Mr. Bennet, a badly done Homer Simpson (a sarcastic and guy-ish family man; but not funny): ‘for God’s sake say no more of his partners. Oh that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance’. Either Jane Austen completely underestimated the intellect of her audience in inventing the characters (not too complicated for the reader to remember and empathize with), she was not aware of the simplicity of her creation, or she purposefully wrote a light and easy-going drama for the temperament of the era.
Personally I think it was a combination of the three: she sought to formulate a restrained and straightforward story and wasn’t aware how patronizing it was. Little empathy can be summoned towards these people: fairly privileged families whose only worries seem to concern money (‘how great you will be! What pin money… ‘). The more they have, the higher status they are given by the other characters, and, more of an irritation, the author – the richest man, Mr.
Darcy, is tall, ‘uncommonly handsome,’ has a beautiful house, ends up happily married, richer, and extra affable thanks to his persona alteration.
We can find some satisfaction when his aunt is defied; but only as a result of Darcy’s contentment. The attitudes of the period account for much of this, notably the use of ‘condescending’ as a positive attribute. Seen in a different light though, Darcy’s instant self-enhancement could subsist as a reminder that seemingly perfect ‘gentlemen’ still have things to improve on before they can be suitable partners (Jane’s primary refusal supports this) and the rebellion against Lady Catherine diminishes the dominance of wealthy characters in the account.
It is a truth universally acknowledged by myself that early novels contain pretentious and flowery language (Dickens’s ‘partake to relate’, in Great Expectations a perfect example) but it is scarcely noticeable in good Victorian books; it is in this one. (My irrational exasperation stems from the unvarying employment of the word ‘vexed’ or ‘vexation’ instead of the plethora of synonyms available). It is a feat indeed then, when Austen writes a letter from Mr. Collins and intends it to be satirically ostentatious (‘to be lamented’, ‘licentiousness of behaviour’, ‘augmented’).
Writers of this age ‘prided themselves with extravagant usage of punctuation: in the crafting of elaborate sentences’ (‘mine’s longer than yours”); now , the comma suffices – over-punctuated sentences tiresome to readers & difficult to understand. The structure of the book gives a predictability which is cringe-inducing after it’s finished: early on in the first volume there are balls where the Netherfield and Longbourn parties are introduced to each other; Jane and Elizabeth both find partners whose meetings on the dance-floor are related in detail, and it is these affiliations which end in marriage at the book’s conclusion.
Austen may have been striving to produce an irony in Elizabeth’s first meeting with Darcy – her rudeness towards him contrasting with the deep affection experienced later on – but Darcy’s partiality is so obvious by his repeated hand-offerings; and his remarks at first (‘not handsome enough to tempt me’), compared with Elizabeth’s overdone disaffection (‘I quite detest the man’) rather blatantly reveal this. (My italics again, but you can just assume she said it like that – conceitedly).
The consequence of this work in the overall scheme of things is questionable, but as a widely renowned classic it must have made some impact into the literary world. It has some events to mildly shock the social attitudes of its day; the pre-marital elopement of Lydia and Wickham would have been viewed in rather disdainful light; but so much scorn is given to this by the characters in this book (‘the death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison to this’ – is written to the family by a distant relative they don’t really like and not thought of as at all ‘impertinent’) that no radical feelings are aroused.
The work does, however, make an observation consistent with most of the feeling at the time: by fashioning a union based on passion and not mutual respect an unsuccessful one. Philosophically, the book doesn’t venture very deeply at all, unless the former placid arguments count.
What a study of the text reveals is how sexist it seems to the modern reader – an aspect virtually ignored until the 1900s; the main attractions of the genders are money and appearance respectively, with a condescending contemplation of ‘accomplishedness’ added to the female features (‘a woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern language to deserve the word; and beside all this… ‘): personality doesn’t seem to feature at first.
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