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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Does Lizzy wrongly rationalize NOT telling Jane about Darcy's interference re Jane & Bingley?

Yesterday I noticed a recent thread in another Austen online discussion of P&P, which reminded me of an important interpretive question, which, as far as I can recall, has never been discussed in these groups:  i.e., do you find Lizzy to have been justified in her rationale for deciding NOT to tell Jane about Darcy’s interference in dividing Jane from Bingley? And there is also the closely related question, did JA herself and/or the narrator approve of Lizzy’s decision?  I think this will make an excellent topic for discussion.

Here’s my take. I’ve just revisited all the textual evidence, which can be found in bits and pieces spread across a half dozen chapters scattered throughout the second half of P&P, and my conclusion is that Lizzy very definitely rationalizes away her clear moral duty to tell Jane—she rationalizes it away when it matters most, i.e., before Darcy gives Bingley the green light to “go to it” (that  great line in Davies’s P&P2, delivered with such brio by Colin Firth), and Lizzy continues to rationalize it away even when it is largely moot, i.e., after Jane and Bingley are already engaged.

And despite all the tortured logic she tosses around in her mind, the simplest explanation for her decision, the one that best conforms to Occam’s Razor, is that Lizzy is simply afraid that Jane will not forgive Darcy for his devastating meddling—i.e., after Darcy has proposed to her, and then written her The Letter, Lizzy is simply more concerned for Darcy’s feelings and reputation than Lizzy is for Jane’s feelings and romantic future. Of course, Lizzy does not see it this way, but  then, that is JA’s genius, as she subtly draws the reader into Lizzy’s self-deluding thought processes, and “sells” it to us so well that most Janeites tend to uncritically accept Lizzy’s thinking as what the narrator (and JA) thinks is best, and also what we the reader ought to think is best.

One key to my thinking is that it is not true that there was (as Lizzy tells herself, in various ways) nothing that could have been done to at least try to bring Jane and Bingley together long before Darcy’s corrective action late in the novel. After all, the Bennet family goes to extreme lengths to try to put the fire out when Lydia runs off with Wickham, including Mr. Bennet traipsing off to London in desperate, futile search of the missing couple.

So, why would it not have been desirable and possible, several chapters earlier, as soon as Lizzy returns to Longbourn from Hunsford, and before she leaves on her tour with the Gardiners, for Mr. Bennet to go to London and pay a visit to Bingley and set the young man straight about Jane’s strong love for him? Why exactly would that have been inappropriate?  And there would be a kind of poetic justice in such an action, since we’d instantly be reminded of Mr. Bennet’s secret mission early in the novel when he pays a visit to Netherfield to check in with Mr. Bingley and, as he drily jokes,  “offer” one of his daughters as a wife.

And…I think such a discreet diplomatic mission would have had a high probability of success, given that Mr. Bennet was no slouch in the realm of rhetoric and persuasion, and Bingley was so easily persuaded by male authority figures.  

Lizzy also concludes that Jane would suffer more knowing Bingley loved her but was not going to marry her, than Jane’s believing Bingley had forgotten her. I think that is a HIGHLY dubious conclusion on Lizzy’s part, but even if I concede it for argument’s sake, it is nonetheless a red herring, because Lizzy could have imparted this crucial intelligence privately to her father, so that he could make his attempt without telling Jane, so that Jane’s hopes would not be prematurely revived, in case the mission failed.

Not even to try was a guarantee of Jane and Bingley never getting together, based on all that Lizzy knew after receiving Darcy’s letter. After all, Darcy’s letter gave Lizzy zero hope that Darcy himself would undo the effects of his interference--Darcy remained emphatic and resolute in the correctness and good morality of his interference, as far as Lizzy knew.

So, I expect there to be some disagreement with one or more of my points, anyone else care to chime in?

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode  on Twitter

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