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.