That old Austen see-saw...
Posted by Helen on January 16, 1998 at 13:00:22:
In response to She obviously didn't read P&P "creatively" enough, written by Erin on January 15, 1998 at 20:01:42
I think that you and G. Kay are doing a good job here! Very good comments from you on this point! And I am in agreement with you! ;-)
Patrick, you said in your post that the sources to bring to bear on the question of balance include the novels - but they also include the culture in which JA played a part, comments from her other writings, things said in the novels themselves and the form in which they are cast. It seems to me that all of these things tend to place JA on the side of balance and order - given that those on the side of disorder in her time included the French Revolutionaries, and anarchists such as William Godwin, and free thinkers such as Coleridge, it's hard to make a viable case for her as a terribly radical thinker socially. Emotionally, I agree, it's a different thing. In a sense, I would say that her work is classical, informed by a romantic sensibility - she does not believe in tearing down the social structures but in making them ideal - which suggests that she believes that they are valid, merely misused.
It's an aesthetic of balance, if you will. This notion is not as quantifiable, objective as you want to make it.
Well said! And I think that you produce a lot of evidence to show that balance is an important element of the structure of P&P. Patrick, if you still don't agree with this thesis, where do you stand on S&S?
] Although "balance" has a nice ring to it, we need not suppose that it is always good. We can make a case that objectification of the world in various ways - quantifying, measuring, analyzing the world - are bad, or at best, neutral, but certainly not good for humans. Consider the rose. [snip] This idea seems to me to be what JA had in mind when she wrote P&P. The rose is "other people." The major characters in the book can be divided into two classes: Lizzy and Darcy, and everybody else. (A word about the Gardiners in a moment.) Lizzy and Darcy smell the rose, everyone else measures it.
] I now understand your resistance to the idea of balance. "Too confined and unvarying!" ;-) But I'm not quantifying it as much as you seem to think. Again, it's more of a general aesthetic of balance. Consider the fact when a smelling the rose, it inherently possesses a balance of fragrance and shape that appears (to most) pleasant to the nose and the eye. A rose contains certain characteristics that make it such...now whether we can verbalize via description all of these qualities to convey to an individual who is blind and/or without the sense of smell is another matter entirely --an issue that gets into the nature of consciousness and the subjective character of experience, e.g., what is it like to experience reality like a bat --an organism whose perceptual apparatus is akin to radar, and hence whose experience of reality is fundamentally different than ours. The answer is no, we can theorize what it's like to be a bat, but we can't experience it as such.
Patrick, are you saying that we should not analyse the rose? Isn't it an important thing to collect that data, to try to discover exactly what makes us react to it as a beautiful experience?
One reason why we have kept settling on balance as a key concept in evaluating P&P is that different people keep finding different methods of evaluation. And Elizabeth and Darcy keep cropping up at the centre of these evaluations as avoiding the extremes of others. Here G. Kay's nomogram concept, as outlined on the P&P board, is a very helpful one IMO.
One final point: Darcy is a major landowner in England: he is praised in the book as the perfect benevolent despot in his administration of his family and estate. This is never challenged in P&P, by the characters or by the author. If he is truly revolutionary, shouldn't the matter be questioned, at least?
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