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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lydia, oh Lydia: The crisis in Pride and Prejudice

After the turning point in Pride and Prejudice - Elizabeth realizes she's in love w/ Darcy, after she also realizes how incredibly rich he is, and she finds it in her heart to overlook his many personality flaws - comes the crisis, as the Bennet family learns that youngest daughter, Lydia, has "eloped" with the Wickham - bad enough that she ran away with this officer, but it appears that he has no intention of marrying her, they haven't heard a word from the absconded couple, and they continue to learn more about Wickham's despicable behavior and irresponsibility. Mr. Bennet heads off to London to try to find his daughter, followed by his brother-in-law Gardiner, and the entire family is in crisis. As is typical, only Eliz and, to a small degree, Mr. Bennet (who regrets letting Lydia go off poorly chaperoned to Bristol and admits to Elizabeth that she had been right in her arguments against the journey), make any sense of the situation (Jane is too unwilling, even in these circumstances, to think ill of anyone). The high point, or maybe the low point, in the crisis is the letter the family receives from the priggish cousin, Mr. Collins, who laments, in his sneering manner, that alas now no gentleman could ever possibly marry any of the other Bennet daughters and he offers the very bright thought that perhaps all would be better off if Lydia were dead. The various Bennets all react in their characteristic manner: the letter Lydia sent to sister Kitty is juvenile and naive to the utmost, Kitty still can't forgive the family for not letting her go off in pursuit of the military officers, Mrs. Bennet worries about buying clothes for Lydia's trousseau, and Mary is pompous and self-righteous. Mr. Bennet retains his dark sense of humor, and his quips elude all but Elizabeth - and us. (There's a really sad passage in which Austen describes the sorrow and failure of the Bennet marriage - this novel may be a comic romance in structure, but there are many darker elements in his mood and timbre.) Austen seems to have set the stage for a test of character, and the main one to be tested will be Darcy: will this family scandal dissuade him from marrying Elizabeth, or will he rise to the occasion and maybe help resolve the crisis?

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