I recently blogged…
… with my take on Jane Austen’s word usage, cited in Justice Scalia’s US Supreme Court opinion, of the verb “accompany” to refer to movement over short as well as long distances. I’ve now coincidentally come upon another word usage nuance pertaining to movement over both short and long distances in JA’s novels, one which sheds fresh light on the interpretation of JA novels themselves. In particular, as my Subject Line suggests, the usage of “coming away” sheds startling new light on Charlotte Lucas’s extraordinary covert matchmaking in the shadow story of P&P! I will take you there step-by-step.
BRIEF INTRO RE: “COMING AWAY” IN JA’S NOVELS:
On countless occasions scattered throughout the novels, JA uses the adverb “away” to modify various verbs describing movement---we most often read about characters going (or who went or have gone) away, which generically and sparely conveys the mere idea of leaving. But we also read numerous more descriptive partings---hurrying away, stealing away, bringing away, running way, fetching away, etc etc. But there is one curious variation, which falls somewhere in the middle. It occurs rarely in JA’s fiction (a total of 24 times, spread fairly evenly among the 6 novels)—the idea of COMING AWAY. At first, it strikes the modern eye as paradoxical—“coming” suggests approach, while “away” suggests leaving.
I’ve just harvested and analyzed those 24 usages, looking for a common pattern that explains why JA diverged 24 times from the much more frequent “GOING away”, and I have found it—as you might have expected with a minutely meticulous literary artisan like JA, this is not randomness or slovenliness, it is intentional on JA’s part. Of those 24 usages of a character “coming away”, the common thread in 16 of them is (in hindsight, logically) that a character is coming BACK HOME, after having been away. Because they collectively comprise several pages, I have put all 16 of these clear examples at the END of this post. Those who want, can skip ahead and read them now, or read them later. I assure you that all 16 are unambiguous usages as reflecting a return home, in each case with my bracketed insertion clarifying the geography of the return home.
I’ve put those 16 usages at the end, so I can cut right to the chase, and present the other 8, ambiguous usages, which are all intriguing, if we take JA’s hint to inquire what sort of return home is implied in each of those other 8—but especially the one about Charlotte Lucas, which I will analyze last:
AMBIGUOUS USAGES OF “COMING AWAY” IN JA’S NOVELS
Ch. 6: [Isabella speaking to Catherine at the Allen Bath residence] " “Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been TO MEET YOU, I would not have COME AWAY [back here] from it for all the world."
It is clear, upon examination, that Isabella, the quintessential false friend, is smarmily suggesting to Catherine that Isabella’s home (and heart) is wherever Catherine is!
Ch. 2: “…It was William whom [Fanny] talked of most, and wanted most to see. William, the eldest, a year older than herself, her constant companion and friend; her advocate with her mother (of whom he was the darling) in every distress. "William did not like she should COME AWAY [i.e., back to Mansfield Park]; he had told her he should miss her very much indeed." "But William will write to you, I dare say." "Yes, he had promised he would, but he had told her to write first." "And when shall you do it?" She hung her head and answered hesitatingly, "she did not know; she had not any paper."
Ch. 23: [Mrs. Norris to Fanny] "… And round their enormous great wide table, too, which fills up the room so dreadfully! Had the doctor been contented to take my dining-table when I CAME AWAY [i.e., back to Mansfield Park], as anybody in their senses would have done, instead of having that absurd new one of his own, which is wider, literally wider than the dinner-table here, how infinitely better it would have been! and how much more he would have been respected! for people are never respected when they step out of their proper sphere….”
Ch. 31: [Henry to Fanny] “…How impatient, how anxious, how wild I have been on the subject, I will not attempt to describe; how severely mortified, how cruelly disappointed, in not having it finished while I was in London! I was kept there from day to day in the hope of it, for nothing less dear to me than such an object would have detained me half the time from Mansfield. But though my uncle entered into my wishes with all the warmth I could desire, and exerted himself immediately, there were difficulties from the absence of one friend, and the engagements of another, which at last I could no longer bear to stay the end of, and knowing in what good hands I left the cause, I CAME AWAY [i.e., back to Mansfield Park] on Monday, trusting that many posts would not pass before I should be followed by such very letters as these. …”
All of these three usages imply that Mansfield Park is home, but each in a different way:
In the first, Mansfield Park is seen by William as being home to Fanny just AFTER Fanny has been brought from Plymouth! This fits with the notion that Fanny was BORN at Mansfield Park!
In the second, Mrs. Norris recollects that when she moved from the parsonage to Mansfield Park itself after Mr. Norris died, she experienced it as a return home, suggesting that she had lived unmarried at Mansfield Park before she married Mrs. Norris—and perhaps that was when she bore Fanny?!
In the third, we have Henry Crawford playing the same smarmy game with Fanny that Isabella did with Catherine, i.e., he writes as if Mansfield Park were HIS home, because that is where Fanny is.
Ch. 14: "Emma listened, and then coolly said, "I shall not be satisfied, unless [Frank] comes."
"He may have a great deal of influence on some points," continued Mrs. Weston, "and on others, very little: and among those, on which she is beyond his reach, it is but too likely, may be this very circumstance of his COMING AWAY from them TO VISIT US." [i.e., to come home to Randalls]
Here, Mrs. Weston implies that Frank’s real home is at Randalls, and also that Frank is originally from Highbury.
Ch. 35: In this style [Mrs. Elton] ran on; never thoroughly stopped by any thing till Mr. Woodhouse came into the room; her vanity had then a change of object, and Emma heard her saying in the same half-whisper to Jane, "Here comes this dear old beau of mine, I protest!—Only think of his gallantry in COMING AWAY [i.e., back to Mrs. E] before the other men!—what a dear creature he is;—I assure you I like him excessively. I admire all that quaint, old-fashioned politeness; it is much more to my taste than modern ease; modern ease often disgusts me. But this good old Mr. Woodhouse, I wish you had heard his gallant speeches to me at dinner.
This is classic presumptuous Mrs. Elton—she writes as though Mr. Woodhouse was her caro sposo returning to HER!
And I saved the most interesting of all for last, the one passage in all of JA’s six novels where TWO seemingly independent usages of “coming away” appear almost one on top of the other, surely not a coincidence in a novel that JA revised so many times,
“COMING AWAY” AS A CLUE TO CHARLOTTE’S EARLY MATCHMAKING
Ch. 9: [Mrs. Bennet] “ "Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families."
Nothing but concern for Elizabeth could enable Bingley to keep his countenance. His sister was less delicate, and directed her eyes towards Mr. Darcy with a very expressive smile. Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother's thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her COMING AWAY [????].
"Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is, Mr. Bingley, is not he? So much the man of fashion! So genteel and easy! He has always something to say to everybody. That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important, and never open their mouths, quite mistake the matter."
"Did Charlotte dine with you?"
"No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up very differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so very plain—but then she is our particular friend."
"She seems a very pleasant young woman."
"Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we CAME AWAY [i.e., from London back to Longbourn]. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were." “
The second usage seems straightforward, but the first is anything but—it is, I will argue, a portal into Charlotte’s secret matchmaking scheming in P&P which I’ve written about often- with Charlotte’s ultimate goal being to leave herself in close proximity to her true love--Elizabeth!
To start, “her” (italicized in JA’s actual text) can plausibly refer to Lizzy herself. I.e., Lizzy (desperate to change the subject after her mother’s hostile barbs at Darcy following her gauche boast about stimulating Meryton dining) asks her mother if Mrs. B has seen one of those local dining friends, Charlotte, since Lizzy came to Netherfield.
And so, if “coming away” refers in this case to a return home of some kind, this can be read as Lizzy’s unwitting revelation of her feeling that home is wherever DARCY is (at that moment, Netherfield) rather than Longbourn, a place from which Lizzy feels estranged, because Longbourn is at that instant saliently associated in Lizzy’s mind with….her embarrassing, gauche mother!
I.e., unlike Isabella Thorpe’s and Henry Crawford’s Machiavellian usages, this is entirely unconscious on Lizzy’s part. And I believe Darcy picks up on it and interprets it that way, another in a long list of reasons why he is so sure Lizzy will accept his first proposal, and why Lady Catherine later accuses Lizzy of having schemed to entrap Darcy. And if that were all there was to this usage, it would be quite wonderful, and consistent with the story of P&P as generally understood by Janeites everywhere.
But…there is a SECOND plausible meaning of that italicized “her”, an ambiguity which fits with JA’s famous epistolary hint about P&P (“a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear”). And, as I will now show, if you look at this italicized “her” from way outside the interpretive box, the italicized “her” can also plausibly refer to Charlotte!
How? I claim that the implication in Charlotte “coming away” is that Charlotte left home right after her visit to Longbourn with her father (note how JA lets us know this obliquely, via Mrs. Bennet’s speculation about Charlotte being needed for mince-pies) that Charlotte did not even wait to have dinner at Longbourn), and then returned a week or two later. But, if so, where in the world might Charlotte have gone, and why would JA embed such a hint here? This is a question for sharp elves so inclined to apply their best ingenuity to.
And my ingenuity tells me that Charlotte went to……Rosings!
I know just how crazy that sounds to most Janeites. But if you look at it through the lens of Kim Damstra’s brilliant 1998 assertion—repeated not long thereafter by John Sutherland, and then independently rediscovered by myself in 2004--that it is Charlotte who deliberately starts the false rumor that Darcy and Lizzy are engaged, then it makes perfect sense to imagine that Charlotte has, behind the scenes, already been up to trickery even before she pounces on Mr. Collins in Chapter 20 right after Lizzy turns him down?
I.e., what if Charlotte has, as early as Chapter 12, traveled somewhere and taken some steps in order to prompt Lady Catherine to send Mr. Collins to Longbourn to take a wife?
This seemingly wild hypothesis is actually supported by the chronology. In Chapter 13, we first learn that Mr. Bennet has received a letter from Mr. Collins written in the beginning of November, announcing his plan to come to Longbourn.
Well, guess what----the date that Charlotte would have left for Rosings, if the italicized “her” referred to her, was RIGHT BEFORE THEN. Charlotte would have had just enough time to travel to Kent, convince Lady Catherine to send Mr. Collins (whom Charlotte and all the Lucases had long known all about, as Mrs. Bennet alerts us early on) to Longbourn to take a wife.
And is it just a coincidence, in that regard, when we read what Mrs. Bennet says, when Mr. Bennet announces, in his usual teasing way, about Mr. Collins coming to Longbourn?:
"I hope, my dear," said Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast the next morning, "that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."
"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, UNLESS CHARLOTTE LUCAS SHOULD HAPPEN TO CALL IN—and I hope my DINNERS ARE GOOD ENOUGH FOR HER. I do not believe she often sees such at home."
"The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."
Hmm……….so is it just a coincidence that Mrs. Bennet, in Chapter 13, just when we are about to hear about Mr. Collins for the very first time, echoes Lizzy’s desperate attempt in Chapter 9 to divert conversation to Charlotte from Mrs. Bennet’s boasts about the stimulating Meryton dinner circle?
I suggest nothing less than that Mrs. Bennet is aware of Charlotte as scheming behind the scenes very early in the novel. And Mrs. Bennet is also well aware that Charlotte is a lesbian in love with Elizabeth, hence her joke about “mince-pies”, a crude, but veiled, sexual innuendo about Charlotte’s sexual preference for women.
And I never would have even thought about this possibility until I took JA’s hint about HER “coming away”!
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P.S.: I just want to add what I neglected to mention in the above post, which is that I only now realized how my long post is directly connected to the following portion of the answer I gave to Diane Reynolds's excellent question in Janeites & Austen-L about whether Darcy knew that Lizzy had turned down Collins's proposal, and, if so, when he knew:
"...I think the most interesting and subtle evidence that Darcy knows about Collins having proposed to Lizzy before he proposes to Lizzy at Hunsford, is in this bit of dialog in Chapter 31:
[Darcy] "This seems a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford."
"I believe she did—and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object."
"Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of a wife."
"Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding—though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it is certainly a very good match for her."
"It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends."
"An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles."
"And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day's journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance."
"I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match," cried Elizabeth. "I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family."
"It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far."
As he spoke there was a sort of smile which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield…” “
What I realize now is that when Charlotte, LATE in P&P (by initiating the rumor that LIzzy is engaged to Darcy) intentionally triggers the final cascade of events that culminates in Lydia marrying Wickham, Jane marrying Bingley, and Lizzy marrying Darcy, this is NOT her first attempt to bring about the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth--rather, this is Charlotte's SECOND attempt to bring Elizabeth and Darcy together, after the first attempt failed!
I.e., I believe that Charlotte, EARLY in P&P (by covertly taking steps to lure Mr. Collins to come to Longbourn to take a wife) already was implementing her plan to bring about her own marriage to Collins, and Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy, but....it failed because Elizabeth failed to play her "role" in Charlotte's scenario.
And part of that failed scheme involved making sure Darcy knew about Collins having been rejected by Lizzy, precisely because it would send Darcy a message that Lizzy was holding out for Darcy!
So Charlotte had to go back to the drawing board and implement Plan B, which worked!
And what wonderful karma that both schemes (the initial one that failed, and the second one that worked) both involve Charlotte spreading rumors and gossip so that other characters will react in predictable ways--in this sense, Charlotte is like a benign Iago.
P.P.S.: THE 16 USAGES OF “COMING AWAY” IN JA’S FICTION WHICH CLEARLY REFER TO A RETURN HOME
Ch. 8: [Henry and Mrs. Allen conversing] ""And I hope, madam, that Mr. Allen will be obliged to like the place, from finding it of service to him."
"Thank you, sir. I have no doubt that he will. A neighbour of ours, Dr. Skinner, was here for his health last winter, and CAME AWAY [i.e., from Bath back to his home] quite stout."
Ch. 29: [Mrs. Allen back in Fullerton] “…she immediately added, "Only think, my dear, of my having got that frightful great rent in my best Mechlin so charmingly mended, before I left Bath, that one can hardly see where it was. I must show it you some day or other. Bath is a nice place, Catherine, after all. I assure you I did not above half like COMING AWAY [i.e., from Bath back to Fullerton]. Mrs. Thorpe's being there was such a comfort to us, was not it? You know, you and I were quite forlorn at first."
Ch. 38: [Anne Steele speaking to Elinor] "…when Edward did not come near us for three days, I could not tell what to think myself; and I believe in my heart Lucy gave it up all for lost; for we CAME AWAY [i.e., back to Longstaple] from your brother's [in London] Wednesday, and we saw nothing of him not all Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and did not know what was become of him.”
Ch. 47: “…Mrs. Dashwood now looked at her daughter; but Elinor knew better than to expect them. She recognised the whole of Lucy in the message, and was very confident that Edward would never come near them. She observed in a low voice, to her mother, that they were probably going down to Mr. Pratt's, near Plymouth.
Thomas's intelligence seemed over. Elinor looked as if she wished to hear more.
"Did you see them off, before you CAME AWAY [i.e., from Exeter back to Barton Cottage]?" “
Ch. 15: “Mrs. Phillips was always glad to see her nieces; and the two eldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, and she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return home, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, she should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones's shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were COME AWAY [i.e., from Netherfield back to Longbourn], when her civility was claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him.”
Ch. 39: [Lydia to Lizzy]: "…when we got to the George, I do think we behaved very handsomely, for we treated the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in the world, and if you would have gone, we would have treated you too. And then when we CAME AWAY [i.e., to board the carriage back to Longbourn] it was such fun! I thought we never should have got into the coach….”
Ch. 48: [Mrs. Bennet to Lizzy] "What, is he coming home, and without poor Lydia?" she cried. "Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he COMES AWAY [i.e., from London back to Longbourn]?"
Ch. 4: [Harriet to Emma] "And when [Harriet] had COME AWAY [i.e., from the Martin farm back to Mrs. Goddard], Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose—the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen..."
Ch. 25: [Emma & Mr. Woodhouse] “ "But you would not wish me to COME AWAY [i.e. from the Coles back to Hartfield] before I am tired, papa?"
"Oh! no, my love; but you will soon be tired. There will be a great many people talking at once. You will not like the noise."
"But, my dear sir," cried Mr. Weston, "if Emma COMES AWAY early, it will be breaking up the party."
"And no great harm if it does," said Mr. Woodhouse. "The sooner every party breaks up, the better."
"But you do not consider how it may appear to the Coles. Emma's GOING AWAY directly after tea might be giving offence…”
Ch. 38: [Miss Bates] "…Grandmama was quite well, had a charming evening with Mr. Woodhouse, a vast deal of chat, and backgammon.—Tea was made downstairs, biscuits and baked apples and wine before she CAME AWAY [i.e., from Hartfield back to the Bates residence]…”
Ch. 13: “…[Charles] and Mary had been persuaded to go early to their inn last night. Mary had been hysterical again this morning. When he CAME AWAY [i.e., from Lyme back home to Uppercross], she was going to walk out with Captain Benwick, which, he hoped, would do her good. He almost wished she had been prevailed on to COME HOME the day before; but the truth was, that Mrs Harville left nothing for anybody to do."
Ch. 14: [Charles to Lady Russell] "Though [Benwick] had not nerves for COMING AWAY with us [i.e., from Lyme to the Musgrove home at Uppercross], and setting off again afterwards to pay a formal visit here [in Bath], he will make his way over to Kellynch one day by himself, you may depend on it. “
Ch. 18: [Mary’s letter to Anne] "…we were rather surprised not to find Captain Benwick of the party, for he had been invited as well as the Harvilles; and what do you think was the reason? Neither more nor less than his being in love with Louisa, and not choosing to venture to Uppercross till he had had an answer from Mr Musgrove; for it was all settled between him and her before she CAME AWAY [i.e., from Lyme back to Uppercross], and he had written to her father by Captain Harville.”
“…They had been thrown together several weeks; they had been living in the same small family party: since Henrietta's COMING AWAY [i.e., from Lyme back to Uppercross], they must have been depending almost entirely on each other, and Louisa, just recovering from illness, had been in an interesting state, and Captain Benwick was not inconsolable.”
Ch. 21: [Mrs. Smith to Anne] "It was my friend Mrs Rooke; Nurse Rooke; who, by-the-bye, had a great curiosity to see you, and was delighted to be in the way to let you in. She CAME AWAY from Marlborough Buildings [i.e., back to Mrs. Smith’s home] only on Sunday; and she it was who told me you were to marry Mr Elliot."