Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 8 (ch 50)

Mr Bennet reflects on his lot in life

We are treated to some of Mr Bennet's reflections at the start of this chapter. On the one hand, I find myself feeling a bit sorry for him; on the other, he makes me angry. I understand being relieved at not having to do overly much to get out of a bad situation, but he's rapidly backsliding into almost complete unconcern - and that's just wrong. Still, he does intend to pay Mr Gardiner back for whatever sum has been paid over to Wickham to bribe him to marry Lydia, so that's to his credit.

The neighbors

Austen's wry commentary on the nature of neighborhood gossip is so mean-spirited, yet so true-to-life, that I insist on reproducing the paragraph for you so you can look at it in isolation, and not as part of this "time marches on/wedding plans are afoot/catch your breath" chapter:

The good news quickly spread through the house; and with proportionate speed through the neighbourhood. It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation, had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world in some distant farm house. But there was much to be talked of in marrying her; and the good-natured wishes for her well-doing, which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such an husband, her misery was considered certain.
Oh, Mrs Bennet!

Mrs Bennet is so foolish that she makes Mrs Allen (from Northanger Abbey) seem intelligent. She's kept to her room for a fortnight (two full weeks), ever since word of Lydia's elopement arrived at Longbourn, but now she is back downstairs and planning all sorts of completely improper nonsense, including Wickham and Lydia taking a large house in the neighborhood. And she is more scandalized by her husband's refusal to pay for any wedding clothes than she was about Lydia's two-week episode of living in sin with Wickham:

That his anger could be carried to such a point of inconceivable resentment, as to refuse his daughter a privilege without which her marriage would scarcely seem valid, exceeded all that she could believe possible. She was more alive to the disgrace which the want of new clothes must reflect on her daughter's nuptials, than to any sense of shame at her eloping and living with Wickham a fortnight before they took place.
Poor Elizabeth

She's now regretting having told Mr Darcy about Lydia's situation. Her reasoning is that he wouldn't have heard about it otherwise, but of course if she were thinking properly, we all know that's not the case, since Lady Lucas told Charlotte, who told Mr Collins, who told Lady Catherine, who would most certainly have told her nephew such a tasty bit of news about a shared acquaintance. But I digress.

In thinking on Mr Darcy, Lizzy gives him full credit for all sorts of good traits. She's positive that he would have done nothing to spread the story around, trusting him implicitly. But she is all the more mortified that he knows of her sister's bad behaviour, since he has in the past made overt reference to the misconduct of some of her family members. Also, there's this: "Had Lydia's marriage been concluded on the most honourable terms, it was not to be supposed that Mr Darcy would connect himself with a family where, to every other objection would now be added an alliance and relationship of the nearest kind with the man whom he so justly scorned." She has reasoned out that since Wickham will be her brother-in-law, there's no way Darcy would ever marry her and become so closely related to Wickham himself.

From such a connection she could not wonder that he should shrink. The wish of procuring her regard, which she had assured herself of his feeling in Derbyshire, could not in rational expectation survive such a blow as this. She was humbled, she was grieved; she repented, though she hardly knew of what. She became jealous of his esteem, when she could no longer hope to be benefited by it. She wanted to hear of him, when there seemed the least chance of gaining intelligence. She was convinced that she could have been happy with him, when it was no longer likely they should meet.

What a triumph for him, as she often thought, could he know that the proposals which she had proudly spurned only four months ago, would now have been gladly and gratefully received! He was as generous, she doubted not, as the most generous of his sex. But while he was mortal, there must be a triumph.

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance. But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was.
Mr Gardiner's Letter

Mr Gardiner has waved away Mr Bennet's inquiries about paying back any sum given to Wickham, and further indicates that one of Mr Wickham's former acquaintances has stepped up and bought him a commission in the regulars (meaning in the professional army, not the militia - U.S. readers might think of it as the difference between the Army and the National Guard, only the militia were purely for home defense and never deployed overseas - that, after all, was the nature of the word militia at that time, a point which constitutional scholars should keep in mind when interpreting the Second Amendment, but again, I digress).

Wickham is to join a regiment stationed far away, in the north of England, a result that Mr Bennet and his daughters find pleasing. Mrs Bennet, of course, babbles on about how sad it is that Lydia won't be able to flirt with the officers she knows in the militia anymore. (GAH!)

And, this just in: Wickham and Lydia are going to visit Longbourn in between getting married and joining the regiment. You know you want to read on.

Tomorrow: Chapter 51
Back to Chapter 49



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