“And what is fifty miles of good road?”

Taking a little time here to follow up, examining the scene in Pride and Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy, quite unexpectedly visits Elizabeth in the parsonage.   Austen describes that Elizabeth happened to be alone and the conversation did not exactly flow.  Elizabeth first tries to make polite inquiries about Mr. Bingley and Netherfield — but sort of hits a wall with Mr. Darcy: “Elizabeth made no answer.  She was afraid of talking longer of his friend; and having, nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.”

Darcy though does pick up his end of the conversation, choosing to the discuss the parsonage and her cousin Mr. Collins: ‘This seems a very comfortable house.  Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.'”

And Elizabeth’s response — another line often tweaked for film or adaptations: “I believe she did — and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.”  Bit of Austen’s wicked wit here, as she is poking fund not just of her hapless and often sniveling cousin Mr. Collins but also of Lady Catherine to an extent with the choice of the word “kindness” owing again to Austen’s descriptions of Lady Catherine’s domineering personality.

Their talk then turns into the Collins marriage and the distance that Charlotte resides from her family, with Darcy commenting: “It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

Elizabeth shoots back: “An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

So Darcy sort of mansplains here: “And what is fifty miles of good road?  Little more than half a day’s journey.  Yes I call it a very easy distance.”  (Emphasis is Austen’s own.)

This exchange is interesting on a number of levels.  First, it shows perhaps the differences of opinion between a member of the social classes of the time nobility (Darcy) and the gentry (Elizabeth). As well as a marked difference between the genders, Darcy a man who sees little more than a half day of travel being no big deal, and Elizabeth as woman of the time period, who like her author, considers 50 miles to be a much longer distance because she  must take into account: scheduling, being escorted, time, and money — issues and concerns that don’t apply to Mr. Darcy.  As a gentleman he has the money, resources and male freedom to come and go as he pleases.

As the discussion continues because Darcy doesn’t back off from Elizabeth pushing back, rather he continues to fish for information, “It is proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire.  Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Darcy is trying to find out, in the wake of his interest for her and I presume in trying to form his upcoming proposal, how Elizabeth feels about the distance from the family home.  And, again that I will comment here that Mr. Firth, did a very fine and subtle portrayal in the BBC’s adaption, of Mr. Darcy in this particular scene: “As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered, ‘I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too hear her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances.'”

Per Austen, Elizabeth felt the smile was a reference back to her earlier questions about Mr. Bingley and in her sister Jane.  I’m not sure if Austen intended for the reader to really feel that Elizabeth missed this line of questioning by Darcy and/or his interest in her, and his trying to gauge perhaps worried that his Pemberley estate — would be too far and some sort of a deal breaker.

Sort of Shakespearian in nature, two people having a conversation and taking away different meanings as a result. Austen sort of sets it up, Elizabeth got a smile which was it seems a rarity for Darcy, and he turned his chair and gave her this directive — a little chiding in tone it seems was directed squarely at Elizabeth — she cannot have mistake it for a Jane/Bingley reference. “Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, ‘You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You cannot always have been at Longborn.”

Jane Austen lets the reader fill in the blank or not.  She simply writes: “Elizabeth looked surprised.”

And I’m left to wonder — okay, how was she surprised? In the mind of Elizabeth Bennett was she asking herself: “why does he care?”  Or did it go completely over her head, which seems to be the latter.  Elizabeth seems to unintentionally to be missing all of Darcy’s clues of his apparent interest in her.

Austen then details how Elizabeth’s reaction impacts Darcy: “The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper form the table, and, glancing over it, said in a colder voice, ‘Are you pleased with Kent?'”  To sum up, there is something going on here, because Darcy turns his chair again, goes for a prop, the newspaper — and/or item of distraction/protection, and Austen notes his tone changes, specifically Austen writes he now has a “colder voice.”

Darcy is either frustrated, scared or both and he retreats into his usual short, clipped and disinterested stance.  He pretty much clams up.  The whole fishing for information, the intimacy or Darcy’s attempt at it was over, “A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensured, on either side calm and concise — and soon put to an end by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from their walk.”   Because immediately Darcy takes the opportunity to just get himself out of there.

Charlotte, for the rest of the visit seems more aware of Mr. Darcy’s possible interest in Elizabeth.  “She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea.”   From here it’s clear that Austen perhaps either intended for their to be a sort of mix up and misunderstanding from Darcy’s parsonage visit, or that Elizabeth just dismissed Darcy because of his personality.

And Charlotte, per Austen, did not want to raise Elizabeth’s hopes of marrying someone in nobility, “from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend’s dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power.”  Austen seems to be giving readers a little bit a preview or a clue — if Charlotte her dear friend could see it, then we all should right?

Austen continues really with a practical notation on women trying to plan for other women, for Charlotte is savvy enough to realize Colonel Fitzwilliam does not have as much money or connections, but Charlotte it seems, prefers Darcy’s cousin as a choice via the Regency marriage market, “In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam.  He was beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam certainly may have had some polite or overt interest in Elizabeth, that motivated his cousin to realize his attachment for Elizabeth was not fleeting, and perhaps that is what spurred Darcy’s visit to the parsonage but Austen does not detail that, she leaves it again to us, her readers to decide.

However, I do think this parsonage/visit scene was Austen’s way of showing another, softer side of Darcy that he was trying to convey, as well as his interest in Elizabeth. The very practical discussion of distance and settling near/far from your family, as well the details about his tone, smile, and moving his chair closer and then away.  Austen conveys through all of this — how Darcy was definitely interested in Elizabeth.  Austen also notes to her readers, that Elizabeth could not see it or understand it, but as an author she plants the idea for us by using the Charlotte character, Elizabeth’s friend, a married woman who sort of settled in her own life, and is a little more neutral and perceptible in these observations and interactions.

All cites to Penguin Classics, Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice, reprinted/ed. 1985.


















Thoughts on Megan Garber’s Essay–Colin Firth’s Shirt: Jane Austen and the Rise of the Female Gaze

Photo credit BBC/UK Telegraph

There have been a lot of Jane Austen articles and/or clickbait online this year–they have been so plentiful that I’ve been saving the links to re-read and digest them.  Usually I print them out and save them for the train ride commuting to or from work.  Megan Garber, wrote a very interesting essay back on July 17, 2017 via The Atlantic online. The complete title as noted above is — Colin Firth’s Shirt: Jane Austen and the Rise of the Female Gaze.

Ms. Garber starts off with the recent exhibit held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC: “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.” Sadly I did not make it down to DC to see this exhibit, I did however enjoy many photos by writers, and Janeites who did travel there and posted the photos online.

One of the key items on display she describes was, “the shirt,” the tunic worn by actor Colin Firth in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Ms. Garber contends, as many others that the scene where Mr. Darcy was a pivotal cinematic, soon to become iconic moment, “he dives in — clad in nothing, at this point, but his breeches and THE SHIRT.”  Correctly, Ms. Garber notes the displeasure of many Austen scholars and perhaps some more traditional Janeites, since that scene is no where in the book at all and that the film’s director Andrew Davies took a bit of liberty objectifying Darcy, “proud and prejudiced and Fabio-ed.”

Would like to pause here and say a couple of things.  First, Pride and Prejudice  was the first Austen I ever read, back in the early 1990’s as part of a classic novel course in college.  A young 20-something I was juggling a modern/popular novels class at the same time–which lead to the unfortunate timing of reading Gone with the Wind at the same time as Moby Dick — kid you not.

At the time, I liked Pride and Prejudice, but I sort of was bemused by the barriers drawn between economic class levels, the idea that everyone was worried about everyone’s honor, and of course marrying off the girls. In short, I missed a lot, in a word — whoosh.

Our classics teacher did show us a film version of Pride and Prejudice, the old Hollywood black and white version starring Greer Garson–who was a lovely Elizabeth Bennet, and Sir Laurence Olivier was a dark, brooding Mr. Darcy.  To be noted, the Hollywood version of this film did not follow Austen’s book very closely either, most notably inserting the archery scene. Also the ending was tweaked with Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine paying a faux visit to truth test Elizabeth’s intentions, and not to express her blustering outrage as in the book.  Most of all, the gowns are not period appropriate, it’s like someone raided an old Civil War stockroom on a studio back lot, and then decided to call it a day.

My mum still loves this version, and Olivier’s portray of Darcy is her favorite.  Generational speaking, I’m more partial to the 1995 version which yes did spur me to re-read Pride and Prejudice, which was the beginning of my becoming a Janeite.  The scene that most impresses me is when Darcy visits Elizabeth at the Collin’s parsonage cottage, and is sort of trying to find out how she would feel about living so far away from her parents at Longbourne.  This scene was in the book, where they discuss travel distances and “good road,” and I think Mr. Firth, did a really excellent, subtle job of Darcy’s sort of trying to find out how she felt, in the course of his planning to propose to her. Lizzie though, has no real idea what he is fishing for here–she’s is freaked out and put out by his surprise visit.

On going back to the essay, Ms. Garber makes an interesting point that the pond dive sort of humanizes, if not objectifies Mr. Darcy into a characterization beyond a stereotype–of a wealthy man, “both something simpler and more radical: a sex object.”  Agreed, it’s interesting and certainly an ongoing debate among Janeites — the idea of a favorite Austen hero, romantic lead is often divided, and again I think generationally.  Although these days, I tend to agree with the younger Janeites and vote for team Captain Wentworth.

Darcy though I would say is the origin of the bad boy with the heart of gold–again really an iconic character in literature, film and even sadly in real life.  Sometimes you meet people who are obsessed with the “bad boys” or “bad girls,” and I think they are sort of mistaken in their reality–that this person is misunderstood in some way — they will not accept that is not going to turn around into someone they can love forever.  And I’m not citing Austen here, because I don’t think the majority of these people have even read Austen–although I do think it remains a strong and much large part of inter-relational culture.

If I had to give a current pop culture example I would cite, MTV’s Catfish the TV Show, which although it has been scripted and edited, revisits the same theme again and again, as people falling for the perfect persona online–the illusion–but they cannot one hundred percent connect with this person–even the evasive and/or bad behavior does not seem to dissuade them.  The people featured on this show/or who participate–seem to almost know they will be disappointed and deceived but seem to need some sort of closure to the deception that they participated in, sometimes sadly for years–in the hopes this person would turn around and there would be some sort of a resolution of being together.

Austen often deals with the idea of illusion in Pride and Prejudice, the idea of giving a poor first impression is significant, from Mr. Darcy’s rude dismissal of Elizabeth, to Mrs. Bennet’s gossiping tenacity, and Mr. Collin’s braying condescension–these characters are imprinted on the reader’s experience and we see though–Austen’s intentions behind some of their motivations later with Darcy trying to explain to Lizzie that he has issues talking with strangers (social anxiety), and ties back in somewhat the reality of Mrs. Bennet’s ongoing quest to marry of her daughters bringing her almost to a nervous collapse.  Mr. Collins, not so much–I think Austen was just having fun with the obnoxious parson persona–and I think also sometimes Austen used her own mother’s ailments to inspire Mrs. Bennet’s nerves.

Garber’s article continues on, tackling Austen’s other characters, including Willoughby and Mr. Collins, “Austen had her own Willoughby, it seems — Thomas Lefroy, an Irish political, whose family disapproved of the match–and also perhaps, her own Collins: Harris Bigg-Wither, a man of wealth and education whose proposal of marriage she accepted in December of 1802 and then, the next day refused.)  To note, I’m not really in hundred percent agreement with either of Ms. Garber’s theories here.  Lefroy is long thought to the be the model for Mr. Darcy.  To say, he’s the model for Willoughby is interesting, but I think Austen pulled the model for both Wickham and Willoughby more from the general fear and/or experience of the times.  To my knowledge, Lefroy never had any kind of a scandal of  running off with a girl and then abandoning her.  As for Mr. Bigg-Withers, the Austen’s remained connected to the family, and while he was certainly solvent, I think there are many theories about why Austen refused, most of all through her letters to younger nieces and the importance of marrying for love.  Which Garber points out, was a new-fangled concept in those days. Here is a link to the article, and it is worth a read:  https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/07/who-gaze-on-the-men-in-jane-austen/533415/










Longbourn for sale?

Actually the manor house used as the Bennett Family’s home (Longbourn) in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries/adaptation is up for sale via JASNA newsletter.

Here is the URL/link to an article in Country Life UK: