Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 4

Time for a post-dance chat

Austen splits the chapter in two: First we get to hear Jane and Elizabeth Bennet talking about Mr Bingley, his sisters, and Mr Darcy, and then we hear a bit about what the folks over at Netherfield Park are saying about the Bennets and the rest of the people of Meryton.

A quick note about places, in case you need it: Meryton is the nearby town. Longbourn is the name of the estate on which the Bennets live (and about which we are soon going to learn quite a bit more) and Netherfield Park is the estate that Mr Bingley has leased. Given the names, we ought to assume that Netherfield Park is a quite substantial estate and a fairly imposing edifice. Longbourn is probably a nice enough house and estate, but not nearly as large or elegant as a place like Netherfield Park.

Jane and Lizzie

It is worth noting that Jane only expresses her delight about Bingley when she is alone with Lizzie. She was being far more circumspect even within her own family. I'm just . . . putting that out there. For later.

It is nearly impossible to miss the laughter, enthusiasm and general giddy high spirits of the two eldest Bennet sisters when you reach the second two paragraphs of the chapter:

"He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! -- so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"

"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
I love Lizzie's further comments about Bingley, particularly this: "Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person." HA! Also, if you update these sentences in to a more modern vernacular, they sound exactly like something most of us have heard a friend or sister say at some point or another in our dating lives. Which again goes to show how fashions and diction may change, but human nature stays the same . . . and Austen was a master at capturing human nature in her writing. But I digress.

We get further character development of both sisters here through their comments to and about each other and about the Bingley sisters. Jane is kind, gentle, sweet, and so nice that the pretty much never says a bad word about anybody even if they deserve it. Elizabeth is not as naive as her older sister, and suspects that Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst are not all sweetness and light, but are instead self-centered snobs. I will point out that once again Elizabeth has formed a quick and decisive opinion about people; I will also point out that in this case, she will largely be proved right. It makes her judgment of Darcy seem that much more probable, does it not?

Speaking of Darcy and Bingley

Well, first we learn a bit of the Bingley family's backstory. Their father did extremely well in trade, amassing a fortune, most of which devolved on Charles Bingley. Each of the sisters has 25,000 pounds to her name (likely as a dowry, and not as independent wealth), which makes them a good catch for a gentleman who is willing to overlook the fact that they are nouveau riche, lacking in titles or other pedigrees. The Bingleys are all now considered to be gentry (just like the Bennets and Mr Darcy), but they are the first generation of gentry in their family. (I like pointing this out now, so that we can see how they act around other people in the same technical circumstance.)

We learn that Mr Bingley is so good-natured that it can sometimes be a bad thing - it renders him easily pleased with whatever new thing he happens upon, and might prevent him from buying an estate and settling down. We are left to wonder whether he is constantly having his head turned by pretty girls as well, since he's so keen to see beauty in the women around him.

We hear a bit more about Darcy's and Bingley's friendship, which ought not be set aside, I think:

We are told that Darcy likes Bingley because of his easy, open nature and his "ductility", a word which here means that Bingley is easily led. Bingley's personality is quite different from Darcy's. Where Bingley is merely smart, Darcy is clever. Darcy has superior judgment and taste, but it comes with a closed-off sort of demeanor. "He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting."

The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly was sufficiently characteristic. Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life; every body had been most kind and attentive to him, there had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful. Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Miss Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty, but she smiled too much.
Leave it to Darcy to turn smiling into a bad point - yet that's exactly what he does. Still, he likely means that he worries there's no real substance to her, or that she's easily pleased (and we already know that to be the case). Fortunately for Jane, the Bingley sisters deem her a "sweet girl", so Mr Bingley is left to think of Jane as he wishes. For now.

Tomorrow: Chapter Five
Back to Chapter Three

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