Monday, February 28, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 17 (ch 59)

Lizzy is the happiest girl in the world, having just accepted Mr Darcy. And now her entire family is going to jump up and down with glee question her sanity. Oh, Jane Austen, you are too, too funny!

First up, Jane Bennet

"You are joking, Lizzy. This cannot be! -- engaged to Mr Darcy! No, no, you shall not deceive me. I know it to be impossible."

Not exactly what Lizzy was going for, I'll bet. Still, she keeps her sense of humor and, in fact, keeps it so well that Jane has to force her to be serious. And yet, there's a kernel of truth in her joking statement that she started to change her mind about him upon seeing Pemberley - not just because she saw his house, but because she heard such good reports of him from Mrs Reynolds and could see herself that he took good care of his estate . . . and, of course, she got to see a better side of Darcy then as well. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

I especially like this exchange between the sisters:

My dear, dear Lizzy, I would -- I do congratulate you -- but are you certain? forgive the question -- are you quite certain that you can be happy with him?"

"There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world. But are you pleased, Jane? Shall you like to have such a brother?"

"Very, very much. Nothing could give either Bingley or myself more delight. But we considered it, we talked of it as impossible. And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy! do any thing rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?"
In this novel, as in the others and in her letters to her niece, Fanny, Austen counsels that a young woman should "do anything rather than marry without affection". It was a staple belief of hers, apparently, and despite being able to write a character like Charlotte Lucas (who obviously thinks differently - and is drawn from life, since there were many women who thought along Charlotte's lines back then), Austen could not hold with the idea of an economically driven or loveless marriage. I think that belief is one of the things that keeps her novels feeling relevant over the centuries, really.

Walking out the next day

Mrs Bennet is all "Damn, that horrible Mr Darcy is back again. Be a good sister and keep him busy, won't you Lizzy?" LOL! "Elizabeth could hardly help laughing at so convenient a proposal; yet was really vexed that her mother should be always giving him such an epithet."

Her family conspires to leave Jane and Bingley alone, not minding throwing Elizabeth on Darcy (as if to cover a grenade, really). Of course, it suits Darcy and Elizabeth fine, since they can go make out in the hedgerow enjoy one another's company with impunity and plan out the whole marriage consent thing. Darcy will talk to Mr Bennet, but Elizabeth opts to deal with her mother on her own. (Smart girl that she is, she knows that her mother's response is going to be extreme - and extremely loud - whether she's happy or upset about the match, and she doesn't want Darcy to have to hear it.)

Next up, Mr Bennet

Darcy follows Mr Bennet to his study after dinner and returns to the drawing room with a wee smile and whispered "your father wants to see you" for Lizzy. Mr Bennet greets Elizabeth with something less than a happy reaction - in fact, he questions her sanity, then tries to talk her out of marrying for money (she's not), then tries to warn her against marrying anyone she cannot respect, basically owning up to the fact that he's stuck in an unhappy marriage. I so love this conversation that here it is, in full:

Her father was walking about the room, looking grave and anxious. "Lizzy," said he, "what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have not you always hated him?"

How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! It would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give; but they were now necessary, and she assured him, with some confusion, of her attachment to Mr Darcy.

"Or, in other words, you are determined to have him. He is rich, to be sure, and you may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane. But will they make you happy?"

"Have you any other objection," said Elizabeth, "than your belief of my indifference?"

"None at all. We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him."

"I do, I do like him," she replied, with tears in her eyes, "I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; then pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms."

"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."

Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating her absolute certainty that his affection was not the work of a day, but had stood the test of many months suspense, and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father's incredulity, and reconcile him to the match.

"Well, my dear," said he, when she ceased speaking, "I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy."

To complete the favourable impression, she then told him what Mr Darcy had voluntarily done for Lydia. He heard her with astonishment.

"This is an evening of wonders, indeed! And so, Darcy did every thing: made up the match, gave the money, paid the fellow's debts, and got him his commission! So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle's doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry every thing their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter."

He then recollected her embarrassment a few days before, on his reading Mr Collins's letter; and after laughing at her some time, allowed her at last to go -- saying, as she quitted the room, "If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure."
And finally, Mrs Bennet's reaction

Mrs Bennet is so extraordinarily astonished by Lizzy's news that she goes completely still and silent for a number of minutes. Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you? Even though this is my sixth or seventh time reading the book, I'm always surprised by Mrs Bennet's initial response, it's so unlike her. And therefore extra funny. She finds her voice soon enough, however:

"Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane's is nothing to it -- nothing at all. I am so pleased -- so happy. Such a charming man! -- so handsome! so tall! -- Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologise for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted."
Thankfully, Mrs Bennet is so overawed by Darcy that she doesn't talk to him overly much the next day, which is a small mercy, and Mr Bennet, on speaking with Darcy more, realizes he's a mensch after all.

Edited to add: What's all this about a "special license"?

A legal marriage in Regency England could come about in one of three ways: 1) reading of the banns (asking if anyone knows why the couple shouldn't marry) on three successive Sundays in the parish(es) in which both the bride and groom reside; 2) a common license (costing 10 shillings), issued by any bishop or archbishop, which did away with the need to read the banns (speeding the event by two weeks' time), but requiring the marriage to occur in a church or chapel in a parish where one of the parties has resided for at least four weeks; or 3) a special license (costing upwards of 5 pounds), which could only be issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his representative, allowed the couple to marry at any convenient time or place.

Because a special license was expensive and a bit difficult, there was a bit of caché to being married by special license - you didn't have to wait all that long, but could get married right away and at any location (in the presence of a clergyman). Mrs Bennet wants Lizzy to have one because it's "special" and trendy.

Tomorrow: Chapter 60
Back to Chapter 58

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