Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 1 (ch 43)

The picturesque

You may recall discussion of William Gilpin's treatise on the picturesque, which we discussed briefly in the post for Chapter 10 of Pride & Prejudice and in this post about Chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey. The description of Pemberley House comports with notions of the picturesque - from the house being situated with naturally wooded hills behind it to the swollen stream in front of it. It is a place that appears naturally beautiful, even if some of the beauty has received a bit of man-made assistance, and not only Austen, but also her contemporary readers, would have immediately recognized the description as being the height of fashion and an indication of tremendous good taste.

Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Too bad that particular ship already sailed . . . or has it?

The furnishings

The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
Again, we are convinced that Darcy has excellent taste and that everything is well-fitted and fairly modern. We've already been introduced to one "great house" - Rosings - and Austen draws a distinction that doesn't surprise us readers: Lady Catherine's house is showy to the point of being gaudy, whereas Mr Darcy's home is more tastefully put together (just as Lady Catherine is sometimes a bit crass, and Mr Darcy is more refined). The symbolism of the house is a big deal, really, since Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley is going to turn out to be what she considers to be the turning point in her attitude toward Mr Darcy, even though we've been observing its shift ever since she read his letter. But I digress.

About the Gardiners

I'm going to skip about in this chapter for this section. During the tour of the house, Elizabeth starts to regret that she turned Darcy down, because she is so enamored of his house. She is spared from actual regret based on her belief that Mr Darcy would not have allowed her to invite her aunt and uncle to visit them at Pemberley. This goes back to Mr Gardiner being engaged in trade, and Elizabeth's reverse snobbery against Mr Darcy: she is convinced that he finds her connections to the Gardiners offensive (remember his comments about the "inferiority of [her] connections"?), and that he'd require her to "drop" their acquaintance, more or less. She believes him to be so fastidious that he would write them off out of hand, in fact, and she loves her aunt and uncle so very much that she'd rather keep them than have Pemberley.

Later in the chapter, of course, Mr Darcy actually asks Elizabeth to introduce him to her friends. She keeps a close watch on him as she makes the introduction and explains that the Gardiners are her relatives who live in Cheapside (a neighborhood in London). Mr Darcy's surprise is evident to her, but he takes the Gardiners in stride and is exceedingly well-mannered to them. He forms his judgment based on their appearance, speech, and manners, rather than on Mr Gardiner's profession, and Elizabeth thinks that "[i[t was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush." Mr Darcy takes to Mr Gardiner so readily, in fact, that he invites him to come fishing.

The conversation with the housekeeper

Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper, notes that Wickham didn't turn out very well, and sings Mr Darcy's praises. The fact that Wickham's miniature is still hanging up in Darcy's house says a good deal about his devotion to his own father - the room in which they hang was Darcy's father's favorite spot, and he has left it just as his father kept it, an indication of devotion and respect, since Darcy surely doesn't want Wickham's face hanging up in his home, especially after what happened with Georgianna.

While a good servant at that time would obviously not have spoken ill of their master, Mrs Reynolds's paean to Darcy is above and beyond what would have been expected or required. She declares that she knows of no young lady who is good enough to deserve Darcy, then paints a picture of a well-mannered young man who does not deal with the servants in a moody sort of way. She asserts that all of his tenants and servants would give a good report of him, that he deals well with the poor, and that there is nothing he wouldn't do to make his sister happy. As to that last point, it's a key Austen trait: good guys treat their sisters well (think Darcy and Bingley in this book, Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey) and worthless guys treat them ill (think John Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility or John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey).

Between Mrs Reynolds's narration and seeing the portrait of Darcy in the gallery, smiling at her as he sometimes smiled at her in person, she starts to have almost tender feelings toward the man himself.

Which is when Austen has Darcy turn up unexpectedly

In the book, he has just arrived on horseback and is probably dusty (and sweaty?); he's walking from the stables toward the house. In the 1995 movie version, he is wet, having just gone for a swim in a pond wearing his breeches and shirt. (You can see that scene below.) In the 2005 movie, he's in the house, swinging his sister around (since they took liberties with all sorts of things in the story line - at least the pond could have happened prior to reaching the stables, but in the 2005 movie, Georgiana is at the house already and Darcy turns up there too. To which I say What. Ever. But I digress.)

Darcy and Elizabeth both stop upon seeing one another; both of them also blush. Darcy gets over the shock well enough to come forward, greet Elizabeth and make some effort at conversation, but he's obviously distracted because he often repeats himself and seems unable to hold onto the thread of the exchange. You can just sense his mind racing, wondering why she's there and what she's thinking and what he should do next and, possibly, how he feels about her. It's hard not to start to feel for Darcy in this scene, I think, even if you've managed to hold out before now.

Elizabeth, the Gardiners and the gardener start to take a walking tour of the park, and Elizabeth spends a couple of paragraphs obsessing over the meeting with Darcy. She worries what he will think of her for being there, and she wonders about his manners - he was so kind and gentle and unaffected on seeing her that she is unsure how to interpret it, or what the reasons for his change of manner might be.

After giving us time to take in Lizzy's reaction, Austen tells us that Darcy intercepts Elizabeth and her relatives. Presumably he has washed his face and hands and pulled himself together. He asks for the introduction to the Gardiners (which we already covered), and then asks Elizabeth to allow him to introduce his sister to her. That Georgiana knows about Elizabeth and is keen to meet her speaks well of Darcy. Not only has he told his sister about Elizabeth, but he's obviously said nice things since Georgiana wants to meet her.

Mrs Gardiner asks her husband to take her arm, either because she really is a crappy walker or because she wants to give Darcy and Elizabeth a chance to have a conversation - and really, I could see Mrs Gardiner going either (or both) ways here. No way she didn't notice their blushes and Darcy's attention to her niece. I'm just putting that out there.

The conversation in the carriage

Because the Gardiners have relied on Elizabeth's description of Darcy, they were pleasantly surprised to find him as affable as he was. The find him highly agreeable, although Mr Gardiner credits Lizzy's description so much that he believes Darcy may have wild mood swings, and be nice one day and awful the next. Elizabeth ends up telling them about Wickham's refusal to take the church living and his demand for payment instead, crediting an anonymous source for the information. She doesn't mention Georgiana at this point, but she does defend Darcy and tell the Gardiners that Wickham is to blame for his own hardships.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in dishabille (a word that means in a state of undress, and one that I have been mispronouncing in my head for ages - I say it as if it were French "dis-a-bee-yay" when it turns out it should be "dis-a-beel". Who knew? No. Seriously. Did you know that? I feel almost as stupid about this as I did about the pronunciation of the word "viscount", which, it turns out is VIE-count, and not, in fact, the phonetic VISS-count. I only learned the proper pronunciation of viscount about two years ago. *feels silly*)

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