Today in Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote the following:
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Elissa but [Darcy] is
blacker than black....The year was 1975, the antagonist was my mother.
Swiftly joined by my sister in 1981, the two waged a continual war of
attrition on my firmly held belief that Darcy was a thoroughly
unpleasant man and EB had sold out in order to marry him. And good luck
I responded as follows:
For those who are unaware (and/or for those, like Nancy, who think that
some modern subtexters, like me, read too much into JA's writing) the
first reader of P&P to suggest in print that Lizzy Bennet sold out in
order to marry Darcy was actually Sir Walter Scott, way, way, way back
in 1816 (or only 3 years after the publication of P&P!):
".....The story of the piece [P&P] consists chiefly in the fates of the
second sister, to whom a man of high birth, large fortune, but haughty
and reserved manners, becomes attached, in spite of the discredit thrown
upon the object of his affection by the vulgarity and ill-conduct of her
relations. The lady, on the contrary, hurt at the contempt of her
connections, which the lover does not even attempt to suppress, and
prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand which he
ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a foolish
thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and grounds
belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her prudence
had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services
rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his
addresses, and the novel ends happily.....
...[Scott’s concluding paragraph] One word, however, we must say in
behalf of that once powerful divinity, Cupid, king of gods and men, who
in these times of revolution, has been assailed, even in his own kingdom
of romance, by the authors who were formerly his devoted priests. We are
quite aware that there are few instances of first attachment being brought
to a happy conclusion, and that it seldom can be so in a state of
society so highly advanced as to render early marriages among the better
class, acts, generally speaking, of imprudence. But the youth of this
realm need not at present be taught the doctrine of selfishness. It is
by no means their error to give the world or the good things of the
world all for love; and before the authors of moral fiction couple Cupid
indivisibly with calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that
they may sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid,
and more selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which
their predecessors perhaps fanned into too powerful a flame. Who is it,
that in his youth has felt a virtuous attachment, however romantic or
however unfortunate, but can trace back to its influence much that his
character may possess of what is honourable, dignified, and
disinterested? If he recollects hours wasted in unavailing hope, or
saddened by doubt and disappointment; he may also dwell on many which
have been snatched from folly or libertinism, and dedicated to studies
which might render him worthy of the object of his affection, or pave
the way perhaps to that distinction necessary to raise him to an
equality with her. Even the habitual indulgence of feelings totally
unconnected with ourself and our own immediate interest, softens,
graces, and amends the human mind; and after the pain of disappointment
is past, those who survive (and by good fortune those are the greater
number) are neither less wise nor less worthy members of society for
having felt, for a time, the influence of a passion which has been well
qualified as the "tenderest, noblest and best."
I have not read any of Scott's novels, but I love Scott's above-quoted
drolly ironic critical writing, he shows himself to be an extremely
acute reader of JA's subleties. In particular I love the brilliantly
witty cynical epigrammatism of "They chance to meet exactly as her
prudence had begun to subdue her prejudice"!!-- it is
And he concludes his longish essay (in which he has a number of other
interesting things to say about JA's writing) with the second above
quoted paragraph, and my favorite line in it is:
"before the authors of moral fiction couple Cupid indivisibly with
calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may
sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more
selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which their
predecessors perhaps fanned into too powerful a flame."
I love that he detects in the climax of P&P a long overdue curative for
circulating libraries full of novels which flame over with gushing
romantic endings---but he also understands that JA is not at the other
extreme, suggesting that marriage is _only_ about money, but that JA has
avoided both extremes, and has presented a balanced, nuanced portrayal
of the marriage dance in which shades of grey prevail, and intelligent
readers must be on their toes to avoid either extreme.
To the best of my knowledge after diligent research, among those modern
Austen scholars who have commented on Scott's above quoted verdict on
the hero and heroine of P&P, none has agreed with Scott's Audenesque
appraisal of Darcy and Elizabeth---some, staggered by the implications
of what he was suggesting, have concluded that _he_ was just kidding.
And all the others have concluded that he was just plain wrong.
Whereas I think Scott knew exactly what he was saying and I also believe
he was spot-on in discerning that JA intended her readers to look a
whole lot more skeptically at Lizzy's "joking" about falling in love
when she first saw Pemberley. As JA (and Scott) well understood,
sometimes people kid themselves into thinking they're only joking, when
they're really not joking at all, but are confessing an inconvenient or
painful truth without having to be honest (with themselves or with
others) about it.
Is Lizzy only joking? _That_, as Hamlet might have said, is the
question.....JA wanted her readers to struggle with!
Anielka wrote: "It is our own black hearts that relish the story of the
underdog raised to power, glory, wealth and even earthly happiness. We
are all luxurious by our wealth and greedier still**. Austen knew it and
allows us to deceive ourselves. ... **Milton, of course. Shakespeare is
so 2011, people."
Anielka, indeed, that is absolutely true that Austen constantly allows
us to deceive ourselves...and yes, it's also true that Satan (and also
Comus, as I believe you were hinting in your first post in this thread)
are lurking there quietly in the enigmatic mind of Mr. Darcy as
well.......but I hope you are kidding about Shakespeare, given that
Shakespeare never had a bigger fan than Milton himself!
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