Thursday, 8 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice Question 8

Oh, I absolutely loved your responses. Tracygrrl, if you're being dorky, long live dorkiness! Every one of you brings in a slightly different angle, which reminds me again of the complexity of Jane Austen's characters, because even Caroline, who is really generally seen as quite one-sided, does things that can be interpreted differently by different people. Of course, I wrote about Caroline, so I can't possibly think that she's bad all the way through, but I would be blind not to see that Caroline's sneering way of approaching the whole issue was obnoxious. If she meant it in any positive way, she certainly didn't handle it very well! It's almost as if, by telling Elizabeth about Wickham, she accomplished a number of things: she could be "helpful," while at the same time showing Elizabeth how mistaken she is to favor Wickham, pointing out that Wickham's background wasn't good enough for Elizabeth (which is fascinating, because no one objects to the idea of Elizabeth being interested in the son of a steward), imparting "insider" information, and potentially scoring a brownie point with Darcy, as Meredith points out.

My reading of her character is based on a few scenes like this one, where Austen's brilliance shines through. I could spend hours thinking about how cleverly this scene was put together (talk about a dorky!). Caroline approaches Elizabeth with information that is really crucial, but because Caroline presents it in this condescending manner, and because Caroline uses the information to put Elizabeth down (or at least seems to be doing that, because really we're not seeing things objectively), and because Elizabeth feels insecure around Caroline and Darcy, Elizabeth is going to discard the information completely. And Caroline, of course, mentions Wickham's social standing, which is the last straw for Elizabeth, whose own social standing is unclear.

I know I asked the question about Caroline, but there's another aspect to the question, too. Elizabeth's perky self-confidence is one of the things we admire about her. But few people talk about her embarrassment about her family and her sense of her own superiority to them. So I wonder sometimes how much Elizabeth's reaction to her new neighbors is biased by the fact that she is suddenly having to look at herself differently (she is no longer content to be one of the prettiest girls in the neighborhood, knowing how limited that is), and finding herself at a disadvantage. In the scene with Miss Bingley, for example, her heartfelt response to Caroline's snobbish remark about Wickham's descent is particularly strong, and her reaction is to give it the worst possible explanation. "Insolent girl!" [an interesting way of referring to Caroline] said Elizabeth to herself. "You are much mistaken if you expect to influence me by such a paltry attack as this. I see nothing in it but your own wilful ignorance and the malice of Mr Darcy."

Which leads me to my next question:

Pride and Prejudice Question 8

Although supposedly told from the third person point of view, most of Pride and Prejudice is presented through Elizabeth. Yet Elizabeth is prejudiced, she is proven to be wrong about a lot of her perceptions (especially of people), and she is also quite embarrassed about her family. We of course sympathize with her and like her, so we accept it. What are some of the examples of Elizabeth's failure to understand other people?

14 comments:

  1. I think Elizabeth's biggest failure to understand others, besides Mr. Darcy, obviously, is with Charlotte.

    She simply cannot comprehend why Charlotte would consent to accept Mr. Collins' proposal. She feels that Mr. Collins is perhaps one of the biggest fools in the country and she has absolutely no desire to marry him. While Charlotte may agree that Mr. Collins may hardly be considered a catch, she is aware of her circumstances and feels it is a good match for both her and Mr. Collins.

    Lizzy, meanwhile, is "romantic" and cannot abide by the thought of marrying for any reason other than love . . . despite the fact that (and perhaps because of) her own parents appear to not have had so much a love match as one based on physical attraction and needs.

    As Charlotte is quite content with her eventual marriage to Mr. Collins, where she spends a great deal of time in her sitting room or parlor while Mr. Collins is walking to Rosings or minding his garden, such an arrangement would be intolerable to Lizzy.

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  2. The best example is of course her failure to understand Charlotte's reasons for marrying Mr. Collins. I think this shows how young and idealistic Lizzie still is. She will marry for love or remain a spinster. At nineteen she can say this, because she still believes her life will unfold as she desires. Charlotte at twenty-seven sees the sad reality of being a spinster and a burden to her family. She has to marry and Mr. Collins is her best and only choice.

    I like to think of Emma and Miss Bates to make my point. Emma says she won't marry because she is rich, and Knightley points out that Miss Bates will only sink lower into poverty with age. If Lizzie had any idea that she might become a "Miss Bates", she might have accepted Collins, or at least Mr. Darcy on the first offer. If Mr. Darcy hadn't rescued Lydia and the family name, this would most likely have been her fate.

    So, I guess Lizzie not only misunderstood Charlotte, she was misundertood her own situation in life. I think her pride at being a "gentleman's daughter" clouded her view of reality. Luckily for her, Austen gave her a happy ending!

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  3. I was thinking the same thing, that Charlotte is a great example. ;)

    I think she also misunderstands her own mother in ways. When you get down to it she really does misunderstand almost everyone in the book, or at least we can choose to interpret them differently so that she does. The really obvious ones that are pointed out to us in the story we are all very familiar with, but then when you start looking at different things you wonder if they're as straight forward as they are from the point of view we're given, especially as later we see how wrong she is about some.

    Charlotte seems to do a better job understanding people, do we think she's just trying to make the best of her situation, or is there something more to Lady Catherine?

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  4. I agree, kt. I do think Lizzy also misunderstands her mother, very much so. It's just not in Lizzy's mindset to be satisfied with marrying someone who is good looking, with no emotional or mental connection. I suppose that can explain why Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are so much alike!

    Besides being somewhat more mature (and she is 8 years older), Charlotte not only has a better understanding of people but she is less judgmental than Lizzy. Charlotte and Jane are very similar in this regard, at least in my opinion - - I believe that had Mr. Collins proposed to Jane first, Jane would have accepted out of duty to her family and realizing that it would have been a good match, if not a love match.

    Regarding Lady Catherine, I think Charlotte probably realizes how demanding, manipulative and relatively unlikeable she is. But I think she realizes what side her bread is buttered on (and that of her husband) and so she says nothing. I do think Charlotte realizes that her husband is somewhat of a joke to others and I think she probably sees much of the same in Lady Catherine. But as she was likely the subject of a bit of gossip herself (unmarried and twenty-seven when the book started) she strikes me as someone who would have not participated in gossip and kept out of that.

    What a fun discussion!

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  5. Lori, I beg to politely differ about Charlotte and gossip. She most definitely had to have a hand in starting the rumor that Lizzie and Darcy were engaged. The news of Jane's engagement came to her from the Lucas household and with Charlotte's eyewitness account of Darcy's earlier behavior towards Lizzie (his visits to her home to see Lizzie), she must have been the one to push Collins and Lady Catherine to this conclusion.

    As for Lizzie and her mother, I think a lot of her opinion is also based on her father's behavior. She sees that her father cares very little for her mother. She also must feel that he could have helped to form her character when they were first married, but didn't make the effort. She certainly did not get a very good model of marital bliss at home!

    (Now I'm rambling!) I had always thought that Lizzie had too much prejudice and Darcy too much pride, but I see after reading these posts that they were equally guilty of both. Lizzie was equally prejudiced and had just as much pride as Darcy! I hadn't thought about it that way before.

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  6. Lizzie cannot understand why Charlotte accepts to marry Mr Collins. Lizzy sees Collins as a total fool and she would never marry him and she thought that Charlotte also has a some type of "standard" concerning men. Charlotte is older that Lizzy and she understand that by marrying Collins she will be economicly stable and I think that she also wants to get out of home and start her own household.

    I think Lizzy also misunderstands the situation when Bingley leaves from Netherfield. She just claims Darcy for the agony of Jane but she does not see that Darcy was just trying to protect his dearest friend. Darcy thought that Jane is not that much in love with Bingley and I think that he basicly thought that is is Mrs Bennet who is making the matchmaking and who is trying to gane more fortune by getting her daughter marry a rich man.

    milkavainamo@lyseo.edu.ouka.fi

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  7. Good point, jnaj. I didn't think of it that way but what you said makes perfect sense. Lady Catherine heard that Lizzy and Darcy were engaged before they truly were so obviously the news would have come from Mr. Collins and/or Charlotte. Both knew that Darcy had called on Lizzy while she was visiting with them.

    I definitely agree that Lizzy did not have the best example of a happy, well-matched marriage at home. And while she was obviously closer with her father than her mother, he was equally to blame - - for choosing a woman based on looks alone and not someone who he could befriend and enjoy spending time with over the long haul.

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  8. Elizabeth is almost fatally wrong about Wickham and unfortunately, her prejudice against Darcy blinds her to his faults and leads Lydia down a path to her downfall.

    She's also wrong about Charlotte and her motivations for marrying Mr. Collins. While Elizabeth has the desire to wait for her "love," Charlotte has to think about her station and her prospects because without a husband and very little family connection, she will be lost in society and looked down upon.

    There are a number of examples, but there are also examples of how she was prejudiced correctly, like with her sister lydia and how she begs her father not to allow her to go off with the Foresters because she will get in trouble.

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  9. Lizzy and Wickham...why immediately believe every word that he uttered? She was so quick to believe him because she was prejudiced against Darcy. She never stopped to think that he might have another agenda. He flattered her (they way Darcy did not) and she melted. It never occurred to her that there might be another side to the story. Even after her sister mentioned that there might be something more, she didn't want to believe it. Only after the "letter" does she start to doubt her first impression of Wickham.

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  10. Terrific interpretation of Caroline, Monica. That's so interesting. A couple of smaller points on ways in which I thought Elizabeth missed the mark: 1) I always wondered why she didn't try to punt Mary in Mr. Collins' way? They're both extremely pedantic and self-satisfied--I can just see the two of them sitting in a drawing room tag-team sermonizing some poor soul who has fallen short of their lofty code of conduct and intellect. Of course, they're so alike in key ways, they could have ended up loathing each other, but that's the gamble any couple takes, isn't it?

    To pick up on something Milka said, Charlotte pointed out to Elizabeth that Jane seemed aloof with Bingley and should let it all hang out to "secure him," but Elizabeth dismissed that. And what Charlotte predicted is exactly what drove Bingley and Jane apart.

    I once read a paper about how Lady Catherine may have seen so much of herself in Elizabeth that she may have purposefully brought Elizabeth and Darcy together by coming to the Bennet home and forbidding her to marry Darcy--knowing it would make her react in the opposite manner. I was never completely convinced of that point, but it was an interesting thought--and would be another example of Elizabeth completely missing someone's true character.

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  12. Lizzy is hasty in judging Wickham's character. She also writes off Anne De Bourgh without really knowing her.

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  13. There is no way in the world that I could improve upon Lori's answer!

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  14. Actuallly when I think about it, Lizzy does misunderstand a lot about people. Her most obvious miss in in Mr. Wickham, but doesn't understand her best friend Charlotte.

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