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|St Mary the Stupid (long)
Written by Anselm
(4/16/2010 1:38 p.m.)
To quote Marilyn Monroe: "Isn't it delicious" how, towards the end of Ch.5, that pretentious git Mary ostentatiously parades whatever pompous nonsense she happens to have been reading that morning, irrespective of how irrelevant it might be to the discussion, under the delusion that she's impressing everyone within earshot with her erudition rather than irritating the heck out of them, all the while blissfully unaware that she is the living embodiment of the vanity she pretends to be analysing - as JA herself pointedly remarks in the very next chapter! Jeez, wadda dweeb!
Have I seriously offended anyone on this board yet? Is there a secret Mary Bennet fan club out there, and if so, is there a member of it who is willing to stick their heads above the parapet and offer some kind of defence of someone so unlikeable? Not that this is any criticism of JA - no one says you have to like any particular character of hers. But I do find myself wondering why she created her in the first place. Maybe JA's penchant for arranging characters in opposing pairs (Catherine Morland/Isabella Thorpe, Elinor Dashwood/Lucy Steele, Fanny Price/Mary Crawford etc.) might suggest something.
How about this: Mary is part of the continuum Lizzie - Charlotte - Mary. Elizabeth is "romantic", as she shows in her rejection of Charlotte's "sensible" philosophy in Ch.6. For her, being true to one's heart (sorry, a bit of Disney creeping in there!) is of the highest importance, and it simply won't do to compromise that in any way, even if only by exaggeration, as Charlotte would advise Jane to do towards Bingley. She wouldn't dream of trying to trap a guy just because he's rich - that's irrelevant to her, otherwise she'd be sucking up to Darcy no matter how he'd offended her. She's a creature of deep feeling.
Charlotte's attitude, on the other hand, is purely pragmatic. She claims that feelings are unimportant compared to material comfort, although it remains to be seen if Elizabeth's assertion that she wouldn't act that way herself will be borne out. And Mary is a creature of knowledge, at the opposite pole from feeling - but it's a knowledge that's entirely abstract and thus utterly useless. She has no idea of what's truly important in life: knowing yourself. Imagine asking her, "What do you feel about XYZ?" She'd doubtless answer with a quote from a book, if she wasn't nonplussed by the question.
Feeling - pragmatism - knowledge. We sense that JA's sympathies are with Lizzie (i.e. with feeling), but we've surely discovered by now that Lizzie's no bubblehead. If she has to make a life choice between elements of that continuum, will it be one that accords with her true sentiments but that recognises the fact that we have to accommodate ourselves to the world we live in, and that also constitutes a true union of heart and mind? Or will she get carried away by her heart, finding out only too late that Charlotte had a point after all?
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