Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 11 (ch 53)

Goodbye Lydia . . .

The Wickhams take off for Newcastle, leaving Mrs Bennet to pout and Mr Bennet to comment on how ridiculous Wickham is. He enjoys making fun of fools, and he has declared Wickham to be at least as foolish as Mr Collins: "'He is as fine a fellow,' said Mr Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, 'as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of him. I defy even Sir William Lucas himself to produce a more valuable son-in-law.'"

. . . and hello Bingley!

Jane is, of course, discomfited by the news, although she claims it's because she knows people will be looking at her to see her reaction, and not because she's having an actual reaction. Meanwhile, Elizabeth spends her time pondering whether he's coming there over Darcy's objection or with Darcy's blessing:

Elizabeth did not know what to make of it. Had she not seen him in Derbyshire, she might have supposed him capable of coming there with no other view than what was acknowledged; but she still thought him partial to Jane, and she wavered as to the greater probability of his coming there with his friend's permission, or being bold enough to come without it.
On the third morning of Bingley's being back in Hertfordshire, he turns up at the Bennet's house to pay a call, with Mr Darcy in tow, and we are treated to one of the most exquisitely uncomfortable scenes in the entire book. I luuuurve this scene for all of its subtext - with Lizzy desperate to see Darcy and Jane curious about Bingley (and vice versa, in both cases) and Mrs Bennet prattling like a fool and being completely insulting to Darcy, who has acted, as we know, in an entirely heroic manner, with Lizzy probably wanting to throttle her for her indelicacy and bad manners and Jane possibly wanting to kick her for her matchmaking schemes. Plus, both Jane and Lizzy are concerned for one another - and Austen reminds us what of what Jane does and does not know about Darcy:

Jane looked at Elizabeth with surprise and concern. She knew but little of their meeting in Derbyshire, and therefore felt for the awkwardness which must attend her sister, in seeing him almost for the first time after receiving his explanatory letter. Both sisters were uncomfortable enough. Each felt for the other, and of course for themselves; and their mother talked on, of her dislike of Mr Darcy, and her resolution to be civil to him only as Mr Bingley's friend, without being heard by either of them. But Elizabeth had sources of uneasiness which could not be suspected by Jane, to whom she had never yet had courage to shew Mrs Gardiner's letter, or to relate her own change of sentiment towards him. To Jane, he could be only a man whose proposals she had refused, and whose merit she had undervalued; but to her own more extensive information, he was the person to whom the whole family were indebted for the first of benefits, and whom she regarded herself with an interest, if not quite so tender, at least as reasonable and just as what Jane felt for Bingley. Her astonishment at his coming -- at his coming to Netherfield, to Longbourn, and voluntarily seeking her again, was almost equal to what she had known on first witnessing his altered behaviour in Derbyshire.
Here's the scene in which Bingley and Darcy come to visit from the 1995 BBC production. Stop at the 3:35 mark if you don't want to see what's coming next!!

The closing comment, about Mrs Bennet being conscious of wanting to provide two courses out of a desire to flatter Mr Bingley and not cause Mr Darcy to look down his nose at her, is a bigger deal than modern readers realise. To most of us, "two courses" might mean a salad followed by a meal, or a pasta dish followed by a meat dish. In the Regency era, it meant that the entire table would be filled with a variety of dishes - twice. Below are images from period cookbooks showing how the table should be set for each course - this is for a winter meal in the month of a December. The exact proteins and other dishes would have varied seasonally:

The entire first course is composed of proteins, if I'm not mistaken - fish and eels, lamb, mutton, pork, chops, sweetbreads, and pigeons.

The second course includes vegetables and some desserts as well as protein: broccoli, lemon jelly, raspberry cream, stewed celery and apple puffs join oyster patties, boiled turkey and more lamb. As you can see, this is a much more serious undertaking than "two courses" in modern parlance.

Tomorrow: Chapter 54
Back to Chapter 52

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