Friday, February 11, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume II, chapter 19 (ch 42)

Austen on familial duties

The opening paragraphs of this chapter could be subtitled "Respect, need for", really. She first describes Mr Bennet's relationship with his wife. Long story short, he married her for her beauty and high spirits, completely overlooking her lack of intelligence and common sense. Not too long into the marriage, he lost all respect for his spouse, and eventually all affection as well. On the plus side, he doesn't take on a mistress or separate or run off to play the ponies; on the minus side, his amused disdain for his wife is plainly evident to all and sundry, including his children. He divides his time between managing his estate and reading, and has thrown his hands up over dealing with his wife or, to a large extent, his children.

Elizabeth is aware that her father has always been good to her, and that she ought to respect him. She acts toward her father much the same way that Charlotte does toward Mr Collins: She seeks to excuse whatever she can, overlook a great deal more, and forget those things that she can neither excuse nor overlook.

[S]he had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents which rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife.
Austen on philosophy

Elizabeth had been looking forward to the militia leaving, so as to be rid of Wickham; she finds, however, that she is not especially happy once they're gone because (a) there are less social events as a consequence and (b) she's stuck at home listening to her mother and Kitty moaning about it – plus she's worried that Lydia is running seriously amok in Brighton and will become even more frivolous than she already is.

Upon the whole, therefore, she found what has been sometimes found before, that an event to which she had looked forward with impatient desire, did not, in taking place, bring all the satisfaction she had promised herself.
Elizabeth cannot, however, expect perfect happiness in her tour of the Lake District, since Jane will not be with her . . . which is where the philosophy becomes interesting:

"But it is fortunate," thought she, "that I have something to wish for. Were the whole arrangement complete, my disappointment would be certain. But here, by my carrying with me one ceaseless source of regret in my sister's absence, I may reasonably hope to have all my expectations of pleasure realized. A scheme of which every part promises delight, can never be successful; and general disappointment is only warded off by the defence of some little peculiar vexation."

Update on Lydia

Lydia promised long letters often. She instead delivers short letters infrequently. Her letters to her mother say little indeed; her letters to Kitty are apparently emphatic and full of private matters ("too full of lines under the words to be made public").

A letter from Mrs Gardiner

Alas, the lengthy trip to the Lake District isn't going to happen after all because Mr Gardiner has important matters of business to attend to. Instead of leaving on the first of July for about five weeks, they will leave mid-month; instead of the Lake District, they are headed to Derbyshire for a three-week tour. There are plans afoot to tour great houses like Chatsworth, ruins (such as the castle ruins at Kenilworth) and to visit natural wonders like Dovedale (a famous dale in Derbyshire) and the Peak.

Elizabeth can't help but think of Darcy and his estate: Pemberley, which is located somewhere in Derbyshire. She quickly reasons that she can enter his home county without it being a big deal, perhaps removing a few "petrified spars" – probably a reference to pieces of limestone, since Derbyshire was famous for its quarries.

Off to Derbyshire

After much touring about, the Gardiners and Elizabeth find themselves in Lambton, a small (fictional) village not far from Pemberley. To see Pemberley or not to see Pemberley: that is the question.

Mrs Gardiner Don't you want to see the house? I know you've heard a lot about it, and Mr Wickham – whom you like so very much - did spend his childhood there.

Lizzy Um, I've seen enough big houses, thanks.

Mrs Gardiner Oh, but it's not just a big house. It has gorgeous acres. Why, everyone knows that Mr Darcy has huge tracts of land, and could show you some of the finest wood you'll ever see. (Sorry – I simply could not resist. N.B. There is nothing suggestive about Mrs Gardiner's actual dialogue in this scene.)

Lizzy *ponders telling her aunt the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, but worries about propriety, etc. – ends up deciding to go there only as a last resort*

Lizzy Tell me, chambermaid, are the Darcys at home now?

Chambermaid Nope. The coast is clear.

"To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go."

I'd like to point out how clever the publisher and/or Austen was to split the story just now. Elizabeth is about to go to Darcy's house – and who among us doesn't want to hear all about Pemberley? More to the point, who among us believes Elizabeth WON'T bump into Darcy?

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