Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 2 (ch. 25)
Mr Collins leaves and two of my favorite side characters in all of Austen arrive: Mr and Mrs Gardiner, come from London to spend Christmas. Austen flat-out tells us that they are refined, polished people who would not be supposed to be "in trade" even though Mr Gardiner is, in fact, a merchant of some sort who earns his money that way. He is intelligent and educated and everything his sisters are not, and his wife is lovely and smart and entirely proper. They are well-mannered, well-dressed and well-spoken. We are told that Jane and Lizzy are very close to them, and one cannot wonder at it - Jane and Elizabeth are (as has been established) well-mannered, sensible girls themselves. And it seems to me that their time with the Gardiners may, in fact, account for why they are so much better-mannered than their younger siblings, since their mother certainly wasn't a slave to their education and their father was no better.
The Gardiners have come to stay over Christmas. They are undoubtedly going to be at Longbourn for at least a week, since it was then quite common for "Christmas" to mean the entire period from the 24th or so until January 6th. Not long after arrival, Mrs Gardiner hands out her presents, and then settles in to listen to all the various reports and complaints of her relatives - much as Anne Elliot did in Persuasion, when she arrived at Uppercross and was subjected to everyone's complaints about everyone else.
Mrs Gardiner pulls Elizabeth aside to talk about Mr Bingley, proving herself to be (a) a good friend to her nieces, (b) a good judge of character (more on that in a minute) and (c) a kind-hearted, sensible soul:
"It seems likely to have been a desirable match for Jane," said she. "I am sorry it went off. But these things happen so often! A young man, such as you describe Mr Bingley, so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks, and when accident separates them, so easily forgets her, that these sort of inconstancies are very frequent."Mrs Gardiner is an excellent judge of her nieces' characters here - she knows that Jane will be long affected and seeks to ameliorate it. She also opines that it would have been far better for Elizabeth to be the one thwarted, since her temperament is such that she'd get over it more easily. Her comments about Mr Bingley are good ones insofar as they apply to men in general, but having read this book a number of times and knowing what is to come, I feel constrained to point out that Lizzy has the right end of this particular stick.
"An excellent consolation in its way," said Elizabeth, "but it will not do for us. We do not suffer by accident. It does not often happen that the interference of friends will persuade a young man of independent fortune to think no more of a girl, whom he was violently in love with only a few days before."
"But that expression of "violently in love" is so hackneyed, so doubtful, so indefinite, that it gives me very little idea. It is as often applied to feelings which arise from an half-hour's acquaintance, as to a real, strong attachment. Pray, how violent was Mr Bingley's love?"
"I never saw a more promising inclination. He was growing quite inattentive to other people, and wholly engrossed by her. Every time they met, it was more decided and remarkable. At his own ball he offended two or three young ladies by not asking them to dance, and I spoke to him twice myself without receiving an answer. Could there be finer symptoms? Is not general incivility the very essence of love?"
"Oh, yes! -- of that kind of love which I suppose him to have felt. Poor Jane! I am sorry for her, because, with her disposition, she may not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to you, Lizzy; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner. But do you think she would be prevailed on to go back with us? Change of scene might be of service -- and perhaps a little relief from home, may be as useful as anything."
Mrs Gardiner tries to be clear that Jane shouldn't expect to see Bingley if she goes to London with the Gardiners. Elizabeth assures Mrs Gardiner that Bingley would never pay a visit without Mr Darcy, and that Mr Darcy would never visit Gracechurch Street (a location we discussed back in chapter _) because he would deem it too far beneath him. She predicts that Caroline Bingley will drop Jane's acquaintance. Privately, however, Lizzy hopes that Bingley will catch wind of Jane's being in London and renew their relationship.
Mrs Gardiner is introduced to Mr Wickham and observes his flirtation with Elizabeth. She considers the match imprudent (for reasons we'll get to in the next chapter), but in the meantime, she enjoys hearing about Pemberley and its environs, since she spent time there as a girl.
Is it just me, or can you also feel Austen picking up steam here? Nothing has really happened, yet with the plans being made for Jane to go to London and for Mrs Gardiner to speak to Lizzie, I feel quite tense!
Later tonight: Chapter 26 (to get us back on track)
Back to Chapter 24