Tuesday, July 12, 2016
The flaw in Pride and Prejudice: The visit to Darcy's estate
The turning point in Pride and Prejudice is the letter that Elizabeth received from Darcy explaining his relationship w/ Wickham and his initial reluctance to dance with E. The Wickham part, we get: there are two sides to every story, and Austen dropped plenty of hints that W was a disreputable and untrustworthy character, even if E., seemingly so smart and perceptive, couldn't see it. The part about Darcy's initial antipathy toward E is a little harder to take, maybe a lot harder. How could he be expected to fall for her, seeing how stupidly her youngest sisters behave, what a simpleton her mother is, what a failure her father. E feels ashamed when she reads this. Should she? A more likely reaction, I think, would be screw him, who is he to judge my family, much less to judge me in their light? E puts Darcy out of her mind but not out of her heart - it's obvious she's been attracted to him right from the beginning. Then begins the strangest section of P&P, and to my mind the most flawed and troublesome: E's visit, along w/ various cousins, to Darby's country estate. It seems very odd to a contemporary reader that these travelers would just stop at this beautiful estate and ask for a tour of the house - like visiting the Newport mansions today. Anyway, that may be what people - at least of a certain caste - did back then - so E gets a "tour" of D's country house, and she's completely on edge for fear that he'll show up unexpectedly. And he does! But before that, the servants rave about what a wonderful and generous man he is, and E is completely overcome by the beauty of the grounds and of the house. So when D turns up - and is very polite to her and to everyone else in her party - she is ready to fall for him: her prejudice, and his pride, had led them to misjudge each other. But isn't there another element at work here? Surely it's the extraordinary wealth (and taste, or a certain type) that overwhelms E. Obviously, her own chance for a comfortable life is to "marry up," but isn't she too smart to deceive herself, even when smitten? She wouldn't have fallen for him had his country estate proven to be a dingy little ramble. No - but she can easily picture herself as his wife, whether he was, is, a nasty sort or not. Whether she knows it or not, whether we know it or not, she's been won over by his wealth - and is therefore willing to right off his snobbishness, his cruelty to her, his generally unkind behavior - until she's what he wants.