Filed under: Uncategorized
I am beginning to feel somewhat behind as I have finished Pride & Prejudice and have started Sense & Sensibility but am still making my way through journal posts! But I do wish to be thorough so I will continue right at it. Yesterday I finished Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate & What Charles Dickens Knew and it was sensational. Of course you can read any book and enjoy it without knowing the slightest bit of information regarding what influenced the author as well as what influenced the time period. In my experience though, this is what killed Austen for me on the first time around. It is a very silly book if extracted too much from the influences of its time period.
Thus, a book like Pool’s ties up all of the odds and ends that it would be nearly impossible for a present day reader to be aware of. For example, why do Lydia and Wickham “elope” to Gretna Green in Scotland to get married? Well, in England during the period there were three ways of getting married all of which were either time or money consuming. But a more ardurous couple could easily skip the border and immediately be married in Gretna Green for nothing. For you Americans, think of it as the Vegas of the 19th Century. Of course this is something of a moot point and I doubt you will become disgusted with the book because Gretna Green does not have as much significance to you as it could have. But Pool most certainly broadened my understanding of the tensions and fear involved with entailment and primogeniture.
Elizabeth increasingly becomes a complicated character and is certainly not without flaws. Perhaps one of my favorite exchanges with her catches her in a hypocritical moment when she approves, or at least makes an allowance, of Wickham pursuing Ms. King for her recently inherited fortune but continues to chastise Charlotte for goading and accepting Mr. Collins. This does allow for a double standard, though before being too harsh on Elizabeth I think much of her abhorrence of Charlotte and Collins has to do with her own disgust of her cousin.
At chapter six (allow me to apologize for not including the actual book or section numbers – why I did not write these down I do not know) when Elizabeth and the Lucases go to visit the Collinses a lot of class distinction and insults pop up. Of course, much of this is from Collins directed at Elizabeth and how much this has to do with Liza’s rejection of him or the entailment the world will have to forever debate. But it is a chapter marked with insults from Collins instructing Elizabeth in what to wear to Rosewood or perhaps the worse insult from Lady Catherine herself as Lady Catherine ensures Liza that she can obtain her a governess position (even after poo-pooing Elizabeth’s education).
Here are two points of interest I want to comment on: this exchange delves into some of the Bennet’s past, which otherwise largely goes uncommented on. The fact that the Bennet daughters were not disciplined in their education and were allowed to study or go idle as they pleased explains much about the girls. Two daughters (Jane, Elizabeth) who balanced their education well, one daughter (Mary) who embraced her studies but perhaps at the risk of developing other skills, and two daughters (Kitty, Lydia) who entirely frittered away any education that was offered to them. Once again this returns to the Bennet’s upbringing of their daughters and that both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet allowed their daughters (at least the younger ones) far too much independence when discipline would have been preferred. At this rate Jane and Elizabeth only turned out so well by sheer luck (or genes).
My second point I wanted to comment on was in response to a class mate’s inquiry into whether or not Lady Catherine’s estate was entailed and if so why was she allowed to live on it and her daughter to inherit it. Pride & Prejudice does assure the reader that the land is not entailed and I believe it was Pool’s book that did some meager tracing of the de Bourgh as well as the d’Arcy (Darcy) family lines to suggest a French heritage and a lifestyle that did not demand entailment. Thus the property and fortune is not entailed and can indeed be passed through the women of the family.
While visiting the Collins’ Mr. Darcy finally shows up (I was rather pleased that the A&E adaptation sped through some of the winter scenes to provide more Colin Firth enjoyment) again and we return to the butting of heads as Elizabeth still clings to her prejudices against him. Austen did a brilliant job of developing a character that was so easy (though undeservedly) to hate. It is much easier to subscribe Darcy as prideful rather than socially awkward. However, at Lady Catherine’s he informs Austen that he is “ill-qualified” to introduce himself to strangers and though Elizabeth ensures that it is still his own fault, as it only takes practice, her brewing dislike of him seems to miss any underlying message regarding Darcy’s lack of social finesse. How blinding prejudices may be.
And lastly for this post, Lady Catherine grandly displays that no matter rankone must always suffer from embarassment of one’s own family.