(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

WTF: The funny word the President (and Richard Pryor) spoke

Nobody (other than some alert Tweeters I just found) seems to have paid much attention to a particular word President Obama spoke during his recent interview by comedian Marc Maron for the latter’s WTF podcast, a podcast that was the subject, shortly afterwards, of this Fresh Air interview of Maron by Terri Gross:

That word—actually, a name--- that Obama spoke, in passing, that nobody seemed to notice, was the first word out of his mouth after Maron asked him a spontaneous question at 1:02:53, right before the end of the podcast:

Maron: You like comedy?
Obama:  I love comedy.
Maron: Who are your guys?
Obama: Pryor was one.

The President was referring, of course, to the late Richard Pryor, and he then went on to name Dick Gregory and Jerry Seinfeld as other favorites, before the subject quickly changed and the interview ended.

Now here’s the funny (as in funny-strange) thing about that collective not-noticing. There was another word that the President spoke during an earlier portion of that interview (beginning at 45:32) that was  noticed by everyone who heard it. Indeed, that word became the subject of a media furor that brought it to the attention of countless millions of people in the US and around the world:

Obama: I always tell young people in particular: 'Do not say that nothing's changed when it comes to race in America ----- unless you've lived through being a black man in the 1950s, or '60s, or '70s.’ It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives — you know, that casts a long shadow. And that's still part of our DNA that's passed on. We're not cured of it.
Maron: Racism.
Obama: Racism. We are not cured of it.
Maron: Clearly.
Obama: And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'nigger' in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.
So what I tried to describe in the Selma speech that I gave, commemorating the march there, was, again, a notion that progress is real, and we have to take hope from that progress. But what is also real is that the march isn't over, and the work is not yet completed. And then our job is to try in very concrete ways to figure out, what more can we do?"

I am sure that I don’t need to tell you that the word everyone noticed in that segment of the interview is the N Word. And the furor, as anyone reading this probably also already knows, was about whether the President ought to have spoken it publicly.

Now, it will come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog that I found that furor to be only the latest in a series of increasingly desperate attempts by the Far Right to characterize the President (as Marc Maron aptly put it) as Satan incarnate. I am of the camp who applaud the President for so shrewdly and thoughtfully using the N Word publicly as he did in that instance, in order to make an important point very tellingly---using his bully pulpit to do what he can to keep race relations improving during the remainder of his Presidency.  And it is the amazing grace and tact that he has always shown in all his public utterances which makes his using that loaded word so particularly powerful.

His unspoken, yet powerfully delivered point, as I understand it, is that white racists no longer being able to use that ugly word in a hateful way, with impunity, is a good thing, of course. However, let’s be real, he’s saying, this is only one step in the long, painful, uncertain path toward true racial conciliation and justice in America.

And consider this. Barack Obama has endured being called N-- countless times: verbally, in print, and on the Internet. In fact, due to his historically unique position, he probably merits an entry in the Guinness Book of Records---he has been called that name more than any black person before has ever been called that name. The name-callers constitute a legion of benighted cowardly bigots who still cannot accept the fact, 6  ½ years into his Presidency, he sits in the White House as the first black President—and as of this very moment, his popularity ratings are higher than they’ve been since shortly after his reelection—and little wonder.  And so, what a grotesque irony it would be, if he of all people did not have the moral standing to use that awful word in the careful, righteous way he did, in the context of a powerful statement about the path toward ending racism, and taking us closer to the still-distant finish line.

And speaking of lines, here’s my punch line, which perhaps some of you have already guessed. If you had to pick one word that defined Richard Pryor’s extraordinary career as comedian and social commentator, and especially the twenty years from the mid 60’s to the mid 80’s during which he reigned supreme in that field, it would have to be….the N Word—as in the title of his first smash hit album—“That N--‘s Crazy!”.  And so, the rest of this post springs from the fact that my favorite comedian of all time is….also Richard Pryor, and has been for over 30 years!

I find it extraordinarily interesting, and no coincidence at all, that the President used the N Word during the WTF interview, and then, a scant 15 minutes later, referred to Richard Pryor as his favorite comedian. For those who are familiar with Pryor’s complicated genius and legacy, the President’s comedic taste for his particular brand of comedy speaks volumes.

First, then, for those who are not familiar, but are interested to know more, I have three YouTube videos to recommend to you, the definitive crash course in Richard Pryor:

First, there is the excellent 2013 documentary, Richard Pryor, Omit the Logic, which I only heard about and then watched, mesmerized, the other day, as it was clearly a labor of love produced by those who loved and understood his talent, and it presents his life in a rich and empathic way:

Second, the 1982 stand-up performance by Richard Pryor that defined his career (and was my first real exposure to his comedy, especially given that I saw it in a theater in South Florida surrounded by a mostly black audience, whose enjoyment of his magic was, to say the least, contagious!), displaying his mature comedic genius at its peak, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip:

And third is the eerily prescient, absurdist segment from Richard Pryor’s short-lived 1977 TV show, in which he played the role of the 40th President of the United States giving a press conference you’ll never forget, and making you wonder if he had a crystal ball then which had allowed him to see 30+ years into the future:

You don’t need to have seen any of those videos to follow what I now have to say. What I find most revealing in the President’s offhand reference to Richard Pryor as his favorite comedian, is the intersection of the N Word between their two extraordinary careers.

Unlike the case with the President’s public utterances, even 30 seconds of Live on The Sunset Strip will reveal to those of you unfamiliar with Richard Pryor, that he used the N Word thousands of times during his career, and almost none of those usages were of the careful, polite variety that included the President’s. I will not attempt the impossible task of explaining why Pryor used the word so much, and what it meant to the extraordinary power and humor of his performances. Just watch the above YouTube videos and you’ll begin to understand, if not immediately, then over time.

What I want to address before I close is the most poignant use of that supercharged word that Richard Pryor made, the day he renounced the use of the N Word for the rest of his career. Here is what he said, and you’ll find it to be the emotional center of Live on the Sunset Strip:

“Racism is a bitch. White people, you gotta know. It fucks you up-but what it does to black people is a bitch. Because no matter what it—it is hard enough being a human being. It's really fucking hard enough just to be that. Right, just to go through everyday life without murdering a motherfucker. It's hard enough just to walk through life decent as a person. But here's another element added when you're black... It's enough to make you crazy. If you're in an argument with another man he may be white but it's man on man for a minute and the shit gets rough and he ends up calling you a nigger... You gotta go "Oh, I ain't no man no more, 'nigger' now I gotta argue with that shit. Fuck throw my balance all off now." ... But it's an ugly thing and someday I hope they give it up.”

And then, after describing his transformative trip to Africa, Richard Pryor no doubt shocked a lot of people by announcing that he would never use the N Word again, “Because there aren’t any..We never was no niggers. That’s the word that’s used to describe our own wretchedness.”

As in “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”?

Amen, Richard Pryor and President Obama. You both done us all proud.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, June 29, 2015

P.S. re Why Elizabeth takes an eager interest in Wickham's concerns even after he deserts her for Miss King

For those who've been following along in my latest thread which I started earlier today under the above Subject Line, I am thrilled to be able to present to you a response I received a short while ago in another online discussion, written by Diana Oaks.

Diana (who by the way did NOT ask me to write this post, it's my own idea!) is an author of Austen sequels, and a member of Austen Authors, whose online acquaintance I first made a month ago, and here are two links that will tell you more about her and her writing:

And here is what Diana wrote in specific response to my above captioned post:

"Very interesting. When I read the text, and before I scrolled down to see Arnie's answer, I arrived at the same surprising conclusion he did. Upon reflection, it doesn't seem so surprising at all. Not even much of a stretch.

Elizabeth states that she arrived at her opinion of Darcy "long before" Darcy separated Jane and Bingley. When Darcy complains of her "eager interest" in Wickham's concerns, Elizabeth's wording is precise and does seem to give weight to this theory. She cites his misfortunes as being a natural source of her interest, and blames Darcy for Wickham's relative poverty and lack of independence.
And then, another clue. When Wickham had asked Elizabeth how long she had known Darcy, she said it was about a month. Is it coincidence that she tells Darcy that she had not known him a month before she knew he was the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry? I don't think so. Elizabeth herself has named the date when her dislike of Darcy was firmly set, and it is precisely when Wickham related his "misfortunes" to her.
We know at this time that Wickham had turned her head in a big way, as the next few chapters are full of Elizabeth's feelings for Wickham. It is obvious that she blames Darcy for Wickham's circumstances and prospects, which, by Wickham's account should have been better - good enough for him to have a living in the church that would be sufficient to support a wife, a fact which was shortly afterward illustrated by Mr. Collins' ability to overlook the lack of a dowry when selecting a wife.

I'm inclined to agree that Elizabeth blamed Darcy that Wickham, who she had truly fancied, wasn't in a position to propose to her. Marriage was her eager interest in Wickham, and she believed that his lack of money was to blame for her disappointed hopes." 

I of course was thrilled to receive a response like that, from a reader of P&P who was surprised to find that she found my argument convincing. And note that Diana also picked up on yet another clue (the part about the "month" before Elizabeth knew Darcy would never be her husband coinciding with the very moment when Wickham first told her his tale of woe about Darcy) that shows what a subtle but pervasive effect Elizabeth's feelings for Wickham have on the way she sees the world---until everything shifts, and then it is Elizabeth's feelings for Darcy which color her world.
Maybe one moral of this story is that Elizabeth ought to try living her life without depending on ANY man to color her world, perhaps she'd see the world--and in particular, men----more clearly and dispassionately.
Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

“…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

Why Elizabeth takes an eager interest in Wickham's concerns even after he has just deserted her for Miss King

Yesterday evening, while surfing for interesting Austen material in Twitter, I was struck by a thunderbolt, in the form of the following Tweet by Bethany Villarreal aka  @BetaniAnne, posted nearly a week ago:

“Honestly confused why Lizzy was so offended Darcy "hurt" Wickham after the latter picked another girl #prideandprejudice #notyourboyfriend”

As I read this, I quickly realized that I could not answer it off the top of my head. Indeed, it was a real head scratcher, once you really thought about it. Why would Lizzy get so worked up about Darcy’s having done Wickham wrong, when Wickham had himself just done Lizzy very wrong, by deserting her, without so much as a Dear Lizzy letter, in favor of his mercenary pursuit of the new heiress the freckly Miss King.

Jane Austen’s coy narrator did not give us any hints as to why Lizzy would hurl an accusation at Darcy about Wickham, but, with a few minutes thought, I was able to come up with two tentative explanations for what was going on inside Lizzy’s head:

THEORY ONE: Lizzy was such an evolved human being, that even though Wickham had just dropped her like a hot potato, an action which would destroy any sympathy for him in the heart of a woman so scorned, Lizzy nonetheless was able to keep separate in her heart her sadness at his bad action towards her from the sympathy she felt for him for the harm she believed he had suffered at Darcy’s hands.

THEORY TWO: Lizzy was so angry at Darcy that she just threw the kitchen sink at him, and that included his previously reported crimes against Wickham. But inside, Lizzy no longer felt sympathy for Wickham, but Darcy was not worthy of knowing that little fact. And further, since she figured that Darcy could easily have heard about Wickham’s interest in Lizzy while in Meryton, but that Darcy didn’t know that Wickham had deserted Lizzy (because he and the Bingleys had already left Meryton before that occurred, and so why would he even care), she thought that she could really jab the jealousy needle in --- i.e., let Darcy believe that she was still interested in Wickham, and, indeed, preferred Wickham to Darcy. Let Darcy twist in the wind, thinking that Lizzy preferred Wickham to Darcy-that would be sweet revenge indeed!

Of the two theories, the second had greater appeal for me, as I just didn’t think Lizzy was that good of an actress, so as to be able to sound so genuinely aggrieved at Darcy having done Wickham wrong, if it was not true. But I then realized, it was not necessary to guess. Everything I know about Jane Austen’s writing M.O., especially in P&P, which she had revised a number of times over 15 years, told me that she must have already anticipated this question—indeed, that she had written the novel so as to provoke some sharp elves to ask that very question that Bethan Villarreal had Tweeted---and therefore, she must have played fair, and given us the answer somewhere in the text of the novel—indeed, exactly where we’d expect to find it. So I went back to the very spot where it should have been, in Chapter 34, during the first proposal scene……….and I found it immediately!!!!

See if you can find it. If you can’t, don’t worry, I give my answer below, right after the quoted passage, which (as will be obvious) begins right after Lizzy confronts Darcy with his having convinced Bingley to abandon Jane. But don’t give up with trying hard, you may surprise yourself by finding the answer on your own, armed with my assurance to you that the clues are there, like low hanging textual fruit:

With assumed tranquility he then replied: "I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself."
Elizabeth disdained the appearance of noticing this civil reflection, but its meaning did not escape, nor was it likely to conciliate her.
"But it is not merely this affair," she continued, "on which my dislike is founded. Long before it had taken place my opinion of you was decided. Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received many months ago from Mr. Wickham. On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation can you here impose upon others?"
"You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns," said Darcy, in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.
"Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?"
"His misfortunes!" repeated Darcy contemptuously; "yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed."
"And of your infliction," cried Elizabeth with energy. "You have reduced him to his present state of poverty—comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortune with contempt and ridicule."

Darcy then lashes out at Lizzy, prompting her to level him with her final verbal counterpunch:

"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and 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."

(scroll down for my answer)

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And my answer to the question of why Lizzy (in Darcy’s words) takes such an eager interest in Wickham’s concerns is neither of the two theories I presented, above, but a third one, one that may shock you at first. It is that Lizzy, right after voicing her conscious blaming of Darcy for his having blasted Jane’s prospects with Bingley, immediately follows up by unconsciously blaming Darcy for having in effect blasted Lizzy’s prospects with Wickham!!!!

Sounds crazy? Well, read again what Lizzy says to Darcy---she focuses repeated on the financial damage that she believes Darcy has unjustly inflicted on Wickham. And why would that subject be of particular interest to Lizzy of all people?

Well, just think back only a few chapters, going back only a few weeks, to Chapter 27, to the very moment when Lizzy and her Aunt Gardiner discuss Wickham’s having jilted her only a very short time before:

Mrs. Gardiner then rallied her niece on Wickham's desertion, and complimented her on bearing it so well.
"But my dear Elizabeth," she added, "what sort of girl is Miss King? I should be sorry to think our friend mercenary."
"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary."
"If you will only tell me what sort of girl Miss King is, I shall know what to think."
"She is a very good kind of girl, I believe. I know no harm of her."
"But he paid her not the smallest attention till her grandfather's death made her mistress of this fortune."
"No—why should he? If it were not allowable for him to gain my affections because I had no money, what occasion could there be for making love to a girl whom he did not care about, and who was equally poor?"
"But there seems an indelicacy in directing his attentions towards her so soon after this event."
"A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all those elegant decorums which other people may observe. If she does not object to it, why should we?"
"Her not objecting does not justify him. It only shows her being deficient in something herself—sense or feeling."
"Well," cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. He shall be mercenary, and she shall be foolish."
"No, Lizzy, that is what I do not choose. I should be sorry, you know, to think ill of a young man who has lived so long in Derbyshire."
"Oh! if that is all, I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all. Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all."
"Take care, Lizzy; that speech savours strongly of disappointment."

Despite Lizzy’s bravado about her supposedly understanding why Wickham has acted mercenarily in switching his wooing from Lizzy to Miss King, all sharp readers must agree with Aunt Gardiner that Lizzy’s sarcasm does indeed savour very strongly of bitter disappointment. And a key element in that disappointment, I now see, is that Lizzy believes that Wickham would have stuck with her, and would not have switched horses to the newly-enriched Miss King at the last minute, had Wickham received his due financial entitlement from the Darcy family, as had been long expected from Wickham’s second “father”, the elder Mr. Darcy.

And who is to blame for Wickham lacking financial solidity, as far as Lizzy knows? Of course, it’s Mr. Darcy! And we actually get one other big hint, right in between these two quoted scenes, where we can discern, with 20:20 hindsight, that this topic was actually fermenting in Lizzy’s mind right before  Darcy proposes to her. Check out this portion of her tete a tete with Colonel Fitzwilliam in Chapter 31:

"[Darcy] likes to have his own way very well," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. "But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence."
"In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy for?"
"These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like."
"Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do."
"Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money."
"Is this," thought Elizabeth, "meant for me?" and she coloured at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, "And pray, what is the usual price of an earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds."
He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped.

We now can see that this conversation is a way station on the way to Lizzy accusing Darcy of having denied Wickham his financial due. What the narrator is not telling us, but the context of the conversation strongly implies, is that when Lizzy blushes as she wonders whether Fitzwilliam is telling her that even he, the second son of an earl, cannot afford to propose to her, she is thinking back to Wickham’s jilting her as well, and beginning to see a pattern. Darcy can do what he likes, because he’s rich, but other, less well-heeled men, cannot.

So it’s only a very small step from there to Chapter 34, when Lizzy explodes her pent-up anger on this topic all over Darcy. The master of Pemberley seems to her to be a very perverse sort of matchbreaker, who specializes in blasting the marital prospects of the two most eligible and worthy Bennet sisters!

And so, in the end of the novel, how trebly ironic it is, in light of all of the above, that the way Darcy wins Lizzy over is by taking extraordinary steps to make the match between Lydia and Wickham!

Such is the unfathomable genius of Jane Austen to hide this crucial interlocking plot structure and subtle psychological motivation in plain sight during one of the most dramatic scenes in the history of fictional courtship, and yet it has not (to the best of my knowledge) ever been sussed out before now.

And finally, how ironic it is that I only solved this particular puzzle with a big assist from Twitter, which made me aware of Ms. Villarreal’s brilliant question!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


 Diane responded to my post as follows:
"I agree that Elizabeth is angry at Darcy not only for interfering with Jane and Bingley, but also for, as she understands it, for denying Wickham the income that would have made it possible for him to marry her. That's actually an excellent catch and completely consistent with Austen's irony: characters feel outrage ostensibly on the behalf of others that they really feel for themselves. Yes, of course Lizzie is furious that Darcy's arrogance has messed up her match with Wickham. Of course, she's furious when he proposes--HE's not the one she wants. And yes, her feelings are very mixed, because, like her mother, whether she admits or not, she is a girl with her eye on the bouncing ball of money--which the quote you supply about prudence only underscores. She understands Wickham going after the money. She's defending him to her aunt: she's in love with him."

Thank you, Diane, for your extraordinary reply. As I will briefly confirm through the remainder of this post, it is clear that you and I have a perfect meeting of the minds as to what I wrote. You've amplified and extended my insight in a half dozen significant ways, all in your usual elegantly, modestly, and insightfully written and reasoned style that I always enjoy so much.

I particularly liked the following extraordinary textual sleuthing on your part, showing how the passages in Chapter 46 continue the thread that I described from the passages I quoted in those three earlier chapters:
"And Austen TELLS us this plainly. The wicked irony extends to the passage where Elizabeth is at the inn near Pemberley in chapter 46. She receives the letter that Wickham has eloped with Lydia, and it is not until this point that she gives up hope of Wickham. 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."

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

And when you wrote....
"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. This is MP is reverse. This is what could have happened to Fanny had she received the letter that Edmund had married Mary."
...I can only stand and cheer at your showing how JA played with the same themes from novel to novel--theme and variation, constructed by the greatest novelistic "composer" we've ever had.

And you were on a hot streak this morning, Diane, when you then wrote:
"With this in mind, we can also read the typical Austenian ambiguity in the pronoun "her' as Lizzie ruminates on her suddenly quite changed situation: "Never, since reading Jane's second letter, had she entertained a hope of Wickham meaning to marry her." We take this her to mean Lydia, but it could
well mean Lizzie: After the second letter, she thinks, all my lingering hopes that somehow Wickham might marry me are gone."
And as you are well aware, that is yet another perfect example of the deliberate pronomial ambiguities we find all over the place in P&P, that she so aptly (but mischievously) referred to in her "dull elves" quote in her Jan. 1813 letter to Casssandra as "errors"-- AS IF!!!.

And you saved perhaps your best for last:  "At this point the irony is complete: Lizzie does end up marrying just like Charlotte, for pragmatic reasons, and can't even see that her father's astonishment at her revelation of this mirrors her own astonishment when Charlotte tells her about Collins."

Bravo, Diane!  All of which are the telltale winks and nods that JA left in her novel texts, to confirm to readers like you and me that we are getting the largescale irony and doubleness.

"It's all wonderful and wonderful how we tend to miss it."

That is an extreme understatement! It's the greatest miracle in the history of literature, that she pulled off this stunt a hundred times throughout all of her novels, and yet it's only two centuries later that they are coming to light!

Cheers, ARNIE