Why It Matters That Elizabeth Likes Pemberley: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 in A Man of Few Words is the Pemberley chapter--ah, yes, that part in the BBC series where Darcy goes swimming.

Unlike the ridiculous statues in the latest movie, I consider the BBC swimming scene plausible. It does not occur in the original text, and I did not use it in A Man of Few Words. What I did try to convey--as the BBC series conveys--is how comfortable Darcy is on his own property.

Mr. Darcy shows off Pemberley.
This is so in-line with his overall behavior that whether Austen was working off observation or pure instinct, she deserves major major kudos for understanding how someone Darcy could be stiff and uncommunicative at the assembly ball and downright friendly and outgoing on his home turf.

Austen uses the housekeeper and Pemberley's grounds to clarify this; the BBC series uses the housekeeper, the swimming scene, and Darcy wandering about Pemberley with his dogs. I used Darcy doing his job as a landowner, the housekeeper, and my dad.

I've mentioned before that my dad, an introvert, is a prototype for Darcy. When Darcy and Elizabeth are waiting for the carriage to take her plus her aunt and uncle back to Lambton, my Darcy goes through the following:
"Would you like to step in?" Darcy asked, thinking he could show her the improvements he'd made to the flue in the drawing room fireplace, the latest expansion to the library. But she had already seen the house and declined. So Darcy stood beside her under the glowing summer sky and thought how marvelous it was that Elizabeth liked Pemberley.
Every time my mom reads the part about "show her the improvements," she busts out laughing.

After I wrote it, though, it did occur to me that I was making Darcy sound rather like Mr. Collins bragging about shelves in his closets; when Elizabeth visits Hunsford, Mr. Collins also shows off his house.

Mr. Collins' shelves in the closet.
And then it occurred to me that Austen never makes mistakes. Darcy does show off Pemberley just as Mr. Collins shows off the parsonage. Is Austen making a statement about men generally or is she making the comparison to tell us more about Darcy?

I think she is telling us more about Darcy. Although Elizabeth is half-joking when she says that she began to fall in love with Darcy at Pemberley, she half-isn't. As many critics have pointed out, Pemberley is Darcy. Everything and everyone about Pemberley has thrived due to Darcy's involvement, his character.

Compare this to Mr. Collins who uses his house not to illustrate his good sense (which he doesn't have) or his wife's good sense (which he doesn't appreciate) but his relationship to Lady Catherine. He also wants to make Elizabeth feel bad for "what she had lost in refusing him."

On the other hand, Darcy--who has also been rejected by Elizabeth at this point--uses the opportunity to rebuild his relationship with Elizabeth. I use the word "show off" about Darcy; it would be more accurate to say that Darcy puts his house/lands at the disposal of others. He suggests that Mr. Gardiner come and fish; he invites Elizabeth and the Gardiners in for refreshments; he eventually encourages Georgiana to invite them all for dinner. Pemberley is a place of interest and ease; it also exists in its own right as an entity. It is not there simply to bolster up Darcy's ego, something Mr. Collins would not understand.

1 comment:

a calvinist preacher said...

The importance of place is at times lost on a society as mobile as modern North America.

To me, it is something I can observe, but not fully understand. I've lived in 12 states and one foreign country in my 48 years, besides extended travel for both business and pleasure. My house connects me with a street, a contractor, a real estate agent, and a mortgage lender and that's about it.

But 50 miles of good road is a major barrier to the Collins' (even if not to Mr. Darcy). People don't flit about as they do today, so the homes these suitors occupy are not just places to sleep, but form the basis of their connection to society, including the past and future. Consider the library at Pemberly (the work of many generations), or Collins' triumphant name-dropping of Lady Catherine at every opportunity, or the looming loss of identity for the Bennetts caused by the entail. Even Sir Walter is determined to maintain his estate intact, though it means he must at least for a time entrust it to another.