I love E.M. Forster almost as much as I love Jane Austen, and how pleasant it is to discover that he understood the Austenite condition so well himself. He wouldn’t blame us for playing our Austenacious games, or girls (or boys) from being silly about Mr. Darcy, though who knows what he would say about the current spewing of adaptations. But his article shocked me. Listen to what he says about Chapter 2. Here’s the passage in my edition.
“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father. “She times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
BUT, Forster says that R.W. Chapman thought that last line didn’t belong to Kitty, since she was going to the ball, and would know when it would be. In the original edition it was on the next line and was said by Mr. Bennet. The printers forgot to indent it, and future editions ran the two paragraphs together. Chapman found other, similar errors.
Everyone in the outside world can say or do what they please to Miss Austen’s books, but inside them, I thought I was safe! I thought I knew what she was trying to tell me. But no, even after R.W. Chapman found these printer’s errors, in 1923, they have not been fixed! I am truly shocked by this. It seems like such a little thing, but who knows what other errors may be lurking? Possibly the scholars who write papers on single phrases used in books, but, like Forster, I believed Austen, and never questioned her.
I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was in seventh grade, and I accepted it as holy gospel. “This is how real people think and act,” I thought. “They are full of irony, they laugh whenever possible, they are thoughtful (except when they’re not).” I didn’t even particularly realize the book was funny until Mr. Fitzpatrick read it a few years ago! He thought it was hilarious, and was disturbed when a guy friend saw the Keira Knightley version and didn’t realize it was supposed to be funny. Talking about Pride and Prejudice with Mr. Fitzpatrick certainly helped me think about it in a new way. And now his mother has read it—I’m really interested to see how her perceptions will have differed from mine. No novel is the same to any two people, is it?
At the same time, it’s always odd when you hear or remember something differently from someone else—Liveblogging Emma highlighted that for me, as Miss Ball and I disagreed on words and actions several times. (Of course, I was always right. ) Even the 1980 BBC version, which was very faithful, strangely switches around who said what, at times. And it makes one mistake that annoys me all out of proportion. When Lizzy is looking at Mr. Darcy’s portrait at Pemberley, “she thought of his regard . . . ; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.” In the BBC version, she thinks “How stern you look in your portrait! But I remember your warmth, and would soften that look.” Not at all the same thing!
This is a long, rambling kind of post. I guess the point is that I think of Pride and Prejudice (and all Jane Austen’s other books) as real things, not just as somebody’s words. And that, as much as possible, I understand them. Other people may understand them differently, but they are still ours. To suddenly realize, even slightly, that they’re not, and I don’t, is as disturbing as realizing after 20 minutes that my husband and I have been talking about completely different things, and didn’t even know it.
Or am I just being paranoid?E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, R.W. Chapman on Sunday, February 28, 2010 · 4 Comments »