Diane Reynolds responded to my recent post as follows: “Arnie, I would never have put together Darcy, Wickham and Mrs. Reynolds with Lover's Vows.”
It never occurred to me, either, Diane, till I was looking at that passage in Lover’s Vows in connection with the Hamlet allusion in Lover’s Vows, and I saw Mrs. Reynolds’s words, or very close to them, coming out of the mouth of Cottager’s Wife. Like Mrs. Reynolds had wandered into Mansfield Park by mistake, like in a postmodern novel!
But then I thought, wow, this really can’t be a coincidence, because Mrs. Reynolds and Cottager’s Wife are both elderly women living on or very close to a great estate. And they’re both talking about a young man who grew up as a member of the household at that great estate. Way too many parallels between them to be accidental. JA did this on purpose! But why? Read on, it gets better…..
Diane: “What is interesting to me is when you mention the cottager's wife saying "he turned out quite wild" that is, if memory serves me, the exact opposite of what Mrs. Reynolds says--she says that Darcy was not one of those wild ones--I remember this without particularly looking it up because it has struck me to think "why would Mrs. Reynolds say THAT?"
She says the following about Wickham: "He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very WILD."
Then a few minutes later, she says this about Darcy: “He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived; NOT like the WILD young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves.”
So, even though Mrs. Reynolds uses the word “twice”, not once as you recalled, your sharp eye, Diane, has picked up on what is in fact a crucial clue! Here’s how it works:
Mrs. Reynolds (supposedly) has no idea that Lizzy knows anything at all about Wickham.
Yet, she would seem, by the above sequence of “wild” and “not wild”, to be delivering lines in a play (which in a sense, she is, since these are lines taken from a play, Lover’s Vows!)---as if she had been previously instructed to draw an implicit, but strong, contrast, between Wickham (“wild”) and Darcy (“not…wild”)!
Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it, whether Mrs. Reynolds delivered these lines for a very specific, targeted audience of one—Elizabeth Bennet! Why? To trash Wickham, and, in contrast, to elevate Darcy, in Elizabeth’s eyes.
Think I’m being overly suspicious of Mrs. Reynolds---then check back to that same scene in Lover’s Vows--- we see that Cottager is very very very wary of his wife speaking too negatively about the young Baron Wildenhaim. So, again, it’s as if Mrs. Reynolds wandered into Lover’s Vows again by mistake, and someone got to her before she could say anything bad about Darcy, and made sure that Elizabeth heard the Party Line.
So, I think it’s now clear why I think this adds to the already strong evidence that Mrs. Reynolds is, as you so aptly put it, F.O.S. But is she doing this on her own initiative? Of course not!
Diane: “Now, however, this is where it gets interesting and JA is having the last laugh--how do we interpret the Gardiners' comments about Mrs. Reynolds and their abrupt about face? One reading is that they had never met Darcy and had a false picture of him through what Lizzie had said that made the housekeeper's words initially seem laughable and over the top. Then they met Darcy, saw what a really decent man he was, kind and hospitable--and interested in their niece--and revised their prejudice. Having revised their false impression of the man, they could easily see the sincerity of the housekeeper. OR: Mr. Darcy, anxious to please them for Lizzie's sake--and we know from the start of the novel he can be pleasant when he wants--combined with their perception (not so amazing!) that this very wealthy and landed man (a great catch) is in love with their niece, causes them to change their tune (a mixture of deception and expediency.) Now they are looking excuses to like the man, whether he is likable or not. Which is it? JA leaves us poised on the point of the knife. “
Except the knife has three edges---there’s a third, even more cynical interpretation of the Gardiners’s behavior at Pemberley.
Did you ever wonder about the coincidence of Elizabeth showing up at Pemberley just before Darcy just happens to show up there unexpectedly? Who exactly is in control over where Lizzy goes on her trip? Who decides, abruptly, to change the destination? Who controls the timing? Who, in short, is the director of the play entitled “The Lizzy Show”, in which Lizzy is the unwitting star?
You tell me, I think it’s clear who is “Baron Wildenhaim” in this postmodern shadow story that Jane Austen created two hundred and one years ago…… ;)