Lord Brabourne, the grand-nephew of Jane Austen who in 1884 published the first edition of many of Jane Austen's letters, wrote the following in his appendix thereto, in giving his interpretation of the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice:
"I reject altogether the idea that the beauties of
Pemberley had any effect in inducing Elizabeth to reconsider her
refusal, and the sole doubt which remains upon my mind is the extent to
which gratitude for his generous behaviour to her sister Lydia and her
worthless husband really supplied the place of warmer feeling in
Elizabeth's heart. Gratitude, however, is a soil in which love readily
grows and thrives, and in this instance the two may very well have
existed and flourished side by side. "
As I have
complained in the past, Lord Brabourne was guilty of occasional
...and other editorial sins. However, here I am pleased to see him
being more even handed, by at least letting his readers know about an
important interpretive dispute relative to what was already in 1884 JA's
most popular novel, P&P, instead of nakedly stating his own opinion as
if there were no existing disagreement.
I write in my caption that Lord Brabourne protests a lot, because I
believe he is responding to the opinion of a very formidable
adversary--none other than Sir Walter Scott, who in 1816 wrote
(anonymously at the time) the following about the process of Lizzy
falling in love with Darcy:
" The lady [Elizabeth], on the contrary, hurt at the contempt of her
connections, which the lover [Darcy] does not even attempt to suppress,
and prejudiced against him on other accounts, refuses the hand which he
ungraciously offers, and does not perceive that she has done a foolish
thing until she accidentally visits a very handsome seat and grounds
belonging to her admirer. They chance to meet exactly as her prudence
had begun to subdue her prejudice; and after some essential services
rendered to her family, the lover becomes encouraged to renew his
addresses, and the novel ends happily."
And by the way, anticipating that some might wonder if Lord Brabourne
might have been ignorant of Walter Scott, look at what he wrote about
Scott in his first Appendix to his 1884 edition of JA's letters:
"....Joanna Baillie and Maria Edgeworth were indeed far from courting
publicity; they loved the privacy of their own families, one with her
brother and sister in their Hampstead villa, the other in her more
distant retreat in Ireland; but fame pursued them, and they were the
favourite correspondents of Sir Walter Scott. Crabbe, who was usually
buried in a country parish, yet sometimes visited London, and dined at
Holland House, and was received as a fellow-poet by Campbell, Moore, and
Rogers; and on one memorable occasion he was Scott's guest at Edinburgh,
and gazed with wondering eyes on the incongruous pageantry with which
George IV was entertained in that city. "
So, obviously, Brabourne knew a great deal about Scott's literary
career, including his letters and biographical data.
Scott's above-quoted, highly cynical, opinion about the romantic climax
of P&P is one which I only learned about after I myself had come to the
same conclusion over a long period of time and much re-rereading of P&P
_against_ the grain, and went looking for the earliest kindred spirits I
could find in the critical literature. I was particularly pleased to
have found it, because it is the most contemporary third party opinion
about an Austen novel that survives, and it is the opinion of a
brilliant, insightful fellow-writer. So it rather decisively puts the
kibosh on the notion that against-the-grain, anti-romantic
interpretations of Jane Austen's novels are a product of the cynical
post-DW Harding era of Austen criticism, a modern distortion of what
JA's contemporaries would have all understood upon first reading her
novels. Scott's words show that cynical readings of romance in JA's
novels were out there practically before the ink was dry on the first
edition of P&P itself!
So, even though it is possible that Lord Brabourne was, in part,
replying to opinions of late-Victorian literati of his own era, I would
bet the house that those contemporary cynics did not hesitate to bring
forward the imposing figure of Sir Walter Scott, whose literary
reputation still loomed quite large in the UK in 1884, as evidenced in
part by Brabourne's two above-quoted explicit mentions of Scott. And so
Lord Brabourne felt compelled to rebut Scott, nearly 70 years after
Scott wrote his cynical take on P&P.
And I find it fascinating that even after rebutting the charge that
Lizzy's love was mercenary, some spark of intellectual integrity prompts
Lord Brabourne to nonetheless refuse to go all the way to the other side
by claiming pure love for Lizzy. Rather, he adopts a middle ground,
where he allows that a chaste, platonic gratitude for generosity could
have played as strong a role as purely romantic feelings, in bringing
Lizzy to wind up feeling fully in love with Darcy.
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