People, did you know that there is a gross universal oversight right in the middle of Pride and Prejudice?
In Chapter 13 (it’s a sign!), Mr. Collins comes to town. Sing it with me: he eyes Jane, nearly causes a permanent rift between Lizzy and one or both parents, leaves with the ever-practical Charlotte Lucas in tow, and removes himself to a life of enthusiastic gardening in the shadow of Rosings Park. The End. But I’m here to tell you that, in this series of events, Mr. Collins completely misses the potential love of his life.
Miss Mary Bennet.
It’s not made clear in the novel why Mary and Mr. Collins never hit it off, but it seems to me this is a major error in somebody’s judgment. How is this not a match made in awkward heaven? Two extraordinarily earnest people, each with a strong guiding principle (Morality for one, Lady Catherine for the other) and a complete unawareness of their own ridiculousness? They belong together. Think of the long, serious conversations! Think of the hilariously didactic children! Think of the copy of Fordyce’s sermons in Mary’s bedside table!
The trouble here must lie with Mr. Collins, as we know that Mary appreciates Mr. Collins’s original self-inviting letter to the Bennets, and rumor has it (unconfirmed by a helter-skelter scanning of the relevant chapters; help, sharp-eyed readers?) that further thoughts about Collins’s mate potential do cross her mind at some later point in the novel. It’s true that Mary might have something to say about Rosings and the importance of simple lifestyle, but one beatdown by Lady Catherine, and the accompanying coronary on Collins’s part, ought to nip that in the bud. Are we surprised that it’s Collins who’s wandering blind, here? Frankly, nothing surprises us at this point. But you’d think that the young lady with the book of proverbs burning a hole in her pinafore might be a bit of a turn-on, no?
I don’t get it: is he looking for a different girl with whom to share his love of leisurely theological inquiry? Is he one of those guys who refuses to, as Rob Gordon says during that one part of High Fidelity, punch his weight? Does he not enjoy a nice evening of questionably-tuned music? Or does Charlotte simply get to him first, the lucky lady? Whatever the case, a re-considering of the Bennet family and the joys of middle sisters might have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
With the return of Glee to the weekly TV schedule—finally—I think we’ve all been reminded of a new truth universally acknowledged: everything would be better, Austen novels included, if everybody had at least the option of bursting into a well-chosen pop song from time to time. You know, revealing their places in the collective consciousness, choreography optional (but encouraged). Lizzy belts out a girl-power ballad—ill practiced, of course—at the height of her emotional turmoil? Knightley takes the edge off with a few bars of air guitar and a phantom drum solo? I’m telling you: Jane Austen might roll in her grave, but Jane Lynch would make a fine Lady Catherine.
Am I right?
Here are a few Austen characters and their likely anthems:
Captain Wentworth: “I’m on a Boat” – The Lonely Island
Anne Elliot: “I Will Always Love You“* – Dolly Parton
*The original version with the sad monologue in the middle, because that speech is exactly the gracious and heartbroken speech Anne would make to Wentworth—complete with poignant pauses every few words—and nobody can convince me otherwise.
Mr. Bingley: “Mr. Brightside” – The Killers
Mr. Collins: “Hell No” – Sondre Lerche & Regina Spektor
Charlotte Lucas: “The Sound of Settling” – Death Cab for Cutie
Mary Bennet: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” – Cat Stevens
Catherine Morland: “Miss Teen Wordpower” – The New Pornographers
Isabella Thorpe: “We Used to Be Friends” – The Dandy Warhols
Marianne Dashwood: “I Feel It All” – Feist
John Willoughby: “It’s Raining Men” – The Weather Girls
Readers, who are we missing?
Welcome to the seventh night of the Jane Austen Winter Olympics. These Games have already seen some tremendous moments. Who could forget the Short Track Speed Ice Contradancing, with Mr. Elton cutting off Miss Smith in the semifinals, and Mr. Knightley dramatic rescue bringing them both into the finals, before his triumphant gold-medal skate with Miss Woodhouse? Or Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s death-defying tricks and precise execution bringing home the gold in Women’s Conversational Half-Pipe? But I think it’s fair to say that NO event at these Games has received as much as attention as the Mothers’ Snowboard Cross. Four strong contenders on a course that’s already claimed a lot of matchmakers. Here’s Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Dick Button with the call. Mrs. Fitzpatick?
Thanks, Bob. Yes, we do have a very strong field in these finals. In the red jersey you see Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park. She’s a strong competitor, known for letting her temper get the better of her. Look for her to take the early lead in this race. Next to her in the blue jersey is Mrs. Bennet of Longbourne. I think it’s fair to say she wants this race as much as anyone here, and has trained so hard for it ever since her daughter Jane turned 15. She may want it too much, though. She just needs to lay down a nice smooth run, and keep her mouth shut. Bit of a tall order for her, eh Dick?
Indeed, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Now a bit of a dark horse here is Lady Lucas of Lucas Lodge in the black jersey. We don’t know much about this competitor, except that she’s bold and may make a sudden move on the turns, so keep an eye out for her. And rounding out the field in the yellow jersey is Mrs. Gardiner of Longbourne. Now correct me if I’m wrong here, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, but isn’t Mrs. Gardiner originally from Gracechurch Street? Yet she’s competing here for Longbourne?
Yes, that’s right, Dick. Mrs. Gardiner’s own daughters are too young for her to compete for them, so she took Longbourne citizenship recently. A bit of luck for the Bennet girls: Mrs. Gardiner is a strong and wily competitor. She runs a very strategic race. And look for her to capitalize on the others’ mistakes. Bob?
Well, there you have it. Four mothers, all racing for the ultimate prize, an Olympic gold medal of a husband. We’ll be back after this.
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And now we’re back with the Mothers’ Snowboard Cross . . . and they’re on-course! This is for the gold!
Mrs. Bennet faltering in the rhythm section right of the bat, Dick, yet she manages to hold on. Will nothing shut that woman up? And . . . yes, Lady Catherine settles into an early lead with a nice line around the first turn. Her daughter’s weak and unattractive, so she needs to stay out front to avoid any sudden passes by the others. So it’s Lady Catherine in front, followed by Lady Lucas, then Mrs. Gardiner, and Mrs. Bennet bringing up the rear. I think she may have taken herself out of it, Dick!
Longbourne will have to rely on Mrs. Gardiner for now . . . Oh! Sudden burst of speed out of Lady Lucas on that jump—she almost collides with Lady Catherine, but they both stay on the course. And, yes, Mrs. Bennet’s having real trouble in the back—she caught an edge on that turn and went over. It’s all down to Mrs. Gardiner now . . . And, yes, she passes Lady Lucas easily on that turn, nice inside pass there, looks like Lady Lucas lost the pace a bit in her near collision . . . And now the racers can see the bottom of the course! Just a few big jumps and they’re through . . . Lady Catherine still holding her lead. . . OH, and a stunning upset! Lady Catherine flips off Miss Elizabeth in mid-air and misses her landing! Mrs. Gardiner sails in for a smooth gold medal! Here comes Lady Lucas for the silver, and LOOK, HERE COMES MRS. BENNET over the final jump! WHAT an unbelievable comeback!!! Will Lady Catherine get up in time? . . . NO, and it’s a photo finish between Lady Lucas and Mrs. Bennet for the silver! We’ll have to wait for the replay on that. And Lady Catherine is still down—looks like she may really be hurt, we’ll hear from the doctors later, but WHAT an amazing race! So it’s Mrs. Gardiner with the gold, and, yes, she’s choosing Mr. Darcy for Miss Elizabeth, and Mrs. Bennet sneaks past Lady Lucas for the silver . . . looks like she’ll pick up Mr. Bingley for Miss Bennet, no surprise there, and Lady Lucas with the bronze takes Mr. Collins for Miss Lucas. Lady Catherine took herself out of it, so no husband for Miss de Bourgh. Mrs. Fitzpatrick, your final thoughts on the race?
Well, Dick, I’m really impressed with the way Mrs. Bennet recovered from her early mistakes to snag a silver medal for her daughter. And Mrs. Gardiner’s handling of the course was superb overall. It can be so easy to let the other racers push you around, and she really avoided all that. She’s a class act, through and through. Overall an excellent day for the Longbourne family. And I think we’ll see both Longbourne ladies back on the circuit—there are plenty of Bennet daughters to go around! As for Lady Catherine, what can I say? She just did not respect the course and the other racers, and she’s paid for that. We’ll have to wait another four years to see whether Miss de Bourgh will ever get a husband. Bob?
Let’s begin with a story.
Once upon a time, a young man (we’ll call him Shmitzwilliam Farcy) and a young woman (Belizabeth Shmennet) hated one another. Only, over the course of time, they actually came to love each other—go figure—and to overcome the personal barriers standing between them and a life of deep mutual respect and affection. Wonderful! Too bad poor Shmitzwilliam was obligated to marry his sickly cousin and too much of a weenie to stand up to his crazy rich aunt! He ditched Belizabeth, and they both died unloved and unfulfilled.
I love a good love story. Don’t you?
I’ve been reading lately about Jane’s happy endings. Verdict: there are a lot of them. As far as her star couples (I’m tempted to say “ships”; thanks for that, Miss Osborne) are concerned, Jane deals exclusively in true and lasting love between the people that deserve it most; any hints of final sadness are relegated to side-dish relationships (Mr. Collins/Charlotte Lucas, for example; possibly also Lydia/Wickham) and not much mentioned in the first place. How does this consistent promise of happiness play in our postmodern culture, where we often doubt the depth of stories where everything works out well? Can we trust the truth of all this happily ever after?
I’m currently re-reading Persuasion (because it’s wonderful, and because there’s nothing like running an Austen website to remind you of all the Austen you don’t remember), and let me be clear: Persuasion requires a happy ending. The expectation of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s love resuming after all these years gives the novel shape; without it, there can be no passage of time or change of cirumstance, only chapter after chapter after chapter of resigned pining, forever and ever, amen. In that case, it’s not so much a story as a meditation on grief and on unmet needs—we have to believe that Anne would continue to soldier on, but this is a woman still mourning (at heart, if not publicly) after eight years. Something has to change; the sadness and the tedium of all that pining, without the relief of a happy ending, would kill the reader if not the characters. Certainly people do write novels meditating on lost love, on loves that are never found, but even they have more going on than Persuasion minus the final, happy reunion.
It’s unclear whether any of Jane’s other novels would do any better with a sad or ambiguous ending—if Emma Woodhouse were required to work further to earn Mr. Knightley’s love, for example, or if Bingley and Jane never quite got their timing straight. Perhaps, after all, none of Jane’s novels can have ambiguous endings. Perhaps there’s no such thing as an ambiguous ending with Jane—considering the emotional and sometimes practical stakes that her heroines face, maybe anything less than a happy ending must be considered a tragedy. (In Jane’s time, anyway, ambiguity was not a popular choice for endings—emotionally mixed finales wouldn’t come into vogue until the advent of the Modernists and their fragmented, topsy-turvy ways. Until then, the choices are pretty much Austen happy or Hardy crushing.)
In any case, happy endings aren’t totally the point for Jane—her best work is not in the end (delightful though it may be), but in the means. She’s an observer and a cataloguer of love and its power to change people, and happy endings provide some security for that study—a safe place from which to examine the psychology of love. (She could, of course, have written about the psychology of sorrow instead—of loss and permanent loneliness. After all, Jane herself never married. But would this have shown more depth than a consistent observation of success in love? Doubtful; also, far less fun to read.) If Jane’s heroines don’t end up with the “right” guy, the entire tone of her work–of all her works, collectively—changes; if Anne, for example, finally recovers from her original attachment to Wentworth and learns to love herself for the capable and independent woman she is, then it’s not a study in love and strength of character anymore. It’s a coming-of-age story. If Mr. Knightley moves on, unable to handle Emma’s consistent brattery, that‘s a cautionary tale, not a meditation on love and personal change. They might be fine stories, and they might appeal to our modern sense that everything shouldn’t wrap up so neatly, but they lack the basic frame for observing the human heart, as Jane does.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m going to go read the end of Pride and Prejudice, just to make myself feel better.