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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another passage in P&P with ambiguous "she's"

I just found another "pronomially" ambiguous passage in P&P which I believe JA had in mind when she wrote her famous "I do not write for such..." line in her letter to Cassandra in January 1813.

In Chapter 25, Lizzy and aunt Gardiner discuss the latter's plan to invite Jane to visit her in London, to help Jane get over Bingley, leading to this exchange:

"I hope," added Mrs. Gardiner, "that no consideration with regard to this young man will influence her. We live in so different a part of town, all our connexions are so different, and, as you well know, we go out so little, that it is very improbable they should meet at all, unless he really comes to see her."

"And that is quite impossible; for he is now in the custody of his friend, and Mr. Darcy would no more suffer him to call on Jane in such a part of London! My dear aunt, how could you think of it? Mr. Darcy may, perhaps, have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month's ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it; and, depend upon it, Mr. Bingley never stirs without him."

"So much the better. I hope they will not meet at all. But does not Jane correspond with the sister? She will not be able to help calling."

"She will drop the acquaintance entirely."

[And that's when we come to the ambiguous passage]:

But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley's being withheld from seeing Jane, SHE felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced HER, on examination, that SHE did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes SHE thought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, and the influence of his friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Jane's attractions.

END OF EXCERPT

So, the question is, is Elizabeth or Mrs. Gardiner the "she" who felt a solicitude, and who did not consider it entirely hopeless, and thought it
probable, that Bingley and Jane might be "reactivated" as a romantic couple?

If it Elizabeth, then it means that she was talking a hard line, but inside she was very uncertain. If is Mrs. Gardiner, then it means that despite hearing Elizabeth's hard line, Mrs. Gardiner remains hopeful.

My personal opinion is that it is _both_, which are not inconsistent, but
instead are _complementary_ interpretations. If it is both of them, then it means that they are both hopeful for Jane.

Cheers,
Arnie

P.S.:

Judith Learmann then responded in Austen L, and here is our exchange:

[Judith] "But in spite of the certainty in which Elizabeth affected to place this point, as well as the still more interesting one of Bingley's being withheld from seeing Jane, SHE felt a solicitude on the subject which convinced HER, on examination, that SHE did not consider it entirely hopeless. It was possible, and sometimes SHE thought it probable, that his affection might be reanimated, and the influence of his friends successfully combated by the more natural influence of Jane's attractions. "END OF EXCERPT

(Arnie) So, the question is, is Elizabeth or Mrs. Gardiner the "she" who felt a solicitude, and who did not consider it entirely hopeless, and thought it probable, that Bingley and Jane might be "reactivated" as a romantic couple?

(Judith) I would read this as Elizabeth's thoughts. She is the one privy to Jane's feelings about Bingley and her hurt over Caroline's letter. Elizabeth still holds out hope that if Bingley could see Jane before too much time passes, that would be enough to end his friends' influence over him.

(Arnie again)

No question, Judith, that Elizabeth is the primary candidate to be "she", but there is a good alternative case for Mrs. Gardiner, too:

1. We know, in various ways, that Aunt Gardiner is as close to Jane as she is to Elizabeth, and cares about her elder niece as much as she cares for Lizzy.

2. At several other points in the novel, we are inside Aunt Gardiner's head. In fact, I think that we are in Aunt Gardiner's head more than we are in Charlotte Lucas's and Darcy's heads put together (and I believe the three of them are the only characters _other than_ Lizzy to whose _thoughts_ we are unambiguously made privy by the narrator). So it would fit to have the above excerpt as _another_ bit of narration which can be plausibly attributed to Aunt Gardiner.

3. We are not told whether Aunt Gardiner and Jane have had any tetes a tetes prior to the one between Lizzy and her aunt, but I think it is very plausible that they have, and that Aunt Gardiner is keeping from Lizzy whatever confidences Jane has shared with he aunt. Lizzy keeps secrets from Jane, right? So why would we be surprised if Jane kept secrets from Lizzy? Jane might have wished to keep up a brave face for Lizzy, but might have confided worries to her aunt that she would not confide to Lizzy. Also very plausible, I think.

4. Aunt Gardiner knows Jane well enough to correctly predict that Jane will call on Caroline Bingley in London--that is exactly what Jane does once she is in London, and I can even imagine Aunt Gardiner encouraging her to do this, hoping that this will somehow throw Jane into Bingley's path.


And, perhaps most important, I think reading the above excerpt as referring to both Lizzy and Aunt Gardiner makes it a more complex, interesting little scene. It suddenly takes on a whole new layer of ironic complexity, if we see _both_ Lizzy and Aunt Gardiner as not wanting to risk appearing _foolishly_ hopeful for Jane's prospects with Bingley, and so both speak pessimistically, while inside both are romantics who continue to hold out hope despite all evidence to the contrary. That is a classic Austenian irony, don't you think?

Plus, it would be a tiny narrative tour de force, a description that conveys the inner state of two characters in two ways. And I think that the novel is filled with these tiny tours de force!

Anyway, thanks for responding on this point, perhaps your answer will cause others to chime in too!

-A.P.

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