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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mysterious Whisperer REDUX: Mrs. Long and her nieces

Even though it does not change my ultimate opinion, it occurred to me a short while ago that there were two other young women who could plausibly be the Mysterious Whisperer—I am referring to Mrs. Long’s two nieces.

Mrs. Bennet says that Mrs. Long will be a guest for the soiree at Longbourne, but, upon reflection, it is possible that Mrs. Bennet, who is not known for great clarity of speech, is thinking “Mrs. Long AND her two nieces”--but she just says “Mrs. Long” because she assumes that everyone listening to her will know that she means all three of them.

So, if that is so, that would mean that the original expected party of 13 would include two Goulding children, and the two nieces of Mrs. Long.

I also got a sense of Mrs. Long as a person for the first time—I do believe she is the Miss Bates of Meryton! She is either a widow, or never-married woman, who is also the aunt of two orphans, a person in dire straits economically, hence her having to hire a “taxi” to bring her to the Assembly. And it appears she has no “Mr. Knightley” in town watching out for her, no one who offers to bring her and her nieces in a carriage.

If this analogy holds, then either or even both of her nieces might be a Jane Fairfax—Mrs. Bennet may say in Chapter 54 that the nieces are “not at all handsome”, but I don’t buy it—Mrs. Bennet found them plenty threatening way back in Chapter 2!

How can Mrs. Long be like Miss Bates? I would suggest that this is all about point of view. In Emma, the narrative focus is Emma, who is obsessed with Jane Fairfax and who frequently sees Miss Bates. Whereas the narrative focus in P&P is Lizzy, who never sees Mrs. Long alone, and who apparently never sees Mrs. Long’s nieces.

Perhaps part of the reason Lizzy pays no attention to Mrs. Long’s nieces is that what we hear in Chapter 2 from Mrs. Bennet about Mrs. Long may be a favorite riff of Mrs. Bennet’s, she finds some relief from venting her spleen on Mrs. Long. If so, the Bennet girls have never been encouraged to befriend those two nieces of Mrs. Long.

All speculation, I grant, but plausible speculation which is faintly, but distinctly hinted at in the text.

So, is it possible then that one of Mrs. Long’s nieces is the Mysterious Whisperer? These two girls may well be in desperate straits, on the verge perhaps of being sent to be a governess somewhere far away.

Now, if Mrs. Long had KNOWN in advance that Darcy would be there, I might have believed that she could have urged one of her nieces, the better “candidate”, to seize the moment and get close to Darcy. And Mrs. Long would be shrewd enough to have observed Darcy and Lizzy at the Assembly, and to realize that there were sparks flying, but then would have heard nothing but bad things about Darcy from Mrs. Bennet ever since.

And actually part of the reason Mrs. Bennet bad mouths Darcy is because Mrs. Long made sure that Mrs. Bennet was aware that Mr. Darcy was less than attentive to Mrs. Long at the Assembly.

So Mrs. Long could have advised either or both of her nieces to be proactive and make sure Darcy and Lizzy did not have any chance to get comfortable with each other. And even if Lizzy is NOT particularly close to either of those nieces, that would not stop them from emulating Lucy Steele and in effect forcing their way into Lizzy’s personal space, in order to accomplish their goal.

It all adds up to a fair amount of “smoke”—however, on balance, I still find Mary Bennet more likely to be the Mysterious Whisperer, for all the reasons I listed in my earlier message.

All the same, I wanted to give the complete picture, as far as I can perceive it…or is there more that I am not seeing?

Cheers, ARNIE

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