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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Causation & Consolation: Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins two peas in a pod?

Here is another one of JA's subtle long-range verbal echoes in her novels, this time between the words of Mr. Collins and the words of Mr. Darcy, in regard to two very specific points: (i) a summary of the reasons or causes for an opinion regarding marriage to a Bennet girl, and (ii) censure of the behavior of members of the Bennet family. I followed these echoes through a wormhole into some previously unexplored territory in P&P, I hope you will enjoy my report of what I found:

Mr. Collins:

Ch. 19: [speaking to Elizabeth]

"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My REASONS for believing it are BRIEFLY these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

Ch. 48: [writing to Mr. Bennet]

And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the CONSOLATION of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age.

Mr. Darcy: [writing to Elizabeth]

P&P Ch. 35:

My objections to the marriage were not merely those which I last night acknowledged to have the utmost force of passion to put aside, in my own case; the want of connection could not be so great an evil to my friend as to me. But there were other causes of repugnance; causes which, though still existing, and existing to an equal degree in both instances, I had myself endeavoured to forget, because they were not immediately before me. These CAUSES must be stated, though BRIEFLY. The situation of your mother's family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father. Pardon me. It pains me to offend you. But amidst your concern for the defects of your nearest relations, and your displeasure at this representation of them, let it give you CONSOLATION to consider that, to have conducted yourselves so as to avoid any share of the like censure, is praise no less generally bestowed on you and your elder sister, than it is honourable to the sense and disposition of both.


What these echoes are meant to signify will no doubt vary considerably for different readers. Most readers will find in them an ironic suggestion of the stark contrast between Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. However, I would like to suggest that perhaps the reader is also meant to be somewhat unnerved by a startling and disturbing similarity between Darcy and Collins, in regard to their respective ideas of consolation.

Every Janeite knows that Mr. Collins's offer of consolation is unmistakably of the same insensitively cruel variety as JA barbedly took note of in the condolence letters written by her cousin Revd. Cooper. Collins's consolation is cruel, because the expected ruin of the entire Bennet family will be no less horrible because one of them, Lydia, was born very very bad!

But what about Darcy's offered consolation, is it really any less cruel? He seems to genuinely believe that it will be a consolation to Lizzy that Darcy has just scotched Jane's potential engagement to Bingley because of improprieties in the behavior of the rest of the Bennet family! At least with Mr. Collins, as far as we know, he was not sending cc's of that letter to Mr. Bennet to the newspapers, blaring Lydia Bennet's elopement with Mr. Wickham to the wider world. I.e., while he plays a role in the Meryton gossip network, he bears no unique or special _personal_ responsibility for the ruination of the Austen family's reputation that is to come.

But Darcy is actually expecting Lizzy to be consoled that she and Jane bear no personal responsibility for the Bennet family taint that so concerns Darcy, when it is Darcy himself who is the _only_ reason why Bingley has left Jane in Meryton with no plans to return, and he is also the only moving force behind Bingley's not seeing Jane in London either. I'd say that Darcy's culpability is much worse than Collins's, and so his offer of consolation has a strong scent of chutzpah about it!

Now, the plot thickens, because here is Lizzy's interesting reaction to Darcy's attempt at consolation, which I never previously connected to Darcy's earlier offer of consolation:

"The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt. It soothed, but it COULD NOT CONSOLE HER for the contempt which had thus been self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as she considered that Jane's disappointment had in fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the credit of both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond anything she had ever known before. "

It's amazing to me that Lizzy already has so completely repressed her own outrage that she felt so strongly when Fitzwilliam first told her about Darcy's interference, and which she vented on Darcy when he proposed. It's as though she has gone from one extreme to the other at the drop of a hat. Turns out that Lizzy _has_ been consoled by Darcy's comment, but what I fear is that this consolation is nothing other than Lizzy's own vanity being flattered.

Anyway, based on that "brief" analysis, and other aspects, too, I am certain that JA intended these particular verbal echoes between Darcy and Collins to be noticed, and then considered carefully, by her alert readers, and that is why she tagged the above quoted passages with the words "briefly" and "consolation", to jog our memories and cause us to take a closer look.

And if anyone suspects that this was an unconscious parallelism on JA's part, look at how cleverly JA links the above passages to _other_ passages in P&P, via that same word "consolation":

Ch. 6: "It may perhaps be pleasant," replied Charlotte, "to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but POOR CONSOLATION to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all /begin/ freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show /more/ affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

Charlotte is 100% right, and is prescient about what is to come vis a vis Bingley and Jane!

And then we hear a couple of times about Mrs. Bennet first taking consolation that Bingley will return, and then not long afterwards being INconsolable when it is clear that he will not!

But the funniest example of dubious consolation comes from--who else? Mr. Bennet, cracking wise at Mrs. Bennet's expense, his favorite form of amusement:

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for /her/, and live to see her take her place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

This was NOT VERY CONSOLING to Mrs. Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before.

I am not aware that these _specific_ echoes have been pointed out before, although I am sure there have been a number of general comparisons made between Darcy and Collins over the years, such as this one in Janeites way back in 2002:

[Carmen] "I think the comparison/contrast of Lizzy's first two proposals is so comical... and very likely intentional by J.A. Both men assume they will be accepted. Both men insult Lizzy and her circumstances. Neither men cares what Lizzy feels about them or the proposal, as long as she accepts. Lizzy basically ends up arguing with each man... well, as well as Mr. Collins can be argued with. There are lots of other parallels... anyone notice any in particular? One of the striking differences is what the two men do after the proposals... Collins remains utterly unchanged in any way that counts, he just changes who he decides to marry. Darcy undergoes some major personality revisions, and comes out a much better man."

Carmen, are you still a member of Janeites? If so, whaddaya think?

Cheer, ARNIE

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