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?