Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 6 (ch 29)

First, a confession. I cannot read this chapter without hearing what I think of as "Lady Catherine's Theme" (but which is actually called "Rosings") in my head from the 1995 BBC production. Here it is, accompanied by photographic stills of Darcy & Elizabeth from that production:

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's dine at Rosings!

1. Forget Smekday, and let's talk about the true meaning of "condescension." The word is supposed to mean "voluntary abnegation for the nonce of the privileges of a superior; affability to one's inferiors, with courteous disregard of difference of rank or position". It is, in fact, a good thing for a person of rank to act with condescension, because it means they come down off their high horse and do not require that others scrape and bow to them, but treat them roughly as equals.

It is readily apparent that for all of Mr Collins's talk of Lady Catherine's "condescension", she insists on preserving all the privileges of rank. Mr Collins says as much when offering Elizabeth (unnecessary) advice about her manner of dress. Lady Catherine is high-handed and peremptory. As we will later see, she is insulting in her superiority, even. She does not, in fact, "condescend" in any positive meaning of the word. That said, she doesn't actually have to invite Mr Collins and his retinue for any meals, so she is, in fact, observing some social niceties by having them.

2. Why "Lady Catherine" is referred to as such, and not as "Lady De Bourgh". The reason is that she was born with a title. Her father was an Earl (third highest title in the realm unless one was royalty - the hierarchy goes King, Prince, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron, Lord). Lady Catherine and her sister, Lady Anne, were both born with the title "Lady" because of their father's rank. Had her husband had a title, she would have taken it on and been Lady De Bourgh. Because he did not, she remains "Lady Catherine".

3. Mr Collins's enumeration of the windows and the cost of glazing is another reference to the wealth of the De Bourgh estate. In some ways, the number of windows is a greater indicator than the cost of the original glass installation - you see, just as there was a tax on carriages and horses (as I discussed yesterday, there was a tax on the number of windows in a home's façade - to be specific, every home paid a 2 shilling window tax that covered up to ten windows. The rate rose according to the number of windows, something easy to assess without the need for entering a person's home. During Georgian times (including the Regency period), the tax was used to raise money for the war effort against the French. Many poor people had only one window per floor in their homes or cottages, and sometimes didn't have glass, so it was a form of luxury tax, if you will. Some people bricked windows in to reduce their tax bills. Others were irate, considering it a tax on "light and air."

4. Sir William and Maria, like Mr Collins, are impressed by wealth and importance. Elizabeth is not. "Elizabeth's courage did not fail her. She had heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from any extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the mere stateliness of money and rank she thought she could witness without trepidation."

5. Lady Catherine does show actual condescension in rising to greet them. She is of superior rank, and therefore was not strictly required to rise in order to welcome them to her home (although people with good manners would certainly have done so).

6. I love that Charlotte has arranged it so that she's in charge of the introductions in order to make sure it's done right: "[A]s Mrs Collins had settled it with her husband that the office of introduction should be hers, it was performed in a proper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks which he would have thought necessary." HA!

7. Lady Catherine is haughty - plus a word about Mr Wickham.
Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone as marked her self-importance, and brought Mr Wickham immediately to Elizabeth's mind; and from the observation of the day altogether, she believed Lady Catherine to be exactly what he had represented.
I point out that Lady Catherine seems to exactly fit Wickham's description of her back in Chapter 16. Elizabeth's own observations comport with Wickham's description - no wonder she trusts what he's told her. I'm just . . . putting that out there.

8. Lady Catherine dines in style, at least as far as the dishes and service goes. Whether the conversation is good or not is another thing entirely. It was considered somewhat improper to speak across the table, at least at a formal meal; one was supposed to converse with one's neighbors. Elizabeth is left stranded, as Charlotte is left to listen to Lady Catherine, while on her other side, Miss De Bourgh says nothing (and is fussed over by her paid companion).

9. After the ladies "retire" to the sitting room after dinner, Lady Catherine proves herself to be a busybody. She both asks Charlotte minute questions and gives her unasked-for advice and directives, then asks Elizabeth a number of questions that would have been considered inappropriate on so short an acquaintance. Not only does she ask questions about Elizabeth's breeding; she also criticizes her upbringing, questioning why only two out of five sisters play piano (Elizabeth and Mary), why none paint, why they didn't have a tutor or a governess, etc. Heck, she even directly asks Elizabeth her age - and everyone knows you aren't supposed to ask a lady her age!(Whose relatives are inappropriate now, Mr Darcy?)

10. Elizabeth has the temerity to state an opinion in Lady Catherine's presence. And really, it doesn't go over well with her ladyship.

"Upon my word," said her ladyship, "you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. -- Pray, what is your age?"

"With three younger sisters grown up," replied Elizabeth smiling, "your Ladyship can hardly expect me to own it."

Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence!

"You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, -- therefore you need not conceal your age."

"I am not one and twenty."
11. Two different card games are set up. One is cassino (sometimes called casino); the other, quadrille. The last Austen character who we saw to play cassino was Lady Middleton from Sense & Sensibility, and we all recall how insipid she was. At Miss De Bourgh's table, Maria is so young & overwhelmed that she says nothing by way of conversation, Miss De Bourgh is so rude/sickly/self-centered that she says nothing, and Mrs Jenkinson only fusses over Miss De Bourgh. "Their table was superlatively stupid." LOL!

Quadrille, a gamed played by partners in pairs, was somewhat similar to whist, but not nearly as popular. In fact, it was falling out of favor at the time Austen wrote the novels - it was an old game that was being supplanted by whist and other games that were gaining popularity. If cassino is a card game attached to imbeciles in Austen, it would appear that quadrille is there to indicate that Lady Catherine is a bit of a dinosaur.

12. Elizabeth doesn't rhapsodize well enough for Mr Collins.
As soon as they had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called on by her cousin to give her opinion of all that she had seen at Rosings, which, for Charlotte's sake, she made more favourable than it really was. But her commendation, though costing her some trouble, could by no means satisfy Mr. Collins, and he was very soon obliged to take her ladyship's praise into his own hands.
Here you can watch some of the 1995 movie from just after Lizzy's arrival at Hunsford. If you've not read on, then I exhort you to stop at 5:12, because after that we find Mr Collins traveling throughout the countryside hollering "Mr Darcy is coming! Mr Darcy is coming!"

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