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|Darcy's progress, week 4
Written by gianni
(5/4/2010 11:55 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Darcy, the Conversationalist -- Week 4 (Long), penned by gianni
So, we've seen Darcy stumble through the whole book almost unable to put several sentences together, showing little ability to speak independently except in unusual circumstances. The only direct indication we have that he can talk intelligently at all is that when he does say something, it's not silly (like Lydia or Mrs. Bennet) or sarcastic (like Mr. Bennet).
He does start out speaking rudely, and that cannot of course be regarded as intelligent. But spread through the many instances of rude and dismissive comments are intelligently worded and thoughtful statements such as "Certainly, sir; and it (dancing) has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance." And how can we decry the delightful "I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow" (both from ch. 6, the party at Sir William Lucas's).
And of course, there's ch. 10 at Netherfield when Jane is sick. He has one of his few discussions (if it can be called discussion) with Caroline Bingley, then is drawn into the commentary on Bingley's character, filled with intelligent (if dull) responses to Lizzy's banter and Bingley's protests. Chapter 11 tells us both that Darcy enjoys reading and that he carefully maintains his library (the work of many generations). Chapter 11 climaxes with the wonderful exchange on the faults of pride, vanity, and temper, which almost hide Darcy's generally intelligent comments under Lizzy's scintillating banter.
Darcy is certainly no intellectual or cultural lightweight, even if he can't keep up orally with Lizzy!
At Rosings (ch.31), he is equally inarticulate, blaming his silence in Hertfordshire on inability to converse easily: "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done." Both Lizzy and Fitzwilliam reject this, blaming it on, in Fitzwilliam's words, "not giving himself the trouble." Personally, I can sympathize wholeheartedly with the first of his excuses (catch the tone...).
Indirect indications of his ability to converse come from Wickham (ch. 16), who sneers, "He can be a conversible companion if he thinks it worth his while." In ch. 32 Col. Fitzwilliam "abuses his stupidity", which indicates to Charlotte that he usually participates more in conversation when Fitzwilliam is present. Darcy is also described as "seldom animated", which seems to imply that he is occasionally animated. Good conversational skills, or caught up in the topic?
Leading up to the chapter 34 Proposal, we see Darcy beginning to speak more on his own, sounding Lizzy out about her family, her appreciation for Rosings, whether she is really very attached to Longbourn. He still speaks mostly haltingly, but he's initiating more, now.
Then, of course, The (In)Famous Proposal.
"He spoke well." Clearly not incoherently, but certainly not wisely.
"With a voice of forced calmness." Very upset, but tightly controlled after her refusal.
"He listened without attempting to interrupt her while she continued." Even angry, upset, disappointed, he let her have her say without interruption.
"Perhaps these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples..." He hears, but does not understand. How often has this happened before?
She saw him start at this, but he said nothing. Her comment about his ungentlemanly behavior shocked him, drew him up short. Is he being polite, or is he struck dumb? I think it's the latter, but I also think the former would have been the case if not. Whichever, he allowed her to continue unhindered in a complete condemnation of his behavior and the character she inferred from that behavior.
And, totally deflated, he quits the field in confusion -- but not so confused that he can't leave her with (polite? dismissive?) farewell.
I wonder what feelings he felt he had to be ashamed of? love? arrogance? inconsideration or indifference toward inferiors?
I'm amazed that I don't have a lot to say about The Letter, but my focus is on Darcy's conversational skills, and I don't want to get lost (here, at least) in plumbing his psychology (which would in any case be at least as controversial as the many and long discussions on Charlotte's psychology :-).
The Letter is a detailed and pointed refutation of all Lizzy's most mistaken ideas. It is also quite dispassionate, possibly even gentle in tone, even when it addresses the most flagrant of Lizzy's errors. It strikes me as rigidly honest; even where I might concede Darcy's real motives to be other than what he says (for instance, his "impartial conviction" assertion), I insist that his deception is to himself, not to Lizzy. I will insist that the entire letter, every one of the points he asserts, is honest and sincere. And I'm not at all convinced that his real motives are even unconscious -- his ignorance of Jane's depth of feeling is sincere; his view of her family's behavior as more important than their status is sincere; his consequent belief that Bingley would have been trapped in an unhappy situation is sincere.
So this time, he doesn't put off his and Col. Fitzwilliam's departure.
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