What do you get when an amazing JAFF author offers to collaborate as a guest host during your year-long “Pride and Prejudice” series? Happily, the answer is, today’s post!
I’m so glad you’re back for Chapter 8 of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen/ Project Gutenberg, because today is not only an illuminating chapter in the story, we also are fortunate to have Stanley Michael Hurd, author of “Darcy’s Tales: Volumes I, II, and III” and “Colonel Fitzwilliam And The Countess of Sainte Toulours” here today to host this chapter with me. Stan, I also want to say “Happy Birthday” to you today!
Today’s chapter coordinates so well with our current blog event “Austen at War: Love is a Battlefield,” since we get to read Austen’s lovely sparring between our characters, as Caroline Bingley really takes aim at Elizabeth from all angles, in her dogged pursuit of Mr. Darcy.
Let’s start today with our reading of this next chapter.
At five o’clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. To the civil inquiries which then poured in, and amongst which she had the pleasure of distinguishing the much superior solicitude of Mr. Bingley’s, she could not make a very favourable answer. Jane was by no means better. The sisters, on hearing this, repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being ill themselves; and then thought no more of the matter: and their indifference towards Jane when not immediately before them restored Elizabeth to the enjoyment of all her former dislike.
Their brother, indeed, was the only one of the party whom she could regard with any complacency. His anxiety for Jane was evident, and his attentions to herself most pleasing, and they prevented her feeling herself so much an intruder as she believed she was considered by the others. She had very little notice from any but him. Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.
When dinner was over, she returned directly to Jane, and Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room. Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no beauty. Mrs. Hurst thought the same, and added:
“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”
“She did, indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must _she_ be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”
“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”
“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”
“_You_ observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley; “and I am
inclined to think that you would not wish to see _your_ sister make such an exhibition.”
“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.”
“It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing,” said Bingley.
“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”
“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.” A short pause followed this speech, and Mrs. Hurst began again:
“I have an excessive regard for Miss Jane Bennet, she is really a very sweet girl, and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is no chance of it.”
“I think I have heard you say that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton.”
“Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”
“That is capital,” added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
“If they had uncles enough to fill _all_ Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”
“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.
With a renewal of tenderness, however, they returned to her room on leaving the dining-parlour, and sat with her till summoned to coffee. She was still very poorly, and Elizabeth would not quit her at all, till late in the evening, when she had the comfort of seeing her sleep, and when it seemed to her rather right than pleasant that she should go downstairs herself. On entering the drawing-room she found the whole party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing high she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”
“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am _not_ a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”
“In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure,” said Bingley; “and I hope it will be soon increased by seeing her quite well.”
Elizabeth thanked him from her heart, and then walked towards the table where a few books were lying. He immediately offered to fetch her others–all that his library afforded.
“And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into.”
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.
“I am astonished,” said Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”
‘”I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
“Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place. Charles, when you build _your_ house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley.”
“I wish it may.”
“But I would really advise you to make your purchase in that neighbourhood, and take Pemberley for a kind of model. There is not a finer county in England than Derbyshire.”
“With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it.”
“I am talking of possibilities, Charles.”
“Upon my word, Caroline, I should think it more possible to get Pemberley by purchase than by imitation.”
Elizabeth was so much caught with what passed, as to leave her very little attention for her book; and soon laying it wholly aside, she drew near the card-table, and stationed herself between Mr. Bingley and his eldest sister, to observe the game.
“Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring?” said Miss Bingley; “will she be as tall as I am?”
“I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s height, or rather taller.”
“How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite.”
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know anyone who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.
“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”
“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing _only_ six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing _any_.”
“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all
“I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”
Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.
“Elizabeth Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
“Undoubtedly,” replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed,
“there is a meanness in _all_ the arts which ladies sometimes condescend
to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”
Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject.
Elizabeth joined them again only to say that her sister was worse, and that she could not leave her. Bingley urged Mr. Jones being sent for immediately; while his sisters, convinced that no country advice could be of any service, recommended an express to town for one of the most eminent physicians. This she would not hear of; but she was not so unwilling to comply with their brother’s proposal; and it was settled that Mr. Jones should be sent for early in the morning, if Miss Bennet were not decidedly better. Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that they were miserable. They solaced their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper, while he could find no better relief to his feelings than by giving his housekeeper directions that every attention might be paid to the sick lady and her sister.
Welcome back Stan, to Just Jane 1813. I’m so glad to have you join us today to share your thoughts and insights into Chapter 8. I know you’ve spent a lot of time studying Austen’s work for your own writing, which makes me excited to share our conversation today with my readers, especially your ideas and insights about this chapter. So, let’s jump right into Chapter 8, which really is a crucial chapter in the story.
Stan: Thank you for having me here today. I’m glad to discuss this chapter with you and share our conversation with your readers. To me, this chapter is all about Darcy trying to keep his feelings for Elizabeth in check, and to prevent them from being too obvious when he finds he cannot. But this is not how it reads the first time through; the overall impression I had the first time was that he was a rather severe, laconic individual, but that, I think, it is merely because the majority of his comments in this chapter are addressed to Caroline. When speaking to Bingley, or Elizabeth, he is much more conversable; but Caroline yammers at him so much that she dominates the chapter, so far as his conversation is concerned.
Claudine: I think your points about what you noticed on the reread are so vital to understanding Darcy. As I read what you have written here, your comments bring us back to realize how Caroline’s presence completely alters our opinions of him and our experience regarding what we think we have read in this chapter after the first few initial readings. When I went back again and read with your points in mind, I could see the way that Darcy’s behaviors were influenced by Caroline’s behaviors and how Austen manipulated this scene to create what she wanted us to first see as Darcy’s taciturn nature, when really, there’s a lot more going on here for him.
Stan: Austen fosters this impression on purpose, I believe. In this chapter, during Elizabeth’ first dinner at Netherfield, Austen tells us: “Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so;” this seems to say that he held their attention, speaking to them exclusively and ignoring Elizabeth. That would support my first reading, showing him to be inhospitable to his fellow guest; but another way to read it is that the sisters were engrossed in the activity of holding Darcy’s attention, carefully occupying his thoughts and words, and turning his attention away from Elizabeth. Along about this point, Caroline must have been feeling the first stirrings of jealousy towards Elizabeth, given how catty about her the sisters were after she went back upstairs—although of course it could also be just Caroline’s normal mean-spiritedness. Still, she probably wouldn’t have wanted to share Darcy’s attention at dinner with an outsider, whether an acknowledged rival or not. All this to say, I rather think Caroline was working to keep him to herself at dinner, instead of the other way round: Darcy wasn’t being rude to Elizabeth, he was being held back from addressing her by Caroline and Louisa.
And of course, right after dinner Darcy is asking about Elizabeth’s connections (which he could hardly have asked her himself with any propriety), and, at least in my interpretation, lamenting the fact that they precluded her from marrying a man “of any consideration in the world” (such as a certain landowner from Derbyshire?); this, in my opinion, shows how much she was in his thoughts. If he was not thinking about it in terms of a possible marriage between the two of them, I doubt he would have given any thought to her eligibility at all.
Claudine: Yes, I believe that Darcy is already having this inner struggle with himself, both consciously and somewhat subconsciously because I believe he’s attracted to Elizabeth on a variety of levels and he’s having difficulty understanding this attraction, as well as his feelings towards her as a person.
As I read the Patricia Meyer Spacks edition of “Pride and Prejudice,” I was also struck by this very intentional move on Austen’s part to use the Bingley sisters’ comments about Elizabeth to not only draw attention to certain parts of Elizabeth’s character, but to a greater extent, to demonstrate the poor character of the Bingley sisters.
In her research, Efrat Margalit points out the following:
“Since Jane Austen uses descriptive details economically, the attentive reader can gain a more comprehensive understanding of her works by exploring the cultural code underlying such details. By noting the socio-cultural significance of the petticoat at the time Pride and Prejudice was written we are able not only to understand why the Bingley sisters insistently refer to it, but also to pick up on the ironic undertone of the dialogue which foreshadows the text’s final rejection of mock propriety, propriety that has everything to do with appearances and nothing to do with true gentility.”
Stan: If you go through his remarks throughout the chapter, the ones where Elizabeth is the subject, or the one being addressed, are the only ones wherein he seems to be inviting discussion, rather than suppressing it. In response to Caroline, his answers are curt, even cutting, almost without exception. But he praises Elizabeth’s eyes to the Bingleys, tries to draw her into conversation several times, and indirectly declares his approbation of her penchant for reading. I think this one comment captures the dichotomy between how he views Elizabeth and how he views Caroline quite well:
“…to all this she must yet add something more substantial…” (a dig at Caroline’s vacuous list of accomplishments) “…in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” (A compliment to Elizabeth’s dedication to that pastime.)
All in all, I think this is a guy who is already pretty far gone. He’s fighting it, for what he believes to be good reason, but he’s losing. He probably doesn’t realize the depth of his feelings yet, and he surely hasn’t realized that he has lost his heart, but I think this is the picture of a man who has already pitched over the edge, and won’t strike bottom until he gets to Rosings.
We all know how an unpleasant individual can put a damper on conversation and general conviviality. I actually think, though, that JA did it on purpose, to mislead us on Darcy’s character. As you’re going through the chapters, notice how often he smiles at Elizabeth; but that isn’t what anyone thinks of. All they come away with is the introverted, even misanthropic version of Darcy that has dominated in films and JAFF.
Claudine: My take is that Elizabeth enters the scene, and Netherfield, with her prejudice towards Darcy so firmly in place and unlike Darcy, she makes no room for allowing any revisions of her opinion of him. Now, that is most likely because he has already ridiculed her most “worthy” female “accomplishment,” which is her appearance, so she is not prepared to allow him to damage her in any further way.
Stan: Agreed; Darcy doesn’t really show her anything that would change her initial impression. He is introverted, or perhaps just consciously quiet in company, so while he is better-behaved towards her than towards Caroline, she can’t see anything beyond a mantle of civility.
Claudine: So everything she witnesses and experiences at Netherfield is through this perspective of hers. She can’t discern the slight difference in the manner in which he addresses or seeks her out compared to Caroline, she can’t imagine the book comment (the reading habits of Austen’s characters often expressed her feelings towards them herself) is a compliment to her, and I even think when he compares her height to Georgiana’s, he is attempting to flatter her and draw her into their conversation, and Caroline senses this and swipes at everything she can to sway the conversation away from Elizabeth. Elizabeth believes Caroline just disdains her and her family mainly because of Charles, so she’s unaware of any real jealousy towards her based on Darcy.
Stan: I totally agree.
Claudine: The real gem too is how Elizabeth uses Caroline’s own words against her to show her utter foolishness by having her first claim to agree with Darcy’s comment about knowing only half a dozen “accomplished ladies” and then a few paragraphs later in an attempt to disagree with Elizabeth and disparage her experiences as a country miss, protests with Mrs. Hurst that they knew many women who answered this description.
Stan: I know; I bet Darcy noticed it, too.
Claudine: I think he notices now and in upcoming chapters as well during their time at Netherfield, and he comes to realize how superior Elizabeth’s mind is to the well-educated” mind of Caroline Bingley, who as we know, has been “educated” at one of the “finest” schools for ladies!
Also, Elizabeth never hears Darcy’s attempts to defend her, and I often wonder what her responses would’ve been. Love his comment; “there is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”
Stan: Hah! I know. As an author, smacking down people who deserve it is hugely satisfying.
So, he knows Elizabeth isn’t trying to captivate him, as he knows the moves… At least not through arts or cunning moves. The term arts is also used here and then again by Lady Catherine, yet isn’t it a women’s “arts” that Darcy also lists for accomplished women? I think that also shows a part of his struggles. What does he really want? He thinks he knows, but now that he has met Elizabeth, he really knows and he doesn’t really know what to think about that!
Stan: Another thing to consider is how few ladies worth paying attention to there were in the neighborhood. Basically, just Jane, Elizabeth, and Charlotte. And since Jane was off-limits, Elizabeth was the only girl around for him to really focus on. No one else had both wit and beauty together, putting her head and shoulders above anyone else around. After a few weeks like that, I believe most men would find themselves captivated, at least a little.
Claudine: Also funny how Elizabeth thinks Bingley is such a gentleman, but he doesn’t reign his sister in at all! He doesn’t even defend Elizabeth when she leaves. He’s at such a loss with all of them.
Stan: Yes, but I think she would chalk that up to his generally amiable nature.
Claudine: I am sure she would too. Thank you so much again for being here today. It’s been such a pleasure sharing this chapter with you. I always look forward to your visits here to my blog and
Stan, thank you so much again for being here today. It’s been such a pleasure sharing this chapter with you. I always look forward to your visits here to my blog and I appreciate your time.
As always dear readers, please post your thoughts, insights, and reactions below this post… I can’t wait to read them! Please also tell me if you enjoyed today’s format, as I’d love to invite more JAFF authors and contributors to visit this series throughout this year.