Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 20

This chapter is almost entirely given over to comedic characters, as it's primarily Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins doing the talking.

Mr Collins is entirely certain that things with Elizabeth are going swimmingly well, which almost makes me feel sorry for him. Almost. Because really, how clueless can one man be? (A question that has plagued womankind since the dawn of time, yes?)

Mrs Bennet, however, is gobsmacked to hear that Elizabeth turned him down flat - she knows her daughter well enough to believe her, and therefore hints to Mr Collins that his happy bubble may have a hole in it before racing off to bludgeon Mr Bennet into forcing Lizzy to marry Mr Collins.

"Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her."

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."

"And what am I to do on the occasion? -- It seems an hopeless business."

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well -- and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, Sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is not it so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day 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."

Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning; but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed.

"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, by talking in this way? You promised me to insist upon her marrying him."

"My dear," replied her husband, "I have two small favours to request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be."
Mrs Bennet nevertheless tries to change Lizzy's mind (to no avail), even attempting to get Jane in on it. To her credit (and, I confess, to my surprise, given her pliant nature), Jane refuses.

At the end of the chapter, Charlotte Lucas arrives and is regaled by Lydia, Kitty and then Mrs Bennet with the story. Mrs Bennet's comment on Elizabeth's appearance - "'Aye, there she comes,' continued Mrs. Bennet, 'looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way'" - obviously means that Lizzy doesn't care about them, but the phrase "if we were at York" may have had a specific meaning at that time. Still, York is far in the north of England, not near Hertfordshire, the county in which Longbourn is situated. And Richard of York was considered to be on the "wrong side" of the Battle of the Roses, between the houses of York and Lancaster, so it's possible that she's implying that Elizabeth shows them active disregard or dislike, such as was shown to Richard.

Mrs Bennet then waxes extremely eloquent for someone who isn't talking to Elizabeth, at the same time bewailing the fact that "nobody can tell what [she] suffer[s]" - another moment of comedic genius. We end the chapter with Charlotte eavesdropping on Mr Collins retraction of his offer (which he couples with a solemn pronouncement that Lizzie isn't that good of a marriage candidate anyhow).

Today, a choice of options. You may view this scene from the 2005 film production, which takes a few liberties with setting and what characters are where, or the somewhat more faithful BBC production. First, Tom Hollander as Mr Collins. This segment opens at the point in the Netherfield Ball when Mr Collins introduces himself to Mr Darcy - to start with today's portion, begin viewing at the 3:58 mark. (To stop without seeing what comes next, end the viewing when Lizzy returns to the house, or by the 9:45 mark):

And now the 1995 version - but those of you reading the novel for the first time may want to stop at about the 7:25 mark in order not to move into tomorrow's territory:

Kiva - loans that change lives

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