Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 9 (ch 51)

Have they no shame?

When it comes to the newly-married Wickhams, the answer appears to be a resounding "no".

I love how Jane is all in a tizzy, crediting Lydia for guilt, shame, and the like (such as Jane would've felt were she in Lydia's place - a fallen woman being forced into a sort of shotgun wedding). Only to be faced with the reality of the Wickhams, both of whom are giddily happy and unconcerned about the events and circumstances leading up to their marriage. "Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless. She turned from sister to sister, demanding their congratulations[.]" Meanwhile, Elizabeth observes how Wickham behaves for all the world like he'd never put a foot out of line, "resolving within herself to draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent man. She blushed, and Jane blushed; but the cheeks of the two who caused their confusion suffered no variation of colour."

Lydia speaks directly about subjects that Lizzy and Jane wouldn't have tiptoed up to, completely oblivious as to any scandal, and then, for good measure, insults Jane:

Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up, and ran out of the room; and returned no more, till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her mother's right hand, and hear her say to her eldest sister, "Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman."
Lydia is, you see, invoking the rules of precedence, which dictated the order in which people walked to dinner or sat at the table. As the eldest Miss Bennet, pride of place had always been Jane's (although knowing Jane, she didn't insist on adhering to the rules of precedence all that much); now Lydia, who was formerly the youngest Miss Bennet and therefore last in the pecking order, is married - and married women precede unmarried women, so she's asserting her right to be next in line after her mother. It's petty of her, and I'd say she was being mean-spirited except that Lydia is so self-absorbed that I doubt she's thinking of the effect of her words on Jane - rather, she's thinking of her own joy in her new position.

Precedence: I won't go overmuch into specifics, but for those of you interested in such things, the rules of precedence were quite intricate, involving not only marital status but also position in the social hierarchy. Royalty went first, of course (by rank), followed by dukes and duchesses, then marquises and marchionesses, then earls and their countesses, then viscounts and their viscountesses, then barons and their baronesses, then (moving from aristocracy to commoners) baronets, then knights, then landed gentry, then affluent businessmen, military men, and finally clergy (assuming that one of the folks with a profession didn't also have some sort of title - it could all get very tricky when people had multiple titles, as was sometimes the case). And, of course, married women were generally judged by their husband's rank, unless they were someone like Lady Catherine, whose title came with her birth: she was therefore judged by her (higher) birth rank of "Lady", rather than simply being "Mrs De Bourgh".

Here's one of my favorite exchanges in all of the book - at least as involves Lydia and Mrs Bennet, who are two of a kind - self-absorbed, foolish, and heedless of propriety in many ways. Of course, why I love it is for Lizzy's snarky put-down at the close:

"Well, mamma," said she, when they were all returned to the breakfast room, "and what do you think of my husband? Is not he a charming man? I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands. What a pity it is, mamma, we did not all go."

"Very true; and if I had my will, we should. But my dear Lydia, I don't at all like your going such a way off. Must it be so?"

"Oh, lord! yes; -- there is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and papa, and my sisters, must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter, and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all."

"I should like it beyond any thing!" said her mother.

"And then when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over."

"I thank you for my share of the favour," said Elizabeth; "but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands."
Ooh! Good one, Elizabeth! Too bad your sister and mother are such idiots they likely won't take your meaning!

Not even Kitty One thing that's noteworthy is this line that starts the next paragraph: "No one but Mrs Bennet regretted that their stay would be so short[.]" The Wickhams are here for ten days only, since Wickham has to report to his regiment in Newcastle in two weeks' time. We know that Mr Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane disapprove of the Wickhams, and it's to be expected that moralistic Mary does as well - but I confess to being somewhat surprised that even Kitty appreciates the shortness of the stay.

The nature of the Wickhams' relationship

Wickham's affection for Lydia was just what Elizabeth had expected to find it; not equal to Lydia's for him. She had scarcely needed her present observation to be satisfied, from the reason of things, that their elopement had been brought on by the strength of her love, rather than by his; and she would have wondered why, without violently caring for her, he chose to elope with her at all, had she not felt certain that his flight was rendered necessary by distress of circumstances; and if that were the case, he was not the young man to resist an opportunity of having a companion.
Lydia's bombshell

Mr Darcy was at her wedding. Mr Darcy, who despises Wickham and who Elizabeth was certain would want nothing more to do with her or her family once he heard of Lydia's elopement. And yet it was the Gardiners and Mr Darcy at the Wickhams' wedding.

You can readily imagine how curious Elizabeth is to learn what transpired, but she (and we) must await Mrs Gardiner's response, which we get tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Chapter 52
Back to Chapter 50



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