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

Monday, June 29, 2015

“…I had not known you a month…" “Never, since reading Jane's second letter…” Lizzy’s TWIN suitors

I want to return the favor to Diane Reynolds that she gave me this morning with her rich  response to my post about Elizabeth Bennet’s unconsciously blaming Darcy for Wickham’s deserting her. Specifically, I will pick up on one of Diane’s comments, and show how it yokes together, in ironic fashion, two passages a dozen chapters apart in Pride & Prejudice.

Diane wrote: “She may have thought the day before how wonderful to be mistress of Pemberley, but it is really not until Wickham is off the market that she really, truly entertains the idea. And she understands the situation in all its irony: what makes it possible that she could change her feelings towards Darcy ([Wickham's] elopement) is what exactly will make (she thinks) the marriage with Darcy impossible (the disgrace of the elopement): she "sighed at the perverseness of those feelings which would NOW have promoted it continuance [the relationship with Darcy], and would formerly have rejoiced in its termination." The NOW is NOW--after Wickham is gone to her.
Austen then goes on to tell us that Wickham is the first love and Darcy the consolation prize: "her partiality for Wickham and  ... its ill success" will now lead Lizzie "to seek the other less interesting mode of attachment" based on "gratitude and esteem."  In other words, NOW Lizzie is willing to settle.”

Diane, your above comment zeroes in on how strongly JA signals that Elizabeth has never stopped (unconsciously?) holding onto hope that Wickham will come back to her, especially after she is knocked out by the one-two punch of Jane’s two letters which she reads one right after the other. Now, take a closer look at this bit of narration of Lizzy’s thoughts that you quoted:

“Never, since reading Jane's second letter, had she entertained a hope of Wickham's meaning to marry her. No one but Jane, she thought, could flatter herself with such an expectation. Surprise was the least of her feelings on this development.”

It’s clear that you’ve recognized the negative implication of that first sentence. I.e., Lizzy’s marks the milestone of reading of Jane’s second letter as the tombstone for her doomed hope that Wickham might propose to her. This tells us that Lizzy must have held on to that expectation right up till that moment!

And it makes sense that Lizzy would not have given up hope, since she observe her learning from Lydia in Chapter 39 that Wickham’s courtship of Miss King has failed:

“…Well, but now for my news; it is about dear Wickham; too good for the waiter, is it not? There is no danger of Wickham's marrying Mary King. There's for you! She is gone down to her uncle at Liverpool: gone to stay. Wickham is safe."
"And Mary King is safe!" added Elizabeth; "safe from a connection imprudent as to fortune."
"She is a great fool for going away, if she liked him."
"But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side," said Jane.
"I am sure there is not on his. I will answer for it, he never cared three straws about her—who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?"
Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable of such coarseness of expression herself, the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than her own breast had harboured and fancied liberal! “

In other words, Elizabeth can only admit to herself that she has been thinking the same uncharitable thoughts about Miss King that Lydia speaks aloud, and for the same reasons---jealousy and envy!

But that’s all warmup for the amazing connection of that passage to another, more famous one, in P&P, a connection I’ve already flagged in my Subject Line. I.e., those rueful words spoken to herself by Lizzy in Chapter 46, mourning the death of hope of Wickham’s marrying her, constitute Jane Austen’s Mozartean counterpoint to, and echo of, the milestone-marking words spoken by Lizzy to Darcy in Chapter 34, while rejecting his proposal, and in effect sentencing his hopes to a shockingly unexpected demise:

“…I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."

“I had not known you a month….” and “Never, since reading Jane’s second letter…”  The parallelism between the two is breathtaking. Each of these expressions of Lizzy’s perceptions of her two primary suitors unconsciously reveal the opposite of what they seem to say on the surface. Lizzy’s kiss-off to Darcy reveals that she has been unconsciously considering marriage to him since knowing him less than a month. And then Lizzy’s reflections on Wickham reveal that she was still unconsciously considering marriage to him until she read Jane’s second letter. These two passages are a matched pair of bookends --  and how typical of Jane Austen to show great authorial restraint in resisting inserting the heavy handed textual prompts that lesser authors routinely insert, fearing that the dull elves among their readers will miss the parallel.

And that’s all I’ve got for now on that point, Diane, but before I close, I also want to add a late modification of my first response to your final comment about Lizzy settling for her second choice, Darcy:

This is MP is reverse. This is what could have happened to Fanny had she received the letter that Edmund had married Mary." 

The assumption you make, which is indeed the one most Janeites would make, is that Edmund is Fanny’s first choice, and only Edmund’s marrying Mary would have induced her to marry Henry Crawford. I take a different view. I think this is the courtship climax of MP not in reverse, but in disguise! By this I mean, that just as Wickham’s character is assassinated by Darcy (and his minions) in the last volume of P&P, so too is Henry’s character assassinated in the last volume of MP! And, even though Fanny has indeed been strongly attached to Edmund since puberty, I’ve previously written about the strong romantic attraction that Henry exerts over Fanny, once he puts his mind to making a hole in her heart. I believe that in the aftermath of that dazzlingly romantic stroll on the pier at Portsmouth, Fanny’s heart has been successfully pierced, and Fanny is holding on to her old feelings for Edmund by a fraying thread.

So, in both P&P and MP, then, I see Lizzy and Fanny as both being deeply in denial as to the intensity of their feelings for the “rakes” who court them.

And don’t even get me talking about similar patterns of romantic denouement vis a vis Willoughby, Frank, and cousin Elliot---all birds of that same feather---but that’s a topic for another post!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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