In Chapter 53 of Pride & Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet famously makes an offering to Mr. Bingley on her husband’s behalf:
“ "When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley," said her mother, "I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mr. Bennet's manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you, and will save all the best of the covies for you."
Elizabeth's misery increased, at such unnecessary, such officious attention! Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as had flattered them a year ago, every thing, she was persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious conclusion. At that instant, she felt that years of happiness could not make Jane or herself amends for moments of such painful confusion.”
A year and a half ago, in the following linked blog post….
…I showed how the above passage was in no small part a veiled allusion to the repeated motif of women (but also men) as hunted animals that Shakespeare deployed to great satirical effect in Much Ado About Nothing, which of course is one of the major allusive sources for Pride & Prejudice. That is true above all in the “Meryton war” between Lizzy and Darcy, which harks back repeatedly to the “merry war” of words between Beatrice and Benedick.
Today, I realized that there is a whole additional layer of sharp, sacrilegious satirical allusion directly connected to Mrs. Bennet’s offering to Bingley, which actually casts several of the other memorable scenes during the romantic climax of P&P in a startling new dark and satirical light, as my Subject Line cryptically hints. This one is a real lulu!
When Mrs. Bennet tells Bingley that Mr. Bennet “will save all the best of the covies for you”, some with a very finely tuned ear might have detected some indirect allusion to the practice of ritual sacrifice of animals during ancient times, and, from the point of view of a reader in early 19th century England, that would most of all raise an association to the Bible. The best animals would be chosen for sacrifice to God, for obvious reasons, just as Mrs. Bennet offers “the best of the covies”.
But, unless you are someone very knowledgeable about the particular translated English of the King James Bible, the one that JA and her contemporary readers would have been most familiar with, you might not know what words the Bible used repeatedly---FIFTY SEVEN times, to be precise (hence my joking reference to the Heinz 57 varieties!)---to describe animals considered suitable for sacrifice to God, vs. animals which were not worthy. And….that word is “blemish”, which appears in all of the 57 verses reproduced at the end of this post (so that you can pause here and go read as many of them as you like, or continue reading here, if you take my assertion on faith that I am not making all of this up!).
Of those 57 references in the Bible to “blemishes”, all but 3 of them appear in the Hebrew Bible. But the statistic that is most relevant to my argument in this post, is that ALL 57 Biblical usages of “blemish”—every last one of them--have to do with the bringing of an animal (or other offering) to God as a sacrifice, to atone for sins---no discussions of acne and skin care products in the Bible!
And by now some of the sharp elves among you probably know where I am going with this. Some of the rest of you might want to pause here and see if you can figure it out yourself, based on all the hints I’ve already given you, but those who don’t enjoy such puzzles, just keep reading, I am very close to my punch line.
Unlike those 57 “varieties” (if you will) of the word “blemish” in the King James Bible, the word “blemish” (and its “varieties”) is a very rare one in JA’s fictional lexicon, appearing only a tiny total of three times in all of JA’s novels combined. One of them is in S&S, and refers to Marianne’s sobered view of Willoughby after her near death: “Nothing could restore him with a faith unbroken—a character UNBLEMISHED, to Marianne.”
The word “blemish” does not appear at all in NA, MP, Emma, or Persuasion, so it’s clearly not an everyday word for Jane Austen, just the opposite. But, curiously, the other two usages both occur in P&P, which would suggest some special significance in that novel in particular. And, get this—both of those usages in P&P occur in the same Chapter and that is Chapter…..57! (no I am not kidding, although even I don’t claim that Jane Austen counted the 57 usages of “blemish” in the KJ Bible, just as Mr. Rushworth counted his own 42 speeches in Lovers Vows, and chose chapter 57 of P&P to put those two in it!) So, that very targeted usage of the word “blemish” by JA in one tiny corner of the text of P&P REALLY suggests a very special significance to the word’s usage. And that turns out to be exactly the case!
One of those two usages in Chapter 57 of P&P is known to Janeites the world over, because it is embedded in one of the most memorable of the many epigrammatic speeches and narrative comments for which P&P is rightly celebrated. Mr. Bennet has called Lizzy in to tell her about Mr. Collins’s letter warning him about a man of parts being engaged to an unworthy woman, and then springs his surprise:
"Can you possibly guess, Lizzy, who is meant by this?" 'This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire,—splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. Yet in spite of all these temptations, let me warn my cousin Elizabeth, and yourself, of what evils you may incur by a precipitate closure with this gentleman's proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined to take immediate advantage of.'
"Have you any idea, Lizzy, who this gentleman is? But now it comes out:
"'My motive for cautioning you is as follows. We have reason to imagine that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye.'
"Mr. Darcy, you see, is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he, or the Lucases, have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Mr. Darcy, WHO NEVER LOOKS AT ANY WOMAN BUT TO SEE A BLEMISH, and who probably never looked at you in his life! It is admirable!"
Elizabeth tried to join in her father's pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. Never had his wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to her.
"Are you not diverted?"
"Oh! yes. Pray read on."
Now, if you haven’t done so already, go browse the 57 usages in the Bible, and think about how likely it would be that JA, a parson’s daughter who knew her Bible like the back of her hand, would use the word “blemish” in that passage in this way, without realizing its sacrilegious implications. She had seen that word appearing as it does in nine different books in the Bible, always with the same meaning.
So, when the learned Mr. Bennet---who has spent half his waking hours during his long marriage in his home library reading great books like the King James Bible---cracks wise with Elizabeth two chapters later, in Chapter 59, causing her considerable distress that she tries to hide from him, he is really having an extremely sacrilegious laugh! :
"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should NEVER DARE REFUSE ANYTHING, WHICH HE CONDESCENDED TO ASK. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you LOOKED UP TO HIM AS A SUPERIOR. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."
Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating her absolute certainty that his affection was not the work of a day, but had stood the test of many months' suspense, and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father's incredulity, and reconcile him to the match.
"Well, my dear," said he, when she ceased speaking, "I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy." END QUOTE
How so? Because Mr. Bennet’s use of the word “blemish” in Chapter 57 had sacrilegiously reframed his consenting to Lizzy marrying Darcy as his “offering” his favorite daughter Lizzy (shades of Abraham and his beloved Isaac!) as a kind of human sacrifice to the god Darcy. And then, in Chapter 59, he’s laying it on even thicker, returning to his learned joke to milk it for its last drop of learned humor—because a god is indeed exactly the sort of being to whom a mere human should “never dare refuse anything which he condescended to ask”! And of course a god is also a being you “look up to”!
And…this subversive interpretation also fits perfectly with Kishor Kale’s brilliant identification, a number of years ago, of the sharp syntactical irony of Mr. Bennet’s final statement in that Chapter 59 passage-“I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy”---which can mean either of two opposite things—either it was Darcy’s great worthiness that induced Mr. Bennet to part with Lizzy, OR it can mean Darcy is so UNworthy that Mr. Bennet could not have found a more unworthy man to give Lizzy to if he tried! Both are equally plausible, but the latter one picks up on Mr. Bennet’s witty joke—is Darcy really so perfect a man that he is like a god, or is he rather the kind of “deity” to whom the lives of others must be sacrificed to appease them, to induce them to trickle down benefits to his worshippers?
Now, before I close, some of you who’ve been paying close attention will be asking at this point, what about the other usage of “blemish” in Chapter 57 of P&P? Here it is, in a passage showing what Lizzy is thinking right before her father calls her in to hear about Mr. Collins’s astonishing letter, and right after her showdown with Lady Catherine in the Longbourn wilderness—she’s thinking about Go—no, I mean, she’s thinking about Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy is extremely pessimistic!:
“If he had been wavering before as to what he should do, which had often seemed likely, the advice and entreaty of so near a relation [i.e., Lady Catherine] might settle every doubt, and determine him at once to be as happy as dignity UNBLEMISHED could make him. In that case he would return no more. Lady Catherine might see him in her way through town; and his engagement to Bingley of coming again to Netherfield must give way.”
Elizabeth herself is already thinking of herself as a sacrificial animal, and about all the “blemishes” she carries on her “hide”, which make her an unacceptable “offering” to the great god Darcy—and I don’t need to repeat them for any good Janeite, because you know what those blemishes are, mostly having to do with the foibles of everyone else in the Bennet family besides Lizzy and Jane.
And speaking of Lady Catherine, as the self-appointed “angel” sitting at the right hand of Darcy, advising him about his marital options from among the numerous offerings on the table before him, Lizzy must be anticipating, with dread, that Lady Catherine will repeat to Darcy her sharpest “theological” argument:
“….Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus POLLUTED?"
Is it just a coincidence that in one of those 57 usages of “blemish” in the Bible, in 2 Peter 2:13, we read…
“And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and BLEMISHES, SPORTING themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you.”
….and only a few verses later in that same Chapter 2 of 2 Peter, which concerns false prophets, we then read:
“For if after they have escaped the POLLUTIONS of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.”
It would be the most improbable of coincidences for the word “sporting” to appear in 2 Peter 1:13 right next to the word “blemishes”, and only a few verses before the word “pollution”, given not only Lady Catherine’s dire lamentation about the pollution of Pemberley, but also Mr. Bennet’s most famous epigram “For what do we live, but to make SPORT for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"—which, by the way, appears in……Chapter 57 of P&P!!!
And the verse in Ephesians bears special notice as well, because it sees Jesus as metaphorically choosing a wife, as we see when that verse is read in context (and these verses were specifically quoted in the Anglican marriage ceremony, without any apparent awareness of the primitive sacrificial overtones!):
5: 22-27Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without BLEMISH.
And finally, are we not also reminded of Darcy’s and Lizzy’s memorable repartee at the Netherfield ball?:
"I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise."
"No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."
"That is a failing indeed!" cried Elizabeth. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me."
"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."
"And your defect is to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is willfully to misunderstand them."
And there I rest my case, my friends and fellow Janeites.
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
P.S.: Here are all 57 usages of “blemish” in the King James Bible:
2 in Exodus
12:5: Your lamb shall be without BLEMISH, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:
29:1: And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest's office: Take one young bullock, and two rams without BLEMISH,
28 in Leviticus
1:3: If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without BLEMISH: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord.
1:10: And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without BLEMISH.
3:1: And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer it of the herd; whether it be a male or female, he shall offer it without BLEMISH before the Lord.
3:6: And if his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering unto the Lord be of the flock; male or female, he shall offer it without BLEMISH.
4:3: If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without BLEMISH unto the Lord for a sin offering.
4: 23: Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without BLEMISH:
4:28: Or if his sin, which he hath sinned, come to his knowledge: then he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a female without BLEMISH, for his sin which he hath sinned.
4:32: And if he bring a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without BLEMISH.
5: 15: If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without BLEMISH out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering.
5:18: And he shall bring a ram without BLEMISH out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him.
6:6: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, a ram without BLEMISH out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:
9:2: And he said unto Aaron, Take thee a young calf for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering, without BLEMISH, and offer them before the Lord.
9:3: And unto the children of Israel thou shalt speak, saying, Take ye a kid of the goats for a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without BLEMISH, for a burnt offering;
14:10: And on the eighth day he shall take two he lambs without BLEMISH, and one ewe lamb of the first year without BLEMISH, and three tenth deals of fine flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil.
Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any BLEMISH, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
For whatsoever man he be that hath a BLEMISH, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a BLEMISH in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a BLEMISH of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a BLEMISH; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.
Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a BLEMISH; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the Lord do sanctify them.
Ye shall offer at your own will a male without BLEMISH, of the beeves, of the sheep, or of the goats.
But whatsoever hath a BLEMISH, that shall ye not offer: for it shall not be acceptable for you.
And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no BLEMISH therein.
Neither from a stranger's hand shall ye offer the bread of your God of any of these; because their corruption is in them, and BLEMISHES be in them: they shall not be accepted for you.
23:12: And ye shall offer that day when ye wave the sheaf an he lamb without BLEMISH of the first year for a burnt offering unto the Lord.
23:18: And ye shall offer with the bread seven lambs without BLEMISH of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams: they shall be for a burnt offering unto the Lord, with their meat offering, and their drink offerings, even an offering made by fire, of sweet savour unto the Lord.
24: 19: And if a man cause a BLEMISH in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
24:20 Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a BLEMISH in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
12 in Numbers:
6:14: And he shall offer his offering unto the Lord, one he lamb of the first year without BLEMISH for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without BLEMISH for a sin offering, and one ram without BLEMISH for peace offerings,
19:2: This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no BLEMISH, and upon which never came yoke:
28: 19: But ye shall offer a sacrifice made by fire for a burnt offering unto the Lord; two young bullocks, and one ram, and seven lambs of the first year: they shall be unto you without BLEMISH:
28:31: Ye shall offer them beside the continual burnt offering, and his meat offering, (they shall be unto you without BLEMISH) and their drink offerings.
29:2: And ye shall offer a burnt offering for a sweet savour unto the Lord; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year without BLEMISH:
29:8: But ye shall offer a burnt offering unto the Lord for a sweet savour; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year; they shall be unto you without BLEMISH:
29:13: And ye shall offer a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord; thirteen young bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year; they shall be without BLEMISH:
29:20: And on the third day eleven bullocks, two rams, fourteen lambs of the first year without BLEMISH;
29: 23: And on the fourth day ten bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year without BLEMISH:
29: 29: And on the sixth day eight bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year without BLEMISH:
29:32: And on the seventh day seven bullocks, two rams, and fourteen lambs of the first year without BLEMISH:
29: 36 But ye shall offer a burnt offering, a sacrifice made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord: one bullock, one ram, seven lambs of the first year without BLEMISH:
2 in Deuteronomy
15:21: And if there be any BLEMISH therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill BLEMISH, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the Lord thy God.
17:1: Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the Lord thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is BLEMISH, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the Lord thy God.
1 in 2 Samuel:
14:25: But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no BLEMISH in him.
8 in Ezekiel
43:22: And on the second day thou shalt offer a kid of the goats without BLEMISH for a sin offering; and they shall cleanse the altar, as they did cleanse it with the bullock.
43: 23: When thou hast made an end of cleansing it, thou shalt offer a young bullock without BLEMISH, and a ram out of the flock without BLEMISH.
43:25: Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin offering: they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without BLEMISH.
45: 18: Thus saith the Lord God; In the first month, in the first day of the month, thou shalt take a young bullock without BLEMISH, and cleanse the sanctuary:
45: 23: And seven days of the feast he shall prepare a burnt offering to the Lord, seven bullocks and seven rams without BLEMISH daily the seven days; and a kid of the goats daily for a sin offering.
46:4: And the burnt offering that the prince shall offer unto the Lord in the sabbath day shall be six lambs without BLEMISH, and a ram without BLEMISH.
46:6: And in the day of the new moon it shall be a young bullock without BLEMISH, and six lambs, and a ram: they shall be without BLEMISH.
46: 13: Thou shalt daily prepare a burnt offering unto the Lord of a lamb of the first year without BLEMISH: thou shalt prepare it every morning.
1 in Daniel:
1:4: Children in whom was no BLEMISH, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.
1 in Ephesians:
5:27: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without BLEMISH.
2 in Peter:
1 Peter 1:19: But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without BLEMISH and without spot:
2 Peter 2:13: And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and BLEMISHES, SPORTING themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you…
2 Peter 2 in full:
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, SPORTING themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the POLLUTIONS of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.