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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Power of Love

"With the power of love, anything is possible"--Jimi Hendrix

I posted yesterday about there being numerous passages scattered through JA's fiction, where the notion of one character having power over another is articulated. John O'Neill then responded with his acute insight that Charlotte Lucas's ruminations about Lizzy in Chapter 34 must, at least in part, be referring to the power of love which the beloved holds over the heart of the lover. I agree, as long as that interpret is not exclusive of others, but today I will focus on John's view, and, I think, decisively validate it.

I will do that by showing how that passage reflecting Charlotte Lucas's thoughts, is "pinged" by two echoes of it which occur 10 and 12 chapters later, respectively, in P&P, which prove John's insight to have been entirely justified --one more of the hundreds of examples of subliminal echoes between passages separated by at least a chapter, which JA embedded in her novels, which are only accessible via word search engines, or if you happen to have a very good memory for words and phrases!

Here are the relevant passages:

In Chapter 34, here is Charlotte thinking about Lizzy and Darcy:

“She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea; and Mrs Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend's dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be IN HER POWER. “

The word “disappointment” modifies the remainder of that sentence, the implication being that if Lizzy could suppose Darcy in her power, then any expectations Lizzy might have would NOT end in disappointment, and then Lizzy's dislike would vanish. So this is Charlotte's clear-eyed realism, as she cynically muses that the only thing holding Lizzy back from loving Darcy is Lizzy's UNACKNOWLEDGED fear that if she does let feelings of love bubble up and be expressed in some way, then Darcy will shoot her down, and she will be crushed.

Now, the question is, is Charlotte's cynicism justified? I think so!

First, see, in Chapter 44, when Darcy has shown up unexpectedly at Pemberley and has astonished Lizzy with his warmth and geniality-,these are Lizzy's thoughts and feelings:

“He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, or any peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only were concerned, was soliciting the good opinion of her friends, and bent on making her known to his sister. Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude – FOR TO LOVE, ARDENT LOVE, IT MUST BE ATTRIBUTED; and as such, its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, as by no means unpleasing, though it could not be exactly defined. She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that SHE SHOULD EMPLOY THE POWER, WHICH HER FANCY TOLD HER SHE STILL POSSESSED, of bringing on the renewal of his addresses. “

These seem a dramatic validation of Charlotte's prescient analysis, i.e., Lizzy for the first time feels herself to have power over Darcy's heart, and so she asks herself the question, does she want to exercise that power to snag him as a husband! i.e., Lizzy only feels safe entertaining these thoughts and feelings, because Darcy has given her hope that they won't be disappointed!

But then, of course, in Chapter 46, when Lizzy suddenly finds herself in as much of a nightmare as her experience the day before seemed a dream, finding herself in shock in Darcy's presence after just getting the news of Lydia's elopement with Wickham, these are Lizzy's thoughts and feelings:

“Darcy made no answer. He seemed scarcely to hear her, and was walking up and down the room in earnest meditation, his brow contracted, his air gloomy. Elizabeth soon observed, and instantly understood it. HER POWER WAS SINKING; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace. She could neither wonder nor condemn, but the belief of his self-conquest brought nothing consolatory to her bosom, afforded no palliation of her distress. It was, on the contrary, exactly calculated to make her understand her own wishes; and NEVER BEFORE HAD SHE SO HONESTLY FELT THAT SHE COULD HAVE LOVED HIM, AS NOW, WHEN ALL LOVE MUST BE VAIN. “

The power that Lizzy felt herself to have only the day before she now feels to have sunk or so decreased that she no longer has to power to hold onto him, he will vanish and never talk to her again. But of course, in the end, when Lizzy learns that Darcy has acted covertly in such a way as to restore her sense of her own power over his heart, even deeper than she imagined in Chapter 44, Charlotte is again vindicated as a prophet, because Lizzy's heart melts, she is totally utterly head over heels in love with Darcy.

The Power of “Love” in Lady Susan:

And, as a bookend to the above analysis, I give you the following four disconnected excerpts from Lady Susan, which collectively cast a faintly psychopathological shadow over the way we see Charlotte Lucas. To me, they suggest that Charlotte Lucas bears a faint, but unmistakable, kinship to Lady Susan herself. But...Charlotte is only like Lady Susan in her cold unflinching perception of human weakness---UNLIKE Lady Susan, who exploits the weaknesses of others, both male and female, for antisocial ends, Charlotte is, in my view, a benevolent female Machiavelli, who uses her deep understanding for good, even if she does not feel safe trusting the objects of her benevolence (whether it be Mr. Collins, or Lizzy) with an explanation of her covert actions on their behalf.

Which all shows that JA believed that knowledge, especially knowledge of human nature, was a major source of interpersonal power, which could be exercised for good OR evil. The following excerpts show Lady Susan to be in the latter camp:

"I have made him sensible of MY POWER, and can now enjoy the pleasure of triumphing over a Mind prepared to dislike me, and prejudiced against all my past actions.....HER POWER OVER HIM must now be boundless, as she has entirely effaced all his former ill-opinion, and persuaded him not merely to forget but to justify her conduct.....When my own will is effected contrary to his, I shall have some credit in being on good terms with Reginald, which at present, in fact, I have not; for tho' HE IS STILL IN MY POWER, I have given up the very article by which our quarrel was produced, and at best the honour of victory is doubtful...... Do not think me unkind for such an exercise of my power, nor accuse me of Instability without first hearing my reasons. "

Note in particular the topsy turvy relationship of Charlotte's analysis—Charlotte sees Lizzy's resistance to Darcy melting away when Lizzy feels she has power over Darcy—to the analysis of Mrs. Vernon, the sister of Sir Reginald, who sees Lady Susan's power over Sir Reginald as having become unchecked, because Sir Reginald's former ill opinion of Lady Susan has been abolished by the latter's effortless manipulations.

Mrs. Vernon's analysis is straightforward, linear and noncontroversial, whereas Charlotte shows herself to be an even subtler student of human nature, in that Charlotte sees that Lizzy's narcissism in believing she has power over Darcy, whether she actually does or not, will end her resistance to falling in love with him. Subtle paradoxical stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE


In light of the above analysis, does that give us any better clue as to the meaning of the language of power in JA's letter excerpt re Anne Sharpe and JA's Charlotte-Lucas-like benevolent wishes for her governess-friend to conquer the heart of HER rich potential suitor?

Letter 102 6/23/14:

“This post has brought me a letter from Miss Sharpe. Poor thing! she has been suffering indeed, but is now in a comparative state of comfort. She is at Sir W. P.'s, in Yorkshire, with the children, and there is no appearance of her quitting them. Of course we lose the pleasure of seeing her here. She writes highly of Sir Wm. I do so want him to marry her. There is a Dow. Lady P. presiding there to make it all right. The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by profession or trade. She does not think Lady P. was privy to his scheme on her, but, on being in his power, yielded. Oh, Sir Wm.! Sir Wm.! how I will love you if you will love Miss Sharpe!”


Vic said...

I will have to read this post a few times to take in all your observations, Arnie. Food for thought and chewing over. Thanks! I shall ruminate as I walk my dog.

PS I must admit a special liking to Charlotte Lucas, who I feel has been ill judged by her young friend Elizabeth. She merely exchanged a set of foolish parents for one foolish husband. Her choice in marrying Mr. Collins gave her a house to run, which is saying something about her decision.

Arnie Perlstein said...


I am always glad to be the instigator of rumination. ;)

Charlotte is the shadow heroine of P&P, in my considered opinion, as I will one day fully explain in print, so I am glad you too see her as a worthy friend of Elizabeth.