An advantageous marriage is Elizabeth Bennet’s only potential escape from a foolish mother, a disinterested father, three very silly sisters, and a house that’s entailed away to her idiotic cousin Mr. Collins. But she turns down fabulously wealthy Mr. Darcy because he’s prideful—and maybe a little prejudiced. But then, so is she. How do we know if two people are well-suited to each other? What makes a successful match? Is Mr. Collins actually the perfect man? Wes and Erin give their analysis of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Thanks to Tyler Hislop for the audio editing on this episode.
Wes: So Pride and Prejudice. This is something that I hadn’t read since high school. And although I have seen the 1995 BBC production of this, well, I saw that quite a long time ago as well, but I rewatched most of it in preparation for this.
Erin: I guess I should come out officially as being an Austen freak, first of all, and this is my favorite Austen novel. When I was in college, I did the math and I figured out that I had spent something like three weeks of my life watching that miniseries and I’ve watched it many times since that calculation, so… And I’ve read the book several times, but I’m a freak of Pride and Prejudice. Freak. Or just an Austin freak in general. I love it. I even went to a Regency ball when I was in college. [laughter] And for my… this is so embarrassing, I don’t know why I’m admitting this, but for my birthday, my mom was friends with this woman who was like a seamstress, and she did costumes for, like, musicals in town and stuff like that. And anyway, she made me like a Regency gown to wear at the Regency Ball. It was like… really, it’s a very simple pattern, actually, because it’s just an empire waisted… I don’t know the term for fabric and sewing things, but anyway,
Wes: The waist is very high, right?
Erin: Yes. Yeah, it was a simple dress. It was, I guess, easy to make, but really beautiful, like fabric and I… It was so exciting to go to this Regency ball. [laughter] Really embarrassing. But Pride and Prejudice, like the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is something that I think a lot of people who love the book watch all the time because it really is just like a filming of the novel in certain respects. Got into many arguments with people over the superiority of the 95 version compared to the Keira Knightley 2005 version, which I think is dreadful, so…
Wes: Yeah, I didn’t watch that. I didn’t have time. I’m not a Keira Knightley fan.
Erin: Oh, God. Thank you for saying that. Or else I would have to kill you. [laughter]
Wes: Yeah, she smiles. She has those teeth that make it look like she’s about to eat you.
Wes: But I heard that, just reading reviews of that, it looked like they tried to update that too much and make it cool…
Wes: …which I think is probably a disaster. But I did look at the 1940.
Erin: Also not very good.
Wes: Not very good. But you do get Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.
Erin: Yeah. Olivier is not a bad Darcy. He’s just stuck in a terrible adaptation.
Wes: He’s just as good, I think. I didn’t watch all. I just watched the first 30 minutes because it is… Yeah, it’s bad, and it’s very different. They compress a lot of different… you know, naturally, they have to, but…
Erin: They also set it in a completely different time period because they were on the heels of Gone With the Wind. So they decided to set it in the Victorian Era so that they can have hoop skirts and things like that in order to appeal to the Gone with the Wind fans,I guess. So it just looks very out of place because it looks like they should be in a Dickins, you know, adaptation, but they’re saying Austin’s words. It’s weird.
Wes: There’s an earlier BBC adaptation too, which, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to really evaluate that. That looks interesting.
Erin: Yeah, I haven’t seen either of those, except just bits and pieces on YouTube. But I think the contrast between the ‘95 and the 2005 version is actually really revealing, and it tells maybe a little bit about what I think is important in Pride and Prejudice and maybe what other people think is important. The 2005 version, you know, people say, well, you know, the cinematography is beautiful and it looks prettier and the love story is more obviously emphasized, but I find it has a very… admittedly I wasn’t able to get through the entire thing. I think I only watched like an hour and 15 minutes of it before I had to turn it off because I was so frustrated and I haven’t tried watching it since. But it has like a very Brontë kind of feel to it. I think it’s much more emotional and moody, and Lizzie is very… I don’t like Keira Knightley. I think she’s very nasal, and I don’t find her very attractive.
Wes: Scary is fine.
Erin: [laughter] Would she… You know, in the movie, I remember, she didn’t…
Wes: She’d make a good werewolf.
Erin: She she would. She should have been in the mash-up, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Wes: Right. There’s a vampire version to it…
Wes: …with the teeth and…
Erin: That seems like her speed. But.. that’s so mean. Anyway, I remember in the movie that she was very like moody, and she was very angry, and she kept everything in to herself. And they cut out all of the parts of the book that are in the ‘95 version where she talks with Charlotte and Jane, and she moles things over by talking through things with people in asking their opinions. And, you know, it’s very chatty in the book, of course, and I think that’s something that really, that’s so essential to Lizzie’s character. I mean, I think that she’s like by far the most important person in the book. I think she’s one of the most attractive characters in all of literature, and I think that she has a lot of good humor and she makes a lot, you know, she’s a milder, sort of more circumspect version of Mr Bennett. I mean, she likes having fun with people, and being a connoisseur of human folly, as he calls her in the ‘95 version.
Wes: Well, I was just going to interject something that Jane Austen herself says about Elizabeth. This is in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, in 1813. I think this is while she’s trying to get it published. It’s worth saying that she started writing at a very early age and was encouraged to do that by her family and would read out drafts to everyone as entertainment. But I think she resisted initially publishing until she thought things were revised enough. And she had some help from her father a little bit. But she took all that very seriously in the end, the whole project of getting published and getting financially rewarded for it. Although the first novel, her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, she publishes that under just as “A Lady”, so it’s anonymous, but the author is put down as “A Lady”, and then Pride and Prejudice, the author’s put down, you know, “the author of Sense and Sensibility”, [laughter] so.. Anyway, what she says to her sister, Cassandra, who in their letters, they actually seem to have a relationship, which is not unlike that of Jane and Elizabeth in the novel. But, she says, “I must confess that I think her (referring to Elizabeth) as delightful creature as ever appeared in print and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her, at least, I do not know. There are few typical errors, and a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the dialogue more immediately clear.” That’s very true. By the way, there’s a lot of confusing, good confusion until you get used to it, with figuring out who’s speaking in the beginning. But then, she says. “but I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves”. And she’s quoting Sir Walter Scott there, Sir Walter Scott, who’s one of the people who’d give her a good review early on. I just wanted to interject that, and as I mentioned to you before we started recording, I used the North Critical edition, and I recommend that to listeners for some of her letters and some really cool criticism, including early criticism. But you were describing the fact that she’s one of the most attractive characters in literature and trying to get at the contrast between those two different adaptations.
Erin: I think that the 2005 Lizzie is a Lizzie that the filmmakers thought the world wanted or some or something. And the 95 she’s as wonderful as she really is in the book.
Wes: Well, it sounds like they tried to empower her by making her sulky or something when the character is already empowered. It’s just they… so it’s a corrupt concept, which is not uncommon these days, but kind of a corrupt idea of what female empowerment looks like.
Erin: Because it’s also a corrupt idea of what male empowerment looks like. And then there’s the attempt to imitate that, and that’s what it sounds… But that’s my purely speculating about something I haven’t seen, but…
Erin: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think, you know, how she gets the upper hand, you might say is through her words and through her conversation and through her… I mean, a lot of what she says is very sarcastic, which is why she was very appealing to me, because she’s kind of like a Borscht Belt comedian in the… [laughter] in Regency England, in a way. She pokes fun at people while allowing them to think whatever they want about what she said. So, you know, she could say something sarcastic and have Mr Collins take her literally, and then she can have the private enjoyment of knowing that she’s just put him down and he doesn’t even know.
Erin: But not in a mean-spirited way, just kind of an amusing way, a happy way.
Wes: Well, it’s interesting, cause that, in a way, is one of the questions of the novel, which we can get to. How mean spirited is it? And it’s funny because so… is… Jane Austen became… she died in what… 18…?
Wes: 17. So that’s the one, okay.
Erin: She was 41.
Wes: And it could have been Huntington’s disease or something like that, some sort of degenerative disease. And as her fame gradually increased, I don’t think it really… like Austin-mania really started until the 1880’s eighties or something like that, when she really became a thing. But she had some gradual, increasing notoriety and her nieces and one of her nephews and a niece or two, like one of her nephews, I think, wrote a biography of her. And I think the niece as well, actually. But anyway, they curated an image of Jane Austen as being a very moral, upstanding person. And to that end, her sister Cassandra burned most of her letters. And I think the idea that biographers seemed to have is that Jane Austen could be quite acerbic in her comments on other people in those letters. And Cassandra didn’t want that getting out. And also, I think there’s quite a bit of similarity between Austin and Elizabeth in this use of wit and teasing, and so obviously she was very good at it, and that’s why Elizabeth can be so good at it, and that’s one of the real attractions of the novel as it reminds you of Shakespeare characters in that way. And it’s not something, in my experience, that you see a lot of, wit delivered at that, especially anymore, but delivered to that high level.
Erin: I read somewhere that Austin fancied herself the closest to… I can’t remember she fancied herself this way. She must have. But I think it was also a relative who thought that she was most similar of all of her characters to Mr Bennett. And I think that’s kind of revealing, too, that she could enjoy Lizzie, but she’s more of a Mr Bennett because Lizzie’s you know her child in the way that all of her characters are her children. But Mr Bennett is very aloof. I mean, we could talk later about how he’s kind of derelict in his duty to his children, and that causes their ruin. But he observes only, and he has this great line about “but what we live for, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn.” So he stays out of things and just observes people in order to do what I would call, you know, character analysis, which is basically just, you know, gossiping about people and figuring out what they have wrong with them. That’s what Austin probably did. And that’s really all the entertainment that you have available to you as a woman at that time.
Wes: Yeah, I think that point about character analysis is important because a lot of what’s going on in the novel is character analysis in the service of figuring out who’s gonna be a good mate or not, for one thing. So for navigating the social world and solving this marriage problem that they’re confronted with. And then it’s part of what the wit in the novel, it’s part of the purpose that it serves, is to put people to the test, although it reflects you talk about her prejudice as things go on but part of the theme of the novel is to talk about the ways pride and prejudice and those are two interrelated things, I think, in both Darcy and Elizabeth, that have different manifestations. But they are traits that don’t just define character, but they compromise the ability for character analysis, which is so crucial. They compromise the ability to fully evaluate other people. So, yeah, you mentioned the father. And so you have an absurd mother, Mrs Bennett, and you wonder how Jane and Elizabeth could be the product of someone like her, although the younger daughters, Lydia and Kitty, you can see it more, right. But then you have this father who’s very… has this wry, sarcastic sense of humor, and that’s the way he’s learned to tolerate his wife. He comes across as a genuinely good guy. Later on, we’ll find out Elizabeth will reflect on his failings, the ways in which that represents his retreat from the world. And he’s let his daughters run wild, the younger ones, and in some sense, failed them as a father. That’s the portrait we get in the very beginning, you know, introducing the family.
Erin: Yeah, I love this. The last paragraph of Chapter 1 gives us her first sort of inclination. Almost everything in the novel, in terms of our understanding of characters, really comes from dialogue and having the dialogue itself through being attentive to it, it reveals character. But every once in a while you get these little tidbits. So Austin writes:
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
So this is the only little hint about them that we get early on. Later, like you say, when Lizzie reflects on her father’s failing to get more information. But otherwise everything is determined by his sarcasm in all of his speech and Mrs Bennett’s ridiculousness and her self-obsession and caring about things that don’t really matter and not caring about things that really do matter. She’s completely topsy turvy. But it’s funny how their children are sort of like distillations of them. I mean, Jane and Lizzy are kind of almost entirely self-made in their own characters because they have the sense of their father, the good sense of their father. But at the same time, they didn’t have him really in their lives, it seems, in any kind of meaningful way, except to come in during meals and make fun of their mother and then retreat back to his study. Mary, the middle daughter, she’s dull and pedantic, so she has some intelligence and interest in reading like Mr Bennett has but she doesn’t have any of the wit or self-understanding that characterized the two older daughters. And then the two younger, Kitty and Lydia, are just like their mother. Lydia, especially, which makes her the favorite of Mrs Bennett. She’s just as stupid as her mother, and silly, and this is highlighted more, kind of, in the 95 version, than it is in the in the novel. But Mrs Bennett is really just a grown up version of Lydia, and she gets just as silly about officers and men in their regimentals as Lydia does, so you can almost imagine. I mean, I had a theory when I was younger, which isn’t really borne out by anything in the book that maybe Mr Bennett started out as… like a Wickham-type character who was forced into marriage with Lydia and [laughter] the whole pattern repeated itself later on.
Wes: There is reference to the fact that when he was younger, he was too easily taken in by looks and charms, basically. So he failed this test, he failed the test of character evaluation, which is so important in the novel and ended up with someone essentially of a very poor character. [laughter]
Erin: You know, I mean, we could talk a lot about this, but there’s also too much character analysis that can be done, like Charlotte argues against this. She advises Jane, when Jane has attracted the admiration of Mr Bingley, she has that famous piece of advice where she says she should display more affection. Even then, she feels, if she is to secure him and Lizzie says no, that’s not right. She has to understand more about his character and her own feelings for him before she expresses too much affection or she might lead him on.
Wes: This is Chapter 6. You know, Elizabeth thinks that Jane’s reservedness with respect to Bingley is a good thing and Charlotte says Jane had better show her affection or she’ll risk losing it. Elizabeth says something like, um…
Erin: She says, “your plan is a good one where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married.”
Wes: That’s it. And then Charlotte will go on to say that, you know, happiness and marriage is not something you can figure out beforehand. It’s not something you can plan on. And so Charlotte’s advocating this more pragmatic approach. And this is one of the central questions of the novel is to what extent do practicalities like money and status govern the choice of a mate? And to what extent does love go into the choice of a mate? And I think character analysis, in a way, is relevant to both of those. But it seems more obviously immediately relevant to determining who you can love or who you could get along with, which is, I guess, a more practical way of thinking about it. I guess they’re different levels to this: thinking about who you could be a friend with, think about who you could get along with. The word amiable comes up a lot, especially for Mr Collins, as we’ll see later on, and then there’s the question of passionate love. But then there’s just the question of survival, and by survival, I mean not having to work, being able to live with work [laughter] as landed gentry.
Erin: Right. There are just so many layers to this, like she says. This is the main quote that I finally found:
If she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.
The layers of this are amazing because Lizzie, of course, wants Jane to be careful. And Jane, I guess from the dialogue we can suppose has a very serene countenance, they always say. Bingley is flirting with her and she’s sitting there and she’s kind of nodding and indulging him, and she secretly, you know, her heart is all aflutter, but she doesn’t really give too much indication that she’s nuts for him. So Charlotte says, well, you have to act like you’re crazy for him and basically, you know, flatter his character a little bit so that you can encourage him. Lizzie thinks this is a very bad idea that you have to really test out someone’s character beforehand in order to understand whether or not he’s worthy of your attention. Well, it turns out Charlotte is right, because Darcy is able to convince Bingley later on that Jane never really had as much affection for him as he had for her. So Charlotte’s right on that score.
Wes: Yeah, so Charlotte is, in a way, vindicated in the end. And…
Wes: …it’s Darcy who, observing Jane’s behavior, thinks that she’s not into Bingley, really. And then he puts that together with this sort of crassness of the rest of the family and kind of thinks they’re gold diggers, [laughter] basically, gold digging there, like the mother. You know, they’re just… yeah, then for the most part, they are. So he’s responding to something real there. But one of the ideas that comes up in this is that, and I forget who says that I don’t know if it’s Charlotte in this chapter or someone elsewhere, but the idea that two people will actually grow alike and influence each other so that even if they start out you know, Charlotte points out, people change and so you don’t really know what you’re getting in the long term. Someone else will point out later that people become alike to each other. They get influenced by each other’s psychology and little household culture and so they might grow alike, which, of course, is not always true. People could actually… do grow apart. And it’s not the sort of thing that has happened in the case of Elizabeth’s parents, where the mother, after all these years, still doesn’t know the father’s mind. And there has been no real mutual adaptation of characters. There’s been no real growth except the extent that the father knows how to tolerate the situation by retreating to his library and teasing the mother and the mother… you know, they just sort of put up with each other. So part of the context of the marriage problem at the beginning of the novel is social. It’s a matter of the fact that their material futures are linked, their autonomy, and this is restricted for various reasons. But part of it is just that they’re these material considerations that go into choosing a mate, and then part of it is a matter of figuring out how to not end up like their parents, [laughter] something like that.
Erin: Right. The problem, it seems, that Lizzie has especially, is that she’s too smart for her own good. Or maybe she’s too smart, and too emotional, and too this, and too that, because Liz even says to Charlotte when they’re having this conversation about Jane, how she should latch on to somebody and show more affection than she feels and all this stuff, Lizzie says to Charlotte, you know, you would never act this way yourself, which is one of many pronouncements that Lizzie makes, which is entirely wrong later on in the text, because Lizzie fancies herself very knowledgeable about other people and she knows people’s characters so she knows how they’re going to act, and she’s usually very wrong. So Charlotte, of course, later makes this marriage to Mr Collins, which Charlotte justifies by saying, you know, she’s not romantic, she only wants a comfortable home, she just wants to be secure and Mr Collins, therefore, is a prudential match for her.
Wes: Except that it’s not just that he’s a dud, an okay guy with enough money. He’s an amazing character studies, really. I think one of the great character studies in literature. But yeah, he’s this pompous fool who somehow manages, as Mr Bennett puts it, to combine humility with arrogance or pompousness. So there’s an element of passive aggression that runs through everything that he does, but…
Erin: Oh, yeah, absolutely. When Lindsay goes to visit them after they’ve been married, Charlotte basically says that she does everything she can to get him out of the house so that she never has to deal with him, and they rarely see each other. It’s funny, cause I re-read the book, and then I re-watched the miniseries after kind of concurrent with it. And in the miniseries, it’s kind of a settled question like Charlotte’s made sort of a prudential match, and she’s figured out how to be married to this guy and basically get all of the material considerations taken care of that she needed and not have to deal with him so much. So it’s a good kind of situation. In the novel, Lizzie’s constantly reflecting to herself in her mind as she makes this visit to them, like, how long can this actually satisfy Charlotte? Okay, it’s fine for now, but how many days, weeks, months, years of Charlotte sitting alone in her parlor, getting her husband out of the house nonstop. How long is that going to go on for before it starts to take its toll on Charlotte eventually and before she starts to regret things? But Charlotte is the kind of person… if we think of all of the women in this novel, all the unmarried women, as you know, they’re trying to get themselves to the goal of getting a man and being married because it is a matter of life and death. I mean, I think this is really important to say at the outset, especially because the Longbourn estate is entailed away from them. So if the women don’t get married, they will have nowhere to go. Once their father dies, Mr Collins is going to take the house, and then they’re gonna have to be entirely dependent on the charity of family members. And if the family members are not charitable to them, they will be destitute, they will be on the street. I mean, it’s very, very serious. So I guess Charlotte being more practical, you might say, or just caring about being comfortable, making sure she has somewhere to go and house to live in and all of that stuff, says: okay, I’m willing to put all this other stuff aside and marry Mr Collins, because he’s a sure bet, and that’s it. Lizzie, and to a certain extent, Jane are actually hobbled by their desire for love, or their intelligence, which causes Lizzie especially to find certain people insufferable so she can’t just shut down and do what Charlotte does. She is incapable of that, constitutionally incapable of it, and so it allows her to be as complex as she is and to see how other people have gone astray and their various marital choices. But it also really prevents her from being able to satisfy those material considerations, which she very, as much as anyone else, desperately needs to have satisfied if she’s going to literally live past her father’s death. I think it’s just important to know the stakes because people think that this is like a silly novel about… a lot of men who have I’ve talked to about this makes me really angry because they’re like, Oh, yeah, you know, it’s just about women who want to get married and it’s all silliness and they all look at each other and giggle, and it’s like it doesn’t matter. It’s like… this really, really does matter because it’s really a matter of life and death here. I mean, this is about survival for these women.
Wes: Yeah, So the very first famous first sentence, “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” And of course, the irony is, the suggestion is, that it’s the women in search of a man with a good fortune, and there’s an element of that. But yeah, as you just pointed out, the stakes are very high in this case in which they cannot receive an inheritance. I think the stakes are high anyway, and that externalizes some of the psychology of it, because it does feel like it’s more than something optional, right, finding someone to spend your life with. It does feel like a… It’s an urgent thing, so it’s not trivial in its effects, but a lot of the lead-up to it, or a lot of the way it’s navigated, involves all of this ridiculousness and all these trivialities.
Erin: We don’t see the effects of this necessarily in this book, but it’s important for those of our listeners who have read Sense and Sensibility, and, you know, I hope in a future episode we’ll tackle that novel too. But in Sense and Sensibility, the catalyst of the beginning of the novel is what happened in Austen’s own life, which is her father died, they were kicked out of their house, and they had to move in with a brother who treated them very terribly. In the book, the brother doesn’t want them to live with him, and so they’re entirely dependent on the kindness of these other relations. And they go from this grand house, the Dashwoods, this grand mannor into living in a cottage on someone else’s estate and really not having enough money to keep their house going. And they were lucky that they even had the cottage. So in Sense and Sensibility, the stakes automatically seem much higher because it begins with this death, which has rocked their entire world. In Pride and Prejudice, the threat of that, which contemporary readers of Austin’s would understand, is kind of lurking in the background at all times, is not readily apparent, maybe to modern day readers.
Wes: So there’s that element of the intrusion necessarily of those material concerns. And there’s also time: you don’t have forever. As Charlotte points out, you don’t necessarily have the time to fully evaluate people’s characters. And even if you did, people change with time. But then it’s just the question of how accurate your character analysis can be during the courtship period. Early on, Bingley is a foil for Darcy and Bingley is very easy going, and Darcy is aloof and proud. And so there’s the question of what you’re looking for. You are really looking for that obvious amiability? There’s a conversation at some point where Darcy and Bingley are talking about character, so… I think it’s Chapter 10. Elizabeth and Darcy get into an argument about Bingley’s character, and Darcy says,
“Oh!” cried Miss Bingley, “Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest.”
“My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them—by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents.”
“Your humility, Mr. Bingley,” said Elizabeth, “must disarm reproof.”
“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is […] carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
“And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?”
“[…] for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved upon quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself—and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?”
So, of course, this is going to turn out to depression. Darcy will play a role in it and Bingley will pick up and leave all of a sudden. What’s being foreshadowed here is the fact that easy-goingness and amiability, which seem to be desirable qualities in a mate, can reflect a lack of commitment, a lack of reliableness, a lack of trustworthiness. So someone seems to have this easy going great character. It’s, you know, on the one hand, that’s great, because you can get along with them, but everyone can get along with them. So there’s nothing that unites you to them, in particular with particular strength or particularity that excludes a lot of other people. It’s… the relationship is not that unique. So Jane and Bingley, it’s like, okay, yeah, they’re nice people. Despite all of this talk about character evaluation to finding the right person, it’s not like Jane has been through a lot of suitors, you know, Bingley has probably been exposed to many more women in his position. But I think the main point is just that there’s a difference here between finding this very close match, which becomes harder for people who are more proud, in particular, and all that stuff. But then the match is closer in a way and maybe more solid.
Erin: Yeah, you want someone to have a loyalty particularly to you, not just an amiability that allows you to translate your affection to whoever may come by. And that inconstancy in Bingley allows him to be persuaded away from Jane when he really does love her and really does prefer her. And then eventually he’s able to see that. And I mean, I don’t think the relationship between Bingley and Jane is particularly interesting and maybe it’s for this reason: they’re just like two nice people being nice to each other. But the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is more interesting because they’re more partial and they’re more critical of other people. And so when you are capable of not being critical of each other or, you know, you decide that when your good opinion as Lizzie and Darcy constantly talking about “his good opinion, once lost, is lost forever,” right? But the fact that Lizzie is able to gain and then maintain his good opinion even through her abuse of him, much of which is earned and deserved, it makes the relationship more satisfying in the long run because it means that even though they’re critical of others, they are somehow bonded to each other.
Wes: So, yeah, I’m reminded of Much Ado About Nothing and the two couples in there, Beatrice and Benedick versus Hero and Claudio, in which the aggression is up front here between Darcy and Elizabeth in the same way it’s upfront with Beatrice and Benedick. There’s a certain amount of overt hate in the beginning, which, ironically, turns out to be a good sign. Of course, it works out for Bingley and Jane, but what seems so benign for Bingley and Jane is actually you could read it as a kind of warning sign. There’s an idealization that’s going on where people are projecting onto other people that they don’t know very well and falling in love because that person is nice and amiable. And of course, it’s groundless, baseless, that sort of love. The importance of being able to express aggression and hatred, especially through wit, that’s a good sign just because that’s actually gonna have to be part of the relationship, people are going to stay close and not withdraw from each other, like Mr Bennett and Mrs Bennett. They have to be able to navigate those negative feelings. And the other part of it is just… it’s a game that’s being played, some thinking again of the apartment and the card playing. When they’re engaged in that they have an object, which is more than each other. So that object can be the game, or it can be a set of principles because a lot of what they’re talking about when they’re sparring, especially at this point in the chapter of which we’ve been talking about in Chapter 10, is what it means to have a set of principles, what it means to idealize and love things which are outside of the other person but which the couple can share. And so, for instance, and we’ll talk about this more later. But when Elizabeth sees Darcy’s estate and is so impressed by it, it’s a kind of variation on the theme of being impressed with someone’s material fortune. But actually what she’s discovering there is a shared set of values with Darcy. So Darcy is just a good caretaker of the state and he’s beloved by his servants, and the landscaping is done in a way that’s tasteful and leaves enough natural beauty, it’s not overdone, and it’s more than just “Oh look, I get this big house and estate”. It’s the idea of “Oh, look, I get to be mistress”, as she puts it, “Wouldn’t it be something to be mistress of Pemberley?” Which is to say, “Wouldn’t it be something to take on this shared responsibility?” So the kind of sparring that goes on in this wit and these manifestations of hate is you can actually read as a sign of commitment to principle, and that becomes a groundwork for deeper sort of relationship.
Erin: Yeah, the house is representative of Darcy himself, too, right, like she thinks that she can properly take care of the house, and that’s sort of like managing Darcy as much as his estate. Maybe we should take a step back and talk about their initial friction. Their initial meeting at the ball.
Wes: Yep. Chapter 3.
Erin: Their beginning is, of course, you know, a bad one, because he sees her and says some very mean things.
Wes: Yeah, she’s not pretty…
Erin: Darcy immediately realizes that he’s wrong and he starts an obsession with her. But then I think that on her side it starts a negative obsession as well. I mean, Darcy is constantly staring at her, and so she feels as though he has some sort of weird obsession with her.
Wes: But she thinks it’s judgment. She thinks she’s being judged.
Wes: And I think for him it’s a mixture of admiration and judgment.
Erin: With her, I think her pride is injured because he doesn’t find her charming immediately. And, of course, he’s extremely rude because he says it loud enough that she can hear it and he’s being rude to everyone there. And so it becomes an obsession on her part because she thinks, you know, how dare this guy not find me charming and adorable, which is also kind of understandable. So Bingley is entreating Darcy to dance, and Darcy says these terrible things, like “your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with” and Bingley says. “I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom! Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life and several of them, you see uncommonly pretty.”, Darcy says. “You’re dancing with the only handsome girl in the room”, meaning Jane, who’s a famous local beauty and Bingley points out one of her sisters, “There is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.” “Which do you mean?” and turning round He looked for a moment at Elizabeth catching her eye. He withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. And I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” And she hears all this and she immediately goes and what does she say?: “Mr. Darcy walked off, and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends, for she had a lively, playful disposition which delighted in anything ridiculous.” So she immediately goes off and starts telling Charlotte and everybody about it and making fun of him.
Wes: So this is one of her real strengths. And of course, it’s both the strength and a weakness. But there are a lot of people who might have been devastated by that sort of comment and let it bother them. And for her, she knows how to weather that, that’s on the one hand. But on the other hand, it prevents her from taking anything seriously, and it’s kind of akin to what her father does with her mother. This is her relationship to people. This is the way she deals with them when they’re unpleasant, is just to think of them as ridiculous objects of her wits. You know, so objects of her ridicule.
Erin: I think you’re right there, but I think I disagree a little bit. I think she is affected by it. I think it really, really bothers her, and she’s able to deflect it or she’s able to use it as an object of fun with other people, partly as a way to call attention to it.
Wes: It does bother her, but it’s kind of kept under wraps for a good bit of the novel, and it comes out in their sparring and so there’s lots of wonderful sparring between her and Darcy, which is part of what’s so fun about the novel.
Erin: I don’t know how to describe this, I think, because it hits so close to home for me because I do this too. But something bad happens to you, and you want to let other people know how bad it was but you also don’t want to show that your pride has been hurt by it. So you go and you make fun of it and say, “Oh, you won’t believe what has happened to me.” And in the telling of the story, it’s a way to make yourself feel better about it and then also have a fun anecdote to share with people. So she knows how to turn something into an object of fun and into a conversation piece and to distance herself from it. This is some kind of psychological mechanism on her part that if she could turn it into a funny anecdote and get a rise out of her friends, then she’s helped to sort of heal the breach that it’s made in her pride. But it’s a large enough breach, I think, because Darcy is such a great man, great in terms of consequence and the fact that he’s an illustrious personage -whatever kind of expression, I think, Mr Collins uses- that he is one of the most important and consequential people in England. And therefore hearing this from him does have an effect on her and I think causes her, then, to constantly watch him and be concerned with what he’s doing at all times.
Wes: I’m thinking now about the end of Chapter 6 when she snubs him for a dance. Sir William is trying to hook them up as dancers.
“[…] though this gentleman dislikes the amusement in general, he can have no objection, I am sure, to oblige us for one half-hour.”
“Mr. Darcy is all politeness,” said Elizabeth, smiling.
“He is, indeed; but, considering the inducement, my dear Miss Eliza, we cannot wonder at his complaisance—for who would object to such a partner?”
Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency, when thus accosted by Miss Bingley:
“I can guess the subject of your reverie.”
“I should imagine not.”
“You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society; […]
And then it goes along, a little bit of what he says:
“Your conjecture is […] wrong, […] I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”
This becomes a point of teasing. Miss Bingley, of course, is after him for herself and is very jealous. But this idea that he admires Elizabeth’s eyes becomes a way that they torture him. It’s later on in the book that he actually asked her to dance, and she doesn’t know what to do and she’ll say yes, but so this is more of an indirect snub here. But it gives you, I think, the only interaction that they’ve had. Before this, is her overhearing him, and then she’s seen him be aloof and all that. But they really haven’t gotten into their sparring yet, until the next few chapters, Chapter 7 through 12. She’s at Netherfield with Jane, so you’ll see a lot of interaction between them. I was thinking that just because it’s so clear that Darcy has already gotten under her skin.
Erin: There’s a long paragraph of narration that occurs right before what you read, which I think might be good to read, yeah, that marks Darcy’s changing her, but also his insufferable qualities:
Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise.
And she suspects this, she says. “He’s only looking at me in judgment.”
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice.
So he’s disgusted because he’s finding that he’s attracted to her. He’s disgusted with himself, [laughter] which is kind of funny. And then to her, he’s just the man who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with. So she was disgusted by the fact that he wouldn’t dance with her and her pride was injured. But now he’s becoming curious about her and is sort of creepily staring at her, and she’s noticing this. But this progression in his attentions towards her does show how kind of odious he is at first, like he’s looking at her to criticize. And then he’s mortified, is the word, that he’s finding her more and more attractive as he looks at her to judge her. As Mr Bennett says much later in the book, he says, “Oh, you know Mr Darcy, who only looks at a woman in order to see a blemish,” right? So he still has this earlier opinion of Mr Darcy, but that seems to be exactly what he was doing. He was looking specifically to find some fault with her and then was disgusted to find that his objections to her were sort of melting away.
Wes: Yeah, so he’s operating on two levels, and both of them reflect a certain kind of prejudice. We should talk a little bit about how pride and prejudice work and the way they work in the two characters, because they’re both proud and prejudicial about different things, I think. And so Darcy’s pride has something to do with his status. So that creates a kind of interpretive lens through which he’s looking at the world but also potential mates. And it means, it creates prejudices around her relative status and the relative status of her family. And then the other aspect here is just his infatuation, which actually, now you’re reminding me that it starts early, actually. You know, it’s the judgment aspect but there’s also the infatuation, which is also a matter of prejudice in the sense of prejudgment in the sense of drawing conclusions based on very thin evidence about someone’s character. So what he knows is that he likes her eyes and that he likes her playfulness, which is, interestingly enough, a way of liking her reaction to his status-based prejudice, [laughter]right? So he’s inducing something in her, which in turn… it’s there naturally in her but he’s amplifying it. So, ironically, his disdain is amplifying something in her that attracts him. These are both two forms of prejudice, one’s in a repulsive force and one’s an attractive force. I think the concept of prejudice applies just as much as to these thinly justified infatuations and initial attractions. And then it’s a matter of what you do with that, whether you investigate or whether you do something else, because every investigation, every inquiry, in this case, into character for the sake of finding a mate, but every inquiry begins with certain presuppositions. And the question is whether one treats those as reviseable, and in this sense is, you know, how one is gonna deal the disappointment of finding out that the infatuation fades, that this sort of things that one is idealizing are not the entire person that there’s a lot of disappointing things about the person. So that’s the question. And I think there’s another dynamic here, which is that by bringing Darcy’s status-based disappointment with her, his contempt for her lower level of status, it’s like an inoculation against future disappointment in a way, because he’s already faced a disappointment with that. [laughter] It’s fortuitous in those two senses: one in that it induces her to show the qualities that he would actually admire, her feistiness, that she’s not gonna be willing to take his bullshit, and just the fact that it prevents him from idealizing her in a way that, despite his infatuation from idealizing her so totally that it cuts off inquiry, it cuts off his ability to actually get to know her.
Erin: When Lizzie turns him down at the dance, which is, you know, it can’t be overstated, I guess, how really rude that is of her. “There was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner, which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed that, were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.” So he keeps telling himself that “Oh, Gee, I’d really like her if it weren’t for the fact that her family is so obnoxious and so inferior to me.” And of course, eventually that’s not even going to matter. He’s going to become so obsessed with her that any kind of inoculation, as you call it, against her, is not going to measure up. Eventually he’s going to decide that he has to marry her, despite her unfortunate relations.
Wes: So that happens in Chapter 10 in the drawing room, I think, at Netherfield. So this is a great scene where Bingley’s sisters are at the piano. So Elizabeth at that point is noticing Darcy’s attentions to her. This is a dance proposal that I forgot about. So there’s three invitations, sort of. One is an indirect one, this is the second one he directly makes, and then the third one she accepts accidentally.
Erin: Oh, because you can’t think of an excuse faster. [laughter]
Wes: Yeah, I already read my bit from Chapter 10 about nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.
Erin: This is while she’s staying at Netherfield because Jane is sick, so they have several opportunities. She’s there for three days, and she has several opportunities to verbally spar with him. And in Chapter 11, Darcy says to her, “There is, I believe in every disposition, a tendency to some particular evil – a natural defect which not even the best education can overcome.” Lizzie replies, “And your defect is to hate everybody.” And Darcy says, “And yours is to willfully misunderstand them.”
Wes: Yes, it’s a great, great line.
Erin: So… and I wonder at the truth of that. Like you said earlier, he kind of hates everyone until they prove him wrong, until they give him a reason not to hate them. So he starts out with this prejudicial view of everyone and Lizzie’s kind of doing the same thing. Her defect is to willfully misunderstand people because she wants to view people in a way that appeals to her, or in a way that makes her understand something about them, which, like in a way, by being slighted by Darcy, by deciding early on that Darcy is odious, that then gives her away to not have her pride wounded too much. We’re saying, well, he’s a terrible person, he doesn’t like me but that could be explained, right, because he’s terrible, he doesn’t like anybody. So in the same way that he is judging people really harshly, she’s judging people in accordance with how advantageous it is for her to like or dislike them, based on their responses to her. And that’s going to get her into a lot of trouble with Wickham because Wickham likes her and he flirts with her. And so she’s gonna want to see him in an advantageous light because she doesn’t like Darcy and is prejudiced against him. She’s going to take Wickham at his word, even though he’s a terrible liar, and it’s really misrepresenting Darcy’s behavior to him.
Wes: This is a climactic moment for them. Their relationship will subside after that for a while. I guess the next time she’ll see him is when she’s at Collins’s and… or maybe it said Rosings?
Erin: There’s the Netherfield ball and then they leave right after that, Her family makes a real exhibition of themselves at the Netherfield ball, which is in Chapter 18, which Wickham doesn’t even attend.
Wes: Oh, this is where she accepts the… yeah, she accepts this dance. Okay, so…
Erin: Yeah, and they have that fateful dance with each other where they barely talk and she makes fun of him the whole time.
Wes: So I think that’s the ball. So I was actually looking for this. I’m looking for the point where he says, “Don’t be so hasty to evaluate my character. It’s not going to do justice to either of us.”
Erin: Hmm. Even before that, when he asks her to dance and Lizzie is sort of gearing up to go dance with him and she has a little conversation with Charlotte. Charlotte kind of reassures Lizzie that she won’t find him disagreeable and Lizzie says, “Heaven forbid, that would be the greatest misfortune of all to find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate. Do not wish me such an evil.” So… and then they start dancing.
Wes: So this is Chapter 18, the Netherfield ball.
“What think you of books?” said he, smiling.
“Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings.”
“I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions.”
“No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else.”
“The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?” said he, with a look of doubt.
“Yes, always,” she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, “I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created?”
“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”
“I hope not.”
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”
“May I ask to what these questions tend?”
“Merely to the illustration of your character,” said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. “I am trying to make it out.”
“And what is your success?”
She shook her head. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”
“I can readily believe,” answered he gravely, “that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”
So this is a great little exchange about the meaning and the pitfalls of this whole getting-to-know-you process and trying to figure each other out. And the inevitability that prejudice plays a role in that. I think this idea that he’s going to form an opinion and hold onto it forever is an important one. It’s not whether one brings prejudices per se, but whether they can be altered. And so, ultimately, with Wickham, for instance, Wickham’s a scoundrel and it’s not like that changes his evaluation, but he’s going to have to live with Wickham as part of his family, ultimately, which requires some sort of acceptance of who Wickham is. The point I’m trying to make here is the inevitability of prejudice in character evaluation, but the importance of being able to revise one’s initial assumptions.
Erin: Which Lizzy can’t do until she’s really proven terribly wrong. But she’s only kind of half-wrong because I do find Darcy to be really prideful in his behavior towards other people in the first half of the novel.
Wes: Austin does a good job of this. She makes him pretty unappealing. In the 1995 adaptation, because it’s Colin Firth and just because you’re confronted with handsomeness and just sort of an innate underlying charm, your feelings are more mixed. But Darcy in the adaptation, there’s an attractiveness to him, despite his aloofness and his arrogance. And maybe that’s the way he’s supposed to come across in the novel, I’m not sure, but in the novel I find him… maybe it’s my lack of imagination, but it just doesn’t come across to me. He’s mainly obnoxious.
Erin: I wonder if, like Colin Firth’s likability on screen is supposed to translate. In the novel, you get the sense that he’s actually paying a huge compliment to Lizzie by even being interested in her. And as American readers, maybe we’re at a disadvantage here because for all of my teenagers reading this, I just found him to be obnoxious in the novel like you say, but I think that there’s also the class difference, and the fact that he would even take notice of Lizzie, I think, is supposed to be a huge compliment. And it’s supposed to show something about him that is attractive, that he would even… this sounds like ridiculous to say, but that someone of his importance and his consequence and wealth and status would even take notice of Lizzie and then start to think well of her and then actually propose to her, it’s supposed to be like, almost incredible, that he would even take notice of her in this circumstance.
Wes: So this was Chapter 34 when he proposes, and she gives him what’s for… what’s the best. She really goes on a tirade. That’s really awesome. The proposal’s really ham-fisted. So whatever we’re supposed to think about him condescending to marry below himself. It’s a terrible proposal, and there are hints of the same sorts of things that we saw in Mr Collins proposal, and I think Collins represents… if you could have the worst part of Darcy’s character externalized, if you put it outside of himself… it’s like Collins is that little homunculus that you see him out in the open. But let’s just look at the proposal:
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
[…] He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection…
I guess that’s just the point I wanted to make, since you brought up the proposal. I guess it doesn’t come across as bad as I remembered it and what I just read. [laughter] I thought of it as very, very ill conceived, the way he approached it, and it’s something she upbraids him for, in particular.
I might as well enquire,” replied she, “why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil?
Because he kind of accuses her of rejecting him in an uncivil way. And…
Erin: The narrator says, “He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed rial security.” The narrator downplays this, and maybe because we don’t get his actual words, which the 95 adaptation imagines what he’s actually saying in her response to him. I think in the adaptation he says something like, “You know, in doing this, I’m going against the wishes of my family, my situation in life and I may add my own better judgment” or something like that, so that when she responds, she says, “You chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason and even against your character.” So, he says… in the actual adaptation, it gives words to what the narrator describes as being his general sentiments. And what’s so maybe reprehensible about this is we have to kind of read between the lines that basically he’s trying to say that he loves her and that he wants to marry her but he’s couching everything he says in this, like, “I have to tell you this because no matter what, I do, I still like you even though your family is terrible and you’re beneath me…” and like all of this stuff, which you just… if you’re trying to propose to someone, you don’t say this, you don’t say this stuff to them. And then, despite his abusing her to her face, he then is like “Okay, well, she’s going to accept me” like the narrator says, you know, “he spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security.” So even though he is saying all this terrible stuff to her, he’s still prideful enough to assume that she’s going to accept him, she says:
“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.”
While her answer, I think, is actually rather measured and well judged, like, she lets him know how insulting he’s been to her. And she says, “Well, if you’ve had all of these objections to me and to my character and to the character of my family and to me being so beneath you, then you’ll be able to get over this well,” you know, basically like he’s given her so many objections to her in his motive, declaring himself, that she’s been really insulted. Then he accuses her of being uncivil in her reply, but I think she’s being rather civil under the circumstances. I mean, he’s really insulted her in the way that he’s proposed to her, and he only feels she’s uncivil because he hasn’t gotten a yes, and he’s actually been accused, rightfully of expressing himself in a most uncomplimentary way.
Wes: Yeah, I think it’s informative to compare his proposal to Collins’s proposal because I’m thinking here about the general versus the particular, right. So the general includes the things that aren’t really particular to a person’s character, so just what class they belong to or what their circumstances are. And for him, it’s a matter of general considerations being against but her particular qualities being in favor of, and in Collins’s proposal, interestingly enough, it’s all about these general considerations. So one of the things he’s doing is he, in making the proposal, he’ll talk about the wishes of his Patroness. He’s obsessed with [laughter] Lady Catherine de Burgh. He’s giving an account of what she says, and she said to him, “A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person not brought up high but able to make a small income go a good way.” So this is one of the many sort of passive-aggressive things he does, where it’s a backhanded compliment thing, where it’s you’re active and useful, but you’re not too… you know, you’re not brought up too high. The other thing he’ll say is he knows she’s going to reject him initially, because “that’s what elegant females do.” This great phrase “elegant females” and then the way he delivers the proposal, “you know my reasons for marrying are: first… (first, second, third, I think), he mentioned his happiness second, and third is Catherine de Burgh, which he corrects himself like, maybe I should have mentioned that first. Actually, it’s all generalities until he gets, he gets to a certain point where he says…
Erin: My particular choice? I think he just says that he resolved to choose from among Mr Bennett’s daughters because he feels an obligation…
Erin: …because of the entitlement.
Wes: So he never gets beyond these general considerations. And so I’m thinking here of different forms of prejudice, and some of it having to do with these generalities with both Collins and Darcy. The one form of prejudice has to do with these general considerations, these class considerations. But as I’ve mentioned, the approach to someone’s particular character is also arguably a matter of prejudice or in these initial first impressions.
Erin: I mean, it just shows that both men, they have no idea what romance means, they have no idea what a good proposal means. [laughter]
Wes: [laughter] So, yeah, I hadn’t even gotten that far, but yeah, go ahead. [laughter]
Erin: Yeah. No. [laughter] This is just not how you get a woman to say “yes” to you by listing the practical considerations of why you are or are not happy about proposing to them. [laughter]
Wes: They don’t even get down on one knee.
Erin: Like on a basic level, they’re both just very inadequate at expressing themselves properly. And Darcy expects a… you’re kind of in the same way that you’re describing that Collins and Darcy, or some sort of parallel Darcy and Lizzy are also equals here because he’s saying, “you know, you’re not the equal of me, but I’m proposing to you anyway.” And then she’s saying, “Your manners are not the equal of mine. But I’m turning you down because you’re not the equal of me, because you don’t know how to behave. And that has nothing to do with class difference that has to do with you not understanding how to behave in a social situation.” So she takes the meritocracy route there and saying, “you know, actually, the way that you proposed to me shows that you are beneath me, regardless of what your social status may be.” Which I think is really important, because he then understands that it has… I mean, he has to learn the lesson, maybe, over the course of the novel, that it doesn’t matter what his station in life is. I mean, this is like kind of the argument that people have about good manners or whatever, like the whole point of good manners, we could say, is some people who are of a higher, like, social class or whatever, they use their manners to show how superior they are to other people, when really the whole point of good manners is to make other people comfortable. So you never want to alienate someone with your manners. You wanna have good manners, like the definition of good manners means to make others comfortable, to be kind and solicitous to other people, regardless of their social status. I think that’s the distinction that Darcy learns here, is that his social standing doesn’t mean that he has a right to treat people badly. It means that he has the obligation to treat people well, regardless of where they come from or who they are…
Erin: …because he has the means to treat them well. And so, therefore, his obligation to be kind is greater than someone who doesn’t have the means to be as kind in terms of material considerations or simply moving a lot in society. So that means that you have to be kind to different types of people. He has more advantages, and therefore he has a higher obligation to be kind to people. And this is something that Lizzie understands about virtue that Darcy thinks he understands but actually does not understand about virtue and manners. And this is something she teaches him,
Wes: And this will move us (because since we’re running out of time) but it’ll move us towards their reconciliation than what they both learned. And she is going to have an epiphany as well about her own shortcomings. But we’ll find out that Darcy, you know, actually does have some of those good qualities. He’s just better at having them at home than he is on the road.
Wes: He doesn’t do well on the road, it turns out. [laughter]
Erin: He has the same problem as… like the Boston Red Sox, for example.
Wes: [laughter] Exactly! These road games are not his thing. So when Elizabeth ends up with her aunt and uncle visiting Pemberley, Elizabeth has resisted this because this is Darcy’s estate, and she doesn’t want to run into him at this point. But it seems like he’s not gonna be there. Before even that happens, he writes her that letter, and she does a lot of reflecting in Chapter 36. She’s ashamed of herself, she thought she was a discerning judge of character, but she sees that she’s blind and prejudiced. She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger and wondered it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward, as he had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct.
Erin: This is important, because she’s talking about Wickham here, because…
Wes: Yes. She’s talking about Wickham. But this isn’t what I… so part of what she’s reflecting on here… So Wickham has been revealed by Darcy to be the scoundrel that he is. And then Darcy doesn’t really defend the fact that he’s broken Bingley and Jane up, except to say, “Look, I didn’t think Jane was that into him and your family sucks, so regardless of status, they’re ridiculous people.” It’s important because she does reflect on Wickham and her very poor judgment in that case, just because he seemed easy going as well, you know, being willing to side with Wickham against Darcy. And, of course, what I was just reading, she’s reflecting back on… yeah, why would someone be so forthcoming about this story about what Darcy… the terrible things that Darcy did to him? It was very actually manipulative and strange of Wickham to do that.
Erin: Wickham sits down with Lizzie and immediately… I mean, he’s just met her, and he immediately starts abusing Darcy’s character to her. But it’s interesting if you go back to that scene, when Lizzie was first introduced to Wickham, it’s on a road in Meriton, in the village that they are in, and these officers come up to them. She meets Wickham, starts talking to him, and he seems kind of charming. And then he’s later invited to Mrs Phillips’ house, which is where he starts telling Elizabeth his, like, tale of woe, right. But while they’re still on the road, Bingley and Darcy come up and she sees…
Wes: They pull up in their Mercedes Benzes. [laughter]
Erin: Yeah, right. [laughter]
Wes: Roll down the window. Oh, my God.
Erin: And she sees Wickham and Darcy have this, like, really awkward… you know, looking at each other and, like, Darcy goes away. Wickham is shaken by this, and so she immediately is super, super curious about what the backstory is there. So then when she sees Wickham at Mrs Phillips’s house, in her mind she’s saying, “Oh, I really hope that he brings up what his whole deal with Darcy is, so that I could figure out why they were so weird when they saw each other.” So she’s primed for him to start talking about Darcy. So she’s not conscious of… because her prejudice against Darcy, basically she wants to hear bad information about Darcy, and it completely blinds her to the fact that it’s really, really inappropriate that Wickham should just start suddenly abusing Darcy to a stranger and revealing all of these personal details that you would never, like then, or now, you would never reveal to someone in a first conversation, because it’s very inappropriate. But she doesn’t see that because she just wants this prejudiced information against Wickham. So now that she gets this letter from Darcy, kind of explaining what’s gone on, she realizes in the quote that you read that she now understands how improper it was, that Wickham was telling all of this to a stranger. But at the time, when you go back and look at the circumstances, it’s perfectly understandable that she didn’t pick up on this at first, even though she is, you know, very quick, obviously, very smart, and prides herself on her good judgment. She was primed for it because of her prejudice against Darcy and because of the strange manner of their greeting in the street, as she says, when it actually happened. And then, once she hears everything she says:
“How despicably I have acted!” […] “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”
Wes: So, ironically, it’s her pride and her judgment and it’s a certain kind of cynicism that makes her actually naive. She thinks she’s a reader of people. She sees how ridiculous they are. She dissects them, she cuts them down, and she was taken in by Wickham. You know, as you point out, she was primed by that because of her first impressions of Darcy. But it’s also her discernment doesn’t do as much as she thinks it does. So “it gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust.” The mistrust thing cuts both ways. It’s, you know, if your circumspection about people, it’s not universalizable on some sense, because it creates,.. in this case, it creates this asymmetry where her mistrust of Darcy translates into gullibility with Wickham, so she can’t just universally deploy that method. Inevitably it will break down because her mistrust will inevitably seek out… she’ll be seeking out like-minded compatriots to share it with her, and then they could get into the folly of their shared mistrust. Her discernment is not a way out. And of course, this type of pride is very common. I think it’s a pitfall for us all. For people who think of themselves as smart, it drives a lot of political discourse, for instance. You will come across no shortage of intelligent, brilliant people who are totally confident and unquestioning in their own discernment in their own reasonableness and to the extent that, from the outside, it looks obviously foolish. But from the inside, it feels like being super smart and adhering to that out of a kind of principle, having some obligation to correct the world into.
Erin: That’s such a good point. And what you said, too, about her cynicism being what makes her naive. That’s such a good, an accurate description of her character and better put than I could ever hope to. But she would be like you say, like any of these prejudicial people, who has this trust in her own judgment, to the detriment of everyone else. But what makes her a truly great character is that then she has these self realizations that cause her to change her opinions, that other people, like you say, people who fancy themselves smart, that they don’t have this level of self reflection that she has, which I think makes her a really great character, that she says, “I could not have been more wretchedly blind.”
Wes: Yeah, I think they both end up having that. They’re both able to repent.
Erin: And it makes them truly great people, because of that ability to see themselves really, truly, for what they are and see their own fault.
Wes: Well, it’s a kind of flexibility, too. So it’s an ability to roll with the punches and to adjust one’s opinion. So this is part of the prejudicial aspect of thinking one’s discernment is so great. So there’s the prideful aspect we talked about. But the prejudicial aspect is just that it tends to form its judgments very quickly and be very confident and then there’s the danger of not being able to, as I’ve pointed out several times now, of not being able to revise them and what her and Darcy have, which is what’s so great, as you point out, is this ability to engage in this sort of revision and it’s something that really bodes well for their relationship because the substance of the relationship will be this sort of revision, right? So as they… you know, there’s been talk, right, of how people change in relationships… you know, Charlotte’s point of view, and so you can’t make these predictions. But the truth is somewhere in between, right? It’s better to engage in the discerning behavior that Elizabeth engages in. But what’s going to happen in the relationship? It’s not just you go to the store, you find the best possible, and there you’ve got it. Now you’ve got your best thing, and you’re gonna live happily [laughter] ever after for life. You are dipping your toe into a river, at that point. That’s where Charlotte has a point. And so you’re never gonna be, to revise Heraclitus’s fragment, you know, “No one steps into the same river twice.” No one really engages in the same relationship twice, even when it’s with one person. So as things change over time and people’s characters change, so one has to have some capacity for altering one’s judgment, altering one’s expectations. And it’s there in Jane, right, in a way, it’s just not combined properly with discernment. What Jane is able to do is she’s able to get into other people’s heads and put the best light on things, and it goes too far in that direction. But it’s that sort of empathetic engagement that’s required, I think, I guess, to temper.
Erin: And that’s why she’s a perfect tonic for Elizabeth because her view of people is completely self disinterested. She never thinks worse of someone because they have treated her badly. She just thinks, “well, they must be having a bad day.” Her person never factors into it. Whereas Lizzy in this passage says, you know, “pleased with the preference of one and offended by the neglect of the other.” So she wanted to believe Wickham because Wickham liked her and had these flirtatious pleasing attentions to her, well, he was obviously attracted to her. And she was offended by the fact that Darcy neglected her and didn’t see her for her worth. And it’s funny because at the end of the novel, when she’s told Jane that she’s engaged to Mr Darcy, Jane says, “you know, I liked him because he liked you.” [laughter] Like that shows good judgment on his part that he liked you, which is like, true. It’s true for Darcy that his like of Elizabeth and his being able to get over all of these other images, like, you know, these material considerations of her being beneath him in station and whatever, and having a terrible family, that his love for her wins out, shows that he is a good kind of person.
Wes: And he’s able to take being teased by her. And it’s not just the way the mother is able to take the teasing by the father because she’s just oblivious and… He understands the substance of the teasing, and it still… it doesn’t turn him away. So his pride is not so terrible that he’s going to be injured by that, to the point where he’s gonna be dissuaded from being with her. So it expresses a desire for something which is a correlate of this revisability that I’ve been talking, to build and revise one’s opinions, which is someone who will reflect you back to yourself and give you a different impression of yourself [laughter] than you might have had otherwise. And so being able to absorb that and to modify one’s self conception, according to that is part of what’s important here.
Erin: Way back in Chapter 11, when she said… in Netherfield, staying there, and they’re testing each other out, she says, “I dearly love a laugh,” which is such a Beatrice line. But then when Darcy says something cheeky to them and Miss Bingley and Lizzy are taking a turn about the room, which is a great form of coronavirus exercise that I recommend, anyway. So Miss Bingley says, ”Oh, shocking. I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?” Because Darcy has said, “Oh, well, the reason why you guys were walking around the room is so that I could admire your figures or something like that.” Which is exactly why Miss Bingley is walking around the room. And so Miss Bingley says to Elizabeth “Oh, how shall we punish him for such a speech?” in this sort of, you know, good natured way. And Elizabeth says “Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him—laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.” And Miss Bingley says. “But upon my honour, I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Tease calmness of manner and presence of mind! No, no; I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.” And Elizabeth says “Mr Darcy is not to be laughed at. That is an uncommon advantage.”
Wes: That’s why she’s unsuitable as a mate for him. Yeah.
Erin: Right, right. Because she thinks of him so highly that he’s untouchable by her teasing. But Elizabeth thinks of no one very highly, including herself, and that’s why she could laugh at everyone.
Wes: So again, this improper form of idealization that doesn’t form a good basis for a relationship. Yeah.
Erin: It’s why Miss Bingley will… you know, you feel kind of sorry for her at the end of the novel, because she’s so desperate for Darcy to love her and take some notice of her and everything that she tries to jealously attract his attention and get him to dislike Elizabeth backfires on her. Everything that she does is with the wrong thing. She really should be taking him less seriously instead of taking him so seriously that she just makes herself obnoxious to him.
Wes: Well, let’s fast forward to Pemberley. Shall we visit Pemberley?
Wes: So Chapter 43 is when she goes to visit Pemberley.
Erin: The most awkward moment in literature is when she’s assured that he’s not going to be there. And then he shows up and she’s caught. After having turned down his proposal, she’s caught checking out his house while he’s not there.
Erin: It’s so mortifying!
Wes: So there’s a lot of great passages in that just because it’s a chapter in which she is getting to know Darcy through a much different means. She’s not exposed directly to him as a person, and it gives you an idea that there are different ways of collecting evidence, right? It seemed… the superior way just seemed to be around him and observe what an asshole he was to people. Now she’s on his home turf, and she’s going to get an entirely different set of evidence about who he is. You know, some of it is just that… some of it’s in the house, some of it’s the servants, and the servant saying how wonderful he is as a master and how generous and, you know, never has an unkind word. But some of it, strangely enough, is just the house itself. So I just want to read a few things here. When they first see the house:
[…] where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Then a little later,
The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
But what I find so interesting, and in a way touching, about all of this is just, you know, that at some point she sees his portrait, and she hears about him as a little boy and drawings that he’s done in his childhood with crowns. She gets a better sense of what he values and some sort of idea that there’s a shared set of values. So it’s something as simple as his taste and the way in which the natural beauty of the estate hasn’t been compromised by someone overly altering it, landscaping it, I guess, would be the thing, or the tastefulness of his house. It says a lot about him that she couldn’t get just by directly interacting with him. She has to know something about what he does and the products of what he does. There are things out there in the world, other people with whom he’s had relationships, but even the inanimate world that are important pieces of evidence as to who he is.
Erin: If the house were different and had all of these adjustments made to it in order to appear more artificially beautiful or more pompous or whatever it would say something…
Wes: A £900 chimney. [laughter] A chimney that cost £900.
Erin: Right. It would say something negative about his character, that he is a true nephew of Lady Catherine that, you know, he cares about this stuff too much. But she sees something… you know, there’s something about the house that represents him symbolically that is appealing, that maybe he doesn’t have any kind of… underneath it all, he doesn’t have any kind of false pride, which I struggle to say because he is such a jerk at the beginning.
Wes: Yeah, it is quite a contrast. I mean, I think she pulls it off, but he is a jerk. I mean, I guess my best explanation of that is the road game [laughter] explanation. And we find out, too, we get a little evidence. And the fact that his sister, who is also thought of as conceited by people, was… just happens to be extremely shy. And we get a sense that this is part of what’s going on with Darcy as well. And he’s tried to say that, you know. He’s tried to say that “I don’t do well with strangers.” She’s at the piano and she says, “Well, look, you know, why don’t you practice, just like I practice the piano?” [laughter]
Erin: Yeah, yeah.
Wes: And then he says, “Neither of us play to strangers.”
Erin: That’s not entirely true, because I think she’s also just offended by the fact that he would make a comparison between them, between the two of them, at that point. But I like when she talks to Mrs Reynolds and…
Wes: What he means, though, is that she doesn’t pull her punches for the sake of polite society.
Erin: Though she does, to a certain extent.
Wes: Both of them don’t play to strangers in a different sort of way. But yeah, she does more than he does.
Erin: The teasing, too, is a way of pulling your punches, and I mean, it’s a way of saying something true without hurting someone.
Wes: So she’s somewhat irreverent, and he’s reverent to the point of disdainful.
Erin: Right. But he appreciates what in her is irreverent, which means that he’s capable of taking the steps toward being a fuller human being. [laughter]
Wes: Yes, Exactly.
Erin: Yeah, because his appreciation of her speaks more of his positive qualities than anything else in the book. The fact that he likes her, because he understands what in her is good and what he lacks.
Wes: So in the end, he’s very humble and repentant, and she’s amazed at how changed he is, and…
Erin: And he’s nice to the Gardiners, which is easy to do because they’re her best relations.
Wes: Yeah, and actually, I think this is based on Jane Austen’s own aunt and uncle, right? She had a wonderful aunt and uncle who played a similar role in her life. So these are very… Yeah, these are… Unlike her parents, these are more ideal adult figures for her. She’s gone on this tour with… Yeah, so maybe that’s a good place to… Unfortunately, you know, we could only… we can’t get to everything in this 61 chapter novel, but it’s a… I think we gave a good sense of the arc of the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth and some commentary on the Pride and Prejudice theme. So, yeah, I would just say in closing that it’s, um, it’s such an enjoyable, gratifying novel to read. You know, it puts a smile on your face very frequently, and it’s a really gratifying experience. It really makes me want to become a member of the landed gentry. [laughter]
Erin: Yes, I also want to become a member of the landed gentry. I guess I can only hope to find some proud person with a lot of land and money. That’s the only way. You have to… you have to do that, too. You have to find a woman who’s…
Wes: Yes. [laughter]
Erin: …who has a lot of land and money. [laughter] Then be really mean to her until she marries you.
Wes: Exactly! All right. Well, this was fun. Thank you.Erin: Thank you.