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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lopping and Cropping, Part Two: King Solomon and Mr. Bennet & Their Hopeless Business

As I began writing my previous post.....

...I already had a strong feeling that JA had the Biblical tale of Solomon (and his outside the box solution to the Catch 22 of the two mothers fighting over one child in 1 Kings 3:16-28) in mind as she wrote Letter 79, and that she savored the irony that in the instance of her editing of _her_ darling child, P&P, she had the wisdom of a literary Solomon, and realized that paradox was the order of the day, such that lopping and cropping was exactly what her darling child needed in order to emerge light, bright and sparkling into the world, a world which that darling child has come to rule as no other novel ever written.

But then as I wrote all of the above, I suddenly realized that Jane Austen's Mr Bennet had read his Bible, and was channeling Solomon in his witty way, when he stood 1 Kings 3:16-28 on its head, by depicting, in burlesque, one child having the Catch 22 of picking between two parents, in exact reverse of two putative parents fighting over one child!:

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.
"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"
"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."
"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless business."
"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."
"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."
Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.
"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....." END QUOTE

"She shall hear my hopeless unhappy alternative..." A group summoned to an inner sanctum of the "king" to hear a definite judgment on a life-determining decision for a child. This really is nothing less than Jane Austen burlesquing the Bible, and making Mr. Bennet nothing less than a Regency Era King Solomon!

And, to come full circle, I claim it is no coincidence that JA wrote about her "darling child" in Letter 79--she was _deliberately_ pointing to Pride and Prejudice as she conjured the spirit of King Solomon with that reference to a "baby" being born, a baby which _had_ been lopt and cropt, surgery which did not kill it, but made it the greatest love story ever written, a true prose "Song of Solomon".

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Arnie Perlstein said...

I've been thinking some more about Jane Austen's allusion to King Solomon's famous judgment in 1 Kings 3:16-28, and I realized that, in the normative reading of P&P, Mrs. Bennet would represent the faux mother, because she is willing to sacrifice a child rather than let that child live with another mother, whereas Mr. Bennet would represent not only Solomon, but also the real mother, because his judgment protects his child from being sacrificed to Mr. Collins.

That additional layer of parallelism to the Bible story makes the intentionality of Jane Austen's allusion that much more certain.

Arnie Perlstein said...

And....I also realize that the most critical judgment that Lizzy has to make during the course of the novel is to determine which one of Darcy --and Wickham is really a good man.

And sure enough, Lizzy burlesques King Solomon, just as surely as her father did, when she says to Jane:

This will not do," said Elizabeth; "you never will be able to make both of them good for anything. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Darcy's; but you shall do as you choose."

In the same way that Jane must be satisfied with only one good man, the baby cannot be shared by both mothers, so Solomon has to find a way to discern which is the good and true mother!