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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Darcy the disturbing Scharyar to Eliza’s Scheherazade in Pride & Prejudice

Today in Janeites & Austen-L, my friend Diana Birchall wrote:

“Jane Austen often wrote of books and libraries; so it's a mystery to me why people writing sequels and variations never do.  So I thought I'd try to remedy that in a small way, and have written a piece called "Mr. Darcy's Library."  Here you are...

I responded as follows:

As usual, Diana, a finely wrought and charming miniature without a false note, and with subtle wit and warmth.

The following exchange between Darcy and Elizabeth particularly caught my eye:

“…Do you know what I should like, Elizabeth?  If you would read to me from the Arabian Nights. I suspect it would be something, to hear those stories told in the voice of my own lovely Scheherazade.”
“Oh, if you wish, I will. My father never would let me read it; now I shall find out why….”

As I can’t tell if you recall, more than 3 years ago…
… I wrote the following in Janeites and Austen L about the thinly veiled allusion to the Arabian Nights that I see in several of JA’s novels, including P&P----I think you will enjoy it, as it casts a very interesting light on the above quoted passage in your story:

“[In] Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (2003), [t]he covert women’s reading group that Nafisi ran in Tehran had a reading list that began with A Thousand And One Nights and moved on quickly to Pride & Prejudice! Nafisi discusses both of them in terms of their feminism. However, Nafisi was apparently totally unaware of the allusions to Scheherazade in Persuasion and, more important, was not consciously unaware of the covert allusion to Scheherazade in…..Pride & Prejudice itself…!
And without further ado, here is the core of that allusion to Scheherazade in P&P. In Chapter 43, Lizzy and the Gardiners debrief their meeting Darcy at Pemberley, and the primary topic is Darcy’s shocking civility:
"But perhaps [Darcy] may be a little whimsical in his civilities," replied her uncle. "YOUR GREAT MEN OFTEN ARE; and therefore I shall not take him at his word, AS HE MIGHT CHANGE HIS MIND ANOTHER DAY, and warn me off his grounds." Elizabeth felt that they had entirely misunderstood his character, but said nothing.”
 And then in Chapter 44, Lizzy, who has clearly been upset by her uncle’s cynical suggestion that Darcy’s civility might be short-lived, nervously observes Darcy for signs that her uncle might be right:
“It was not often that she could turn her eyes on Mr. Darcy himself; but, whenever she did catch a glimpse, she saw an expression of general complaisance, and in all that he said she heard an accent so removed from hauteur or disdain of his companions, as convinced her that the improvement of manners which she had yesterday witnessed HOWEVER TEMPORARY ITS EXISTENCE MIGHT PROVE, HAD AT LEAST OUTLIVED ONE DAY.”
The smoking gun is the phrase “OUTLIVED one day”! It would appear from this veiled allusion that JA intended her knowing readers to identify Lizzy with Scheherazade. However, as in Persuasion, my belief is that while Darcy takes pains at the end of the novel to make Lizzy believe she has played the role of Scheherazade to his Scharyar, I believe the allusion is much more complex and subversive than that. To explain that is far beyond the scope of a blog post, but I will properly expand on that point in my book. Suffice for now to say that I see other Scheherazades in P&P besides Elizabeth.”

So, for Darcy to refer to Elizabeth as his Scheherazade is very much in keeping with the above quoted passages in P&P – except you see Elizabeth as being much more secure in the durability and intensity of Darcy’s love for her than I do.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have never read the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights but have heard the tale of just what it entails. Thus I am unable to make the connection to who these characters are and how he would have called Lizzy such. But interesting that you saw that connection.