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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"A woman must have a THOROUGH knowledge of MUSIC..."

Following up on my last post about Mary Bennet and Jane Austen as students of thorough-bass and human nature".... which I suggested another, musical way in which Mary Bennet could be seen as a veiled self portrait of Jane Austen herself, I checked to see if JA might have used the word "thorough" elsewhere in Pride & Prejudice, so as to wink back to thorough-bass in some interesting way.

Specifically, I wondered if there might be some subtle validation of my reading that passage as Lizzy's jealous and inaccurate "first impression" of Mary's music playing---inaccurate because distorted by her jealousy of Mary's genuine musical proficiency and accomplishment. It turns out to have been a good hunch, as I will now explain. There were only a small handful of usages of the word "thorough" in the novel, and each one is thematically resonant with my interpretation of Mary's love of thorough-bass.

First, in Chapter 8, we have Caroline Bingley's jealous list of the necessary accomplishments of a woman, which includes a "thorough" knowledge of music!:

"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a THOROUGH knowledge of MUSIC, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word..."

Surely JA means to remind the reader of Mary and her knowledge of thorough-bass!

Then, a little further ahead in Chapter 16, we have Wickham telling Lizzy that it is jealousy (actually a kind of quasi-sibling rivalry) that motivates Darcy's (alleged) ill-treatment of Wickham--which sounds a great deal like the unconscious sibling rivalry I attribute to Lizzy vis a vis Mary:

"But what," said she, after a pause, "can have been his motive? What can have induced him to behave so cruelly?"
"A THOROUGH, determined dislike of me—a dislike which I cannot but attribute in some measure to jealousy. Had the late Mr. Darcy liked me less, his son might have borne with me better; but his father's uncommon attachment to me irritated him, I believe, very early in life. He had not a temper to bear the sort of competition in which we stood—the sort of preference which was often given me."

With respect to the above, there is an additional striking parallel between Wickham’s explanation for Darcy’s alleged cruelty toward him, on the one hand, and the regret that Lizzy feels after she first pushes her father to intervene to stop Mary’s playing the piano, and then is mortified by her father’s cruel, humiliating interruption of Mary’s playing.  Jane Austen meant  us to connect these seemingly unrelated events, and used  the word “thorough” to tag the connection!

And finally, way ahead in Chapter 47, we are again on the topic of "sibling" rivalry between Wickham and Darcy, but this time  flipped 180 degrees from Chapter 16--now Lizzy mistrusts Wickham, and mistrusts his having "thoroughly" prepared Lizzy to see Georgiana as proud, etc.:

"I do indeed," replied Elizabeth, colouring. "I told you, the other day, of his infamous behaviour to Mr. Darcy; and you yourself, when last at Longbourn, heard in what manner he spoke of the man who had behaved with such forbearance and liberality towards him. And there are other circumstances which I am not at liberty—which it is not worth while to relate; but his lies about the whole Pemberley family are endless. From what he said of Miss Darcy I was THOROUGHLY prepared to see a proud, reserved, disagreeable girl. Yet he knew to the contrary himself. He must know that she was as amiable and unpretending as we have found her."

So, based on all of the above, I am thoroughly convinced that Jane Austen was very thorough in her clever wordplay in P&P on the word "thorough"!   ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: I see now that this is my second iteration on the theme of Lizzy's jealousy of Mary's superior proficiency in music and piano-playing, the first, less complete one having been written by me  2 years ago:

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