Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 17 (ch 40)

"Just enough to make one good sort of man"

Elizabeth sits down with Jane to tell her of Darcy's proposal and Wickham's misdeeds. Jane - sweet, charming, gullible Jane - tries hard not to believe either man has acted improperly, although she is pleased to have Mr Darcy's character vindicated. It therefore falls to Elizabeth to defend Mr Darcy:

"You never will be able to make both of them good for any thing. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Mr Darcy's, but you shall do as you choose."
Although far from its being a declaration of love, Elizabeth's comments represent a seismic shift in her perspective. She has now come to realize that Mr Darcy is truly a good man (and, conversely, that Wickham is rather wicked), and she is (in essence) championing Darcy to Jane. It's a major change for Elizabeth and one we ought not skip past without remark, I think.

Elizabeth's later teasing of Jane, with her comments about not needing to feel badly for Mr Darcy since Jane is doing it for her, is just that: teasing. She is trying to lighten the moment. A savvy reader knows better than to buy the unconcern that Elizabeth appears to be selling there, yes?

"Oh! no, my regret and compassion are all done away by seeing you so full of both. I know you will do him such ample justice, that I am growing every moment more unconcerned and indifferent. Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather."

"Poor Wickham; there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! such an openness and gentleness in his manner."

"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."

"I never thought Mr. Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you used to do."

"And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason. It is such a spur to one's genius, such an opening for wit to have a dislike of that kind. One may be continually abusive without saying any thing just; but one cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty."

"Lizzy when you first read that letter, I am sure you could not treat the matter as you do now."

"Indeed I could not. I was uncomfortable enough. I was very uncomfortable, I may say unhappy. And with no one to speak to of what I felt, no Jane to comfort me and say that I had not been so very weak and vain and nonsensical as I knew I had! Oh! how I wanted you!"
In this chapter, Elizabeth decides to say nothing to Jane about Bingley, and Jane & Elizabeth together decide not to share what they've learned about Wickham with anyone else - in large part because Mr Darcy hasn't authorized Lizzy to say anything, and she doesn't want to overstep. Besides, Wickham's leaving soon for Brighton, so surely no harm can come from not calling him on the carpet for his lies, right? (One can hear Austen starting laugh already as that question is left hanging.)

Oh, Mrs Bennet!

Mrs Bennet, like others of Austen's comedic characters, often talks nonsense and/or speaks out of both sides of her mouth at the same time - she makes enquiries as to whether Bingley might return, then says she doesn't want him there, etc. Behold Austen's comedic mastery:

"Well, Lizzy," said Mrs Bennet one day, "what is your opinion now of this sad business of Jane's? For my part, I am determined never to speak of it again to anybody. I told my sister Philips so the other day. But I cannot find out that Jane saw any thing of him in London. Well, he is a very undeserving young man -- and I do not suppose there is the least chance in the world of her ever getting him now. There is no talk of his coming to Netherfield again in the summer; and I have enquired of every body, too, who is likely to know."

"I do not believe that he will ever live at Netherfield any more."

"Oh, well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come. Though I shall always say that he used my daughter extremely ill; and if I was her, I would not have put up with it. Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart, and then he will be sorry for what he has done."
Tomorrow: Chapter 41
Back to Chapter 39



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