Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Sniffing Coffee Beans

A Pride and Prejudice Moment: Darcy's disgrace

Well, I'm reading Jane Austen's novel, again, for a discussion course. Reading with a special attention for ironical twists (irony being very much on my mind recently).

As I came upon this famous moment (6 minutes into the vid):

"Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.

``Come, Darcy,'' said he, ``I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.''

``I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.''

``I would not be so fastidious as you are,'' cried Bingley, ``for a kingdom! Upon my honour I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.''

``You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,'' said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

``Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.''

``Which do you mean?'' and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ``She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.

Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous."

"I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men."

Of course the irony is that Darcy was the only man at that ball to have slighted Elizabeth Bennet, by this very statement and his adamant refusal to engage in the happy activities of the evening.

Mr. Bingley, fully aware that the extent and depth of this slight to the fair maiden is tantamount to a slander, later tries to mend some of the harm inflicted by his haughty and unfeeling friend. How do we know it? Mrs. Bennet informs us, as she reports to her husband when they get back home that night:

``Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet,'' as she entered the room, ``we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired, nothing could be like it. Every body said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her; but, however, he did not admire her at all: indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger --''
As we can see, after dancing with Jane for the second time, Mr. Bingley rushed to ask Lizzy to dance.

How do we know that? In the conversation between them, Bingley referred to Jane as "my partner" and Darcy, insistently uncivilized, urges him to " return to your partner and enjoy her smiles". This should signal to the attentive reader exactly how the evening proceeded from the moment Darcy snubbed Elizabeth.

Austen, of course, conceals, in her Machiavellian way, this useful nugget of information in Mrs. Bennet's stupid and inconsequential prattle.


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