Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

We were in Edmonton for my mother-in-law's memorial service. We helped with cleaning up her last apartment, and we got a few items. I got a fairly nice old edition of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, so naturally I re-read it.

Things that struck me this time: the characters appear to be Christians. This is not always the case in her novels, and Chesterton said Austen displays what can only be called atheism. In one novel a character reports that there was formerly a chapel or something right in the master's house, with some kind of daily observance, but that had all been replaced with weekly church attendance. Another character says something like: "every generation has its improvements." Here Mr. Darcy goes to church (it may be taken for granted in all the novels that respectable people do at least this much), Mr. Bennett talks about Christian forgiveness, and Elizabeth teases Wickham, who turns out to be no good, about whether he would like giving sermons if he got the "living" (including a job as priest) that he says he wants. The message delivered in sermons seems to have at least some overlap with Austen's message about morality.

One sentence I really don't understand. Elizabeth meets Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and has a chance to compare this man to Darcy. Chapter 32 ends this way:

[The Colonel] was, beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible; but to counterbalance these advantages, Mr. Darcy had considerable patronage in the church, and his cousin could have none at all.

Elizabeth's striking remark to her sister Jane in Chapter 24: "There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it: and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense."

Chapter 43, Elizabeth along with her aunt and uncle are able to tour Mr. Darcy's estate. The housekeeper has effusive praise for Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth reflects: "What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant?" It is with servants, I suppose, that one can be vicious with a kind of secrecy or confidentiality--or so it seems. The virtue of the oligarchic man in Plato's Republic is exercised only when he is being watched.

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