Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 23
Here we are at the end of the first Volume, and everything has gone to hell in a handbasket:
Charlotte is engaged to Mr Collins, who returns to stay with the Bennets (his relatives) pending the nuptials.
Elizabeth is left to question her friendship with Charlotte; since they see so very differently on the Collins issue, she has lost some respect for her friend. She spends even more time than usual with Jane as a result, which brings with it sadnesses of its own.
Mrs Bennet is extremely put out with everyone: Lizzy for turning Collins down, Charlotte Lucas for accepting him, and Lady Lucas for lording the engagement over her. Oddly, the bulk of her anger gets directed to Charlotte, who truly did nothing wrong:
In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole; one, that Elizabeth was the real cause of all the mischief; and the other, that she herself had been barbarously used by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing appease her. -- Nor did that day wear out her resentment. A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.Mr Bingley is off to London with his entourage, leaving Jane desolated at Longbourn, and Miss Bingley, despite claiming a desire for an active correspondence, can't be bothered to respond to Jane's letter.
We close Volume I as we opened it - with a conversation between Mr and Mrs Bennet, in which he (yet again) tweaks his wife, who (as we've already established) does not understand exactly how an entail comes about despite many efforts by Elizabeth and Mr Bennet to explain it to her. Mr Bennet inherited the property with the entail already in place, and it requires that the property go to the eldest male relative, which is Mr Collins. Mrs Bennet, however, doesn't get the reasoning - her understanding is limited to its result:
Mrs Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The very mention of any thing concerning the match threw her into an agony of ill humour, and wherever she went she was sure of hearing it talked of. The sight of Miss Lucas was odious to her. As her successor in that house, she regarded her with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Charlotte came to see them she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house as soon as Mr Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly of all this to her husband.Mrs Bennet first uses the word to mean that if it were not for the entail, she wouldn't have to worry about the Collinses having the estate.
"Indeed, Mr Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take my place in it!"
"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor." [KRF: HA! This line always makes me chuckle.}
This was not very consoling to Mrs Bennet [KRF - as does this; Austen is incredibly droll here], and, therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before,
"I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate. If it was not for the entail I should not mind* it."
"What should not you mind*?"
"I should not mind* any thing at all."
"Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility."
"I never can be thankful, Mr Bennet, for any thing about the entail. How any one could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one's own daughters I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Mr Collins too! -- Why should he have it more than anybody else?"
"I leave it to yourself to determine," said Mr. Bennet.
Mr Bennet asks her what, specifically, she would not mind, which results in her saying "I should not mind anything at all". She means, of course, that she wouldn't be upset by anything at all, but Mr Bennet willfully misunderstands her to mean "I should not remember anything at all", and therefore makes a comment about her complete insensibility.
It's the end of Volume I and Austen has just gotten warmed up. I am excited to see what tomorrow's chapter will bring.
Tomorrow: Chapter Twenty-Four
Back to Chapter Twenty-Two