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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mr. Darcy & Jane Austen allude to Hebrews 13:2 "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares"

In followup to my last post about the parade of performances to strangers in Pride & Prejudice....
 ....,I came across the following  Biblical passage by chance a few moments ago, and I believe the reason I am posting it here should be obvious to any Janeite who's paying any attention:

Hebrews 13:2  Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Sounds suspiciously like Darcy has been reading his Bible when he famously, wittily, and enigmatically says to Elizabeth Bennet, "We neither of us perform to strangers." turns out that there is a passage back in Chapter 8 of Pride & Prejudice, which seems to me to also be echoing Hebrews 13:2, as Darcy is unnerved by the effect Elizabeth Bennet is having on him, almost against his will:

"Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, HE WAS CAUGHT [i.e., entertained]  by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly UNAWARE; to her he was only THE MAN [i.e., the stranger] who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with. [like an angel in disguise?]”

  But what does Darcy mean by his sly Biblical allusion at Rosings in Chapter 31? I am not sure, but I see right off the bat what Jane Austen might have meant to convey to us by it.

In the overt story, in the first half of the novel, both Darcy and Elizabeth are unaware that the other is an "angel" in the sense of being a person worthy not just of entertainment, but of love. In the second half of the novel, they both become aware of the "angel" in the other, and that's why they marry.


In the shadow story, Elizabeth is unaware that Darcy is an "angel" not in the good sense, but in the sense of an "angel of light", i.e., Lucifer, i.e., a very dangerous bad angel to get involved with, because he will be clever enough to lead her down the Pemberley path, and tempt her to ruination. And so it’s no coincidence that the narrator refers to Wickham as having initially been perceived as “an angel of light”, which only the Biblically knowledgeable reader recognizes as a bad thing, not a good thing!

And I am amending this post on 4/13/15 to add that I have spotted a passage in Chapter 8 of Emma which also seems to be pointing to this same verse in Hebrews 13:2. Harriet has gone back to Mrs. Goddard's for an hour, and then it is planned for her to return to Hartfield for an extended visit:

"While [Harriet] was gone, Mr. Knightley called, and sat some time with Mr. Woodhouse and Emma, till Mr. Woodhouse, who had previously made up his mind to walk out, was persuaded by his daughter not to defer it, and was induced by the entreaties of both, though against the scruples of his own civility, to leave Mr. Knightley for that purpose. Mr. Knightley, who had nothing of ceremony about him, was offering by his short, decided answers, an amusing contrast to the protracted apologies and civil hesitations of the other.
    "Well, I believe, if you will excuse me, Mr. Knightley, if you will not consider me as doing a very rude thing, I shall take Emma's advice and go out for a quarter of an hour. As the sun is out, I believe I had better take my three turns while I can. I treat you without ceremony, Mr. Knightley. We invalids think we are privileged people."
    "My dear sir, do not make a STRANGER of me."
    "I leave an excellent substitute in my daughter. Emma will be happy to ENTERTAIN you. And therefore I think I will beg your excuse and take my three turns -- my winter walk."
    "You cannot do better, sir." 

Why would Knightley and Mr. Woodhouse be echoing Hebrews 13:2, with Emma as the one entertaining Knightley the "stranger'? Food for thought!

And so I welcome entertainment by you all of my strange interpretation! 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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