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|Perfectly the gentleman and not an ill-looking man
Written by Robbin
(10/15/2005 2:11 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Wondering about Colonel Wallis, penned by Joan Ellen
“This appears to be Sir Walter's assessment of Col W, so are we to credit it? How long exactly HAS Col W known Mr Elliot? Did he know him during that period when Mr Elliot was supposed to have spoken disrespectfully of Sir W & Eliz, or only afterward? Does Sir W judge him to be respectable simply because he is not ill-looking & living in good style? Sir W is acquainted with him only through Mr Elliot. Are we to trust Col W's opinion, or are he and Mr Elliot conspiring together? Has he been duped himself by Mr E? Or are they both honest & respectable gentlemen?” (Joan Ellen)
These are good questions and not surprisingly, neither Sir Walter nor Elizabeth has the sense to ask them. It does seem that Colonel Wallis is accepted as a credible source of hearsay evidence upon the character of Mr. Elliot with only verification of his own character’s veracity in turn given by Mr. Elliot. This is indeed a circular convention. The claims, in Chapter 15, of his not being ill-looking, his good style of living, that he reportedly has an excessively pretty and charming wife and was anxious and impatient to be introduced at Camden Place are qualifications much more important to Sir Walter & Elizabeth than character. This, I think, is more of a reflection of the foolishness of the occupants of Camden Place than proof of insincerity by Colonel Wallis. With my modern sensibilities I would be suspicious of someone I know as little as they know Mr. Elliot, who then urges an acquaintance whose first order of business, is to support the claims of Mr. Elliot.
“Colonel Wallis had known Mr. Elliot long, had been well acquainted also with his wife, had perfectly understood the whole story. She was certainly not a woman of family, but well educated, accomplished, rich, and excessively in love with his friend. There had been the charm. She had sought him. Without that attraction, not all her money would have tempted Elliot, and Sir Walter was, moreover, assured of her having been a very fine woman. Here was a great deal to soften the business. A very fine woman, with a large fortune, in love with him! Sir Walter seemed to admit it as complete apology; and though Elizabeth could not see the circumstance in quite so favourable a light, she allowed it be a great extenuation.” (Chapter 15)
Not to excuse Sir Walter’s and Elizabeth’s inability to understand or even question the motives of these agreeably nobbling gentlemen, but I would submit that new acquaintance is accepted to be as they represent themselves until evidence to the contrary is learned. That does not mean, however, that people should put their trust in them—that would go against common sense. In JA’s stories, most people do not because you should trust someone until you learn their character, but as we know; Sir Walter and Elizabeth do not have common sense, unlike Jane Bennet.
“As yet, she cannot even be certain of the degree of her own regard, nor of its reasonableness. She has known him only a fortnight. She danced four dances with him at Meryton; she saw him one morning at his own house, and has since dined in company with him four times. This is not quite enough to make her understand his character.” (P&P, Chapter 6)
The dastardly Mr. Wickham in P&P is a case in point. Mr. Wickham represents himself as an open and agreeable fellow, grossly ill-used by a capricious and haughty rich man and everyone accepts this upon his word. On discovery of his treachery the inhabitants of Meryton feel ill-used but only those who put their trust in him are injured—Lydia, although oblivious and Elizabeth who became too intimate with him and his concerns before she understood his character, believing that he told the truth about his situation. I think accepting Colonel Wallis at face value is fine but it does not excuse Sir Walter and Elizabeth from giving his opinion such weight before they are sure of his character and the same goes for Mr. Elliot who has been forgiven, believed, and accepted in the same manner.
Note: I left out the merchants and shopkeepers daughters in P&P as being injured by Mr. Wickham because I just did not think I needed them for evidence, but feel free to include them if you like.
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