Sunday, January 09, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 9

Oh, Mrs Bennet!

Truly, that exclamation pretty much sums up this chapter. I feel a list of her transgressions coming on:

1. She brings Lydia and Kitty with her when she comes to check up on Jane. She's doing her motherly duty, coming to see how ill her daughter truly is, but there's no good reason for her two most foolish daughters to come as well - it's just them being curious about Netherfield Park. Possibly not a massive faux pas, but decidedly a demonstration of her lack of good judgment. Truly, with Lydia being merely 15, she ought not be "out" at all, and therefore should not be paying social calls. Especially since nothing truly good can come of it.

2. She is such a conniving matchmaker. She wants Jane not to be terribly ill, but she also wants her not to get well too soon - she wants Jane to stay at Netherfield as long as possible.

3. She oversteps when talking to the Bingleys, and does worse still when addressing Mr Darcy. When speaking about Jane, she is "profuse in her acknowledgments" - both overstating Jane's condition and being obsequious while (over)stating the extent of their kindness, all while practically flashing a "Marry My Daughter" sign at Bingley the entire time.

To Mr Darcy, she is downright insulting. She is not clever enough to understand his comment to Bingley about the want of variety in the country, and she not only mounts her high horse but also tramples him underfoot with it.

4. She gossips about the Lucases (who are old family friends) to the Bingleys and Mr Darcy, insulting the wonderful Charlotte Lucas's looks and implying that the Lucases are either ill-bred or lack sufficient funds. It was so improper for so many reasons - (a) gossiping was then (as now) a vice; (b) she is behaving in an overly familiar manner by engaging in gossip with people who are practically strangers to her; (c) her comments about the Lucas girls working in the kitchen comes awfully close to discussing the Lucases' finances, which was then (as now) not acceptable in this setting; (d) she insults the Lucases' decisions regarding child-rearing and criticizes their lack of servants.

5. She boasts about Jane. Not only does she boast, but she also mentions a past suitor.

Poor Elizabeth!

Imagine the mortifications she suffers, listening to her mother. Even though Elizabeth is twenty, she still owes obedience and deference to her, so she can't drag her off or tell her to shut the hell up, however much she must want to. Still, Lizzie's a bit forward in this scene as well - as when she comments on Mr Bingley's personality. She is, of course, better acquainted with Mr Bingley than her mother, but still, the comment about his character is not quite the done thing - it is, however, in keeping with her spirited nature and is also her attempt to turn her mother's conversation in the first instance.

She tries hard to cover over her mother's rudeness and explain Mr Darcy's meaning to her mother and steer her to new topics, but Mrs Bennet not only mounted that horse, but it has quite run away with her. And, to continue with horse-related metaphors and rush right into cliché, there's little point in shutting the barn door once the horse is gone.

Elizabeth comes close to rudeness in interrupting her mother the second time, but it's to cut her off from blathering on about Jane's past suitor(s). Being a bit of a poet myself, I love this exchange, which is a bit charming, really. Lizzie speaks just after Mrs Bennet comments that Jane's prior suitor wrote her several lovely verses:

"And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.

"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Every thing nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
AHAHAHA! This particular exchange was left out of the 1995 movie, but appeared in an earlier scene in the 2005 movie. I love it for two reasons: (1) Lizzie is essentially prattling here, saying almost anything she can think of just to shut her mother up and change the subject and (2) it's so damn funny!

Oh, Lydia!

Lydia is very like her mother in many ways - attractive, but not particularly clever. Austen describes her here for the first time:

Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attentions of the officers, to whom her uncle's good dinners and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance. She was very equal, therefore, to address Mr Bingley on the subject of the ball, and abruptly reminded him of his promise; adding, that it would be the most shameful thing in the world if he did not keep it.
"High animal spirits" reads like a fairly coarse term in this day and age. I believe Austen meant for us to realize it meant she was both a bit wild, not entirely civilized, and also rather passionate in nature.

Lydia ought not to have spoken at all (unless spoken to), but were she to speak, she certainly ought not to have accosted Mr Bingley to insist that he spend a small fortune throwing a ball for her entertainment. I imagine that at that particular moment, Elizabeth looked about for the nearest table or desk on which to repeatedly strike her own - or Lydia's - head.

N.B. Despite the egregious conduct of Mrs Bennet and Lydia, Mr Darcy refuses to participate in any censure of Elizabeth, although Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst certainly had a field day abusing her.

Tomorrow: Chapter Ten
Back to Chapter Eight


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