Monday, January 31, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 8 (ch 31)

With Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam as houseguests, Lady Catherine has no need (or desire) to have the Collinses and their houseguests around, so they go a full week without an invitation to Rosings, during which Colonel Fitzwilliam pays several calls at Hunsford parsonage. When she does finally invite them, it is not for dinner, but for the evening, rather in the same manner that Mrs Philips invited the Bennet girls to join the officers after dinner of an evening back in Chapter 16.

"Mr Darcy they had only seen at church."

Church services were held morning and evening on Sundays. Not everyone attended church, but as Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, she most certainly did, as well as participating in morning and evening prayers within the home on a daily basis. Not all Austen characters necessarily attend church, just as not all of them are good people - she was nothing if not realistic. However, it can be assumed that those who are described as religiously observant (a term used here to mean "go to church") are basically upstanding citizens. (Those of you who've read Mansfield Park may recall how many swings are taken at Mary Crawford for mocking the clergy, for instance, and how her attitude is considered a serious lapse of moral judgment.)

We may not know overly much about Mr Darcy apart from knowing that he was powerfully attracted to Elizabeth earlier in the book, but we know for sure that he attends church. At least he has that going for him.

Elizabeth has a new admirer

Colonel Fitzwilliam doesn't really care for his aunt's home, as is plain by his visits to the parsonage and this sentence: "Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; any thing was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs Collins's pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much." He and Elizabeth are having such a good time with their conversation, in fact, that they draw the attention of Mr Darcy and Lady Catherine. Mr Darcy obviously wants to know what's going on, but nosy Lady Catherine insists on being told, despite Colonel Fitzwilliam's reticence in involving her in the conversation.

"We are speaking of music, Madam."

And now, for one of my favorite moments in all of Pride and Prejudice:

"Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?"

Mr Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister's proficiency.

"I am very glad to hear such a good account of her," said Lady Catherine; "and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel, if she does not practise a great deal."

"I assure you, Madam," he replied, "that she does not need such advice. She practices very constantly."

"So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies, that no excellence in music is to be acquired, without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times, that she will never play really well, unless she practices more; and though Mrs Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the pianoforté in Mrs Jenkinson's room. She would be in nobody's way, you know, in that part of the house."

Mr Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt's ill breeding, and made no answer.
LOL! I love how Lady Catherine asserts her authority with respect to the subject when, in fact, she has no musical talent of her own, then insults Elizabeth by saying she needs to practice more, then insults her more horribly by offering to let her into something that is close to being the servants' quarters to have the use of an instrument (since the Collinses do not have one). Mrs Jenkinson may not be a servant in the same way that a maid, cook, footman or butler was, but she is a paid companion to Miss De Bourgh, and is therefore likely an impoverished gentlewoman (possibly a relative of some sort) who had no establishment of her own and is therefore in Lady Catherine's direct employ or is, at the least, dependent upon her.

A word about Mr Darcy here: Please note that he speaks of his sister with affection. I should point out that in Austen books, how men treat their sisters is often an indicator of what sort of man they are. John Dashwood was a complete jackass in Sense & Sensibility and was not loyal and supportive of his sisters, one indicator of his callowness and one of many reasons not to admire him; Henry Tilney quite obviously adores his sister and enjoys spending time with her, which is an indicator of his being a mensch.

Mr Darcy makes a move

Literally. He gets up and walks away from his aunt while she's talking to him in order to be able to see Elizabeth's face as she plays and, one presumes, sings. Between songs, Elizabeth tweaks him in a teasing manner, and he actually teases her back. It's a rather brilliant conversation, in which Darcy offers some explanation of his reticence at interacting with people at the Assembly in which we first met him, back in Chapter 3: turns out that he's a bit shy when in company with people he doesn't know particularly well, and he isn't especially good at small talk. Hmmm . . . that's interesting, yes? Who among us doesn't know someone who is so uncomfortable in large groups that they put up walls that can make them seem unapproachable? Again, I'm just putting that out there.

"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."

"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders."

"Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."

"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"

"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble."

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."

Darcy smiled, and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think any thing wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."
1. Who's smiling now? (Remember Mr Darcy criticizing Jane Bennet for smiling too much?)

2. Note that Mr Darcy has become "Darcy" in Austen's text, a sign of familiarity and, probably, liking.

3. Darcy has managed to (a) tease Elizabeth; (b) point out that he understands her fairly well - he has seen that she enjoys teasing him, and is willing to say something contrary to her own beliefs in order to do it - and (c) find some common ground between them.

4. Elizabeth observes how Darcy acts around Anne De Bourgh, the woman he is "supposed" to marry, and notes that he's not interested in her in the slightest.

Tomorrow: Chapter 32
Back to Chapter 30



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