March 2012 meeting: Pride and prejudice, Vol. 3

English: "I have not an instant to lose&q...

"I have not an instant to lose" Elizabeth, dismissing Darcy after learning of Lydia's elopement. (George Allen edition, 1894, page 339. (Presumed public domain, via Wikipedia)

On Saturday 17th March, dedicated JASACT members gave up the temptations of Canberra Week and St Patrick’s Day to discuss the final volume of Pride and prejudice (Chapters 43-61). And what a lively discussion it was.

One member commented that the focus of Volume 3 is the revelation of the truth about Darcy – as Elizabeth and the reader slowly discover his true qualities as an honourable man, as a man who “does not rattle away like other young men” but is, rather, “a liberal man” who “did much good among the poor”.

We noted that the idea of “gratitude” appears frequently in this volume. Here is Elizabeth, early in the volume:

It was gratitude — gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, and all the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. He who, she had been persuaded, would avoid her as his greatest enemy, seemed, on this accidental meeting, most eager to preserve the acquaintance … Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude — for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed … (Ch. 44)

AND, here are the last lines of the novel:

With the Gardiners they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them. (Ch. 61)

Gratitude is seen as a valid feature of affection, between lovers as well as between friends and family.

We talked again about appearance versus reality, and that it is interesting to look at how characters “read” each other. When she first meets Darcy at Pemberley, Elizabeth’s aunt, Mrs Gardiner, is intrigued by what she sees of Darcy versus the reports she’d received previously. She says there is something “stately” about him

but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. I can now say with the housekeeper, that though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it. (Ch. 43)

and that

he has not Wickham’s countenance … but how came you to tell me he was so disagreeable. (Ch. 43)

How indeed? Well, one member suggested that Darcy’s early rejection of Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly is pivotal to the novel’s plot. Darcy responds to Mr Bingley’s suggestion that he dance with Elizabeth:

She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. (Ch. 3)

It is this attack on Elizabeth’s pride that really sets her off against Darcy. Pride, we saw, is not limited to Darcy!

A member suggested that Pride and prejudice is the only Jane Austen novel in which a male character undergoes growth, as Darcy realises his errors of behaviour:

I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing — to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous… (Ch. 58)

Other topics discussed included:

  • the significant amount of money Darcy paid out over the years on Wickham’s behalf.
  • Austen’s use of humour to leaven the tone at heavier times (such as the reaction of “all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton” to Lydia’s marriage).
  • possibly far-fetched commentaries in annotated editions such as the suggestion that Mr Bennet is referring to a potential for adultery in his comment to Elizabeth that “Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery”.

And then there was the intriguing question of the lady’s hack (a riding horse trained for women)A member wondered about Austen’s meaning behind using a horse for Jane’s visit to Netherfield. Jane is told that she cannot go by carriage because the horses are needed on the farm, so she is “obliged to go on horseback”. This suggests that the Bennets keep a lady’s hack. What does this say about their status? And, why is the horse not used elsewhere? Elizabeth, we are told, is not a horsewoman and walks to Netherfield, and the girls regularly walk to Meryton. It was suggested that “walking” is generally associated with good characters in Austen, but we also noted that Fanny and other women ride in Mansfield Park as does Marianne in Sense and sensibility. This horse issue, we decided, would make an interesting topic for further research.

Once again, there was plenty to discuss and we agreed that on every reading, particularly slow reading, we find something new to intrigue us, to wonder about – and some new perspective on our previous readings.

Business

A few business matters were discussed:

  • We will prepare our report for JASA’s Chronicle due April 15, including our last report which was not published in the previous Chronicle due to a JASA computer failure.
  • A plan was developed for our next three meetings, and will be added to the 2012 Schedule in the Sidebar.
  • Members gave brief reports on the play version of Pride and prejudice which played in Canberra in February, and the new course on Jane Austen being offered at the ANU by lecturer Kate Mitchell.

The meeting concluded with quotes and a quiz (from our reserve quizmaster) based on Pride and Prejudice.

The next meeting will be on April 21, to discuss PD JamesDeath comes to Pemberley.

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