Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 16

An evening at the Philipses'

Mr Wickham and several other officers have been invited to dine with the Philipses. Mr Collins and the Bennet girls have been invited to come for tea, which is after dinner. Therefore, they arrive at the time that Mrs Philips and any other ladies have withdrawn from the dinner table, leaving the men to their cheroots and port and pisspots (as previously discussed). Mr Collins is therefore the sole man among a roomful of ladies until such time as the gentlemen rejoin them . . . and even so, he can't really command anyone's interest except for Mrs Philips.

Mr Collins is inappropriate

He "compliments" Mrs Philips by comparing her best room to a small, unimportant room in Lady Catherine's house. That she manages to be flattered by his backassed compliment to her home, which he compares to a small sunroom at Rosings, shows what sort of character she is. His recitation of the cost of items at Rosings is entirely inappropriate as well - it shows that he is vulgar and easily impressed by wealth (as is Mrs Philips), but really, a gentleman should not discuss such things, particularly with a new acquaintance.

Mr Wickham is inappropriate

Although Lizzie doesn't see it, Mr Wickham's recitation of his history with Mr Darcy is entirely improper. He has only just met her, and he shares with her rather intimate information about himself and Mr Darcy, which includes perpetrating slanders against Darcy (the truth of which are not entirely certain at this point in the book) and discussing things like finance, which was then, as now, not considered polite conversation at a party, let alone with someone who is such a recent acquaintance.

Because Elizabeth is blinded by Wickham's charms, she is perfectly willing to overlook the impropriety of his conduct, but I assure you that her contemporary readers would have raised their eyebrows at his sudden confidences.

And now, the 1995 version of meeting Mr Wickham, inviting him to dinner, and the dinner party. (Angela De Groot is exceedingly fond of Mrs Philips's cries of "Oh, Mr Collins!" during the whist game.)

Tomorrow: Chapter Seventeen
Back to Chapter Fifteen

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