I did some brief followup today and found some more interesting textual goodies which I had not previous connected to my claim that it is most likely Mr. Darcy who praises Mary Bennet as the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood. If you don't read through to the end, you will miss the best part.
First, in Chapter 8, we see why JA chose Miss Bingley (as opposed to any of a half dozen other characters) to be the one who heard Mary Bennet so praised--it gives JA a chance to then show the effect ON MISS BINGLEY of hearing that praise:
"Miss Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, "despises cards. SHE IS A GREAT READER, AND HAS NO PLEASURE IN ANYTHING ELSE."
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," cried Elizabeth; "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."
"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," said Bingley; "and I hope it will soon be increased by seeing her quite well."
Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards a table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others -- all that his library afforded.
"And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into."
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.
"I am astonished," said Miss Bingley, "that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!"
"It ought to be good," he replied; "it has been the work of many generations."
"And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books."
"I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these."
"Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place. Charles, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley."
If it were Sir William, or Mr. Bingley, or even Mrs Bennet who praised Mary Bennet to Miss Bingley, it would not have gotten under her skin---but if Darcy did it, as I claim to be the case, then it would DEFINITELY get under her skin, and stay ther. So when Caroline sees Lizzy reading in the parlour at Netherfield, while Darcy is writing a letter, we can just imagine what Miss Bingley--she who never reads--starts thinking. Hmm....big problem here, time to try to neutralize this dangerous "Bennet girls are accomplished because they read a lot" meme, because it causes Darcy to focus on Lizzy Bennet instead of Caroline Bingley. So that is the motor behind Caroline's praise/censure of Lizzy as a great reader.
AIn fact, as I read that scene, Miss Bingley's claim that Lizzy is a great reader and, what's more, takes no pleasure in anything else, now seems pretty strange to me, it really comes from left field, without warning, without apparent basis....unless, that is, Miss Bingley, who is not the sharpest tack in the box, MISUNDERSTOOD Darcy's praise--what if Darcy referred to "Miss Bennet", meaning MARY Bennet, but Caroline, already jealous of Darcy's Beatrice-Benedick vibe at the Meryton assembly, has understood him to be referring to LIZZY Bennet? If so, imagine how trebly insane that must make Caroline feel, to believe that Darcy is more attracted to BOTH Lizzy's body AND Lizzy's mind than to Caroline's? Pretty darned insane.
And that is not the only example of where confusion is raised as to which Bennet sister is being spoken of--the most famous of these being the speculations that many have advanced that the Lucas gossip mill gets the wrong Bennet sister as being engaged, thereby triggering Lady C's descent on Longbourn. (more about that at the end)
So I kinda like that interpretation that Caroline has misunderstood Darcy, because it sure makes Caroline Bingley's behavior a whole lot more logical, if that is her mistaken "first impression" of one aspect of the Bennet girls.
But I've got more. When I wrote my original post on this subject a few days ago, I had completely forgotten about the following passage in Chapter 11:
:"Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I DECLARE AFTER ALL THERE IS NO ENJOYMENT LIKE READING! HOW MUCH SOONER ONE TIRES OF ANYTHING THAN OF A BOOK! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."
No one made any reply. SHE THEN YAWNED AGAIN, THREW aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement…"
So here we have Caroline Bingley ONCE MORE focused on libraries and books, who has now adopted the philosophy "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em". Why? Same reason. Darcy is reading a book. Lizzy Bennet loves reading books. Uh-oh.... One more time, Caroline desperately flails around, trying to make the best of this dicey situation, and only making it a hundred times worse in the process. But the point is, again, that this all springs initially from Caroline's feeling inadequate in regard to the Bennet sisters in general, and (as I just argued above) to Lizzy in particular, in the reading department.
The finall goodie I found is very curious and interesting in its own right.
In Chapter 55, once Bingley and Jane are finally engaged, and all is well in the universe, we read the following curious bit of narrative, typical of the way that Mary Bennet gets a sentence or two in the spotlight, and then disappears:
"Mary petitioned for the use of the library at Netherfield…"
Did you ever notice that before? I sure didn't until the other day, and I never thought about what might be behind it till today. We have heard already that Netherfield has a pretty lame collection of books. We also have heard that Pemberley has one of England's great private libraries. And we can well imagine that even Mr. Bennet, after a quarter century of collecting, ALSO has a FANTASTIC collection of books, which Mary has been feasting on for her entire reading life. So why in the world would Mary petition for the use of the lame library at Netherfield? Mary never wants to leave her studies and her piano at Longbourn, as far as we are aware. Why all of a sudden does she seek to go to Netherfield?
My guess is that Mary, the Friendly Satan of Longbourn, who was (I claimed last week) working so hard to prevent Lizzy from having a tete a tete with Darcy at Longbourn, has another mission to perform in that same campaign, but this one cannot be performed at Longbourn, it requires that Mary do a little early "mixing" with the community.
And I therefore argue that it's no coincidence whatsoever that practically the last thing we hear in Chapter 55 is that Mary requests permission to visit Netherfield's library, and the first thing we hear as Chapter 56 begins is the following:
"One morning, about a week after Bingley's engagement with Jane had been formed, as he and the females of the family were sitting together in the dining-room, their attention was suddenly drawn to the window by the sound of a carriage; and they perceived a chaise-and-four driving up the lawn..."
If I am right in my suspicions, Mary should add stage acting to her list of accomplishments.... ;)
Collecting Jane Austen: Regency London
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