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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

“I would by no means SUSPEND any pleasure of yours”: The many likenesses “suspended” on the “walls” of Pride & Prejudice

As those following along in this blog know, I wrote a post a few days ago…
… in which I outlined the case for the repartee between Darcy and Elizabeth in Chapters 10 and 11 of Pride & Prejudice connected to eavesdropping and picturesque beauty being both staged and in code, as it is in Much Ado About Nothing. In this post today, I’ll present all the passages in P&P which collectively infuse the novel with a pervasive metaphor of pictures (or likenesses). I‘ll use ALL CAPS to tag keywords which repeatedly ping the reader’s subconscious. In my next post in this series, I’ll explain further how this subliminal metaphorical pattern informs much of the characterization & action in P&P.

To begin, in Ch. 8, the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy dissect Elizabeth’s muddy petticoats and dark, sweaty skin, as if they were art connoisseurs observing a picture of Eliza at an exhibition (the same kind that Jane Austen joked about in real life in her 1813 letters to Cassandra when JA visited one in London after publication of P&P, and playfully mock-speculated as to which portrait was Jane and which Eliza):

“…Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you SAW her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office."
"Your PICTURE may be very EXACT, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet LOOKED remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."
"You OBSERVED it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," said Miss Bingley; "and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to SEE your sister make SUCH AN EXHIBITION."
"Certainly not."
…. "Elizabeth Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a VERY MEAN ART."
"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, "there is a meanness in ALL THE ARTS which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."

Then, in Chapters 10 and 11, we have the passages I wrote about in the first post in this series, re Lizzy’s imagined portrait hanging at Pemberley, and of Gilpinesque groupings to greatest advantage.

In Chapter 18, first it is Mary Bennet who displays and exposes herself at an exhibition of her musical talents, to the chagrin of Eliza:

“By many significant looks and silent entreaties, did she endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance, but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such an opportunity of EXHIBITING was delightful to her, and she began her song…Mary's powers were by no means fitted for such a DISPLAY; her voice was weak, and her manner affected. Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked at Jane, to see how she bore it; but Jane was very COMPOSEDLY talking to Bingley…She looked at her father to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing all night. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her second song, said aloud, "That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to EXHIBIT."
To Elizabeth it appeared that, had her family made an agreement to EXPOSE themselves as much as they could during the evening, it would have been impossible for them to play their parts with more spirit or finer success; and happy did she think it for Bingley and her sister that some of the EXHIBITION had escaped his notice, and that his feelings were not of a sort to be much distressed by the folly which he must have witnessed.”

Still later in Chapter 18, Darcy and Eliza return to the portraiture metaphor of their Chapters 10-11 repartee, and this time it is on the witty conceit of Eliza sketching Darcy:

"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the ILLUSTRATION of your character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to MAKE IT OUT."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to SKETCH my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either."
"But if I do not TAKE YOUR LIKENESS now, I may never have another opportunity."
"I would by no means SUSPEND any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied. “

It was only while composing this post that I recognized for the first time JA’s subtle pun on “suspend”, a word can means “prevent”, but can also refer to a portrait “suspended” on a wall. JA revisits this pun in two later passages (in Chapters 43 & 51) quoted below. Darcy is a very sarcastic punster, as this double entendre is a perfect extension of the “sketching a character” and “taking a likeness” theme in the earlier coded repartee between Darcy and Eliza.

In Chapter 22, we have the first of several passages in which Charlotte’s ‘portrait’ preoccupies Eliza -- Eliza sorely misses her. This first passage shows Lizzy sketching Charlotte in her mind, and finding her sorely wanting—it indeed reflects no credit on Lizzy or on Charlotte:

“She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she had not supposed it to be possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating PICTURE! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.”

Then, in Chapter 26, as Eliza reads Charlotte’s letter describing life at Hunsford, Eliza once again converts the words into a likeness of Charlotte’s character in her mind,with sly wordplay on JA’s part. We have the aesthetics term “softened” which reminds the knowing reader of Gilpin’s famous assertion that “rough” composition was more picturesque than Capability Brown “smoother” landscaping.

“She wrote cheerfully, seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which she could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, and roads, were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine's behaviour was most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins's PICTURE of Hunsford and Rosings RATIONALLY SOFTENED; and Elizabeth perceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know the rest.”

In Chapter 27, we hear again about Charlotte’s sketch of life at Hunsford going on “smoothly”, in a passage containing several keywords from the currency of sophisticate discussion of the picturesque:

With no greater events than these in the Longbourn family, and otherwise DIVERSIFIED by little beyond the walks to Meryton, sometimes dirty and sometimes cold, did January and February pass away. March was to take Elizabeth to Hunsford. Absence had increased her desire of SEEING Charlotte again, and weakened her disgust of Mr. Collins. There was NOVELTY in the scheme, and as, with such a mother and such uncompanionable sisters, home could not be faultless, A LITTLE CHANGE was not unwelcome FOR ITS OWN SAKE. The journey would moreover give her a PEEP at Jane; and, in short, as the time DREW near, she would have been very sorry for any delay. Everything, however, went on SMOOTHLY, and was finally settled according to Charlotte's FIRST SKETCH.

Then, later in Chapter 27, there is the famous Gilpinesque exclamation by Eliza to her aunt in response to the happy news of the planned excursion to the north:

“…No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. "Oh, my dear, dear aunt," she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to ROCKS AND MOUNTAINS? …Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular SCENE, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers."

In Chapter 29, we get another subliminal echo of Gilpin’s four cows (that Lizzy joked about at the end of Chapter 10) in the description by Lady Catherine of the four nieces of Mrs. Jenkinson whom Lady C “most delightfully situated”, as if they were cows! And just as the fourth cow is too “busy” to be beautiful, so too Lady Catherine’s fourth “cow” is too much, it spoils her boasting self portrait!

“Elizabeth found herself quite EQUAL TO THE SCENE, and could OBSERVE the THREE LADIES before her COMPOSEDLY.
… "Why did not you all learn? You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as yours. Do you DRAW?"
"No, not at all."
"What, none of you?"
"Not one."
"That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity. Your mother should have taken you to town every spring for the benefit of masters."

In Chapter 31 it is Darcy who sketches Eliza’s character in a way that amuses her greatly:

"I shall not say you are mistaken," he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this PICTURE OF HERSELF…

But then, in Chapter 33, things turn dark when Fitzwilliam lets the cat out of the bag to Eliza (I believe, intentionally, so as to sandbag Darcy’s imminent proposal) about Darcy’s interference with Bingley’s courtship of Jane, and once again Elizabeth sketches Darcy’s likeness:

"I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady."
"And what ARTS did he use to separate them?"
"He did not talk to me of his own ARTS," said Fitzwilliam, smiling. "He only told me what I have now told you."
…"That is not an unnatural surmise," said Fitzwilliam, "but it is a lessening of the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
This was spoken jestingly; but it appeared to her so just a PICTURE of Mr. Darcy, that she would not trust herself with an answer…”

Then in Chapter 35, in the first proposal scene, art again comes up in its double meaning of “deception”, which raises epistemological questions about the possibility of any likeness being true to its subject:

“…There is but one part of my conduct in the whole affair on which I do not reflect with satisfaction; it is that I condescended to adopt the measures of ART so far as to conceal from him your sister's being in town….”

In Chapter 40, it is Wickham’s turn to be sketched, this time by the Meryton gossip millers:

“…The general prejudice against Mr. Darcy is so violent, that it would be the death of half the good people in Meryton to attempt to PLACE HIM IN AN AMIABLE LIGHT. I am NOT EQUAL TO IT…”

And that brings us to Chapter 43, which is the culmination of this picturesque metaphorizing by JA. JA has set the stage for the reader to viewing Lizzy’s landscape observations through a psychological lens.

“Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and POINT OF VIEW. They gradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and THE EYE WAS INSTANTLY CAUGHT by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but WITHOUT ANY ARTIFICIAL APPEARANCE. Its banks were neither formal nor FALSELY ADORNED. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”

And that brings to the first of the two passages I mentioned earlier, and the only one in the novel in which JA uses “suspended’ in the secondary picture-hanging sense Darcy hinted at in Chapter 18:

“…Her aunt now called her to look at a PICTURE. She approached and saw the LIKENESS of Mr. Wickham, SUSPENDED, amongst several other MINIATURES, over the mantelpiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was a PICTURE of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expense. "He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.
"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the MINIATURES, "is my master—and very like him. It was DRAWN at the same time as the other—about eight years ago."
"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the PICTURE; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is LIKE or not."
Mrs. Reynolds respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.
"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth coloured, and said: "A little."
"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma'am?"
"Yes, very handsome."
"I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the GALLERY UP STAIRS you will see a FINER, LARGER PICTURE of him than this. This room was my late master's favourite room, and these MINIATURES are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them."
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subjects of the PICTURES, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain.
…. The PICTURE-GALLERY, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good PAINTINGS; but Elizabeth knew NOTHING OF THE ART; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some DRAWINGS of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
In the gallery there were many family PORTRAITS, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked in quest of the only FACE whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her—and she beheld a STRIKING RESEMBLANCE to Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she REMEMBERED TO HAVE SOMETIMES SEEN when he looked at her. She stood several minutes before the PICTURE, in earnest CONTEMPLATION, and returned to it again before they quitted the GALLERY. Mrs. Reynolds informed them that it had been TAKEN in his father's lifetime.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards THE ORIGINAL than she had ever felt at the height of their acquaintance….Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before THE CANVAS ON WHICH HE WAS REPRESENTED, and fixed HIS EYES UPON HERSELF, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and SOFTENED ITS IMPROPRIETY OF EXPRESSION.
…She had instinctively turned away; but stopping on his approach, received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Had his first APPEARANCE, or his RESEMBLANCE to the PICTURE they had just been examining, been insufficient to assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, the gardener's expression of surprise, on beholding his master, must immediately have told it.”

Then in Chapter 44, Lizzy’s sketch of Darcy’s character has now been altered by her:

“Of Mr. Darcy it was now a matter of anxiety to think well; and, as far as their acquaintance reached, there was no fault to find. They could not be untouched by his politeness; and had they DRAWN his character from their own feelings and his servant's report, without any reference to any other account, the circle in Hertfordshire to which he was known would not have recognized it for Mr. Darcy.”

In Chapter 51, Lizzy is forced to resketch Darcy’s character one more time, and the pun on “suspense” reappears at the end:  

“It was exactly A SCENE, and exactly among people, where he had apparently least to do, and least temptation to go. Conjectures as to the meaning of it, rapid and wild, hurried into her brain; but she was satisfied with none. Those that best pleased her, as placing his conduct IN THE NOBLEST LIGHT, seemed most improbable. She could not bear such SUSPENSE…”

Then finally in Chapter 56, we have two more puns:
"It ought to be so; it must be so, while he retains the use of his reason. But your ARTS and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have DRAWN HIM IN."
"If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it."
Once again the double entendre on “arts’ and “art”, but a new very clever one, in that Lizzy may have “drawn Darcy in” (i.e., deceived him), but also has “drawn him in” (in the sense of drawing in favorable details in his “likeness”).

So you can see from all of the above that Jane Austen has very consciously and meticulously spread the metaphors of portraiture across the entire novel, which goes to the heart of the story and the characterizations.

In my next post, I will put all of the above in the context of the two theoreticians of the picturesque, Gilpin and Mrs. Reynolds’s namesake, Joshua Reynolds.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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