Friday, April 30, 2010

Pride and Prejudice, Chapters 51-61 & Mansfield Park Kick-Off

The last ten chapters of Pride and Prejudice draw the Bennet family saga to a close. Lydia and Wickham come to visit and act like they did nothing wrong. Lydia is insufferable, but when she brags about her wedding, Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy was in attendance. Elizabeth writes to Mrs. Gardiner to find out what that was all about and her aunt tells her that Darcy was the one who found the runaway couple and who paid Wickham to marry Lydia. Bennet marriage count: 1. Darcy then arrives back at the Bennet estate in the company of Wickham, who pays the Bennets several visits before proposing to Jane. Bennet marriage count: 2.

Lady Catherine visits and asks Elizabeth if she is engaged to Darcy. Lady Catherine is appalled by the possibility and asks Elizabeth to promise not to marry Darcy, which Elizabeth refuses: "I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me." Rumors continue to fly about this potential marriage when Mr. Collins writes Mr. Bennet a letter indicating that an engagement is imminent. Mr. Bennet laughs it off — "[he] probably never looked at you in his life."

Shortly thereafter, Darcy appears and tells Elizabeth that his feelings are the same as they were when he first proposed and asks if her have changed. Elizabeth tells them they have, and that she will marry him. Elizabeth breaks the news to Jane, who can't believe it, and Darcy asks Mr. Bennet, who can't believe it. Everyone is thrilled, and the final chapter leaves things in a nice place: Bingley buys an estate near Darcy's, so the sisters are fairly close to each other and Kitty goes to spend time with her two sisters as the Bennets try to keep her away from Lydia, who remains a bad influence. Bennet marriage count: 3.

With this ending everyone is happy and has grown in some way: Darcy and Elizabeth have improved themselves significantly, learning lessons and growing as people. They're rewarded with a mutually fulfilling relationship. Jane and Bingley get what they have always deserved, and the Bennets are making strides towards correcting the defects of Kitty and Mary, the two unmarried sisters. Lady Catherine accepts Darcy's marriage as well.

But Lydia and Wickham don't learn anything from their behavior:
As for Wickham and Lydia, their characters suffered no revolution from the marriage of her sisters. He bore with philosophy the conviction that Elizabeth must now become acquainted with whatever of his ingratitude and falsehood had before been unknown to her; and in spite of every thing, was not wholly without hope that Darcy might yet be prevailed on to make his fortune.
Though their behavior doesn't change, and they ask Lydia's siblings for money regularly, Austen gives them their comeuppance: "His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, she retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her."

I said at the outset of reading this novel that what I "want to discover about Pride and Prejudice is whether it lives up to the hype. Is Austen's Elizabeth Bennet going to be just as dynamic as her on-screen portrayals? Is Mr. Darcy really the ultimate Austen hero?" I think it does. I told someone the other day that Pride and Prejudice improves on Sense and Sensibility in every way that novel needed improving: characters are more well-rounded, the main love relationship is explored more in depth, the writing is stronger, and we're given two main characters who truly work together.  I've requested the two film versions — the BBC mini-series and 2005 feature film — from the library, so I may share thoughts on those when I watch them. What did you all think of the book?

Meanwhile, tomorrow is May 1, so onward to Mansfield Park! I'm excited about this one as it's the first where I don't know the plot at all. Knowing absolutely nothing about the book should make this an interesting read. Here's the schedule of readings:

Monday, May 3 - Chapters 1-5
Monday, May 10 - Chapters 6-16
Monday, May 17 - Chapters 17-26
Monday, May 24 - Chapters 27-37
Monday, May 31 - Chapters 38-48

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