(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mr. Bennet's Judgments and King Solomon

As a followup to my immediately previous post:

I just checked online in the usual places and did not find any indication of any Austen scholar detecting Jane Austen's burlesque of King Solomon's life and death judgment in Mr. Bennet's comic (and yet, beneath it, also serious) judgment on Lizzy's response to Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage.

I also checked in the archives of Austen L and Janeites, and while I found nothing directly on point, I _did_ find comments by Anielka on Mr. Bennet rendering judgment on Mr. Collins in _other_ passages in P&P, as well as a passing reference to Solomon in relation to the "courtship" charade in Emma, which I think you'll agree, are remarkably complementary with my
arguments. I.e., the likelihood that we are _each_ correct in our own arguments is greatly increased alike by the congruence of our arguments.
Let's see if you agree, here is the most relevant part of what Anielka wrote, but actually a great deal of the rest of what she wrote is also connected to the big picture on Jane Austen's Biblical allusions:

"We know Austen is notoriously difficult to interpret. We can't easily pin-down JA's beliefs, likes and dislikes or political and spiritual judgements from what we read in the novels. Sometimes the satire is so subtle that the very text that we feel an empathy for proves on closer inspection to be a veiled criticism. It's possible to catch oneself in the conceit of empathising with Austen one moment and then read to the end of
the chapter only to be horrified the next moment as you realise the very phrase that you empathised with is being gently condemned.

One such example is a quote from Mr. Bennet: which, when used out of context and incomplete, lures us into laughing with Mr. Bennet and agreeing to his proposition: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours...?" (P&P, chapter 57)

Which seems mildly amusing but if we read the whole quote: " For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, AND LAUGH AT THEM IN OUR TURN?"

It is clear that the intention is less gentle and less kind. Yet this quote is in the mouth of Mr. Bennet who has just pronounced on Mr. Collins' Christianity in the previous sentence: "You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing." -- That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!"

Whilst our first instinct is to agree wholeheartedly we may also see that Mr. Bennet is JUDGING Mr. Collins for judging Lydia and Wickham. Two wrongs don't make a right and chapter 7 of Matthew makes it clear that judging others is not a Christian act. More amusingly Mr. Bennet goes on to use his immortal phrase "For what do we live, but to make sport for our
neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" which is clearly about judging one's neighbours actions as derisible and then being judged similarly by those same neighbours.
....So Mr. Bennet has judged Mr. Collins for judging then suggested the purpose of existence is to judge others and be judged. It's easy to laugh along with him and to fail to see the irony of a Christian minister of the church caught in the act of misapplying the tenets of his own faith.

Back with Austen's charade. One valid solution to lines one and two is the Old Testament (contains the book of Kings) and a further solution to lines three and four is the New Testament (reference to Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee)

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings, (book of Kings in the Old Testament)
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease. (Reference to Solomon)

...Austen's humour is subtle: the only way you can laugh at other people's faults and still obey this commandment is to laugh at your own faults. It seems JA often had the humility to laugh at self, loved friends and family and to understand that this love should be extended to everyone as everyone is our neighbour when he shows mercy. Laughing at your own faults
exposes the faults of others in the gentlest possible way and calls them to self-correct. The priest and the Levite showed no compassion for the man who fell amongst thieves but Austen would have known that the Samaritan, a supposedly reviled race, showed kindness and mercy and hence qualified as a neighbour in Jesus' parable (Luke chapter 10). Austen found a way to blend judgement with non-judgement in satire making it impossible
for us to judge her fictional characters and situations without judging ourselves." END QUOTE

When you put Anielka's insights into two of Mr. Bennet's judgments alongside my insight into a third judgment by Mr. Bennet, it can only inspire awe at the depth of genius, hiding in plain sight, in the writings of Jane Austen.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: