Darcy & Scandal: Chapter 9

Chapter 9 of A Man of Few Words is where Darcy learns of Lydia's "elopement" and does such a magnificent job of a man crawling into his cave, Elizabeth is convinced he intends to never see her again. 

Of course, Elizabeth's assumption is justified by her culture's social norms. Should Lydia's escapade with Wickham become known--and the Bennet daughters believe it is only a matter of time--their position in genteel society will be radically and materially altered (especially considering that their chances of marrying well were never all that great). Darcy, the Gardiners, and Mr. Bennet's object is to keep "the world" (i.e. the world of gentility) from learning about Lydia's actions before she and Wickham can get her married.

Bollywood Darcy & Elizabeth
Contemporary versions of Austen often have a problem translating this part of the story since contemporary social norms don't frown on sex before marriage. The entirely too long but immensely amusing Bollywood musical, Bride & Prejudice solves this problem by having Lydia be fifteen. Trying to save her from undergoing statutory rape by a total creep makes a great deal of sense.

However, I think that many contemporary writers do themselves a disservice here. ANY group of people has its social protocals: things one is supposed to do; things one is supposed to say; acceptable ways to behave in order to get into the country club, the academic committee, the government project, the (insert organization here).

The difference, of course, is that although a woman today who doesn't get into the country club of her choice (sob sob) does have other options, the Bennet sisters don't much. As another of my characters says in an entirely different context:
Mr. B: Pamela was more concerned with her virginity than her rights. 
Leslie Quinn: I doubt she saw a difference. Holding out for a decent marriage was more or less her purpose in life. Rape would have ruined her forever.
Of course, marriage was not a woman's only purpose in life. Jane Austen herself chose not to marry. If she had married the man who proposed to her when she was 27, she would have been comfortably settled for the rest of her life (assuming she didn't die in childbirth). There is some debate over why she changed her mind (she accepted, then declined) from arguing that she was still in love with someone else, wouldn't marry without love, preferred to focus on her writing rather than running a household and was terrified of having children.

Whatever the reason, the "suitor" appears to have had very little in common with Jane in terms of interests or personality, and Austen was observant enough to know that while a marriage built on common interests without love may last, a marriage without at least common interests will rarely thrive (though it may survive). She and Harris Bigg-Wither had common friends, background, and culture. But they weren't friends. In such an environment, someone like Austen would wither.

A contemporary Elizabeth and Darcy still have to struggle with such issues--and even today, there are prospective suitors of whom both men and women do not approve.

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