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Monday, September 17, 2012

"....a lucky source of regret..." and "...one ceaseless source of regret...": An unmistakable echo of Pride&Prejudice in Jane Austen's Letter 32

"[Brother Frank] kindly passes over the poignancy of his feelings in quitting his Ship, his Officers & his Men.-What a pity it is that he should not be in England at the time of this promotion, because he certainly would have had an appointment!-so everybody says, & therefore it must be right for me to say it too.-Had he been really here, the certainty of the appointment I dare say would not have been half so great-but as it could not be brought to the proof, his absence will be always A LUCKY SOURCE OF REGRET...."

Last year in Austen L and Janeites, Diane Reynolds made the following insightful observations regarding the above quoted passage in Jane Austen's Letter 32 dated Jan. 21-22, 1801:  "And then, so typically--I think at this point those of us who have been following the letters know her style in our sleep!--the characteristic commentary on how people lie, what Ellen would call the cant, what we might call the commonplace cliches, that JA sees through and just can't help commenting on--they must annoy/amuse/annoy her no end....The first part must be a parody what she hears people saying, as she says "so everybody says ..." Her opinion of it as nonsense is revealed in the second half of the quote."

Today, I was (surprisingly) brought back to Diane's sharp insight as I was reading along in Pride & Prejudice and came to the following bit of narration early in Chapter 42, as Elizabeth contemplates the disappointing stretch of life in front of her in Meryton during the lull between the departure of the Regiment for Brighton and of Jane for London, on the one hand, and the planned tour to the Lake Country, still off in the distance:

"Her tour to the Lakes was now the object of her happiest thoughts; it was her best consolation for all the uncomfortable hours which the discontentedness of her mother and Kitty made inevitable; and could she have included Jane in the scheme, every part of it would have been perfect. "But it is fortunate," thought she, "that I have something to wish for. Were the whole arrangement complete, my disappointment would be certain. But here, by carrying with me one ceaseless source of regret in my sister's absence, I may reasonably hope to have all my expectations of pleasure realised. A scheme of which every part promises delight can never be successful; and general disappointment is only warded off by the defence of some little peculiar vexation."

Both of these passages, as my Subject Line shows, refer to the sour grapes of a supposedly lucky source of regret.

In Letter 32, as Diane pointed out, JA is all about keeping it real, and not buying into fake pieties and consolation--the family must accept that Frank lacks an appointment, and not try to sugar coat the fact.

In P&P, we are seeing Lizzy at her worst. The mildly sour grapes of Chapter 27, when Lizzy cracks wise ("Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all") with Aunt Gardiner after Wickham drops Lizzy like a hot potato in favor of the Freckled Heiress Miss King, are as nothing in comparison with these super-sour (dare I say it? Lydiaesque) paranoid selfish ramblings about being stranded in Meryton while two other sisters are away on trips.

Notwithstanding the extreme emotional distress that Lizzy knows Jane has experienced as a result of Bingley's abrupt and then prolonged abandonment of Jane mid-courtship, it is now clear to me, as I carefully read the above passage in Chapter 42, that Lizzy feels abandoned by _Jane_ in what Lizzy evidently and narcissistically experiences as her _own_ hour of need.

Pretty darned selfish and unempathic of Lizzy, when you think about it.  But I wager that most Janeites--like myself till today--have skimmed by that obscure passage without ever registering what is really going on in Lizzy's head.

As my 93 year old father tells people, based on his experience in reading P&P----with Jane Austen, you have to read every word, slowly, or else you will miss things--sometimes, important things.

And, in conclusion, the bonus of my connecting the dots between these parallel passages in Letter 32 and P&P is that it provides yet another clue (along with the other P&P echoes I have previously discerned in other JA letters) that JA's process of refining the text of P&P into pure literary gold over a period of years was an endless process--- whether she had thought of the conceit about Frank's promotion and then applied it to Lizzy's boredom, or vice versa, I think this is a particularly apt example of the fact that when she came up with a clever conceit, she enjoyed riffing on it again before putting it aside.

 Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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