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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The "Disconcerting" of Mary Bennet, Georgiana Darcy, and....Marianne Dashwood!

One of the most powerful scenes in Andrew Davies's P&P2 occurs at Pemberley, when Georgiana is playing the pianoforte for the assembled party. Miss Bingley just can't help herself, and tosses out a malicious reference to Wickham, the very sound of whose name so disconcerts Georgiana that she abruptly stops playing. Then Lizzy saves the day by racing to Georgiana's side and restoring the poor girl to calmness, enabling her to resume playing and causing Darcy to give Elizabeth "that look" that could melt ice at the North Pole. Yeah, even guys are touched by that one! ;)

Anyway, I realized a while ago, during a reread of that scene as written in the novel, that we actually have no idea what Georgiana is doing at the moment that Miss Bingley's hurtful verbalization is uttered--certainly there is no mention of her playing piano for the group--- nor does Elizabeth do anything specifically directed toward making _Georgiana_ feel better--all Elizabeth does is to keep her cool and not get upset or "discomposed" when Miss Bingley tosses her zinger at her:

"Miss Darcy, on her brother's entrance, exerted herself much more to talk, and Elizabeth saw that he was anxious for his sister and herself to get acquainted, and forwarded as much as possible, every attempt at conversation on either side. Miss Bingley saw all this likewise; and, in the imprudence of anger, took the first opportunity of saying, with sneering civility: "Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the ——shire Militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to /your/ family."
In Darcy's presence she dared not mention Wickham's name; but Elizabeth instantly comprehended that he was uppermost in her thoughts; and the various recollections connected with him gave her a moment's distress; but exerting herself vigorously to repel the ill-natured attack, she presently answered the question in a tolerably detached tone. While she spoke, an involuntary glance showed her Darcy, with a heightened complexion, earnestly looking at her, and his sister overcome with confusion, and unable to lift up her eyes...Elizabeth's collected behaviour, however, soon quieted his emotion; and as Miss Bingley, vexed and disappointed, dared not approach nearer to Wickham, Georgiana also recovered in time, though not enough to be able to speak any more."

So, I have thought for a while now that this was another example of subtly great screenwriting by Andrew Davies, actually finding a way to improve on JA's own staging of the Pemberley salon scene, in a way that felt completely consistent with the characterizations from the novel, and doing so in a way that also tied back in to the much earlier scene in the novel, when Mr. Bennet literally and figuratively "disconcerts" Mary by interrupting her mid-concerto:

Well...purely by serendipity, some recent discussion elsewhere in Austen cyberspace about the tsunami of references to "beaux" (especially by Nancy Steele) in S&S has led me to an even _greater_ respect for Andrew Davies's knowledge of Austen's texts, and even of subtle thematic and wordplay connections _between_ JA' s novels, as I now see that he not only drew upon that earlier scene in P&P with Mary and Mr. Bennet, he _also_ drew upon an amazingly parallel scene in_ S&S_!

And, without further ado, here it is, it's one of those in which Nancy Steele refers to "beaux":

Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.
"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all—I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother—silly and a great coxcomb."
"A great coxcomb!" repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had caught those words by a sudden pause in Marianne's music.— "Oh, they are talking of their favourite beaux, I dare say."
"No sister," cried Lucy, "you are mistaken there, our favourite beaux are NOT great coxcombs."
"I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood's is not," said Mrs. Jennings, laughing heartily; "for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behaved young men I ever saw; but as for Lucy, she is such a sly little creature, there is no finding out who SHE likes."
"Oh," cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round at them, "I dare say Lucy's beau is quite as modest and pretty behaved as Miss Dashwood's."
Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip, and looked angrily at her sister. A mutual silence took place for some time. Lucy first put an end to it by saying in a lower tone, though Marianne was then giving them the powerful protection of a very magnificent concerto...." END QUOTE

It seems clear that there are subtle undercurrents in this scene, where Lucy seems to be upset at her sister saying something aloud that Lucy wished to remain unspoken—perhaps about Robert Ferrars. What I now see for the first time, however, is that _Marianne_ is _also_ "disconcerted" by what Nancy Steele says! So much so that, exactly the way Georgiana reacts with upset to Caroline Bingley's snark in Davies's rewrite of the Pemberley salon scene, so too Marianne's music "suddenly pause[s]" when we hear Nancy spouting off. What's up with _that_? What is Marianne hearing in Nancy Steele's chatter that upsets her too, even though Elinor clearly hasn't a clue about any of it? And then, what enables Marianne to quickly _re_ compose herself and launch into "a very magnificent concerto", one, perhaps, that even Mary Bennet would be proud of? Many interesting and intriguing questions!

But what is for sure is that Davies understood the connection between these scenes in S&S and in P&P, scenes which I feel safe in saying have not been connected in the minds of any other Janeites prior to my pointing this out.

And I have a final question in regard to this whole thing, which I am too lazy to check the answer to myself-- i.e., in Davies's adaptation of S&S, does he include the scene with the Steele girls and Marianne playing piano, and, if so, how do they play it? Does Marianne pause abruptly and get "disconcerted"?

Cheers, ARNIE

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