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|The Art Nature Antithesis, Part 1
Written by BarbaraB
(5/15/2010 9:48 p.m.)
Jane Austen, according to the art-nature dialectic, contrasts characters as being art which manifests itself as 'head, reasoning', etc. or nature which materializes as 'heart, feeling', etc. Apparently the art-nature antithesis had its roots in medieval and Renaissance literature or at least it influenced later literature that eventually evolved into the use of this art-nature technique.
We often wonder about the purpose of Mary in the novel. When looking at the story from the art/nature framework, Mary who represents art is used consistently to highlight Lizzy's naturalness, such as:
*We see it in JA's use of the music motif. Lizzy plays the pianoforte naturally and with spirit; it is a personal enjoyment and this enjoyment is transferred to those who listen to her while Mary's more technically correct performance lacks "style and grace" which decreases the pleasure when hearing her play.
*When Lizzy determines to go and see Jane at Netherfield, she is not troubled by the walk over muddy roads and fields nor how she will look when she arrives; her concern is for her sister. Mary's response to this is: "I admire the activity of your benevolence…but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason…" We see the contrast of feeling vs. reason in the two sisters. Lizzy's personal feelings and heart are involved and Mary is looking at it purely from a point of view of reasoning.
*I have already pointed out in the book motif post their individual approaches to reading, another instance where Elizabeth finds enjoyment in the activity whereas Mary uses books for study and appropriating extracts to repeat as her own words of wisdom.
"The extent to which the art-nature contrast permeates Pride and Prejudice is extraordinary, and one does not begin to appreciate the structural tightness and economy that are characteristic of the novel until he has read the book in terms of the antithesis. Samuel Kliger…holds that 'The governing idea of Pride and Prejudice is the art-nature antithesis; the perfection of form is achieved through relating each character and incident to the basic art-nature dialectic.'" For example, if you look at the five Bennet girls they are arranged along a scale "from an extreme of 'art' to an extreme of 'nature'". At one end of the scale is Mary who buries herself in books ('cold, cerebral'). At the other end is Lydia with Kitty right next to her ('followers of their impulses'). In the middle closer to the mean are Jane and Lizzy with Jane erring slightly on the side of art while Lizzy errs slightly on the side of 'nature' but is brought closer to the mean as the story progresses.
Patterns can also be seen in sets of characters such as Lady Catherine, Lizzy, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet. "Lady Catherine and Mr. Bennet are set up as antitheses in several ways." He, though socially irresponsible and irreverent in his remarks, is witty and intelligent which he has passed on to Lizzy. "Lady Catherine, on the other hand, demonstrates a sort of noblesse oblige run mad---dictatorially interfering or attempting to interfere right and left in the lives of those around her, inspecting the shelves in Mr. Collins's closets---arrogant stuffiness. Lady Catherine is to Darcy as Mr. Bennet is to Elizabeth. We see her as representing an extreme form of tendencies that in Darcy can be modified and made acceptable…Mr. Bennet is an opposite extreme that finds more wholesome expression in Elizabeth [particularly toward the end of the novel]." (Kenneth L. Moler)
For what it's worth, this is how the art/nature antithesis works. The next part goes on to discuss Lizzy and Darcy as represented by this antithesis which I will put in a separate post.
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