Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 4 (ch 27)

Welcome to the merry month of March. Ordinarily, March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but I rather expect that whatever the weather does, the emotional climate is just opposite in this book. But I get ahead of myself.

Turns out that when Elizabeth promised to visit Charlotte, she wasn't initially serious, but stuck at home with Jane in London and Charlotte moved to Kent, she's decided to make the trip, which will allow her an overnight visit with her sister on the way.

There was novelty in the scheme; and as, with such a mother and such uncompanionable sisters, home could not be faultless, a little change was not unwelcome for its own sake. . . . The only pain was in leaving her father, who would certainly miss her, and who, when it came to the point, so little liked her going that he told her to write to him, and almost promised to answer her letter.
Gotta love a snarky narrator. Elizabeth sees Wickham before she leaves, and there's this lovely bit of foreshadowing: "[S]he parted from him convinced that, whether married or single, he must always be her model of the amiable and pleasing."

About that carriage ride

The journey to London is twenty-four miles, and they are travelling in a chaise - in this case, probably a hired coach that seats three people inside. The chaise might have been pulled by two or four horses - each pair of horses would have been steered by a postilion - a rider astride one of the horses. A team of four horses would travel faster than a team of two - in fair weather on good roads, a single team would be able to travel 5-8 miles per hour, a team of four probably 8-12 miles per hour. Of course, the faster you go, the sooner you have to stop to change teams, and it is likely that Elizabeth's trip required at least one stop to change horses - and quite possibly more than one stop to pay a toll, which was based on the number of horses and the distance to be travelled. The More You Know*

They arrived by noon, and then spent the morning shopping - in case that is confusing, you ought to know that the entire time period before dinner was known as the "morning" - hence, "morning calls" were paid during the daytime (usually not until after eleven o'clock, in case the family breakfasted late). "Dinner" occurred between five and, say, eight in the evening, depending on whether one was in the country or town and on the particular custom of the family. (Those in the country tended to dine earlier.)

Elizabeth and Mrs Gardiner discuss Wickham's engagement to Miss King, and whether Wickham's motives are merceneary. Elizabeth asks "Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin?" and I believe Mrs Gardiner's analysis is a good one: Wickham paid no attention to Miss King until she inherited her boatload of money.

Lizzy closes the chapter by casting aspersions on men in general, then promising to take a pleasure tour to the Lake District in the summer with her aunt and uncle.

Austen displays her connection with the Romantic movement of her times

No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. "My dear, dear aunt," she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone -- we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers."
I particularly adore the phrase "What are men to rocks and mountains?" for its beauty and for its echoes of the Romantic poets such as George Gordon, Lord Byron, Walter Scott, and William Wordsworth, who, in Lyrical Odes, asserted the importance of nature, as in this bit from the Preface:

Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.

Tomorrow: Chapter 28
Back to Chapter 26

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