column, was my favorite of the week, "It would be instructive to cross-examine you on the exact nature and depth of your resentment of your sister and brother..." What I wouldn't give to see that scenario played out, with you acting as the prosecutor.

    A wonderful entry, as always, hrumpole. Thank you for the wonderful treat! :-)