My earlier post about Mary Bennet as an alter ego for Jane Austen triggered the following response from Elissa Schiff in Janeites: " Interesting that both Mary Bennett and Lady Catherine both consider themselves "great proficients" at playing the pianoforte."
I responded thusly:
The connection via classical piano playing is interesting, but there is a big
difference between Lady C and Mary.
Here is Lady C: "Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient ...pray tell [Georgiana] from me, that she cannot expect to excel if she does not practise a great deal...I assure It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times that she will never play really well unless she practices more...."
So lady C claims a Hypothetical proficiency at piano-playing, which is the ultimate narcissism.
What about Mary?
In contrast, As far as I recall, she never boasts about her piano playing, but we know she is a very serious student, who not only practices technique, but also studies music theory (thorough bass), which indicates a very high level of commitment to developing her talent.
So who is to say that Mary has an overinflated egotistical sense of her own musical ability? What we can safely say is that Lizzy does not like it when Mary plays--but could it be that Lizzy has no Mr. K around to suggest to her that she is perhaps jealous of a more practiced and talented performer?
"[Lizzy's] performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display. Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of the Lucases, and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room. "
Just as with the narrative description of Mary's whisperings to Lizzy, the above passage may plausibly be read as Lizzy's very jaundiced and jealous and self-serving negative attitude toward Mary's piano playing.
It may well be that the provincial tastes which prevail at Longbourn do _not_ appreciate truly superior musicianship, but instead see it as vanity and lacking taste.
And it is Lizzy again who later asks her father to make Mary stop playing, which (as I posted a while ago) "disconcerts" Mary both literally and figuratively.
I cannot recall any point where Mary boasts about her playing, but she does seek public recognition.
And I say, what's wrong with that?
P.S.: The above post led to further discussion in Janeites, which I will post another blog entry for shortly.
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- August Wayne Booth in Once Upon A Time: Jane Austen Really IS Everywhere in 2012!
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