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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 16, 2011

More textual echoes between three seemingly unconnected passages in P&P....and Cecilia too!

As anyone following my posts of the past few weeks will have noticed, I have focused a lot recently on close reading of the text of Pride & Prejudice, and I have been rewarded by finding more and more gems in the text of P&P, whether they be ambiguous passages (like Kitty's coughing or LIzzy's unconscious attraction to Darcy, or textual echoes between passages in the novel----echoes which have rarely, if ever, been noticed, at least as reflected in the extensive archives of these groups, or in the much more extensive scholarly literature).

Anyway, that is all prelude to telling you that I have just found _three_ connected passages scattered through P&P, each of which involves a dialog between Elizabeth and a parental figure regarding a comic Sophie's Choice Lizzy must make, between looking favorably upon marriage with a young man romantically interested in Lizzy, on the one hand, and not becoming permanently estranged from that parental figure, on the other hand:

Here is the first of the three passages, a very famous one which we find in Ch. 20, between Mr. Bennet and Lizzy:

" "Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?" "I have, sir." "Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?""Yes, or I will never see her again.""An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do /not/ marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you /do/." Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning, but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed. "

So if Lizzy accepts Mr. Collins, then she can never see Mr. Bennet again.

And now, here is the second one, that has attracted little attention, in Ch. 26, a manic monologue by Lizzy in the middle of a conversation between her and her Aunt Gardiner, after Aunt Gardiner has advised Lizzy to be cautious with Wickham:

"I beg your pardon, I will try again. At present I am not in love with Mr. Wickham; no, I certainly am not. But he is, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw—and if he becomes really attached to me—I believe it will be better that he should not. I see the imprudence of it. Oh! /that/ abominable Mr. Darcy! My father's opinion of me does me the greatest honour, and I should be miserable to forfeit it. My father, however, is partial to Mr. Wickham. In short, my dear aunt, I should be very sorry to be the means of making any of you unhappy; but since we see every day that where there is affection, young people are seldom withheld by immediate want of fortune from entering into engagements with each other, how can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creatures if I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be wisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is not to be in a hurry. I will not be in a hurry to believe myself his first object. When I am in company with him, I will not be wishing. In short, I will do my best."

Of course you see the parallel to the Ch. 20 passage--first, Mr. Bennet invents the joke, then in the second one, Lizzy steals her father's joke (and that's a nice Shakespearean fool's touch-after rambling on Poloniusly, Lizzy finishes with "In short"!).

If Lizzy _rejects_ Wickham, then she can never see her father again.

And here's the third passage, in Ch. 56, another very famous one, the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth:

" "Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us." "These are heavy misfortunes," replied Elizabeth. "But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."

So if Lizzy _accepts_ Darcy, then she will never see Lady Catherine & the rest of Darcy's family again.

And here's the subtlest part of this troika of passages. While the latter part of Lizzy's monologue in the second passage is all about her intentions to follow her aunt's advice vis a vis _Wickham_, look at what happens after Lizzy runs into Darcy at Pemberley--from that time forward, she is very much in a hurry to believe herself (still) Darcy's first object; and when she is in company with Darcy, all she does is wish; and when she is tempted by Darcy, she immediately decide that it is not wisdom to resist him. In short, Lizzy acts extremely imprudently vis a vis Darcy during the second half of the novel, and the cynical inference would be that Darcy's not suffering from an immediate want of fortune, as Wickham does, is what induces Lizzy to enter into an engagement with him.

So that second passage really is a veiled and ironic template for the last quarter of the novel, viewed from the offcenter position of questioning whether Lizzy really has been wise in accepting Darcy's second proposal after so short a chance to observe his truly astonishing alteration in a very short time.

And believe it or not, the above set of three passages in P&P, by pure serendipity, happens to relate to my previous post about veiled Jewish subtext in P&P alluding to veiled and overt Jewish subtext in Burney's Cecilia. How?

In a brief exchange between Cecilia and Dr. Lyster, which JA echoes in both the first and third passage in P&P, above.

First Doctor Lyster says to Cecilia: "He bid me to tell you that either he or you must see him never more." There you have the Ch. 20 Sophie's choice.

Then you have Cecilia's reply to Dr. Lyster: "It was indeed unnecessary," cried she, colouring with resentment, "to send me such a message. I meant not to see him again, he meant not to desire it. I return him, however, no answer, and I will make him no promise; to Mrs. Delvile alone I hold myself bound; to him, send what messages he may, I shall always hold myself free. But believe me, Dr. Lyster, if with his name, his son had inherited his character, his desire of our separation would be feeble, and trifling, compared with my own!"

And there you have the Ch. 56 Sophie's choice!

And, to a close reader of her day who also knew Cecilia, all of the above would have been low hanging fruit, hidden in plain sight!

Cheers, ARNIE

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