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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mark Twain's veiled tribute to Pride & Prejudice was even MORE remarkable than I previously claimed!

I have previously written several times about Mark Twain's veiled homage to Pride& Prejudice, disguised as criticism. Here is the link to my most succinct post in that regard:

Specifically, I quoted Twain writing to his Janeite friend Howells...

"Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone"

...and then I commented:

"Of course Twain's ironic twist was that you don't reread a novel you don't like often enough to refer to "every time" you read it!"

For those who don't recall, the full passage in P&P which I was referring to was this one, in Chapter 34, when Lizzy tells Darcy off:

"From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry."

Today, I realized that there is a_second_ passage in Chapter 33 of P&P which is the "prelude" to, and inseparably tied to, the above quoted passage in Chapter 34, and which itself is even more congruent with Twain's famous, above quoted faux criticism of Pride& Prejudice. I intersperse my comments bit by bit:

"More than once did Elizabeth, in her ramble within the park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy."

So Elizabeth is well aware that when she rambles within the park, Darcy somehow always shows up. She in incredibly clueless not to realize this is intentional on Darcy's part, but she is in denial about the chemistry between them, and so she assumes he does not want to see her, even though he does, and she also assumes she herself does not want to see him, even though, unconsciously, she very much wants to "unexpectedly" run into him. Is it not obvious that JA wants her alert readers to associate the above sentence with this one from Chapter 22, eleven chapters earlier?: "Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meet him accidentally in the lane." With 20:20 hindsight, JA is practically hitting the reader over the skull with the connection, drawing a parallel between Charlotte cynically and deliberately staging an accidental encounter with Mr. Collins in the lane, and Elizabeth fulfilling her own _unconscious_ yearnings, and doing exactly the same! And yet, to the best of my knowledge, I am the first to point out this connection! It speaks to the power of the right assumption to turn the invisible visible! But now let's continue....

"She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought, and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers."

Which, in Darcy's mind, is an obvious come-on! Again, we have an echo of Mr. Collins's courtship antics in Meryton, this time vis a vis Elizabeth:
[Collins] "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."
[Lizzy] "I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man..."
Elizabeth, because she does not know her own heart, actually is, inadvertently, tormenting Darcy with her apparent creation of suspense! But it gets even better now....

"How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! Yet it did, and even a third."

And _there_ you see that Mark Twain, over a century ago, has been reading along in the same playbook I have been describing, and that is why he writes "every time I read...", because in Lizzy's thoughts we see that _every_ _time_ she rambles, she runs into Darcy!

"It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal inquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. He never said a great deal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or of listening much..."

And again, just like Emma vis a vis Mr. Elton, Lizzy is busy completely misinterpreting Darcy's behavior, turning black into white every step of the convoluted way. And here's an amazing irony that JA tags, with the words "nor did she give herself the trouble..."--of course we are meant to recall what Lizzy said to Darcy in Chapter 31, i.e., only two chapters earlier!:
""My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not _take_ the _trouble_ of practising...." Elizabeth has hoist herself on her own rhetorical petard--indeed, she does not take the trouble to listening to what Darcy is saying--and in this she is _exactly_ like Emma, who never takes the trouble to listen to _anybody_ in her world, most of all Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax!

"...but it struck her in the course of their third rencontre that he was asking some odd unconnected questions—about her pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collins's happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings and her not perfectly understanding the house, he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there too. His words seemed to imply it. Could he have Colonel Fitzwilliam in his thoughts? She supposed, if he meant anything, he must mean an allusion to what might arise in that quarter."

And here Lizzy's resemblance to Emma is most striking! Emma often gets within a millimeter of realizing what is really going on, only to veer off at 90 degrees at the second so as to avoid seeing the truth which her mind is so furiously repressing!

"It distressed her a little, and she was quite glad to find herself at the gate in the pales opposite the Parsonage."

And there's the final irony of this exquisite passage---all of this should distress her a lot, but instead she sloughs it off like some dirt on her shoes after a long ramble, and is ready to pretend that none of these troubling thoughts ever entered her mind!

Talk about monstrous pride and prejudice in an uneducated, hubristic, clueless young woman--and we are not talking about Lydia, this is Lizzy!

And, to return to where I started, I am certain that Mark Twain understood most or all of the above, and, in precisely the way Jane Austen sent up and paid veiled homages to Shakespeare, Richardson, Fielding and other authors who she respected most, so too did Mark Twain, who was every bit as serious a self-taught, genius-level literary scholar as Jane Austen, pay his profoundest respects to the author who perhaps had as large as influence on his writing as Shakespeare---Jane Austen. Just as Jane Austen deliberately put herself in the way of a royal command for _Emma_ to be dedicated to the Prince of Wales, the man she secretly hated and skewered in a dozen ways as the Prince of Whales in that same novel, _Emma_, so too did Twain choose for the object of his faux vitriolic criticism the novel which I think he loved best---Pride and Prejudice!

Cheers, ARNIE

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