Monday, January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Readathon: Chapters Twenty, Twenty-one, Twenty-two, and Twenty-three

Two themes run through the last four chapters of volume one. Chapters twenty and twenty-two focus on Mr. Collins' rapid courtship with Charlotte Lucas, while chapters twenty-one and twenty-three are primarily concerned with the abandonment of Mr. Bingley. I've already dwelt a great deal on Mr. Collins, who I truly enjoy, and as time is short, I will write only briefly on his successful proposal, for it precipitates some of the most famous quotes from the novel: "I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state." Pragmatic Charlotte! As such stolid notions of romance culminate in success, Jane and Elizabeth's far more fanciful ideas seem to be stagnating. I was struck anew the cruelty of Miss Bingley in her letter to Jane:
Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister, and to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in Louisa and myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope we dare to entertain of her being hereafter our sister. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject, but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already, he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing, her relations all wish the connection as much as his own, and a sister's partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman's heart.
So needlessly mean. The conclusion to this volume is one of the more depressing parts of the book. What saves it are the antics of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Of course, Mr. Bennet's manner of refusingl to make Elizabeth marry Mr. Collins is a moment of great triumph for the reader, but I actually prefer this speech from the disaffected Mrs. Bennet:
"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way. -- But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all -- and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. -- I shall not be able to keep you -- and so I warn you. -- I have done with you from this very day. -- I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children, -- Not that I have much pleasure indeed in talking to any body. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! -- But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied."
I also love the very end of the volume, as it parallels the way the book begins, creating a very nice symmetry out of the Bennets' dysfunction:
"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take my place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."
This was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet, and, therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before,

"I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate, If it was not for the entail I should not mind it."

"What should not you mind?"

"I should not mind any thing at all."

"Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility."

"I never can be thankful, Mr. Bennet, for any thing about the entail. How any one could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one's own daughters I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Mr. Collins too! -- Why should he have it more than anybody else?"

"I leave it to yourself to determine," said Mr. Bennet.
Must press on!

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