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|How JA uses conversation scenes (Long)
Written by BarbaraB
(5/8/2010 4:29 p.m.)
In the chapter on symbolic motifs (companion book/Moler) there is also a discussion on conversation scenes: "In addition to employing motifs…Austen also uses "conversation scenes" in which several characters make contrasting comments on a common topic, to emphasize characters' thematic roles." Several conversations are used but I will use the one when Mr. Bennet receives his first letter from Mr. Collins who has invited "himself to Longbourn for a visit, hinting at possible amends to the family for the entail of the estate and hoping, in a cliché that would have been even more conspicuous to Austen's contemporaries than it is to us, that Mr. Bennet will not 'reject the offered olive branch'."* Mr Bennet having read the letter to Mrs. Bennet and the girls during breakfast, announces: "At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peace-making gentleman,"… These are the responses:
(Mrs. Bennet) "There is some sense in what he says about the girls, however, and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not be the person to discourage him."
(Jane) "Though it is difficult…to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish is certainly to his credit."
(Elizabeth who was chiefly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine…) "He must be an oddity, I think," said she, "I cannot make him out. There is something very pompous in his style. -- And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail? -- We cannot suppose he would help it if he could. -- Can he be a sensible man, sir?"
(Mr. Bennet) "No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him."
(Mary) "In point of composition…his letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed."
(Catherine and Lydia) [To them] neither the letter nor its writer were in any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of a man in any other colour.
"Mr. Bennet's detached, cynical enjoyment of folly and pomposity and Elizabeth's shrewd and amused perception of them are typically displayed in their remarks. Mrs. Bennet reveals the mercenary turn of her mind; Jane, the somewhat saccharine "candor" (i.e., in eighteenth century phraseology, disposition to think well of people in general) characteristic of her. Mary, true to form, is concerned with the technical aspects of the letter's composition and picks out its most resounding cliche* for special praise. And Kitty and Lydia's "minds" are revealed as well."
The purpose of this chapter is to show how JA uses material taken "from ordinary, everyday lives of the more-or-less typical gentlefolk with whom [she] chooses to deal." Often very little is happening "in the way of dramatic or extraordinary action" and yet as Austen's characters engage in ordinary things such as taking a walk, reading, conversing, visiting etc., she gets a lot of milage out of these events and/or dialogue. As I am writing this I am reminded of the the walking scene at Netherfield and on thinking about it, I am suddenly aware of how much is going on in just this one little scene. It is approximately fifteen sentences but we see Miss Bingley trying 'get her man' by verbally abusing Lizzy and her family to Mr. Darcy just as Mrs. Hurst and Lizzy come upon them. The Lady Bingleys are shown to be rude in excluding Lizzy as only three can fit across the walkway. They each have one of Mr. Darcy's arms leaving Lizzy to have to trail behind if she wishes to join them. Mr. Darcy is shown to be embarrassed by their rudeness and wishing to include Lizzy suggests they walk on the avenue where they can all fit. Lizzy's remark about the picturesque as she excuses herself shows her to be well-read, intelligent and amazingly witty. Darcy's witness of Lizzy's ability to be completely unfazed while extracting herself so amusingly from the situation has got to put the sisters' personalities in sharp contrast with Lizzy's. What must he be thinking as he continues his walk with the Bingleys?
"With an economy…[Austen] can make the choice of a book, the style of a musical performance, a seemingly casual conversation do thematic work that, in another sort of novelist, might occupy pages of exposition."
*About the cliche that Mr. Collins uses in his letter: his use of "the olive branch" is considered a cliche now but was even more so then. The term "is a favorite with a clergyman, The Reverend Elias Brand, in Richardson's Clarissa. And in Sir Charles Grandison the heroine urges the estranged Lady Clementina della Poretta to be reconciled to her family by saying, "let your sister Harriet prevail upon you not to reject the offered olive branch." LOL, the whole thing is so Mr. Collins.
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