Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|Symbolic Motifs: Books, Reading, Libraries
Written by BarbaraB
(5/3/2010 12:26 p.m.)
I have a companion book (Kenneth Moler) that goes into the subject of symbolism as such in Pride and Prejudice. There are no "white whales" to speak of in this novel but, "Austen does, however, employ several more modest symbolic devices with great success. She will often use certain kinds of low-keyed symbolic motifs---recurring references to an object, or a kind of object, or to a particular activity---as a means for establishing and comparing characters in relation to the novel's larger thematic patterns."
While there are several symbolic motifs mentioned, I will limit this post to the one on books, reading and libraries.
The scenes/discussions at Netherfield concerning this subject are a minefield on character development. It starts when Lizzy, uninterested in playing cards, is looking for a book to read. Bingley apologizes for the minimal size of his library and careless effort toward its upkeep saying, "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 look into. Miss Bingley then seizes the chance to praise Darcy for his "delightful library" resulting in his statement that, "I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in days such as these."
This, along with at least one other scene on reading, gives us information about the characters but allows comparisons which adds further depth to the characterization.
"The image of the library becomes an expression of the essential difference between the two men....Bingley's "natural" casualness is reflected in the state of his library; Darcy's more methodical nature and his strong sense of family tradition and responsibility are shown in the excellence of his collection and the remarks about it." It also speaks to the difference between Darcy and Mr. Bennet. They both have well-stocked libraries but Darcy's is a sign of his "acceptance of familial-social responsibility, [while] Mr. Bennet's library is a means of escape from responsibilities."
"Why and how and what characters read are also symbolically suggestive."
*Lizzy reads for the genuine enjoyment of it. Miss Bingley uses her book, when she deigns to pick one up, as a way to 'suck up' to Darcy. Lizzy, unknowingly, is showing a natural compatibility to Darcy while Miss Bingley who is striving to display compatibility can't pretend interest in books long enough to carry if off successfully.
*Lizzy's natural enjoyment of reading also contrasts with Mary's who scours great books for extracts to spout, thereby showing her artificiality in comparison.
*Mr. Collins, sitting in Mr. Bennet's library with him, chose "one of the largest folios in the collection but was really talking to Mr. Bennet with little cessation..." When he was invited to read to the ladies he recoiled from the novel they have been reading from and chose Fordyce's Sermons. Mr. Collins chooses a large folio for show but all he really wants to do is brag about Hunsford.
*Something not mentioned in the book is circulating libraries. It seems to me that twice we have been told that Lydia and Kitty like frequenting them because soldiers hang out in them as a place for socializing. So I would see this as an extension of the motif that fits in with what we know about the girls.
I was somewhat stunned by how skillful authorial manipulation, through motifs such as this, can be used to manage our view of characters. A reader can be aware that they are getting information about characters and understand the character/s but not necessarily realize the depth and broadness of the ripples the information makes as it extends beyond our immediate intake influencing us on more levels than we may comprehend on first reading it or sometimes even through multiple readings. You can just suddenly 'just get it' one day out of the blue or have it pointed out to you but either way...wow.
Other motifs mentioned JA using are music, dancing, walking and nature. I will try to get to one or two more of them before the end of the GR.
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.