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|Of colds and death
Written by Anselm
(4/13/2010 7:48 a.m.)
In Ch.7, Jane is forced to go on horseback to Netherfield despite (actually because of) the threat of rain. My understanding of the state of medicine in those days is that colds were definitely something to be avoided because they could result in severe illness and even death. In S&S, Marianne Dashwood nearly dies of complications brought on by merely getting her shoes and stockings wet.
To describe Mrs Bennet as at once calculating and heartless therefore seems to be quite an understatement. Mr Bennet's flippant remark about her expiring, once she has actually been taken ill, is surely founded on that common perception, so for his wife to answer "Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds" is pure wishful thinking of a particularly callous kind. "Her business in life was to get her daughters married" (Ch.1) - even, it appears, at the risk of their lives!
So I was particularly disturbed to find that Lizzie joins in this blasé attitude, extorting "from her father an acknowledgement that the [carriage] horses were engaged" on the farm, forcing Jane to go on horseback. She soon changes her tune, becoming "anxious" enough to walk three miles to Netherfield to visit her sick sister - but isn't that a little like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted (so to speak)?
There are one of two possibilities here: either Jane's parents and her sister are right, and it would have been considered entirely outside the bounds of normal expectation for a cold to turn into a serious, let alone life-threatening, illness; or those three parties are guilty of gross frivolousness in their treatment of the fundamental health of an immediate family member. Which is it? It's noteworthy that, concerned as Elizabeth shows herself to be, she imputes to no one the slightest modicum of guilt for her sister's illness: everyone seems to regard it as "just one of those things".
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