Monday, January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Readathon: Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen

Chapter eighteen is the Netherfield Ball, and chapter nineteen is Mr. Collins' proposal to Elizabeth. There is far to much going on for me to even begin to do justice to it all, but I iwll do my best to summarize some highlights.

The Bennets could not look worse than they do at the ball. It's like watching an embarrassing movie, where everything most humiliating happens. One cannot really blame Miss Bingley for wanting her brother removed from an attachment to this family, for they are horrendous. As bad as Mary's sonata is, Mr. Collins speech is the most spectacular:
"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. -- I do not mean however to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. -- In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have attentive and conciliatory manners towards every body, especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion of testifying his respect towards any body connected with the family." And with a bow to Mr. Darcy, he concluded his speech, which had been spoken so loud as to be heard by half the room. -- Many stared. -- Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas, that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.
Absolutely painful. Who details the duties of their job, especially when they are obvious, to an entire party of people? Rick Moranis' character in Ghostbusters, and Mr. Collins. It is actually a great introduction to the even more ridiculous speech he makes in the next chapter. 

Backtracking a bit, I am always reminded when I read of Elizabeth having to endure Mr. Collins as a dance partner of Mr. Tilney's comments in Northanger Abbey regarding the relationship between a dance partner and a mate: "I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours." Austen had, in all probability, already written this line when Pride and Prejudice was composed, and the idea resonates between these two chapters. It's notable that Mr. Darcy causes no mortification as a partner, though Elizabeth is too concerned with finding him disagreeable to notice.

On to more ridiculous speeches. I love how Mr. Collins organises his proposal:
  1. It's a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances
  2. It will add greatly to his happiness
  3. (and perhaps most importantly) "... it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness."
Only after elaborating on the last in some detail does he say, "And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection." Ha! I can see Elizabeth's eyes roll. He then adds the coup de grace by assuring Elizabeth how very small her portion is, and how he will never reprove her for it. When rejected, he presses his point by further reminders of how bleak Elizabeth's prospects are. The sad things is that it is in this paragraph that we here him speak the most sensibly he does throughout the entire book:
"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: -- It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

Elizabeth response, while in no way as suited to societal norms as Mr. Collins arguements, has stood the test of time as a feminist rallying cry: "Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart." Such sentiments were truly revolutionary in their time.

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