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|Officers and Gentlemen…
Written by Robbin
(6/9/2007 8:30 p.m.)
Though Lydia's short letter to Mrs. F. gave them to understand that they were going to Gretna Green, something was dropped by Denny expressing his belief that W. never intended to go there, or to marry Lydia at all, which was repeated to Colonel F., who, instantly taking the alarm, set off from B., intending to trace their route. He did trace them easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place, they removed into a hackney-coach, and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom. (Chapter 46)
In Chapter 16 Lizzy thought “the officers of the – Shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set” and in the aftermath of the elopement the behavior of Col Forster and Denny reveal how much of that credit was personally deserved. Col Forster heard that Denny claimed Wickham had no intention of marrying Lydia but when confronted by him he would not admit it:
"Yes; but when questioned by him Denny denied knowing anything of their plan, and would not give his real opinion about it. He did not repeat his persuasion of their not marrying -- and from that, I am inclined to hope, he might have been misunderstood before." (Chapter 47)
I think Denny is covering for himself rather than so much for Wickham. Perhaps Denny does not want the colonel to know of his prior knowledge of such a plan—it shows he is not a gentleman. His attentions to Lydia were quite insincere; he had little respect for her situation or person and a rather immoral character if he could allow any young stupid girl to be used in this manner. He is sincerely lacking in honesty and morality which indicates once again that a gentlemanlike appearance does not always assure the strictest adherence to gentlemanlike sensibilities.
With the kindest concern he came on to Longbourn, and broke his apprehensions to us in a manner most creditable to his heart. I am sincerely grieved for him and Mrs. F., but no one can throw any blame on them. (Chapter 46)
I think Col Forster comes off somewhat better. It seems to me the colonel had no clue the elopement was a sham until Denny let the cat out of the bag. His going after the pair was the right thing to do in his position especially as he must feel some responsibility for letting Lydia get into the worst sort of mischief; as a matter of fact I feel any gentleman of merit (:D) in a similar position and of like responsible disposition would also. There is no doubt the colonel was responsible for Lydia when under his roof but how much blame, if any should Col Forster shoulder for her elopement? Col Forster is innocent of neglect or other wrong doing IMO.
“Every girl in or near Meryton was out of her senses about him for the first two months; but he never distinguished her by any particular attention; and consequently, after a moderate period of extravagant and wild admiration, her fancy for him gave way, and others of the regiment, who treated her with more distinction, again became her favourites.” (Chapter 47)
In Chapter 47 the colonel admits to suspecting Lydia’s partiality for Wickham but nothing to give alarm. Lydia’s behavior never gave her father any alarm even after Lizzy warned him of the dangers inherent in a trip to Brighton in Chapter 41. Can we expect the colonel to read more into Lydia’s behavior than her father who has had many years additional observation? I cannot bring myself to expect it of him for two reasons. First, it seems to me the colonel’s watchfulness was adequate based on what he knew of Lydia. She was probably not being more extravagant or wild than he had witnessed at Meryton over Wickham and I dare say over other favorites. Again, why should he suspect or become alarmed more than her family ever did in the past.
Colonel Forster is a sensible man, and will keep her out of any real mischief… (Chapter 41)
Second, I think Mr. Bennet’s reliance on Col Forster’s sense is misplaced. IMO the colonel was ill equipped by temperament and experience to chaperone Lydia. He is only recently married and may not have been responsible for a young girl before other than his wife. The colonel’s choice of wife is also a bit telling in what behavior he expects from young females. His wife is a silly young lady like Lydia and he does not discourage their silliness of dressing Chamerlayne (Chapter 39) in female clothing. To me his choice of wife and participation or at the very least, condoning of such activity casts doubt on what he deems inappropriate behavior. I do not see how Col Forster could have prevented Lydia from eloping unless he, against his temperament, stepped in and controlled her activities more than he does his wife’s.
In the end I think Col Forster was just way out of his league with Lydia. He is an honorable man who did not realize the extent of trouble Lydia could get herself in to. I think Col Forster’s diligence fails because like her father he could not predict the villainy of Wickham or the complete gullibility which Lydia’s overconfidence (Chapter 9) combined with a shallow frivolous understanding (Chapter 47) and sadly off-kilter moral compass created. Neither Colonel Forster nor Mr. Bennet I wager ever suspected Lydia or Wickham capable of the actions they take. However, unlike Mr. Bennet the colonel can have no regrets in how Lydia became the foolish person she is. (;D)
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