8/20/99 Laurie - [l_mease@hotmail.com] Mr. Collins: "third biggest jerk"?

Dear Ray and Everyone,

I agree, Mr. Collins is a jerk and I have to admire Charlotte for being able to put up with him so cheerfully.  My question for Ray is, who would he consider to be Jane Austen's two biggest jerks?  I didn't particularly like Captain Wentworth of Persuasion.  On a sidenote, I am kind of bothered by how mercenary Charlotte's decision to marry Collins seems.  I certainly can't find fault with her reasoning, but I have to wonder how many marriages were entered into in Austen's time because of the same type of reasoning.  It makes me appreciate the compatibility of most of Austen's other couples all the more.


8/21/99 Ray Mitchell - [grm34@mailcity.com] Jerks

Dear Laurie,

The biggest jerk in all of Jane Austen is Sir Walter. I am loath to actually name the second biggest jerk. If I was to do so it might call Ash away from his preparations for the return of John from the Shakespeare festival. After all, Ash has spent enough time trying to convince me that the second biggest jerk is actually a fine fellow.

Charlotte’s decision to marry Collins seems to me to ennoble her, and leads me to wonder if Elizabeth should not have given more consideration to marrying Collins. Such a self-sacrificing marriage would have calmed her mother’s fears of being cast penniless into the world. Then when Darcy and Elizabeth came to their senses, we would have a sure enough story on our hands.


8/16/99 Jane in Vain - A poem by Paul Jennings, submitted by Ray Mitchell

Jane in Vain

I often get lost in the works of Jane Austen
For Jane is my favorite writer;
Suave and satirical, Jane is a miracle,
Who subtler than Jane--and who lighter?
With elegant diction unequalled in fiction
Her characters meet and commingle,
Unlike, say, the martyrs of Camus or Sartre,
So anguished, so lonely--so single.
Though nil is the ration of bedroom and passion,
When Crawford runs off with Maria
Their sex-life, off-stage in that elegant age,
May still be assumed to have fire.

Such art, with such breeding, makes beautiful reading--
But let me confess my dilemma;
I am only safe when its the Bingleys and Bennets,
I mix up Persuasion with Emma.
I've read all thrice, I recall Fanny Price
Beneath Old Sir Thingummy's aegis--
Was it this Cinderella, or some Isabella
Who fell off a cliff at Lyme Regis?
I can't recall rightley if Mr. John Knightley
Resided at Donwell or Randalls,
My memory's flabby, is Northanger Abbey
The one with the Willoughby scandals?
I am quite in the dark, is it Mansfield Park
That begins with the Dashwoods all greedy
And planning what cash would be left to John Dashwood
If kept from some relative needy?--
No, they lived at Norland--with Catherine Moreland
Or Rushmore, or Bertram, or Elton,
Or perhaps Marianne, or Miss Elliot (Anne?)
In scenes that all Janites have dwelt on. ...

Mistress of clarity, what a disparity
Between my response and your art!
But Jane, don't complain. I shall read you again
And again, till I've got you by heart.

Paul Jennings


8/16/99 Ashton - My case against Charlotte Lucas: "sacrificing every better feeling"

Dear Julie,

You are right, I remembered things wrong and the passages I will quote at the end of this posting, were not conversations. Firstly, I will try to answer your request to lay out my case against Charlotte Lucas and I will try to refute your suggestions that Jane Austen might have found Charlotte a sympathetic character.

I fully concur with the opinions expressed about Charlotte by Jane Austen - that is, expressed by Elizabeth Bennet in the novel. I would add that Charlotte is conniving. I will begin with something that someone would not notice at the first reading; this takes place at the Netherfield ball - before Collins has made his offer to Elizabeth and been refused.

"...[Elizabeth] owed her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas, who often joined them, and good naturedly engaged Mr Collins's conversation to herself." (Chapter XX)

After the refusal, Collins continued to meet society and in the company of the Bennet family. Elizabeth noticed Charlotte as she attended to Collins and otherwise occupied him. Elizabeth thanked her friend for a relief from an awkward situation.

"... Charlotte assured her friend of her satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid her for the little sacrifice of her time. This was very amiable, but Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; - its object was nothing less, than to secure her from any return of Collins's addresses, by engaging them towards herself. Such was Miss Lucas's scheme; ..." (Chapter XXII)

Later, we read

"... The stupidity with which he was favored by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained." (Chapter XXII)

And then

"... [Charlotte's] reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr Collins to be sure was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. - Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. ..." (Chapter XXII)

Cold! I emphasize "Without thinking highly of men ..." All male readers take note, and let all male voices be raised. Tell us my dearest friend, what would be your opinion of a character of whom Jane Austen's authorial voice informed you did not think highly of women? A character who then married a woman? Why did you tell us that Jane Austen liked this character?

I know that there are those who will say that Collins got what he deserved. But, why did he deserve all this? Others will say he could not have done better, but Jane Austen helps us understand that is not true.

"... Mary [Bennet] might have been prevailed upon to accept [Collins]. She rated his abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means so clever as herself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as hers, he might become a very agreeable companion. ..." (Chapter XXII)

The legend is that a God gave Cassandra of Troy the gift of prophecy, but another jealous God made sure that no one would believe her. Jane Austen helps me understand how that second God did her business - Our Lady accomplished that with her inventions of Miss Bates and Mary Bennet.

Next, let me attempt to reply to the question you asked of me in the second paragraph of your posting on 8/5/99. Upon reflection, I agree with you that I referred to this passage in terms too strong. You excerpted from this passage, but my point is put into a better light if I place the excerpt in context.

"... that Charlotte could encourage him, seemed almost as far from possibility as that [Elizabeth] could encourage him herself, and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out:

'Engaged to Mr Collins! my dear Charlotte - impossible!'

The steady countenance which Miss Lucas commanded in telling her story, gave way to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct a reproach, though, as it was no more than she expected, she soon regained her composure, and calmly replied: ...
" (Chapter XXII)

Part of that reply would be " '...I am not a romantic you know. I never was. ...' " Yes indeed, but the question is was Jane Austen a romantic? You know my answer, but what is yours?

"... Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr Collins making two offers of marriage within three days, was nothing in comparison of his now being accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. ... And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen."

I underscore "sacrificed every better feeling", "a friend disgracing herself", and "sunk in her esteem".

"Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again. Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn with fonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and delicacy she was sure her opinion could never be shaken ..." (Chapter XXIII)

Elizabeth and her sister, Jane, would express their opinions of Charlotte's actions to one another. As usual, Jane would preach temperance and understanding, but Elizabeth would have none of it.

" '... for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should think less of her understanding than I do now of her heart. ... You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger, security of happiness' " (Chapter XXIV)

Later, Elizabeth and her aunt were in conversation about Wickham, but what they said could equally well have been their opinions of Charlotte. Elizabeth's excitement had subsided, but her bitter reflections remained. The beloved aunt begins

" '... I should be sorry to think our friend mercenary.'

'Pray my poor aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? ...'
" (Chapter XXVII)

Finally, there are those passages which I mistakenly remembered as conversation. Incidentally, I know the reason for my blunder. I know the reason, but you never shall because if you did, you would never let me live it down. You can be very cruel.

"... To work in his Garden was one of [Collins's] most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible. ..." (Chapter XXVII)

and

"... When Mr Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte's evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten." (Chapter XXVIII)

and

"... Elizabeth at first had rather wondered that Charlotte did not prefer the dining parlour for common use; it was a better sized room, and had a pleasenter aspect; but she soon saw that her friend had an excellent reason for what she did, for Mr Collins would undoubtedly have been much less in his own apartment had they sat in one equally lively; and she gave Charlotte credit for the arrangement." (Chapter XXX)

And, I do not. What is your reaction to these passages?


8/16/99 Julie Grassi - [banya@onaustralia.com.au] Clarification, hopefully

Dear Sir,

You've got it all arse-about (a colonial expression, that).  I have never said, nor have I meant to imply, that Jane Austen approved of Charlotte Lucas's behaviour. Quite the contrary, in fact.  My contention is simply that I don't think she deserves to be vilified by readers for choosing a course of action that affects nobody but herself, and the person who she has made 'the happiest of men'.  I'm prepared to allow her not to think highly of men, if she chooses - so what?  Jane Austen creates plenty of men who prove, by their actions, not to think highly of women!  For instance Mr Willoughby, Mr Wickham, Mr Elliot, Mr Elton - all of these men view women in exactly the same light as Charlotte views men - as a means to an income.  They are, to a man, far nastier characters than Charlotte Lucas, and they each married for money.  As for Charlotte's being scheming - once again, so what?  She wanted a comfortable home   she met with a man who had entered the community avowedly to look for a wife   she knew that neither of his first two choices would have him, and she knew that he at least had the merit of not being on the lookout for a fortune to marry (as he so kindly points out to Elizabeth, when he explains to her that she can't be serious in refusing him, as nobody else would want her, due to the paucity of her fortune).

So there you have it.  I'm not considering Jane Austen's point of view in this discussion, but rather yours and my own.  She has contracted a business arrangement that suits both parties, and she appears to intend to keep her side of the deal.  Why are you taking her actions so personally?

This is the point that Charlotte pleads with Elizabeth - merely that she is different.  She is quite right to heel Elizabeth in with her question, 'Do you suppose that Mr Collins is uncapable of being attractive to any woman, because he has not been fortunate enough to gain your hand?' I'm prepared to allow her to be different, if she so chooses, without having to judge her.
Julie

From the Meister: So, you would place Charlotte in the same
category as Wickham, Willoughby, and Mr Elliot? We may not
be too far apart after all. I guess what Charlotte is saying, in
that quote in your last paragraph, is that Collins is attractive to
her. What are your thoughts on that? And, why do you think this
discussion has become "personal" with me?


8/16/99 John - Heather's interpretations of literary character

Dear Heather,

If you mean that the portrayal of Lady Catherine in the Olivier version of PP is diametrically opposite to Jane Austen's absolutely clear intention, then so far you are right, but when we remember that in the novel, and especially one later dramatised, the readers and the audience must also make a contribution to the work of art, then it must be fair to say that the worst, absolutely worst, interpretation of any literary character is that given on the various internet discussion boards of the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy.  When, on reading his letter to Elizabeth and recalling  his actions and words up to that point, we understand that in Hertfordshire he was still horrified by his sister's near tragedy.  Darcy always speaks the truth, but until that letter we and Elizabeth misinterpret everything he says and does. He never says an unkind word or does an unkind thing.  It is fortunate for the story that Elizabeth overhears him and Bingley at the Meryton Assembly and misunderstands, but at Lucas Lodge he is at the very least in the mood to offer to give consequence to a young woman slighted by other men, and at the next ball, at Bingley's Assembly, he deliberately obtains her agreement to the next two dances.

It has been suggested he and Bingley were fighting at the Meryton Assembly.  Even before reading his Rosings letter, it ought to be clear that Bingley was simply telling Darcy that his failure to fully participate in the enjoyments of the evening was causing some loss of pleasure to Bingley, and Darcy tells his friend that he cannot help himself.  Gentlemen who are close friends did and do talk to one another in this way.  There was no animus.
John


8/18/99 Heather Swallow - [hms@blakes.ca] Interpreting Darcy

Dear John,

Hello, John.  I’m always glad to see another male "voice" contributing to this page, what with so many female voices making our opinions known.  Ashton is not kidding when he suggests that he can use someone to help support his views, although his admiration of Darcy is not one that needs much defence here.  You must have a word with Ray, although I’m afraid he’s immovable.

I don’t frequent other JA pages as I get the recommended daily dose of Austen right here, but I must say that I’m a bit surprised that Darcy gets harsh treatment elsewhere.  He has always been one of my favourite characters, and I have long been under the impression that the feeling was fairly universal.

Austen uses a formula (perhaps someone can confirm that she invented it with this very novel) wherein the hero falls for the personable, cheery fellow, avoiding the brooding, moody one, only to find that each is the exact opposite of her initial perceptions.  Today’s trash novelists have built an empire on that formula, if I remember my pulp-fiction days correctly, proving that we really love it.  I believe that Austen employed the idea when it was still fresh (if not entirely new) and intended her readers to deal with exactly the same first impressions as Elizabeth. Furthermore, I believe she wanted us to follow up with exactly the same second impressions.  Do we find as many people still willing to believe at the end of the tale that Wickham is a sweet, delightful, harmless fellow, as we find those who are still willing to believe that Darcy is a cruel, bitter snob?  Highly doubtful.  I suspect some people just like being contrary.  I admit to feeling that way myself on occasion.

What really comes clear with all these different interpretations is that Austen was extremely adept at creating multi-dimensional characters to people her novels.  She herself was fairly multi-dimensional.  You can read of neighbours and acquaintances describing her at different times as being as quiet and unnoticeable as a poker at the fireside, or being an outrageous flirt.  You might think she had to be either one or the other, but I truly suspect she was both. Nevertheless, the friends and neighbours of Austen’s day are no different than we in our penchant for sticking to our first impressions.

Ray!  A delightful poem, and great fun.  But don't think you can get away with not posting some of your notes at your recent seminars.  I have been waiting patiently and I'm about to give up.  Did you attend the one on Jane Austen's view of marriage?  If so, what did you learn?  If not, which ones did you go to?


8/19/99 Ray Mitchell - [GRM34@mailcity.com] NOTES?? ME??

Dear Heather,

I attended each and every class or seminar or session or whatever they were, but NOTES? ME? The man with the steel trap mind? Now let me think, what did our charming teacher say about Jane Austen and marriage? Hmm-well, maybe I should have taken notes, but surely you know of my well developed sense of dread of this thing called "the text". However, as I recall it, our old friend Charlotte Lucas was dragged out and her reasons for marrying the third biggest jerk in all of Jane Austen were dissected. Then we turned our attention to Jane Fairfax and her situation. When I returned home I saw where you guys were also looking at Charlotte and her reasons for marrying a jerk.

Comparing the two methods (classroom as opposed to posting to a board) of approaching Charlotte Lucas, the board posting is the clear winner. A classroom approach hardly gives one time to think clearly before its time to move on to Jane Fairfax. In short, I got no insights that have not been discussed on this board. In England there was no time (or inclination) to say (as is often said on this board), "Are you crazy? Have you looked at the text?" In England however, I did have the pleasure of having the information passed on by a charming woman with an English accent who was much too polite (and perhaps too well paid) to fight with me.


8/16/99 Ashton - Welcome to John

Dear John,

You are very welcome here and I, especially, hope you will continue to contribute since you and I seem to share many opinions.


8/18/99 Ashton - Man-talk with a glossary of terms

Dear Heather and John,

The interesting thing is that the very first time a person reads P&P, the reaction is that Darcy is a putz. The second time, Darcy seems OK right from the beginning, but then the reader seems to gain more and more respect for him each time the novel is begun again. I had the same sort of reaction to Emma; the first time through, I hated Emma Woodhouse with a passion and barely made it through the novel. Now, I love her from the very beginning. To discover how this change occurs would be to uncover part of Jane Austen's art.

That fateful conversation between Darcy and Bingley at the first assembly is one of the most beautifully crafted things I have ever read. Although, the passage is only average for a Jane-Austen effort. (Incidentally, my take on that conversation is very similar to John's.) I thought to point out some things that our soprano male-voices may not have noticed. Essentially, Bingley starts the conversation by saying "Damn it Darcy, stop being a putz and start dancing - I am trying to make an impression here!" The thing is that Darcy actually offers to dance when he says

'You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,' said Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

which is man-talk for "OK, I will dance, but would you permit me to dance with Miss Jane Bennet?" Well, Bingley speaks man-talk, so he answers

'... But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.'

which is man-talk for "No!". Don't you see how beautifully this sets up what follows? Darcy's response is so angry and so off the cuff that the junior varsity - I mean, Elizabeth - overhears him. And so all the fun can then begin.

Of course, all this man-talk comes to us from the consciousness of Jane Austen. It's like Paul Jennings said

"For Jane is my favorite writer;
Suave and satirical, Jane is a miracle,
Who subtler than Jane--and who lighter?"

8/20/99 Heather Swallow - [hms@blakes.ca] Actually, I'm an alto

Dear Ashton,

Your posting on man-talk is my favourite so far.  I had never considered the sub-text there and it is quite wonderful in its subtlety.  It is your most convincing argument to date.

Now then, can people like Mr. Woodhouse, Collins, or the Elliot patriarch be said to speak man-talk, or is this style of speech reserved for only the male-est of men?  Certainly Austen makes us aware of "understandings" between men that women are not privy to, such as the dealings between Messrs. Bennet and Gardiner (as go-between) in the Lydia matter.  But where else can we find these understandings set out as dialogue?  Are there any discussions between Frank and Mr. Knightley that we can dissect in this way?  More Bingley/Darcy conversations?  Unfortunately, my mind drags up more women/women and women/men discussions than men/men ones.


8/20/99 John - Thanks for the warm welcome, but....

Dear Ashton,

Thank you very much for the warm welcome to your Austen board, but I could have wished that you had not used the words of Mr. Bennet (in the latest PP mini-series) when he greets Mr. Collins about whom he has just said to Elizabeth that he hopes to find in him just the opposite to a sensible man.

How sensible you will find me when you learn that our "takes" on both Darcy and Charlotte Lucas are not at all congruent and that on Charlotte's character we diverge extremely is something only you can decide.  I can find not one tittle of evidence that Charlotte is not entirely an honourable young woman who has done the best thing for ensuring a comfortable life for herself and likely also for William Collins.  Unlike Mary Bennet, Charlotte does not hope to change him for the better, a project that must certainly fail  and whether or not, like Mary, she sees solidity  in some of his opinions, she does believe she has as fair a chance of happiness with him as with any other man. As well I cannot find the slightest evidence of anger in the overheard exchange between Bingley and Darcy at the Meryton assembly.

I hope soon to contribute a full analysis of Charlotte's securing Mr. Collins, but I am off to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, for a few days to see "Pride and Prejudice" staged in the Festival Theatre and also "The Tempest", which in my mind has some striking similarities to "Mansfield Park": when Fanny Price reads "Ah, brave new world that hath such creatures in it", who could doubt that she always sees Edmund Bertram in her own imagined new world." Much as I value the steel-hard virtue and loyalty of Fanny Price, may I say that had I to choose between them, I should choose the pragmatic, very intelligent, and equally beautiful and equally loyal Mary Crawford.  Edmund, of course, made the only choice that was consistent with integrity  and a more perfect marriage could not be imagined--although, I must also say that I believe that there have been and are many such happy life partnerships.

Tomorrow, Stratford
John


8/20/99 Ashton - You have convinced me.

Dear John,

You are absolutely correct, you and I do not have all that much in common. The good news is that I can now repeat my welcome with even greater enthusiasm, because now I can tell you that, with only a single exception, you have found a community of people who share your views. I was encouraged in my initial error by the things you said about the internet and the lack of any long-term anger in the Darcy-Bingley conversation. Perhaps I misunderstood and, in any case, my blunder is not your fault.

So, you are to defend Charlotte Lucas and Mary Crawford? Both bright, charming characters I admit; but, in my opinion, the two women together cannot muster one soul. I certainly look forward to those debates. You say that you are to start with an analysis of Charlotte's behavior. I should think that choice brings advantages and disadvantages. The great advantage is that you will not have to start with a defense of that Jane-Austen character who thought adultery fashionable, even charming, provided it was done discreetly (and you call her "loyal"?). The great disadvantage is that you will have a far more formidable voice than my own to reply to - You must also explain away the objections of Elizabeth Bennet. (I have collected together Elizabeth's views on Charlotte in my posting of 8/16/99.) Also, I look forward to seeing you explain how Charlotte can "ensure a comfortable life for William Collins" given that Jane Austen makes very clear that Charlotte finds him irksome and has taken pains to deny her companionship to him. That part of your analysis should be very interesting - it must be very complicated.

Your understanding of the Bingley-Darcy encounter is quite common, but it never ceases to astound me because there are no subtleties in that passage. Yet, you cannot find the "slightest evidence" of what Jane Austen makes very obvious. Still, I would not derail your train of thought - by all means, let us first hear your defense of Charlotte Lucas.



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