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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Love Without Encouragement

In Chapter 6 of Pride & Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas makes one of her three pronouncements about love and marriage:

"It may perhaps be pleasant," replied Charlotte, "to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all /begin/ freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show /more/ affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

I think it is fair to say that what most Janeites take away from this little speech is the notion that a woman wishing to find a husband must walk a fine line between showing too much affection vs. showing too little. And that focus by Janeite readers is perfectly understandable, given that the romantic suspense of the entire novel turns on that very question, in regard not only to Jane vis a vis Bingley, but also to Lizzy vis a vis Darcy.

However, what struck me as I just read this passage was the sentence buried in the middle of it, which actually is much more global in its implications, and, I think, much more profound, than the discussion of (to put it bluntly) courtship _tactics_ which surrounds and overshadows it:

"There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all /begin/ freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement."

This sentence sounds to me like a much smoother and terser version of one of Mary Bennet's formulations about human nature, and it made me realize I needed to broaden my previous claims that Mary Bennet is a self-portrait of Jane Austen, so as to suggest instead that while Mary is a self-portrait of the precocious but somewhat stilted intellectualism of the young Jane Austen, whereas Charlotte Lucas is a self-portrait of the verbally facile and mature intellectualism of the older Jane Austen.

But, aside from those observations, the more important and interesting question here is, what do you all think about Charlotte's psychological axiom, in regard to the following subquestions:

1. Do you agree with Charlotte, and she proved to be correct by the way the action unfolds in P&P?

2. Do you agree with Charlotte, and is she proved correct by the way courtship unfolds in our modern world, two centuries later?

3. Do you think Jane Austen was speaking ventriloquistically through her creature, Charlotte, and expressing JA's _own_ psychological judgment of how love grows, or do you think JA herself believed otherwise?

I don't recall any of these topics ever being discussed in these groups, and I thought it would be a great topic, of wide interest, to draw out some wider participation in these groups.

And I finish with telling you what I found when I Googled "love without encouragement" for the time period from 1700-1812----the only result that came back appeared in seven editions, and appeared in an exchange between Amanda, a wife engaging in a flirtation with another man, and her cautioning friend Berinthia:/

/Berinthia/: /Why, you can't tell but there may be some one as tenderly attached to Townly, whom you boast of as your conquest, as you can be to your husband./
Amanda: I'm sure I never encouraged his pretensions.

Berinthia. Pshaw ! Pshaw! No sensible man ever perseveres to love, without encouragement. Why have you not treated him as you have Lord Foppington?

The above exchange takes place in a 1781 play (with a prologue by David Garrick) written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan---he who also wrote the much more famous three plays, The Rivals, The Critic, and The School for Scandal, all of which were extremely well known to JA).

This phrase "love without encouragement" is used by Sheridan in passing as part of a romantic farce, whereas JA takes it, I claim, to a much more elevated plane of discourse about the mystery of love.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: Of course the more famous of Charlotte's pronouncements about love and marriage, which have both received a great deal of discussion (among Janeites both amateur and academic) are made by her later in Chapter 6......

"...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."

and then in Chapter 22:

"I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."

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