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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lord Brabourne Protests Strongly, But not Too Much

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 Bowdlerizations ...

...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.

Good stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE
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