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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mr. Darcy’s significant (shadowy) smiles

Yesterday, the following exchange occurred in Austen-L:
Tracy Marks: “In the article that Arnie posted about Colin Firth's recollections about playing Darcy, [Firth] refers to reading the book and perceiving that Darcy was scowling all the time. That's not true. Although Firth is my favorite Darcy, he is not true to the Darcy of the book in one very important way. Just skim through the first half of P&P and note how many times Darcy SMILES! He smiles a lot in the book. (Actually I think I will do that eventually, and count the smiles!) Colin Firth as Darcy only smiled near the end of the film.......”
Me:  “Thank you for your reply, Tracy! What you point out about Darcy smiling several times in the first half of the novel is absolutely correct and significant! It is particularly so, because it is Darcy, who as we all know initially tells Bingley that Jane Bennet "smiles too much". And I suspect you are not aware that John Wiltshire, the well-known Aussie Austen scholar emeritus, actually wrote an entire article A few years back entitled "Darcy smiles", which I'm sure you can find via the Internet. However, where I suspect I depart from both you and Wiltshire is that I realized several years ago that Darcy's smiles are all profoundly ambiguous. I.e., I believe that Elizabeth has no idea why Darcy smiles when he does, in particular when he smiles during his botched first proposal at Hunsford. In a nutshell, I believe that Darcy smiles not in a friendly way or because he's happy, but because he knows some very important facts as to which Elizabeth is blissfully unaware, regarding certain offstage transactions between the key characters in the novel.”
Today Anel Vlok chimed in: “I agree with Arnie that it is seldom clear why Darcy is smiling. Vexing.. Although, obviously being a romantic myself.. my favourite smile [implied, rather than described as a smile], is the following at the second proposal: ‘Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him.’ [and now dear Arnie will commence illustrating how this was actually an evil grimace.. ;) ]”

Anel, not a grimace, but a figment of Elizabeth’s overactive imagination! I.e., the narration of the full paragraph fits very well not only with your romantic interpretation, but also with Elizabeth being too anxious, embarrassed, flattered, and (most notably) submissive to look at him; instead she retreats to the privacy of her own mind, speculating wildly, and projecting feelings onto Darcy without any insight into his true character, and without the slightest awareness that she is deluding herself in this way:
“Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had PROBABLY never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be SUPPOSED to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she MIGHT HAVE SEEN how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, THOUGH SHE COULD NOT LOOK, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.”

After writing the above, I wondered whether anyone besides Wiltshire had written about Darcy’s smiles before the above exchange in Austen-L, and Google led me…..back to Austen-L (& my own blog) circa October 2010! I.e., Tracy and I both completely forgot that six years ago, we went down exactly this same road—she asked the same question, and I was the one who answered her!  This provides an interesting window into how my thinking has evolved about Darcy’s smiles since then, as you can read below. While I was already well aware in 2010 that Austen’s narration is profoundly ambiguous and can be plausibly read two very different ways---as either objective or subjective---I was in 2010 still in the early stages of digging deeper into the ambiguity of Darcy’s mysterious character:
[Tracy in 2010 in Austen L]: "Anyone in eastern Mass. going to John Wiltshire's talk today? Since I have been a bit obsessively pointing out how often Darcy smiles in the book but not in the P&P films, I'm curious what Wiltshire has to say and why he chose Mr. Darcy's Smile as his topic."
[Me] “…a factor which I claim DOUBLES the interpretive task of the reader--is that so much of the narration in JA's novels can be read as either (i) objective, or (ii) colored, to varying degrees, by the SUBJECTIVE-and therefore, potentially mistaken--perceptions and judgments of the heroine. For example, focusing on Darcy's smiles in particular, look at these examples from the text of P&P where the narration makes it EXPLICIT that Lizzy is INTERPRETING Darcy's smile, and therefore is not necessarily correct in her interpretation…” END QUOTE FROM MY 2010 POST

I then quoted and briefly analyzed several textual examples, including noting the irony of Darcy being the one who repeats that Jane Bennet smiles too much. But in the past 6 years, I’ve taken my decoding  of the shadow story of P&P to a level of substantial completion, and so I’ll now take another brief tour through the shadow Darcy’s most significant smiles, and reveal what’s really going on in the shadows that Elizabeth, again, has no clue about. The first 4 examples take place at Netherfield Park:

DARCY SMILE #1:  “[Mrs. Bennet] ‘When [Jane] was only fifteen, there was a man at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."  "And so ended his affection," said Elizabeth impatiently. "There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!" "I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy. "Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away." DARCY ONLY SMILED; and the general pause which ensued made Elizabeth tremble lest her mother should be exposing herself again….”           
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #1: In the shadow story, Darcy was that very same erstwhile poet, which is why Darcy interjects by paraphrasing the love-sick Duke Orsino – he’s defending himself! So of course he smiles after Elizabeth responds so cluelessly.

DARCY SMILE #2:  "By all means," cried Bingley; "let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do."
MR. DARCY SMILED; but Elizabeth thought she could perceive that he was rather offended, and therefore checked her laugh. Miss Bingley warmly resented the indignity he had received, in an expostulation with her brother for talking such nonsense.          
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #2: In the shadow story, Darcy and Bingley are actually a romantic couple, as has been intriguingly portrayed by Ann Herendeen in Pride/Prejudice…..
… and so Darcy smiles as Bingley teases him by that broad hint.

DARCY SMILE #3: "Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume," said Miss Bingley; "and pray what is the result?" "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."
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #3: The surface meaning of Darcy’s smile is that he is enjoying the sharp repartee with Elizabeth—the shadow meaning is that he gets a sadistic charge out of Eliza having no knowledge of his offstage romantic relationships with Bingley, and also with….Eliza’s sister Jane!

DARCY SMILE #4: "I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine." "What think you of books?" SAID HE, SMILING.  "Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."  "No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."  "The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.     
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #4: As I noted in a post 18 months ago: “Darcy, very quick on his feet, verbally as well as in dance steps, has decided that one good turn deserves another, and so he turns the teasing tables on Elizabeth, and surprises her with a sudden thrust at her weak point--her discomfort with not being as well read as the truly accomplished woman of Darcy's dreams,” which was the topic of conversation several chapters earlier in the Netherfield salon.

SMILES #5 & #6:  Much later, at Rosings Park, Darcy smiles twice in the same exchange:
“…Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear."
"I am not afraid of you," SAID [DARCY], SMILINGLY.  "Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of," cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers."
"You shall hear then—but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact."
"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders." "Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers."
"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?" "I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble."
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."  "My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."  DARCY SMILED and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."’       
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILES #5&6: As I posted here….  …on the bicentennial of the publication of P&P:  “During all that sparring, Lizzy has repeatedly, albeit inadvertently and Freudianly, given Darcy a series of sexual come-ons, seeming to be engaged in hot-cold sexual teasing in which she leads him on one moment, then pushes him away the next.The poor guy doesn’t know what to think, but it’s for sure that she has thereby unwittingly fanned the flames of his ardor.”  And that’s why Darcy smiles twice in that scene, these are sexually charged smiles, as to which (yet again) Eliza is completely clueless with her talk of moving her fingers over “this instrument in the masterly manner many women’s do”! If you were Darcy, you’d smile too, and also believe you’d been given unmistakable encouragement to propose marriage soon afterwards!

DARCY SMILE #7: "It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends."  "An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles."
"And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day's journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance."  "I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match," cried Elizabeth. "I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family."
"It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far." As he spoke there was A SORT OF SMILE which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield…”            MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #7: In the shadow story, Darcy is thinking of Jane, but not vis a vis Bingley. Rather, Darcy is thinking about what it would be like to marry Eliza, the sister of his former mistress, Jane! 

DARCY SMILE #8: "I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other—of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind."  She paused, and saw with no slight indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him wholly unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with A SMILE OF AFFECTED INCREDULITY.  "Can you deny that you have done it?" she repeated.
With assumed tranquillity he then replied: "I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself."          
MEANING OF DARCY’S SMILE #8: In the shadow story, Darcy fears that Elizabeth knows about Darcy having made Jane pregnant-so ironically, he’s relieved when he learns that she’s only accusing him of the “misdemeanor” of playing matchbreaker with Jane and Bingley.

So, thanks, Tracy, for prompting me to revisit Darcy’s significant, shadowy smiles --- it always pays to keep turning and turning Austen’s novels. There’s always more to see, especially when we each bring our own perspective: serendipitous synergy in thinking is always just around the next turn.

Cheers, ARNIE

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