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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Monday, December 19, 2011

(Dis)grace in Pride & Prejudice and Much Ado About Nothing

Earlier today, in Janeites, in response to my posting about Charlotte Lucas's worldly wise pronouncement about love....

...Cathy Lamb wrote a brilliant response crystallizing the essence of the allusion to Much Ado About Nothing in Pride & Prejudice as follows:

"...I also agree that both Darcy and Elizabeth share some characteristics with B and B – the pride and the knack for witty repartee. But I believe that the love affair of Darcy and Elizabeth is written to show a contrast with the sequence of events in Much Ado. With the Darcy/Elizabeth love, Austen is showing that true love does not need encouragement and overcomes obstacles...."

I then responded to Cathy by bringing forward the striking allusion in Darcy’s famous list of female accomplishments, and showed how that list was inspired by the following witty summary by Benedick:

“One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise; yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace…”

It occurred to me, after hitting the “Send” button on THAT message, to reread the above quotation, sleuthing around for some thematic wordplay by JA, because I deemed it highly probable, based on everything I know about her, that she, having already tagged such speech so tellingly, would not have failed to augment that allusion by somehow pointing to the keyword “grace” as well, which Benedick mentions twice.
It turned out my hunch was correct, but in a way that surprised me at first, but now makes perfect sense. What turns out to have been most important to JA in her depiction of the stormy courtship between Lizzy and Darcy was not the positive word “grace” [which JA _never_ uses vis a vis Lizzy and Darcy’s relationship], but the negative word “disgrace”, as I shall now briefly outline.

First we have the disgrace that Darcy is believed to feel would come from connection to a family in trade, first in the mind of the fawning snob Sir William Lucas, and then in the shame-filled fretting of Lizzy at Pemberley:

[Sir William Lucas to Darcy] Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner [Lizzy] does not DISGRACE you…

…Her [Lizzy’s] coming there [to Pemberley] was the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange it must appear to [Darcy]! In what a DISGRACEFUL light might it not strike so vain a man!... The introduction [of the Gardiners to Darcy], however, was immediately made; and as she named their relationship to herself, she stole a sly look at him, to see how he bore it, and was not without the expectation of his decamping as fast as he could from such DISGRACEFUL companions…. When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a DISGRACE—when she saw him thus civil, not only to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openly disdained, and recollected their last lively scene in Hunsford Parsonage—the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible….Her power was sinking; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest DISGRACE.

And then the plot almost immediately segues to the disgrace of the Bennet family arising out of Lydia’s elopement:

[Mr. Collins writing to Mr. Bennet] And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and DISGRACE.

But then, as the Bennet family prospects mysteriously brighten, we read Mrs. Gardiner’s witty hint to Lizzy that, in a sly double negative, which becomes a positive, comes close to Benedick’s evocation of the graces of his perfect woman:

[Mrs. Gardiner writing to Lizzy re Darcy] He called it, therefore, his duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an evil which had been brought on by himself. If he had another motive, I am sure it would never DISGRACE him.

But then the last gasp of the “bad guys”, Lady C and (again) Mr. Collins, about the disgraceful Bennet family:

[Lady Catherine to Lizzy] Your alliance will be a DISGRACE; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us…. Do you not consider that a connection with you must DISGRACE him in the eyes of everybody?""

[Mr. Collins writing to Mr. Bennet] "'After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so DISGRACEFUL a match.”

And when I then checked back in Much Ado, I saw that _disgrace_ is actually yoked to _grace_ in that darkly comic play, all rotating around the disgrace brought so horribly upon Hero by Don John’s slander on Hero’s virtue:

Don Pedro to Claudio re Hero: And, as I wooed for thee to obtain her, I will join with thee to DISGRACE her.

Claudio: O Hero, what a Hero hadst thou been, If half thy outward GRACES had been placed About thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!

Friar, it cannot be.
Thou seest that all the GRACE that she hath left
Is that she will not add to her damnation
A sin of perjury…

First Watchman:
And that Count Claudio did mean, upon his words, to DISGRACE Hero before the whole assembly. and not marry her.

Borachio (to Claudio):
…Don John your brother incensed me to slander the Lady Hero, how you were brought into the orchard and saw me court Margaret in Hero's garments, how you DISGRACEd her, when you should marry her…

And when I rotated back to the text of P&P, I saw that the above pattern of usage of DISGRACE in Much Ado is also used by JA in her usage of the word “DISGRACE” vis a vis Darcy’s conflictual relationship not with Lizzy, but with _Wickham_:

[Wickham to Lizzy] His behaviour to myself has been scandalous; but I verily believe I could forgive him anything and everything, rather than his disappointing the hopes and DISGRACING the memory of his father."

[Lizzy to Wickham] "This is quite shocking! He deserves to be publicly DISGRACED."
[Wickham to Lizzy] Not to appear to DISGRACE his family, to degenerate from the popular qualities, or lose the influence of the Pemberley House, is a powerful motive.

[Jane to Lizzy] "Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what a DISGRACEFUL light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, one whom his father had promised to provide for. It is impossible.

And in one final rotation of the literary screw, I find the root of that pattern in Much Ado, when Conrade and the resentful Don John [on the surface at least, the Wickham of Much Ado] discuss Don John’s relationship with his legitimate brother, Don Pedro:

“You have of late stood out against your brother, and he hath ta'en you newly into his GRACE; where it is impossible you should take true root but by the fair weather that you make yourself…”

“I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his GRACE…”

I will finish by noting (only in passing) the very disturbing resonance between the slander of Hero by Don John which nearly tragically causes Claudio to abandon Hero, and the subterfuge engaged in not only by Miss Bingley, but also by Darcy, which nearly tragically causes _Bingley_ to abandon _Jane_.

Cheers, ARNIE

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