(Male?) Communication Through the Physical: Chapter 5

In Chapter 5 of A Man of Few Words, Darcy decides to propose to Elizabeth.

This is at Rosings. In Pride & Prejudice, almost all of this section is told entirely from Elizabeth's point of view. The reader is given little internal reason to suspect Darcy's growing affection.

However, Austen has given us plenty of external hints based on Darcy's physical behavior.

One of many 10-sentence conversations at the parsonage.
I recently read an appraisal of Persuasion which argues that it is the most physical of Austen's novels--that in this final novel, Austen was finally coming around to the Bronte way of thinking in which emotion and touch carry as much weight as objective judgment.

This is sort of true but mostly not. Austen was a consistent novelist both in her vision and in her themes. And the use of the physical is used to enormous effect in Pride & Prejudice.

Take these examples of Darcy's interest that Elizabeth misses (but the reader can catch):
  • Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam come to see Elizabeth, etc. soon after their arrival at Rosings (Charlotte correctly surmises that they would not have come so quickly if not for Elizabeth's presence).
  • Darcy watches Elizabeth while she is speaking to Colonel Fitzwilliam.
  • Darcy looks ashamed when Lady Catherine is rude to Elizabeth.
  • Darcy leaves Lady Catherine to walk over to Elizabeth while she is playing.
  • Darcy visits Elizabeth without the colonel (though he does expect Charlotte to be present).
  • Darcy returns to the parsonage several times although "he frequently sat there ten minutes together without opening his lips; and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice".
  • Darcy keeps visiting the same part of the park as Elizabeth.
How deftly Austen indicates our hero and heroine's complete lack of understanding! From Darcy's point of view, he might as well be standing on a roof-top, screaming, "I'm totally 100% captivated by you!!" From Elizabeth's point of view, he's acting, well, kind of weird. 

They are both intelligent, well-meaning people. One surmises that after several years of marriage, Elizabeth will learn to appreciate Darcy sitting in the same room as her mother for more than 5 seconds as a sign of enormous affection. And Darcy will learn to actually say that he thinks Elizabeth did a good job with her gifts to the servants rather than just looking appreciative.


a calvinist preacher said...

I find it astonishing that someone might think Austen does not give emotion or physicality/touch their due.

And equally astonishing that anyone might think Austen considers them as guides equal in weight to objective judgment in any of her novels.

Kate Woodbury said...

I know!

I highly recommend William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education. In it, he discusses how Austen’s books helped him learn more about himself and people, especially between the ages of 20-33. For example, he discusses Mansfield Park and how, like many people, he initially thought Fanny was boring and the Crawfords fun and exciting. But eventually, he realized that Austen deliberately made the Crawfords exciting yet ultimately amoral to show the reader that appearance/wealth is not the same as goodness.

He also discusses how Austen wanted people not to repress or excise their emotions but to be intelligent about their emotions—Catherine Morland, for instance, often feels uneasy about the Thorpes, but she doesn’t recognize why. Here’s Deresiewicz: “Feelings, Austen was saying, are the primary way to know about the world...they are what we start with when it comes to making our ethical judgments and choices... it is good to be in touch with your feelings, but it is even better if you also think about them...Austen valued the feelings and passions; she just didn’t think we should worship them.”

His book is occasionally much more autobiographical than literary analysis but overall, I highly recommend it!