Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice (Final Thoughts)

Who or what organizes a society like that in Pride and Prejudice? By that I mean, who or what is control of the order of things? If the primary motivation for man is to find a wife and the primary motivation for woman is to find a husband, who benefits from that priority? Is it the rich men, the rich women, or just the rich? That question continues to nag me after finishing the book a week ago.

Is the book ironic, and, if it is, what does that mean? The book seems to be saying, Elizabeth is a free person–free from the constraints of society–which of course leaves her with complete freedom to marry the richest man she finds, so long as she can convince herself she loves him. That may be a bit harsh, but it’s not too far off base, is it?

Are Darcy’s acts truly heroic? I have this feeling that we still don’t know enough about Darcy to form an opinion. Even Darcy’s truly good deeds–like saving Elizabeth’s sister from a poor start to her life with Wickham–don’t seem too heroic when you consider they were made possible because Darcy is so wealthy. The money he throws at the Wickham problem–twice–is a temporary fix. And, we know that Darcy isn’t going to suffer in the least because he has enough money to be able to spare some for Wickham without it effecting his lifestyle at all. We know from the track record that Wickham will be back and will need money again and will likely go back to his old ways. And we’re to be thankful to Darcy for arranging this?

And, the ending. I’m haunted–like in an existential way–by the idea that our “happy ending” that has Darcy marry Elizabeth is still a rush to judgment. It’s too soon to say they’ll live happily ever after because we don’t know who Darcy is, except to say he’s wealthy and tied to Pemberley, which, by the way, just sounds like a super-swell place to raise some children who will fall right into line with what Pemberley can make of them.

I went back and tried to find out when Pemberley was first introduced in the novel with the idea that maybe I could put together an argument that the true hero of the novel was Pemberley. I was thinking, maybe, I could argue that Pemberley is really the thing that has set up the order of the society Austen writes about in Pride and Prejudice, and I was thinking I could probably, pretty-easily argue that Pemberley is the true victor in the Darcy-Elizabeth union because, if I can say anything about the novel, I can say that the estate is set up to be well-managed, tastefully arranged, and just an all-round pleasant place to visit friends and family. In other words, Pemberley is the suburbs before they got so over-crowded and cookie-cutter.

What did I find? Well, Pemberley is first mentioned on p. 19 of the edition I’ve been reading, or at the second to last paragraph of Volume I, Chapter VI. There’s a joke between Darcy and Miss Bingley about how Darcy and Elizabeth will live happily ever-after at Pemberley with his new charming mother-in-law, Elizbabeth’s mother, who Darcy isn’t too fond of at the start of the novel. So, does that support my idea? I think I could probably argue it does, because the first time we’re introduced to Pemberley there’s talk of a new generation moving in with the old and we can just imagine Darcy reading by the fire in the comfortable confines of the manor while lovely conversation is had in another room, far far away from where Darcy is reading (if Darcy has his way). So, this is a friendly introduction, along side a tasteful jab at Darcy’s “future mother-in-law.” Ha Ha! Mother-in-laws…we all guffaw.

But, our next interaction with Pemberley is much different. After that scene, we see Pemberley shrink back from it’s sigh of relief and we hear that–just like everything else–Pemberley’s future is uncertain because it can always be sold away. p. 26, Volume I, Chapter VIII.

The other thing that worries me, is that Pemberley is as much associated with Wickham as it is Darcy. Remember, Wickham was raised at Pemberley because his dad managed the Pemberley estates. p. 132, Volume II, Chapter XII. So, that’s an unlikely start for a hero, isn’t it? Although, the Bible seems to be full of heroes that have at least one bad son, right? (For one example see the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve give birth to Abel, but also Cain).

The thing that I keep coming back to, a week after putting the book down, is that the turning point of the novel is when Elizabeth visits Pemberley. If Pemberley had one spell left to cast, if it had the ability to kind of pull forth from the earth some last drop of mana, it did it. So, Pemberley ends up like Darcy’s spider web, then? And, Elizabeth can’t overcome the societal cycle set up to Pemberley’s/Darcy’s advantage?

One last question, who gets what they want in the novel by its end? Darcy? He gets Elizabeth, so check. Elizabeth? Well, if what she wants is an estate and a husband then, yes–check. Pemberley? We don’t actually have a clear answer to this because we don’t know if it gets a male heir out of the relationship, but let’s assume that happens, even though the novel doesn’t give us room to assume that will happen. Look at poor old Mr. Bennet who did not get a son and so has to deal with that nasty business of the entail. But, assuming Darcy and Elizabeth have a MALE heir then it gets what it wants. So, maybe the answer is that men and estates have conspired together to get what they both want and need to assure their continued happiness and even Elizabeth is not powerful enough to overcome what Pemberley and Darcy can do together. Remember the first line of the novel? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And, for the rest of the novel, off go that good fortune (Pemberley) and that man (Darcy) in search of a wife (Elizabeth).

So, there’s my case. It’s all laid out before you. Our true hero in the novel is Pemberley. And if you’ve followed my case and maybe even nodded your head up and down a couple of times, there’s just one thing left to say: Austen is a master ironist. Which means, what she says isn’t what she really means and that the real meaning is the implied meaning, not the literal meaning. Which means, your thoughts either way are as good as mine as long as they’re supported by the text, literally or implicatively.

Our discussion of Pride and Prejudice has been broken into multiple parts. You can find the prior discussion here: Volume IVolume IIVolume III to Chapter X, Volume III Chapter X to END.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Vol.3 (Ch.X to END)

Our discussion of Pride and Prejudice has been broken into multiple parts. You can find the prior discussion here: Volume IVolume II, Volume III to Chapter X. Here we discuss Volume 3 from Chapter X to the end of the novel:

1. The question, “who knows what and when” is an important one in the book because knowledge influences opinion.

When you’re in the business of being happy, opinions matter. Consider that statement in light of Mrs. Bennet’s impression of Darcy on p. 217. Does she know everything she should know in order to form an opinion of Darcy?

2. Is what Mrs. Bennet wants for her children directly tied to what she wants for herself? p. 223.

3. Does Elizabeth ever seem concerned with what her elders think of her? p. 232.

4. What is the novel’s main idea?

Could you make an argument it’s expressed at p. 233 when Elizabeth expresses the touchstone by which she chooses to live her life: “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” Does Elizabeth manage to act this way at all times?

5. Does Elizabeth change Darcy, permanently?

At p. 241 Darcy says Elizabeth has “properly humbled” him. In what way? Will the effect of that humbling be permanent? Will it last a life time?

6. Did Pemberley change Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy, and, if so, what about the visit did it? p. 244

I had previously asked whether you thought Elizabeth’s visiting Pemberley would change her opinion of Darcy. On p. 244 she admits as much. A few pages later, on p. 248 there appears to be a contradiction. On p. 248 Elizabeth is not willing to say what changed her opinion of Darcy or when it started to change. How can you explain the contradiction? Is it a matter of who Elizabeth is talking to? Does this present a problem for Elizabeth if she is to live by caring only about her own opinion of herself as opposed to by everyone else’s? How can you reconcile the two positions about when her mind started to change with regard to Darcy?

7. Will Elizabeth and Darcy live “happily ever-after?”

8. Is reading Pride and Prejudice today a form of escapism?

9. Does the fact that Jane Austen would be expected to read her novels at gatherings of family and friends change her approach to writing the novel? Might she be more concealing on certain points? Might she exaggerate certain characters’ traits to avoid having any of her family and friends recognize themselves in the novel?

10. Go back and read the 1st sentence of the novel again. Now, what could we say, after a complete reading of the novel, a woman wants? Does Jane accurately express what a man wants? What is a woman in want of in this novel?

11. What would the world look like if we had all of our needs met? Will we still finds things that worry us enough to fill our days?

Austen seems to be taking on this idea, perhaps because that’s what she knew she could write about with ease. Do you see the novel as a reflection that is still relavent today? Do most of us really live so differently, especially since we’re having this discussion via our private access to computers, cell phones, tablets, etc.? Does the novel have something to say to the modern reader?

Thanks for reading Pride and Prejudice with me. I welcome your thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in the future when you get around to reading this novel. For next time I may have some closing thoughts on Pride and Prejudice, if anything new strikes me by then, but we can start to talk about our next book, too.

In May, I propose we read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I’m going to be working with the edition found in The Mrs. Dalloway Reader so I can get some help with the text. For Sunday May 5th, I propose we read from p. 195-275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader or, for those with a different edition, until the line “At tea Rezia told him that Mrs. Filmer’s daughter was expecting a baby.” If you have to buy the book, consider buying it used. I found a copy for $2.00 plus shipping at Amazon.com.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume III (to Ch. X)

Previously, we discussed Volume I and Volume II of Pride and Prejudice.

When we left Elizabeth she was heading to Pemberley with the expectation that Darcy would not be present at his estate. Here are some points to ponder as you read the first part of Volume III:

1. Does Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy shift after her visit to Pemberley? Why?

Elizabeth visits Pemberley and immediately engages in a bit of daydreaming where she imagines herself as the mistress of Pemberley. p. 159. What is the turning point in Elizabeth’s opinion shift on Darcy? Is it this visit to Pemberley or did it start even before this visit?

2. Does Elizabeth’s opinion shift when she hears the kind words Darcy’s servants offer on his behalf? p. 161.

3. Elizabeth and Darcy’s story is interrupted by Lydia’s engagement to Wickham. Is Lydia to blame for her behavior? Does Elizabeth bear any responsibility for not sharing what she knew about Wickham?

4. Is the loss of female virtue “irretrievable?” p. 187.

Some rather harsh conclusions are drawn about Lydia’s honor after she flees with Wickham. Remember Lydia is just 16 years old. Is it fair to hold any 16 year hold to a permanent fate for making a poor decision? Is Lydia to blame?

5. Wickham is the ultimate proof of the danger of first impressions believed too strongly.

When Wickham first came on to the scene he was charming, handsome, and nearly won Elizabeth’s heart. Impressions of Wickham change by  p. 191 where he is generally viewed as “the wickedest young man in the world.” Can you see the danger in buying too heavily into a first impression of anyone? How could Lydia have safeguarded herself from Wickham’s wicked nature?

6. What role does Darcy play in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham?

For next time, let’s finish the novel. As you read the last part of the novel try to think about whether Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should be taken at face value or whether there is an underlying satirical tone. If you haven’t read the novel before, try to guess how it might turn out between Darcy and Elizabeth and test whether your expectations are met. If you know how the novel ends, try to read it from a different perspective, for example, could you read the novel as social criticism? What is more important to the characters: marriage, or marriage into wealth or class privilege? Can you separate marriage from the financial consequences in the novel or are the two intertwined at every turn?

Phot0: Some rights reserved by jo-h.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume II

Here are some areas to consider as you read, or after you read Volume II of Pride and Prejudice. The story is becoming more and more Elizabeth and Darcy’s story:

1. What is Elizabeth’s chief aim in the novel? What is Darcy’s?

Characters can be motivated by any number of things, but I’ll throw out a few potential suggestions: Marriage, Happiness, Wealth, Class Status. What do you think is motivating Darcy and Elizabeth, understanding their motives may be different. Or, is it unfair to put one motivation on these characters? Are they more complex than that?

2. What external or internal forces work against Elizabeth and Darcy?

Who or what works against Darcy and keeps them from getting what they’re after? Think about this as you read the rest of the novel. Is there anything that stands in the way of Darcy’s happiness? Elizabeth’s?

3. The novel itself asks this question, “…what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?” Also, “where does discretion end and avarice begin?” p. 102

This touches on a question we’ve asked already, what are the proper motives for marriage? Is there a line between marrying for prudent reasons, because they set you up for a good life, and greed?

4. It’s funny to read what “nice things” the characters have to say about Lady Catherine.

Words used are: “attentive neighbor;” “respectable;” “sensible.” I get a good laugh hearing what each character has to say about her. Do you think the novel is intentionally funny? p. 105.

5. Elizabeth is a natural contrast to Lady Catherine.

Elizabeth is self-taught for the most part and she is proud of that fact, isn’t she? Is that a healthy form of pride? Contrast that with Lady Catherine. How was she taught? Does she display any particular result of that teaching? p.110.

Is Lady Catherine a social critic, and, if so, is she doing society good through her criticism?

Is Lady Catherine a role model, and, if so, who is she set up to model for? Elizabeth and her sisters?

6. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger at Darcy?

Elizabeth believes Darcy separated Bingley and Jane. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger on this point? Elizabeth also believes Darcy was unfair in his dealings with Wickham. Same question, is the anger justified? p. 123, 127.

7. What is the effect of the 3-page Darcy letter?

The three page letter from Darcy is the most we’ve heard from him by way of explanation or apology. p. 128-134. Does the Darcy letter effect your answer to question 7? Should Elizabeth be ashamed of herself ? She expresses as much on p. 137.

8. What is the effect of Darcy having used the letter to convey his thoughts?

The letter gave Elizabeth a chance to study Darcy’s response at a comfortable distance. p. 140. What other effects did delivering his message by letter have? Was it an effective way to communicate? Does this method of communication particularly suit Darcy?

9. What is the effect on children of marrying for wealth? Love? Happiness? p. 155

10. What is Elizabeth’s primary aim in life? To be happy? Is that a noble aim, alone? p. 157.

11. Will Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley have any effect on her opinion of Darcy?

We conclude Volume II with Elizabeth going to visit Pemberley. Do you think Pemberley will have an effect, either positive or negative, on how Elizabeth views Darcy? Should it?

12. What is a romantic? Which characters in the novel could you make an argument for being “romantic?” Elizabeth? Charlotte Lucas? Jane? Darcy?

For next time let’s read to p. 208, or Volume III, Chapter X for those with another edition.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume I

This was due for discussion yesterday, but I got wrapped up in Easter activities. I hope you’ll accept my apologies for my tardiness. We’ll still have plenty of time to discuss the novel throughout April. Here’s a stab at some areas to consider from Volume I, to page 89:

1. What does the opening line set us up for?

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in literature. In fact, you could read the first two sentences and get a pretty fair idea of what the entire book’s about. So, what does the opening sentence set us up for? Marriage, obviously, will play a major role. p. 3.

2. How long does it take to truly know someone?

The discussion on p. 5 near the end of the page relates to how long you must be acquainted with someone before you really know anything about them. A fortnight is mentioned. Do you think you can truly know someone in 2 weeks?

3. Is a daughter’s marriage a valid goal for a parent?

Who doesn’t want their daughter to marry well? But what does Mrs. Bennet mean when she says she wants her daughters to marry well? Is marrying well related to happiness or wealth? Is Mrs. Bennet well-intentioned with her wish? Do you find her wish for her daughters endearing or do you find that her wish limits her daughters? Would a similar wish in our society be tolerated? p. 7.

4.  What is pride?

The first discussion of pride takes place on p. 14. How do you define pride? Is pride a bad thing? Does your definition of pride differ from Mary’s?

5. How is one’s social status defined in the novel?

For certain characters, having an occupation other than that of estate Lord is viewed as a negative in terms of one’s social status. Look for other ways the characters determine social status. Wealth? Occupation? Marriage? p. 25.

6. Are first impressions ever fair?

First impressions and one’s judgment of people play an important role in the novel. One view is that first impressions are rarely fair because people change so much over time. p. 30. Another view is that first impressions are an important part of the social “game.” Can you understand someone the first time you meet them? Is it a fault to establish a first impression of someone and then rigidly adhere to it? Do you find yourself making early impressions of people and then refusing to move away from that initial impression despite evidence to the contrary? Is that a kind of prejudice? See also p. 64.

7. Is it fair to feign interest in a particular activity so as to make yourself more appealing to the opposite sex?

On p. 37 we see Miss Bingley reading, but more than reading, she’s watching Mr. Darcy read. It seems she is pretending to enjoy the activity so as to make herself more attractive to Mr. Darcy. Is that a fair way to behave? Is there any danger in acting that way? On one hand it’s endearing to care enough about someone to want to please them by engaging in activities they enjoy. On the other, I worry whether Miss Bingley is prepared to keep that up for the rest of her life. p. 37. What’s the danger in acting like someone you’re not to obtain a marriage proposal?

8. Are there certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others?

On p. 57 certain types of pride are defined. We’ve already considered whether pride is a bad thing, but do you think there are certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others? What is the most endearing form of pride you can imagine?

9. What are the “right” reasons to marry?

Reading Pride and Prejudice has us consider what the proper or “right” motivation is when it comes to marriage. Cultural differences explain why certain societies might prefer one motivation over another. Do you believe there is a universally “right” motivation to marry? p. 72. What is the goal of the institution of marriage?

10. What does the entail stand for?

The entail is defined on p. 19. What is it? What does it stand for the novel?

For next time: Let’s read to  p. 158, the end of Volume II.

If you care to share, I’d love to hear what you found interesting about Volume I.

Photo: Some rights reserved by simononly.