7/30/98 Kate2 [CSAE777@AOL.COM] - Darcy's first proposal

Dear Meister,

First, greetings from a delighted newcomer. I have been reading your thoughts on Emma Thomson's S&S with great satisfaction. I thought her screenplay as much self-indulgent dross as her dreadful one-woman comedy series a few years back. I will not easily forgive Hugh Grant either.

I'm not sure that I agree that Darcy expected to be refused at Hunsford. I think he believes himself to be invulnerable to rejection. He knows what an enormous catch he is--even for Miss Bingley--and assumes an intelligent woman will do what most women of the time would, i.e. "secure her own comfort" and that of her dependents. It's telling that Lizzie is concerned that Jane will "blame" her for not accepting Darcy. Certainly most of her contemporaries would, I think, have thought her irresponsible for not acting to save her family from a pretty perilous future. We are blessed that Lizzie is not the selfless creature that Jane is. My apologies in advance if I my hurried reading of your missives (I was excited at finding them) has caused an ill-considered reply.

7/30/98 Ashton - Kate too?

Dear Kate Kate,

Welcome to the community. First, some technical points--I noticed that your submission was made twice and, so, I am going to guess that you expected the posting to appear immediately like in a chat room. Actually, the postings appear after about twenty-four hours. That gives me time to run everything through a spell/grammar check and to compose a careful reply.

You are not the first person to take me to task about my view of Darcy's first proposal. I refer you to the posting of Rachel and to that of Sheila Moll and to my replies to those Male Voices. In fact, no one--absolutely no one has ever posted to agree with me. So, if this place were a democracy, the matter would be settled. This is not a democracy (it is GOOD to be the Meister); it is something better, it is anarchy.

I will only summarize my arguments here. Remember that Elizabeth had already refused her cousin and that meant she turned down the possibility of becoming the mistress of Longborne. Darcy and his party were well aware of her cousin's intentions--who was not?--and so he knew that she was not going to be convinced merely by the prospect of a comfortable future. Darcy never received the slightest encouragement from Elizabeth, quite the contrary. She insulted him at Lucas lodge, during her forced stay at Netherfield, and during her visit at Hunsford. She explicitly called him vain, uncommunicative, and with a propensity "to hate everyone" to his face. Everyone was quite aware of her romantic attraction to Darcy's worst enemy. She was very explicit about her opinion about Darcy's treatment of Wickham, explicit even to Darcy during the dance at Netherfield. So, why did Darcy propose to her? Was he a stupid dolt? Was he so full of himself that he thought she would swoon as he announced his intentions? Did he so very badly misjudge her in this way? If so, then was he really in love? Of course, the real question is what did Jane Austen intend, in what way did she imagine these two most wonderful characters? I believe that she saw Elizabeth as prone to follow her first impressions. Elizabeth was always encouraged in her mistaken views by her father and was always warned away from them by her sister Jane Bennet. I also believe that Jane Austen imagined Darcy as worthy, not a dolt, and proud but not vain. For me, the only logical explanation for Darcy's proposal is that he was carried along by his feelings and emotions. In fact, this is precisely the reason that he performed so badly at the parish. He was under stress and so his words came out so very wrong. Will you grant me that there is some logic in my argument?

7/31/98 Kate2 [CSAE777@AOL.COM] - reply to Meister

Dear Meister,

I agree with your other two correspondents especially in the belief that Darcy had no firm grounds for thinking that Lizzie disliked him at that time.  He was aware that Wickham had slandered him but not yet how bad a picture had been painted. Certainly his verbal jousts with Lizzie had been uncomfortable for him but I've always read these passages with the impression that Lizzie is being pert, flirtatious even. I don't mean that she liked him, but that she enjoyed baiting him and was herself responding to an intellectual and physical attraction. Darcy is invariably even more bewitched than before after these contests so I think you're wrong in saying that he should have known there was no hope for him. ----And I did have a spelling mistake------on which note I make my exit.

7/31/98 Ashton - reply to Kate (II)

Dear Kate,

First of all, I apologize for not catching that typo in your first posting. I have gone back and corrected that. That means that I spoiled the joke in your second submission and I probably should apologize for that even more.

If you can imagine that Elizabeth was flirting, then I suppose that Darcy might have as well. You are not the first woman to suggest that at this web site. I have lived a long time in this world and I could never have imagined her behavior as flirtatious. I think that Darcy was not bewitched after those encounters; in fact, they left him very angry as they would any man. He always ends them with an angry and telling blow. When she tells him that his weakness is a propensity to hate everyone, he counters that hers is to deliberately misunderstand them. When she suggests that there may be something wrong with his character, he counters that it would be better that she not attempt to define his character as her effort would not reflect well on either of them--a direct comment on her inability to treat him fairly. When she suggests that he should practice his social skills, he reminds her that neither of them perform to strangers. The angriest thing that he says to her is, in fact, a low blow. That occurs during their dance at Netherfield. She is going on, and on, and on about his quiet manner. She thinks it cute to say it in this way "I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds.--We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition...yackity-yackity-yack". He paitiently waits for her to finish and then he counters with "This is no resemblance of your own character, I am sure,...". That passage is written in such a way that Elizabeth does not seem to realize that she has just been had. A good thing, because Darcy went too far that time. (Incidentally, Elizabeth was accusing Darcy of the very thing of which Jane Austen herself was accused. I suppose that Darcy was striking that blow as much for his inventor as for himself.)

Elizabeth gives a very clear indication of her knowledge of Darcy's treatment of Wickham during her dance with Darcy at the Netherfield ball. Also, there is a conversation between Elizabeth and Miss Bingley in which Caroline clearly indicates she knows the level of intimacy shared by Elizabeth and Wickham and that Wickham has slandered Darcy. As you say, she may not know the exact details. Is that important?

Finally, think about that scene at Rosings when Darcy attempts to approach Elizabeth while she sits with his cousin at the piano. She not only makes a series of snotty remarks but she does it in a most contemptible manner: She makes her insulting remarks to Darcy but addresses them to the cousin. This was as if Darcy was unworthy even of her notice. (That kind of behavior would have finished off any interest I was developing in a woman.) In summary then, we agree that Darcy did go to the parish, and whereas I think him hopelessly in love--a kind-of English Werter--you think him oblivious. Sigh--well--men are always willing to give another man more credit than he may deserve. And, men always take a more romantic view of things.

7/26/98 Ashton Dennis - My Thoughts on Jane Austen's letters

Dear Male Voices,

I read at the Electronic Telegraph about a forthcoming biography in which Jane Austen is made to seem a conceited mean-Jean. Well, an author cannot expect to make much penetration into a market by simply saying that all previous biographies had it right all along--a overly ambitious new biographer cannot serve both his own interests and the truth. The description I read, cited some isolated family anecdotes and quotes from some of JA's letters that will be used to support this astounding thesis. I say "astounding", because the thesis is a direct contradiction of the opinions of all of Jane Austen's family members and close friends. It is true that people who were only acquainted with her and did not know her well, thought her stand-offish and mute, but I have no knowledge of any of them ever suggesting she was mean or conceited. In very great detail, her effect on strangers was remarkably like that of her fictional character Fitzwilliam Darcy. And, exactly like Darcy, any stranger that bothered to know her better, found her most likable, most agreeable, and even charming. Her close acquaintance claimed that she was at least as gifted at conversation as she was at writing. Imagine that!--Is it possible that you can imagine that?

My purpose here is to offer my personal opinion of Jane Austen's letters since they seem to the target of a growing legion of out-of-context hunters in search of a thesis or a publication. Julie Grassi has recently posted on this same subject and I will assume that you have read her postings as I compose my own opinions. For the most part, I will underscore Julie's views and rewrite some of them in my words. I will demur on only two of her minor points, but even those will not be contradictions. Finally, I will ask a question that I hope that Julie--expect that Julie or someone else will be able to answer.

Jane Austen's letters disappoint a number of people, but not me. They are some of the funniest things that she ever wrote. I suspect that one problem may be that the letters and the humor are too subtle for some. That may be because she was writing for family and friends who knew her well enough that she did not worry about being misunderstood by them. They would have been on the look-out for jokes and would not have missed them where they appeared. There are slightly more than 150 letters still in existence, so I am going to make a wild stab and guess that they contain something approaching 1000 jokes. The letters are sweet and kind and devoid of any sign of neurosis. They also demonstrate a high standard for truthfulness. Perhaps, that is the bad news, her letters are filled with jokes and truthful observations. When a person is the family jokester and intends to meet all expectations of quantity, occasional mistakes will be made. Any jokester will occasionally go over the top and have a tastless moment. (Surely, that new biographer I mentioned--of all people, that person must appreciate that a pressure to produce will sometimes produce a tasteless moment.) There are a few instances of that kind in JA's letters, but damn few! I have noticed that only a very small number of persons want to read the truth. (Let me see--there is you and I and about twelve others.) I admit that it can be a bit startling when you hear the truth spoken and, I suppose, the truth-sayer can seem a bit mean.

I must give some examples of what I am trying to say. The best example of a tasteless joke is one in which Jane wrote to inform her sister of a still-birth in the neighborhood and suggested that, perhaps, the cause was that the poor woman had caught a glimpse of her homely husband. Julie Grassi has the kind interpretation: She sees this as gallows humor, a common way used to cope with tragedy. I know of what Julie speaks and agree with her analysis of that kind of humor, but I don't think the theory applies here--I suspect that JA simply went over the top. It happens--one time out of a thousand--This is a big deal only if it turns out to be a pattern. There is my point: I urge you to make a study of the letters and base your judgement of the kindness or meanness of Jane Austen on the entire pattern of what you see there. My guess is that you will learn to love her during such an exercise. You can find Jane Austen occasionally critical of nieces and nephews but not in a compulsive way. For example, she thought that her rich brother pampered his sons to an unhealthy degree and I remember one letter in which she expressed an opinion that one of the daughters of her brother Charles had a mild behavioral problem and that the root cause was her up-bringing. But, what was the pattern? You will judge for yourself, but I bet you will find JA a loving and a much beloved aunt. Jane Austen had a lot of time for the younger generation and their fondest childhood memories were of her stories and her games. These are hardly the actions and descriptions of a mean-Jean! I will tell you what I suspect--I suspect that the Kentish nephews were spoiled brats and that one of Charles's daughters could have benefited from some counseling. These things happen--in the best of families--and the Austens were the very best type of family.

Julie Grassi likes to point to the fact that Cassandra censored many of her letters from Jane, shredded some, burned some, and cut away portions of others. Julie expresses the opinion that this fact has dire consequences for those of us who would like to know Jane Austen better. Deirdre Le Faye edited the most recent and most famous version of the letters (1997) and takes a more relaxed view of this matter. She believes the Cassandra's censoring likely to be innocuous. See her Preface to the third edition. (Ms. Le Faye has impeccable credentials and background, but I don't understand how it is that she can so strongly interpret what she has never seen.) So there it is--there are the extreme views on this matter. What is my estimate of the impact of Cassandra's censoring? I don't have a firm opinion as yet--my jury is still out and I don't have any notion of how the case will go. Ummm--on second thought--Julie is a Male Voice, so I throw in with her.

If Cassandra's actions make you shiver, I have some really bad news for you. Brother Francis was only one year older than Jane but his own death came nearly fifty years after hers. He had an estimated fifty letters from Jane which he kept all those years. Shortly after his death, his daughter thought to clean out his rooms and, without consulting anyone, burned that big packet of old dusty letters from Aunt Jane--AAAAAHHHH!

My question is this--what ever happened to the letters sent to Jane Austen?

7/15/98 Carol Sikes [aunt_pol@yahoo.com] - Thanks, Julie

Dear Julie,

Thanks for the information on NA and Susan.  I always figured that the name had originally been Susan instead of Catherine, but the critique at the beginning of the novel suggested that the "learned person" who wrote it felt that it was the most juvenile of Austen's work.  I must say, from internal evidence, I thought so as well.  In no other finished book does she, as the author, make herself known she's almost like another character in the book.  But, as you and the Meister say, there's really no reason for the title to be changed except that she did some work on it.  I wonder why she didn't rework some of the parts she knew to be wrong by this time (James King wasn't still the master of ceremonies, as listed in chapter 3, for example) at the same time she was going back through and changing the heroine's name?  I think the author having such a strong narrative voice make this a really different book!

Thanks again for all your help!


7/15/98 Julie Grassi Cassandra

Dear Carol,

As to why Jane Austen never used the name 'Cassandra', the short answer is that we don't know.  BUT, if you would like my two cents' worth, (always happy to oblige), I would hazard a guess that she tended to use conventional names, which did not distinguish characters by their unusualness.  'Cassandra' was not a name in common usage at the time, but was a family name of the Leighs.  It was Mrs Austen senior's Christian name, and traces back to a Cassandra Willoughby (!) who married a great-uncle. later first Duke of Chandos.  But this is only my guess.

Of course Jane Austen's works are funny.  They are hilarious.  A lot of modern British comedy shares her quality of being hilarious, but not really being 'comedy'.  The 'tragedy', if you like, is always very close to the surface.  For instance 'Fawlty Towers', which is farce, is hilariously funny, but if watched often and closely, is not comic at all.  Jane Austen is a lot more subtle than that.  There is a comment in the introduction to an old Penguin edition of 'Emma', when the writer quotes a woman as saying how much she enjoyed reading the novels as a girl, and how funny they were - yet, on returning to them in later life, her comment was 'you know, she hated people!'  That is an exaggeration, of course,  but Jane Austen was a very close observer of human behavior and motivation.  Some of the quoted reactions to her remind me of the reactions of people today when finding themselves unexpectedly in company with a psychiatrist 'he/she knows what I am thinking!'


7/18/98 Ashton Technically speaking, she DID use Cassandra's name

Dear Carol and Julie,

One of the many stories Jane Austen wrote as a child was "the Beautifull (sic) Cassandra". You can obtain these juvenilia in most bookstores these days. JA was about twelve when her dad bought her a nice notebook in which she wrote stories and dedicated them to neighbors and family. Poppa bought a second notebook when she was about fifteen, only this time, he bought the finest notepaper then available in all England--that shows us where he was at. You can sometimes buy the juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte under the same cover (talk about your "sense and sensibility"!). I love JA's because of the way she started and finished this period. At first the stories are the usual silly stories that you would expect from a twelve-year old--a lot of folks falling-down drunk and becoming unbelievably rich, etc. I mean you would laugh and think her a clever, happy youngster but not a great writer. And so it goes for several years until you turn the page at about the fourteenth or fifteenth year and WHAM--there she is, JANE AUSTEN. It was like it happened over night or something. The story is still silly but all the art and style suddenly appear and they appear in full bloom. I wonder what happened? puberty?

Her dedication to "The Beautifull Cassandra" is wonderful


You are a Phoenix. Your taste is refined, your Sentiments are noble, your Figure elegant, and your Form, majestic. Your Manners are polished, your Conversation is rational and your appearance singular. If therefore the following Tale will afford one moments amusement to you, every wish will be gratified of

Your most obedient
humble servant
The Author

I throw in with Julie about Jane Austen's humor. Her humor is of the most superior type and quite evident in her novel--and that is unfortunate. Comedy was not her intellectual focus; I think her to be deadly serious with important and serious things to say. Her novels WERE comedies in the sense that word was used in her day--anything with a happy ending. I am steadfast in resisting classification of her work as "comedy" in the modern sense of the word. Her novels were NOT romances in the sense that word was used in her day--things like Ivanhoe, "adventures" in the modern sense. I am steadfast in insisting that her work are "romances" in the modern sense of the word.

In one of Carol's posting, she wrote "I always hear the criticism of her (JA) that she can't be making fun of fashion and stuff because she participated in them." I would like to debate the person who said that to Carol because I think it an untenable position. It is true enough that you can find a few places in JA's letters in which she mentions bonnets or gowns but they are few and far between. There are far more places where she is far more skeptical about fashions and fashionable people. In fact, she was, if anything, careless about such matters--I bet I could prove that. On the other hand, there is a growing fashion to declare that Jane Austen was a mean bitch. Nonsense--these views usual turn on the mean conversations of some of the characters. That is a most foolish style of proof. I could use the conversation of Bingley, Jane Bennet, Charles Musgrove, George Knightley, Elinor Dashwood, Edmund Bertram, etc., etc. to prove the exact opposite. I could but I will not do such a foolish thing.


7/23/98 Julie Grassi Bitchy?

Dear Sir,

In the Folio Society's introduction to Nancy Mitford's 'The Pursuit of Love', Logan Pearsall Smith is quoted.  His definition of the perfect friend: 'Hearts that are delicate and kind and tongues that are neither - these make the finest company in the world'.  These qualities also make for a damn good writer, and I believe the words can be applied to the works (and private letters) of Jane Austen. I really feel that people who cavil at the sharpness of her published observations, and even more so of her private correspondence, are at least, hypocritical.   Who among us would wish to have our private family telephone conversations (of which Jane Austen's letters are the equivalent), laid open to public scrutiny and judgement?  As she said in one of her letters, in effect, 'no-one else will be attacked by what I say, and you (Cassandra) will not be hurt by it'.  The sort of conversation for which Jane Austen is criticised is, I believe, a kind of social safety-valve.  We have all sounded off to our intimates about people we know - it is a release that makes social interaction bearable and how much more so in Jane Austen's day, when people were very much 'stuck' with each other.  As far as her novels are concerned, I believe that people who have trouble with her observations on character do not understand the depth in her novels  they feel that such comments are misplaced in 'light' works.  Jane Austen's works are not light.

Re the clothing issue:  firstly, Jane Austen's surviving letters are only remnants. They were heavily censored by her surviving family.  Second, the simple fact is that most of her references to dress concerned buying, making, and altering clothes.  The letters are written when one sister was in a town centre, and therefore responsible for many shopping 'commissions'.  There were no clothing shops, and the sisters were on a tight budget.  It was important to make things stretch as far as possible, hence the references to making over clothing   in Jane Austen's age, any family residing in the country would give friends and relatives travelling to the towns commissions to buy clothing, shoes, hats, whatever.  'Dress lengths' were frequent gifts to female members of a family, and these lengths of fabric were too valuable to do only one job - they were made over and over, as dresses, petticoats, pelisses, etc.  I think any criticism of Jane Austen's corresondence should be preceded by a large heading in red capitals:  REMEMBER ALL THE GOOD BITS ARE MISSING!

7/15/98 Julie Grassi Elizabeth and Darcy

Dear Sir,

I have just finished reading your essay of December 16, 1997, on Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and have to say that I agree with you.  I would, however, like to add a couple of points.

The first is, that I think Elizabeth and Darcy are both, to a degree, socially lazy, and inclined also to be socially critical.  Elizabeth, of course, found out that about Darcy before they were even introduced, when she overheard the latter's reply to Bingley when he offered to engineer the introduction.  She was, naturally enough, left 'with no very cordial feeling towards him'.  But was what she overheard much different, or any worse, than what her own comments and thoughts on her neighbors were apt to be?  Even the next morning, when discussing Bingley with Jane, her tone borders on the dismissive - 'Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him.  You have liked many a stupider person'.  And later, 'Sir William Lucas, and his daughter Maria  ...   had nothing to say that could be worth hearing, and were listened to with about as much delight as the rattle of the chaise.  .....  his civilities were worn out like his information.'  She is, in fact, very much disposed to be critical of people she meets, as she is forced to admit after receiving Darcy's letter: 'How despicably have I acted!' she cried. 'I, who have prided myself on my discernment!  I, who have valued myself on my abilities!  who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless and blameable distrust!'  Darcy's letter does for Elizabeth what her rejection of his proposals does for Darcy - takes each of them down a peg or two, and makes each examine his or own arrogance towards others.

The second thing, and the thing that has always struck me forcibly on reading this work, is the way every conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth leaps from the page, positively vibrating with sexual tension.  At no time, never, ever, are these two indifferent to each other.  Even at the lowest point in their relationship, the most that could be said, as it was of Captain Wentworth, is that 'they fancied themselves indifferent, when they were only angry'.  They always converse with each other at a different level than they do with others in the room - Miss Bingley, a very astute observer, senses the tension between them from the start, and never misses an opportunity to attack Elizabeth.  Her jealousy is palpable, and quite justified..  It is also striking to me that their language falls immediately into a kind of intimate 'shorthand' (I am not putting this very well) - each catches the other's meaning immediately, and the conversation is conducted at an intimate level which tends to exclude others  - for instance,

" 'Your examination of Mr Darcy is over, I presume', said Miss Bingley 'and pray what is the result?'

'I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr Darcy has no defect.  He owns it himself without disguise'.

'No' - said Darcy, 'I have made no such pretension'. ..........'There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best of education can overcome'.

'And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody'.

'And yours', he replied with a smile, 'is willfully to misunderstand them'.

'Do let us have a little music',cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. "

The nearest that I can come to illustrating the tension between Elizabeth and Darcy is to liken it to some of the best work of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey.  They many times played the parts of people who thought they hated each other on sight, only to find out that the reverse was true.

I wonder whether Elizabeth and Darcy will end up changing all that much - Elizabeth looks forward with delight to 'the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley'.  Jane Austen herself was apt to prefer her family party to the company of outsiders.   What do you think?


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