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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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 16 (ch 58)

Remember that ham-handed proposal Darcy made back in Chapter 34, when he was so insulting about Elizabeth's lack of proper connections and her family's want of propriety? Well, this chapter includes his do-over. Mind you, now he's quite fond of the Gardiners (those improper family connections) and her family has behaved far more scandalously in the interim than they did when he was offended by them in the first place.

The conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy begins when she thanks him for bailing her sister out, and has to explain that her aunt didn't betray his confidence without her direct application.

"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
I should note that while I generally have lots of negative things to say about the choices made in the 2005 production of Pride & Prejudice, I differ from many Janeites in defending the lovely lines spoken by Matthew MacFadyen-as-Darcy during the proposal: "You have bewitched me, body and soul," and his stammering over the words "I love you" and such are completely within the purview, I believe, of "he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do." Also, I love Matthew MacFadyen's delivery. And voice. And general appearance. But still, the lines are defensible, in my opinion, even if his appearance sans cravat and with his shirt open practically to his navel and her running about in her nightrail or whatever is not.





But I digress.

Turns out that Lady Catherine did indeed pay Darcy a call in London, only instead of talking him out proposing, her description of Lizzy's behavior made him think he had a chance at succeeding in a proposal.

"It taught me to hope," said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly."

Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, "Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."
There follows a lot of "I was wrong"/"No, I was wrong" conversation and discussion of Darcy's letter and Lizzy's visit to Pemberley and Bingley's engagement to Jane it's all adorable and they are happy and get back to Longbourn and . . . we are left hanging as to what happens next. But I will tell you that if you haven't read the book before, it's funny.

Aaaand . . . here's the scene from the 1995 BBC production:






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Friday, February 25, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 15 (ch 57)

Back in Chapter 19, Mr Collins claims that Lizzy is attempting to "increas[e] my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females." I would suggest that Austen - as a writer - is doing just that here: seeking to increase the readers' - and Elizabeth's - love for Darcy by putting off his reappearance on the page. And so it is that we've seen Jane engaged to Bingley, and instead of Darcy turning up to claim Lizzy, we were treated to Lady Catherine trying to chase her off. And now, we are presented with a still more painful chapter, in which we are given a letter from Mr Collins, and Elizabeth is teased by her father in a mortifying manner. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"Lady Catherine, it appeared, had actually taken the trouble of this journey from Rosings, for the sole purpose of breaking off her supposed engagement with Mr Darcy."

The chapter opens just after Lady Catherine's visit, as Lizzy spends hours trying to figure out how on earth Lady Catherine got the idea that Darcy might marry Elizabeth in the first place - she determines it must have been supposition by the Lucases passed through the Collinses to Lady Catherine - and what is likely to happen next.

Lady Catherine pretty much promised to take the matter up with Darcy, and Elizabeth spends additional hours wondering how he'll react to his aunt's interference. Since so much of what Lady Catherine said to Lizzy is similar to the reservations that Darcy gave Lizzy during his first proposal - only with far better basis in fact, given Lydia's indiscretion and the attendant scandal - it makes sense to Elizabeth that Lady Catherine has a good chance at warning Darcy off.

She figures that Lady Catherine will catch Darcy in London on her way home to Rosings, so she figures she'll know quite soon whether he's written her off: she half expects that he'll simply send his regrets to Bingley, rather than returning to Netherfield Park as promised, in order to avoid seeing her again. Poor Lizzy.

"The next morning, as she was going down stairs, she was met by her father, who came out of his library with a letter in his hand."

Lizzy's first concern is that Lady Catherine may have sent a letter to her father, but the news is both better and worse than that: it's a letter from Mr Collins. It's better because Mr Bennet has no respect whatsoever for Mr Collins, whereas he might have been expected to give more deference to a woman of Lady Catherine's position. It's also worse for the same reason: since Mr Bennet has no respect for Mr Collins, he naturally decides not to credit Mr Collins with knowing what he's talking about; consequently, he feels free to mock Collins and, indirectly, Lizzy.

Mr Collins warmly praises Darcy (as one might expect), but cautions that Lady Catherine is set against the match. Mr Bennet assumes that Collins is completely misguided and, knowing nothing of what has passed between Lizzy and Darcy, believes Darcy has no interest whatsoever in Elizabeth. He likewise believes she dislikes Darcy, not knowing that she is already in love with the man, which leads to these horrifying digs:

"Mr Darcy, you see, is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he, or the Lucases, have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Mr Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life! It is admirable!"

Elizabeth tried to join in her father's pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. Never had his wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to her.
Austen then uses Mr Bennet to take a swing at Collins and, by extension, any and all clergy who are intolerant, by reporting Collins's comments about Lydia and Mr Bennet's response:

"'I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia's sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.' That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!"
To which I say, "Preach it, sister." Or, if you prefer, Mister Bennet.

Mr Bennet notices that Lizzy isn't entirely entertained here, and comments with one of the best-loved quotes from all of Austen, and one that seems like to be part of Austen's personal philosophy, if you've read her letters: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"

He also cannot refrain from further commenting on how terribly unlikely a match with Darcy is, thereby ridiculing Elizabeth, her beloved, and the Collinses that much more: "Had they fixed on any other man it would have been nothing; but his perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd! . . . And pray, Lizzy, what said Lady Catherine about this report? Did she call to refuse her consent?"

Mr Bennet has hit the nail on the head there, although he thinks he's just being terribly funny. We've all experienced such sorts of teasing, I'm sure, so it takes little imagination to figure out exactly how nauseated Lizzy probably felt by the end of this particular torture session, compounded with her now wondering whether her father has the right of it and there's not a snowball's chance in hell that Darcy will renew his proposal.

I am soooooo excited about tomorrow's chapter, you don't even know.

Tomorrow: Chapter 58
Back to Chapter 56



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Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 14 (ch 56)

Guess who's in the approaching carriage?

If you guessed Lady Catherine, then I can only assume it's because you've read the book before because otherwise you'd be about as surprised as Mrs Bennet and Kitty (who were less surprised, we are told, than Elizabeth - have you noticed, by the way, that Mary seems to have been almost entirely done away with recently? But I digress).

Lady Catherine in the house

Lady Catherine turns up and comes inside - in that, at least, she's better than her daughter. She leaves her attendant in the carriage. She has come from Rosings, in Kent - a fact we learn when she says she saw the Collinses two days ago. She has spent quite a long time travelling to pay what turns out to be a very rude visit (on both sides, if I'm being hones, although truly, Lady Catherine has it coming to her).

She enters the house and sits down without a word. As the highest ranking female in the room, she is entitled to precedence of a sort, even if she is a guest, but truly, she should have attended to introductions first and waited to be asked to sit. Of course, shortly after sitting down, she criticizes the grounds (the "park") as small, then criticizes the sitting room as "inconvenient" because it faces west, and might therefore be expected to be hot and/or sunny in the summer. And then, she cuts Mrs Bennet off (which is, on the one hand, a sort of small mercy, because Mrs Bennet does rattle on, but still - she's being terribly rude to her putative hostess), stands up, and pretty much demands that Lizzy take a hike with her. Lady Catherine is then rude in a different manner by opening doors to rooms inside the house to inspect them; at least she pronounces them to be okay. Yeesh.

Lady Catherine in the prettyish kind of little wilderness

As they're walking along in silence, Elizabeth cannot believe that she ever believed Mr Darcy was high and mighty in the way that his aunt was. It's a nice introduction to the topic of Darcy, although Elizabeth and Lady Catherine are about to get into quite a discussion about him. On entering the wilderness, Lady Catherine truly veers into a wild course of action, pretty much attacking Lizzy, who is completely clueless as to why Lady Catherine is in her yard.

Turns out that Lady C has heard a rumor that Darcy intends to marry Lizzy, and she's decided to meddle in her nephew's love life. She has apparently decided that, as between the two of them, Lizzy is the weaker link, so she's started her assault at Longbourne. She's hoping to be told that there's no change of an engagement between them, but since she starts out so rudely, Elizabeth immediately gets her back up and starts toying with Lady Catherine over semantics, more or less.

Lady Catherine: You know why I'm here, Miss Bennet.
Tell me what I want to know.

Elizabeth: O_o
Indeed, Madam, I have no idea what you're doing here.

Lady Catherine: A report reached me saying you're going to marry my nephew, something I consider impossible. I am positive it's a pack of lies, which is why I've just spent two days in a carriage to hightail it here.

Elizabeth: O_o
If you think it's impossible, I don't know why you bothered coming all this way.

Lady Catherine: Well, obviously, I want you to confirm that it's all a pack of lies.


Elizabeth: O_o
But doesn't your coming here seem to prove it might be true?

Lady Catherine: Look, I'm sure it's you who's been spreading this rumor. I want you to tell me there's absolutely no basis for it whatsoever.

Elizabeth: O_o
I don't actually have to tell you what you want to hear.

Lady Catherine: *footstomp*
HAS MY NEPHEW ASKED YOU TO MARRY HIM?

Elizabeth: O_o
"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible."

Lady Catherine: *mumbles* Well, it should be impossible, unless he's a cottonheaded ninnymuggins. But you may have danced the dance of the seven veils, or done the lambada - the forbidden dance lured him in.

Elizabeth: O_o!
If I had done such a thing, I'd hardly admit it.

Lady Catherine: "Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns." [KRF: LOL! I'm betting Darcy wouldn't see it quite the same way!]

Elizabeth: O_o!
Be that as it may, you have no entitlement to know my business.

Lady Catherine: Darcy is going to marry my daughter! They're engaged! SO THERE!
Neener neener!

Elizabeth: O_o?
If that's the case, you can't have any reason to think he'd ask me to marry him.

Lady Catherine: Did I say engaged? I meant that my sister (his mother) and I planned on them getting engaged. You know - keep it all in the family. The wealth and the genes. So clearly, propriety demands that you bugger off!

Elizabeth: Even if I were to bugger off, it wouldn't guarantee that he's going to marry your sickly daughter. I'm just saying that you obviously failed the course on logic. So if he asks me, why couldn't I accept him?

Lady Catherine: O_o
Look, it's like this: his family will never talk to you or even say your name, and the whole world will censure you.

Elizabeth: Is that seriously all you've got? Because I'm betting there are enough perks to being Mrs Darcy that I wouldn't mind the family bit, and I seriously doubt that the entire world would give a rat's ass.

Lady Catherine: "Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you!" *sits down to belabor the many ways in which Elizabeth is a disappointment, including mention of "The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."*

Elizabeth: "In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal."

Lady Catherine: "True. You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."

Elizabeth: "Whatever my connections may be, if your nephew does not object to them, they can be nothing to you."

Lady Catherine: "Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?"

Elizabeth: *wishes she could say she was*
"I am not."

Lady Catherine: Promise me that you won't get engaged to him.


Elizabeth: O_o
No way.

Lady Catherine: Come off it. You can't marry him. Besides the excellent reasons I've already given you, there's your youngest sister's patched-up elopement - and with the son of Mr Darcy's steward! "Heaven and earth! -- of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?"

Elizabeth: O_o! "You can now have nothing farther to say. You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house."

Lady Catherine: *heaps scorn and invective on Lizzy, then asks if she's determined on having Darcy - seriously, if she wasn't determined before, this sort of effort might have been enough to get her to commit just to piss Lady Catherine off*

Elizabeth: "I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."

Lady Catherine: "I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet. I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased."

The 1995 BBC adaptation did a terrific job with this, although they did cut some of the dialogue (as did I, for that matter). By all means, stop at the 5:37 mark unless you wish to peek ahead into the next chapter:






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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 13 (ch 55)

Long story, short

With Darcy off to London for ten days, Bingley is at looses ends - which he speedily ties up by spending his time with the Bennets. In a matter of days, in fact, he proposes to Jane, who is now happily engaged to be married to her true love. Lizzy is, of course, thrilled for her sister; she's also quite glad that Bingley didn't mention Darcy's role in convincing him that Jane was indifferent.

Oh, Mrs Bennet!

Mrs Bennet tries hard to manoeuvre things so that Bingley and Jane are left alone, behaving in such an obvious manner as to be completely embarrassing - winking and pulling her daughters out of the room with a blatant disregard for propriety. And then, when Jane is engaged, she doesn't understand her husband's teasing. And there's this: "Oh! my dear, dear Jane, I am so happy! I am sure I shan't get a wink of sleep all night. I knew how it would be. I always said it must be so, at last. I was sure you could not be so beautiful for nothing!" Because of course Bingley is only marrying her for her looks, right? Gah!

Laugh and the world laughs with you

We know that Elizabeth is certainly thinking of Darcy all along. But Jane doesn't know that:

"I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!" cried Jane. "Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!"

"If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr Collins in time."
Dudes - I cannot WAIT until tomorrow, because there's a visitor coming to Longbourne, and I am all anticipation for one of my favorite chapters in this novel - and that is truly saying something!

I wish I could find a clip of the 2005 Bingley proposal online for you, but it has disappeared. Joe Wright made boneheaded choices in telling this story, but the proposal scene includes a funny bit of dialogue between Darcy and Bingley out by the stream and then a gorgeous clip of Simon Woods as Bingley walking up to Rosamund Pike as Jane to propose. Alas, it is not currently available on YouTube. *sigh*


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Timon of Athens and Tessa Gratton

Last night, I drove up to New York to meet Tessa Gratton to go see a production of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens at the Public Theatre in the East Village. Tessa is even more beautiful in person than in her photos, and that's saying something. She's also every bit as smart and funny as I expected, and then some. Don't you just love it when you meet online friends in real life and they turn out to be awesome? I know I do (and I also know that's usually the case, at least when it comes to online writer friends).

The play starred Richard Thomas (who will forever be John Boy Walton to me) as Timon (rhymes with Simon, and is not - as I had thought - pronounced like the name of the meerkat in The Lion King), a man who starts the play as a spendthrift, essentially showering money and possessions on his so-called friends, only to find himself in dire straights - and with false friends who do not care to assist him. He ends the play as a misanthrope, living alone and impoverished in a cave and completely disillusioned in mankind, until his servant, Flavius, arrives and wants to serve him even though Flavius believes Timon cannot pay him. Timon has, however, unearthed a cache of gold, which is given to Flavius as a reward for being a single good man (echoes of the story of Lot, perhaps?) while Athens is left to fall to an encroaching army. Timon kills himself (offstage).

The play itself was . . . odd. Really and truly. No wonder the play is only seldom performed. According to proponents of linguistics using recently developed computer programs that analyze usage and punctuation, it appears that as much as 40% of the play may have been written by Thomas Middleton, in a collaboration with Shakespeare. The play first appeared in print in the First Folio, produced after Shakespeare's death. It's possible that only an incomplete script existed, or that it was an experimental sort of play. It's also possible that the play as performed during Shakespeare's life was better fleshed out than what was reduced to the page. It's one of the many Shakespeare-related mysteries that we simply have to accept and move on.

The setting for the play - the Ansbacher Theater at the Public - was marvelous, however. Tess and I were in the fifth row, stage right - essentially in extremely plush stadium seating looking down on the floor, where the play was staged with minimal scenery and props. The two side-stage sections were a mere eight rows deep, and the center stage section, while considerably wider, was only six rows deep, which ensures that no-one is particularly far from the stage at any point in time.

While neither Tessa nor I knew this play going in, we know our Shakespeare well enough to know filthy puns when we hear them, which meant that we were two of, say, four people laughing aloud at the start of the play. I'm sure the people around us wondered what we were on about as we laughed at this dialogue between the Poet and the Painter:

Poet
Upon the heels of my presentment, sir.
Let's see your piece.

Painter
'Tis a good piece.

Poet
So 'tis: this comes off well and excellent.

Painter
Indifferent.

Poet
Admirable: how this grace
Speaks his own standing! what a mental power
This eye shoots forth! how big imagination
Moves in this lip! to the dumbness of the gesture
One might interpret.
On the one hand, they were talking about a painting; on the other, they were talking about penises and ejaculation. (Those of us who knew about the other hand were decidedly in the minority.)

All things considered, it's not a play I liked well enough to seek out again, not that I'd avoid it, necessarily. The characters aren't developed quite well enough, in my opinion, to find one to really like, or at least to feel sorry for.

Oh. And if you're wondering why I used my "Inconceivable!" icon for this post, it's because we saw Wallace Shawn (aka "Vizzini") in the lobby before the play. We assume he went up to the third floor to see a play called Compulsion, since he didn't appear to be in the audience with us.

P.S. You are not allowed to take photos inside The Public Theatre, as I discovered immediately after taking the photo of Tess and me. I apologized, of course, but didn't delete it.

P.P.S. The sandwiches and red wine (rioja) in the lobby were delectable. I'm just saying.


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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick

In memoriam, L.K. Madigan. Gone too soon.

To the Virgins, to make much of Time.
by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
  Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
  The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
  And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
  When youth and blood are warmer,
But being spent, the worse, and worst
  Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
  And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
  You may forever tarry.


Discussion

First, a word about the form of the poem. It's written in cross-rhymed quatrains (four-line stanzas in which the first and third lines rhyme, as do the second and fourth). It is written in alternating lines of iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet) and iambic trimeter (three iambic feet), meaning that lines 1 & 3 have four iambs (eight syllables), and lines 2 & 3 have three iambs (ordinarily six syllables, but Herrick uses feminine endings to all of his even-numbered lines in this poem, so they each have 7 syllables, the final two of which are to be read aloud on the same beat). If you can't figure out what I just said and it bugs you, let me know; otherwise I'll assume that you got it or don't really care, and we'll move on.

This poem is one often quoted in favor of seizing the day, and is formally considered a carpe diem poem. It's likely you've heard the first line, even if you've never seen the whole poem. It is from a book or his work entitled Hesperides; or, the Works Both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick. (Someone thought a bit highly of himself, I'd say.) Herrick was both a clergyman and a poet, and lived in the 17th century. (A royalist, he ran into some difficulties when Cromwell turned up, but that was smoothed out after King Charles I assumed the crown. His poems were not wildly popular during his lifetime, but became quite well-known during the Victorian era nearly 200 years later. His poems were strongly influenced by the works of Ben Jonson.

I should note that although he was a clergyman, Herrick's poems are known for their use of sexual imagery, and that this poem includes what is likely an extended metaphor/double entendre, beginning with the first stanza. Ostensibly a command to young women to go out and pick flowers before they die, the poem also serves as a command to young men to go out and pluck women's, er, flowers as well, and the phrase "to die" in that time period meant not only a literal death of the body but also indicated orgasm. Those of you thus inclined can, I am certain complete the extension of that particular metaphor throughout the poem without further aid.

I realize that this poem might strike some folks as odd as a memorial. Certainly no disrespect is intended on my part. Rather, in light of Lisa's death, I find myself thinking about how important it is to seize the day and to enjoy what we have while we have it. It's a good day to dare to eat a peach, I think.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bright Star by John Keats

In reading today's Writer's Almanac, I learned that today is the 190th anniversary of John Keats's death. The Writer's Almanac also includes some absolutely swoon-worthy excerpts from some of Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne. And it occurred to me to mark the day with a reprise of one of his Shakespearian sonnets - a love poem that is entirely swoon-worthy (the title of which was borrowed for a major motion picture about his life - and no, I still haven't seen it. Grrr).

Bright Star
by John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite*,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No— yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever— or else swoon to death.


*Eremite: a hermit, particularly a religious recluse who lives alone in the wilderness

Discussion:

In this single-sentence sonnet, Keats fixes his attention on a star in the sky, wishing that he had the ability to be as steadfast and watchful of the woman he loved (almost certainly Fanny Brawne at this point in his life). Keats is such a drama queen that he wants to lie with her forever, "pillowed on her breast" or else swoon to death. The poem, which is written using the Shakespearian sonnet form, uses iambic pentameter and the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme. The volta or "turn" in the poem comes at the start of line 9, when Keats turns his attention from the star up in the sky to describing how he wishes to be able to have that star's immortal constancy in order to stay with his beloved.

Note how Keats begins the poem by addressing the star in the sky, but when he reaches the volta, he pretty much ceases to address the star, and talks to himself. Were this a performance on the stage, the actor might start his recitation by looking up to the star and gesturing, but he would almost undoubtedly turn his attention from the star to a more inward performance by the start of the 9th line, or else he might have a conveniently placed woman on a chaise lying about with whom to conclude the recitation.

I should note that this poem is sometimes referred to as "the last sonnet", because it was for quite a long time believed to be the final sonnet Keats wrote before his death. Some dispute as to whether that is correct exists, but it does appear to be one of the last poems he completed before his death, even if it was drafted earlier than first believed.


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Pride & Prejudice, Volume III, chapter 12 (ch 54)

"Teasing, teasing man!"

We begin today's chapter where yesterday's left off - Bingley and Darcy have just left, and Elizabeth heads off into the gardens to have a think. Mr Darcy was silent for most of the visit, and seemed to be observing Jane a great deal. She knows he was entirely pleasant and at ease at Pemberley, when she was there, and that he maintained that pleasantness with Mr and Mrs Gardiner when he spent time with them in town, so she is trying to figure out why he's back in his shell now.

That he might be re-examining Jane Bennet's demeanor in light of Elizabeth's assertions that Jane is shy, but was very much attached to Mr Bingley, never crosses her mind, although it was the first thing that came to my mind last chapter when she dwelt on Darcy looking thoughtful and watching Jane. But Lizzy is making it all about herself, as most of us would likely do as well, so she's just flummoxed.

Elizabeth is fairly certain that Bingley is still quite attached to Jane, and she expects a happy ending for them long before Jane thinks it possible for herself - a point that holds in both of the private conversations she has with Jane in this chapter.

Darcy and Bingley come to dinner

Mrs Bennet doesn't exactly stand on ceremony with the seating arrangements at dinner, since Mr Bingley is free to choose his own place, more or less. Jane smiles at him, so he sits next to her. Still, Mrs Bennet keeps to someof the proprieties, since she sits Mr Darcy (the highest-ranking man in the room, as best I can tell) next to her. Of course, she then treats him coldly, since she's so small-minded and clueless, but really, were I Mr Darcy, I'd prefer that to her usual loquaciousness. And if she liked him, one can only imagine how obsequious she would be, given how smarmy she gets over Bingley, who has only half of Darcy's annual income.

Elizabeth really wants to talk with Darcy, but she doesn't get the opportunity. She's too far away from him at dinner, and the women circle the wagons after dinner, boxing him out. She does manage to inquire about Georgiana, but that's pretty much it.

Darcy had walked away to another part of the room. She followed him with her eyes, envied every one to whom he spoke, had scarcely patience enough to help anybody to coffee; and then was enraged against herself for being so silly!

"A man who has once been refused! How could I ever be foolish enough to expect a renewal of his love? Is there one among the sex, who would not protest against such a weakness as a second proposal to the same woman? There is no indignity so abhorrent to their feelings!"
Poor Elizabeth! And then she can't even manage to sit at the same table as him for cards. "They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself." God, I love Austen. She's so wry.

Mrs Bennet's triumph

Mrs Bennet is quite thrilled with the success of the evening - the other young ladies present were nice, but plain (so as not to pull attention away from Jane); Mrs Long thinks Bingley and Jane look a likely couple; and the meal turned out well: "[E]ven Mr Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least."

Two things here:

1. Obviously, Mr Darcy was acting in a polite manner toward Mrs Bennet. He offered her a specific compliment, after all.

2. "French cooks" were highly prized in that time period. Not everyone had one or could afford one, of course. And they weren't easily obtained, since Britain and France were at war at that time. However, many of the very fashionable members of society had French cooks. Mrs Bennet's remark about Darcy having "two or three French cooks at the least" is obvious hyperbole (and what do we expect from Mrs B if not hyperbolic remarks?), but it also reflects her implied assessment that Darcy is a man of taste and substance.

Tomorrow: Chapter 55
Back to Chapter 53



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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And another one down . . .

Last Thursday, I started chapter 12 in my work in progress (WIP).

About 20 minutes ago, I finished it. But only after this rather amusing exchange with M, my 16-year old daughter who wants to be a book editor when she grows up and is quite a writer in her own right.

M: How's chapter 12 going?

Me: Good. Now I just need to get out of it.

M: Try "and then I stepped in front of the bus." Automatic page turn.

Me: Good thinking, but I don't know that a bus works. They're on a beach right now. At night.

M: Hmm.

Me: I could have someone burst in with a gun. And then the next chapter starts "Never mind, it wasn't a gun after all."

M: *laughs* Read me the last sentence.

Me: "I tucked the errant strands behind my ear and turned my face into the wind, feeling alive and wildly happy."

M: Okay. There you go. Next chapter.

Turns out she wasn't far wrong. I had to back up and alter that sentence and what came just before it a wee bit, but now I'm moving on. Gotta love having smart kids around the house. I know I'm lucky to have M! (Not that S is a slacker, but she's too busy working on her AP Government project to be useful tonight.)


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