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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Not much ado about Lizzy’s sly notice of Darcy at Lucas Lodge

In Austen L this morning, Don Taylor wrote the following in apparent response to my very recent take on Pollock's law...
…in which I concluded that Fanny Price eavesdrops on Sir Thomas castigating Tom in their tete-a-tete early in Mansfield Park.

Don: "...I did once contribute an item on the topic of what is sometimes called Pollock's Law, namely that. Jane Austen never wrote a scene where men conversed with no women present. This topic comes back from time to time, and scenes where such  a conversation almost happens have been discussed. For instance Mansfield Park has a long conversation between Tom and Edmund about Tom's theatre project, but at the end we are told that Fanny heard it all. There is also an interview between Tom and his father about the former's debts, but it reads as a monologue, not a dialogue."

Don also wrote: "But my ancient post on Austen-L seems to have been forgotten or never registered. I pointed out that Austen did write such a scene. It is in Pride and Prejudice, chapter 6, and is a conversation between Darcy and Sir William Lucas at an impromptu dance at Lucas Lodge:
 "What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished society."
"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance."
Sir William only smiled. "Your friend performs delightfully," he continued after a pause, on seeing Bingley join the group; "and I doubt not that you are an adept in the science yourself, Mr. Darcy."
"You saw me dance at Meryton, I believe, sir."
"Yes, indeed, and received no inconsiderable pleasure from the sight. Do you often dance at St. James's?"
"Never, sir."
"Do you not think it would be a proper compliment to the place?"
"It is a compliment which I never pay to any place if I can avoid it."
"You have a house in town, I conclude?"
Mr. Darcy bowed.
"I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself—for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas."
Maybe not a profound discussion, but it is a real conversation, and there is absolutely no reason to think anyone else was listening. So I point out again that Austen did write a conversation between men."

Don, I had no idea about your ancient post, thanks for reminding us all. You have certainly made a plausible argument for interpreting that scene as only involving men, but I strongly disagree with your claim that it is the only plausible reading. I.e., there is a great deal of reason to believe someone else was listening, and that "someone" is Lizzy!

Just as I argued in my post last week that there are hints suggesting that Fanny eavesdrops on Sir Thomas castigating Tom, there are hints in Chapter 6 that Eliza eavesdrops on Sir William sucking up to Darcy. First, we have the introduction of this scene:

"[Darcy] began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir William Lucas's, where a large party were assembled.
"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said she to Charlotte, "by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"
"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."
"But if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. He has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him."

This is an explicit alert that Lizzy is paying close attention to Darcy at this gathering at Lucas Lodge, in particular monitoring when he might be eavesdropping on HER! So the idea of her eavesdropping on HIM is only a small step further. Plus, as I have frequently argued, Much Ado About Nothing is a hugely significant allusive source for P&P, and eavesdropping (or “noting”), both explicit and implicit, occurs everywhere in the play—so it is JA’s punny hint in that direction when we read that Darcy’s eavesdropping drew Eliza’s NOTICE.

Then we read about Lizzie “gravely glancing at Mr. Darcy” and then clearly speaking loudly enough for Darcy to hear, "There is a fine old saying, which everybody here is of course familiar with: 'Keep your breath to cool your porridge'; and I shall keep mine to swell my song."  So, JA keeps us aware of the mutual laser focus between Lizzie and Darcy.

And then, after Mary succeeds Lizzy at the piano, we read the final lead-up to the male-to-male conversation Don has quoted:

“Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode of passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation, and was too much engrossed by his thoughts to perceive that Sir William Lucas was his neighbour, till Sir William thus began….”

So Darcy is “engrossed by his thoughts”, and we may fairly infer that these thoughts continue to focus on Lizzy---and, conversely, there’s no reason to believe Lizzy is not still focused on Darcy.

And finally, the end of the exchange between Sir William and Darcy is as follows:

“[Sir William] paused in hopes of an answer; but his companion [Darcy] was not disposed to make any; and Elizabeth at that instant moving towards them, he was struck with the action of doing a very gallant thing, and called out to her…”

So this brings Lizzy into the edge of the conversation, and look at what Lizzy says when Sir William takes her approach as intentionally putting her into Darcy’s line of vision:

"Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing. I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner."

So, just as with Fanny Price eavesdropping on Sir Thomas and Tom, there turn out to be several very pointed clues that alert us that Eliza has eavesdropped on Darcy during that conversation that Don flagged.

And therefore, as I concluded last week, Pollock’s Law continues to live!  ;)

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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