From the Arctic to the Antipodes no scene in a novel by Jane Austen is better known than Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth. No adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for stage or screen would be complete without Elizabeth’s telling Darcy that “‘I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry’” (193). This precisely articulated moment is so dazzling in itself that we never think to ask just how long it took Jane Austen to teach Darcy and Elizabeth to be so heartless to each other. Just how long did they have to study stupidity until they mastered it? Just what kind of families did they require to learn incivility so completely? And just what kind of an apprenticeship did the novelist herself require to enable her to end her most famous scene precisely in the middle of her most famous novel? Indeed, to end it on page 194 of an edition—Chapman’s edition—of 388 pages? To answer these questions is to say a word about Jane Austen’s family of fiction.
Pride and Prejudice gets underway dramatically with the inciting incident of Elizabeth’s not-quite-meeting Darcy at the Meryton ball because, as Darcy says, “‘She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me’” (12). Darcy here resembles no one so much as Charles Adams, who comes as the Sun to the Johnsons’ masquerade party at the beginning of “Jack & Alice.”2 Charles Adams is of “so dazzling a Beauty that none but Eagles could look him in the Face.” “The Beams that darted from his Eyes were so like those of that glorious Luminary . . . that no one dared venture within half a mile of them.” The genius of this scene is that Charles Adams is not wearing a costume at all. Lady Williams is there as Virtue, and the Simpson sisters, though in costume, are there as Vice. And although “Charles Adams in his plain green coat” appears to wear a “mask representing the Sun,” he does not. Charles Adams wears no mask. Charles Adams is the Sun. But even at that he is hardly more radiant than Darcy at the Meryton ball.
Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening. . . .
After that, however, the truth is out:
he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend. (10)
Darcy’s manners, alas, are too much like those of someone who thinks everyone and everything revolves around him. His manners remind us of Charles Adams, who knows how he shines:
I imagine my Manners and Address to be of the most polished kind; there is a certain elegance a peculiar sweetness in them that I never saw equalled and cannot describe—. Partiality aside, I am certainly more accomplished in every Language, every Science, every Art and every thing than any other person in Europe.”
Charles’s statement is a trope for what Darcy tells Elizabeth when he proposes to her a second time: “‘my parents . . . almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own’” (369). Thus Darcy’s first estimation of the Bennet family is akin to Adams’s of the Johnsons:
I look upon you Sir to be a very good sort of Man in the main; a drunken old Dog to be sure, but that’s nothing to me. Your daughter sir, is neither sufficiently beautifull, sufficiently amiable, sufficiently witty, nor sufficiently rich for me—. I expect nothing more in my wife than my wife will find in me—Perfection.”
Jane Austen’s strokes in drawing character are much broader in the late 1780s and early 1790s than they are in the 1810s. Indeed, “Jack & Alice” is something of a morality play that never breaks free of the masquerade that sets it in motion. Charles Adams is Perfection and seeks Perfection in a woman. The closest he gets to having it is marrying Lady Williams or Virtue in the masquerade. But Lady Williams proves to be no more than a masquerade of Virtue. For virtue demands brains, and Lady Williams has none. She even makes Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose logic Elizabeth ridicules and destroys, look good in comparison with her. Here is Lady Williams talking with Alice Johnson, who is drunk and flushed:
“Mrs Watkins was a Lady of Fashion, Family and fortune; she was in general esteemed a pretty Woman, but I never thought her very handsome, for my part. She had too high a forehead. Her eyes were too small and she had too much colour.”
“How can that be?” interrupted Miss Johnson reddening with anger; “Do you think that any one can have too much colour?”
“Indeed I do, and I’ll tell you why I do my dear Alice; when a person has too great a degree of red in their Complexion, it gives their face in my opinion, too red a look.”
“But can a face my Lady have too red a look?”
“Certainly my dear Miss Johnson and I’ll tell you why. When face has too red a look it does not appear to so much advantage as it would were it paler.”
Clearly women with too much color, especially if the color is red, as this perfectly circular argument proves, cannot be “esteemed . . . pretty.”
But Darcy, like Adams, demands Perfection:
“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word [accomplished]; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” (39)3
Eventually, Darcy finds almost all of what he wants in a woman in Elizabeth, who has the one defect anticipated by Lucy in “Jack & Alice”—Lucy who walks into a mantrap set by Adams, has her leg broken, and shocks the drunken Alice into articulating a perfectly thrilling zeugma: “‘Oh! cruel Charles to wound the hearts and legs of all the fair.’” Lucy anticipates Elizabeth in having “Youth, Beauty, Wit and Merit” but is wanting in “Rank.” “‘Could you,’” Darcy asks Elizabeth, “‘expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?’” (192). Darcy, unlike Charles Adams, comes to realize that he is not Perfection. Elizabeth, unlike Lucy, avoids being poisoned by a jealous rival. Sukey Simpson in “Jack & Alice” becomes Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. But Elizabeth survives her poisoned words and lives to match wits with Lady Catherine—though they never do get round to discussing whether Elizabeth’s forehead is too high, her eyes too small, or her color too red! Lady Catherine is not as dimwitted as Lady Williams. But Mrs. Bennet, who pronounces the savage Lady Catherine to be “prodigiously civil,” certainly is (359). As we can see, then, there are some resemblances between the families of Jane Austen’s teens and those of her maturity.
“Henry and Eliza,” which, like “Jack & Alice,” has the subtitle “A Novel,” shows further resemblances to a novel like Pride and Prejudice—if, indeed, still in very broad strokes. “Henry and Eliza” is a foundling story that by its third paragraph praises “a Love of Virtue and a Hatred of Vice.”4 Eliza slips rapidly from one to the other. She breaks the rules but wins the game, defeating a powerful opponent. The “Dutchess of F,” who has her own army and her own Newgate and who objects to Eliza’s marrying Henry, whom she’s reserved for her daughter. Although the duchess imprisons her, Eliza finds her cell conveniently equipped with a hack saw and a rope ladder. Eliza escapes to return with an army of her own to destroy the jail that once held her captive.
If we introduce a degree of subtlety into this story and stretch our imaginations a bit, we can see it worked up into a real novel. Eliza Harcourt becomes Elizabeth Bennet; her fall from virtue becomes Elizabeth’s being “blind, partial, prejudice, absurd” (208); the duchess becomes Lady Catherine and her daughter Miss de Bourgh; the daughter’s fiancé, Henry, becomes Darcy, whom his mother had pledged to Lady Catherine’s daughter in a cradle engagement; and Eliza defeating the duchess becomes Elizabeth establishing herself as mistress of Pemberley, much to the distress of Lady Catherine, who consigned her to Mrs. Jenkinson’s room at Rosings: “‘She would be in nobody’s way, you know, in that part of the house’” (173). Even if this transformation of “Henry and Eliza” into Pride and Prejudice does require quite a stretching of the imagination, the basic elements of the story are, embryonically, nonetheless there.
Moreover, we see in “Henry and Eliza” the earliest form of two techniques that become sophisticated in Jane Austen’s mature fiction. They are point of view and structure of plot. Note, for instance, what happens in the fourth paragraph of “Henry and Eliza.”
Beloved by Lady Harcourt, adored by Sir George & admired by all the World, she lived in a continued course of uninterrupted Happiness till she had attained her eighteenth year, when happening one day to be detected in stealing a banknote of £50, she was turned out of doors by her inhuman Benefactors. Such a transition to one who did not possess so noble & exalted a mind as Eliza, would have been Death, but she, happy in the conscious knowledge of her own Excellence, amused herself, as she sate beneath a tree with making and singing the following Lines.
In the middle of the first sentence of the paragraph the point of view becomes Eliza’s (and remains hers for the rest of the story). From her point of view her benevolent parents become “inhuman.” And Eliza settles into self-satisfaction, knowing how excellent she is in her innocence in spite of what others might think.
There would be no first half of Pride and Prejudice if, after chapter 2, the novel were not projected from Elizabeth’s point of view and if she were not completely satisfied with the excellence of her own judgment. Elizabeth refuses to accept either Charlotte Lucas’s warning that Darcy loves her (180) or her sister Jane’s candor in insisting on postponing her judgment of Darcy’s treatment of Wickham until she has more evidence to make one (85). When Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, therefore, she is astonished “beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent” (189). An ingenious handling of point of view, which makes a rudimentary appearance in “Henry and Eliza,” makes the most famous scene in Pride and Prejudice workable.
Henry and Eliza” also strikes me as the first story in Volume the First to have a structured plot. There are two parallel sequences of events that form a pattern and, when the pattern is broken, the story rapidly comes to an end. Basically “Henry and Eliza” is a parody of a foundling story, which finds its full-blown form in a novel like Tom Jones.
Eliza makes so good a first impression on the Harcourts by her clever conversation when she is three months old that they adopt her and take her in. When she steals from them at the age of eighteen, they turn her out. She proceeds subsequently to make an excellent first impression on the Dutchess of F. Still eighteen, she steals the duchess’s daughter’s fiancé, quickly flees her house, but is soon enough caught and punished. In these two strands of the plot four elements recur: Eliza makes a good first impression, Eliza is taken in, Eliza steals, Eliza is punished. The last strand of action breaks the pattern by reversing the foundling plot. Eliza finds her parents, and Lady Harcourt remembers that Eliza is truly her own flesh and blood—her very own daughter. As she tells Sir George, who had wanted a boy, she simply forgot that she’d had a girl; and although he left her five-months pregnant before going away for four months, he seemed to forget all about that too. So of Eliza, Lady Harcourt tells Sir George,
I had no more idea of her being my own, than you had, & nothing I will venture to say would have recalled the circumstance to my remembrance, but my thus accidentally hearing her voice, which now strikes me as being the very counterpart of my own Child’s.”
We need not complicate the problem by asking how Lady Harcourt could remember Eliza’s voice now when she didn’t remember it when Eliza was three months old and they found her by the haycock where Lady Harcourt had placed her before she forgot about Eliza so completely!
Nonetheless, after finding her parents, Eliza raises an army, returns with it to the Dutchess of F’s estate, and destroys the prison where she was held ever so briefly. This last segment of the story in which the plot is reversed finds Eliza returning to both the places she’s been previously. But now she is in charge of events: she finds the Harcourts; she punishes the Dutchess of F. This marks the ending with something like the musical notation Da capo al fine, which means “Play it again, Sam”—play it again from beginning to end. But no one is really ever able to play it again in exactly the same way. Jane Austen shows in “Lesley Castle” that she’s familiar with this musical notation when she has Charlotte Lutterell write to Margaret Lesley about the ways that she has praised her sister Eloisa’s musical performances: “‘I had for many years constantly hollowed whenever she played, Bravo, Bravissimo, Da capo, allegretto, con espressione, and Poco presto with many other such outlandish words, all of them as Eloisa told me expressive of my Admiration’” (Minor Works 130).5
Needless to say, Pride and Prejudice has so patent a Da capo structure that we can virtually read that musical notation itself at the end of the chapter prior to Bingley’s return to Netherfield Park from London:
The subject which had been so warmly canvassed between their parents, about a twelvemonth ago, was now brought forward again.
“As soon as ever Mr. Bingley comes, my dear,” said Mrs. Bennet, “you will wait on him of course.”
“No, no. You forced me into visiting him last year, and promised if I went to see him, he should marry one of my daughters. But it ended in nothing, and I will not be sent on a fool’s errand again.” (332)
Jane Austen here begins her novel all over again. Her purpose is to allow us to see Darcy and Elizabeth play their parts better and get the ending right this time round. Now that both of them have gained self-knowledge, have become reasonable in their judgments, and have clearly grown to love each other, Jane Austen suggests, Darcy should be able to make a better proposal than he did the first time and Elizabeth should be able to answer him more politely the second time. And that’s exactly what happens: “and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes” (Joyce 644). Or, to put it in Jane Austen’s words rather than in James Joyce’s:
The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heart-felt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable. (366)
Jane Austen not only replays the first engagement scene in a different key with significant variations but she also suggests that any careful reading of her score from Bingley’s return with Darcy to the end of the novel plays over again in the last eight chapters much of what’s most important in Pride and Prejudice.
The happy resolution of Elizabeth and Darcy’s courtship, as well as that of Jane and Bingley, comes about because their engagements announce the triumph of intelligence and affection. Both sisters make what Mrs. Gardiner calls a “prudent” marriage. She very clearly distinguishes between a prudent and a mercenary marriage when she and Elizabeth discuss first Elizabeth’s attraction to Wickham (144-45) and then Wickham’s attraction to Miss King, who has just inherited £10,000 (152-54). Although Elizabeth refuses to make a distinction between “the mercenary and the prudent motive” when discussing them with her aunt, she does so when Darcy proposes to her. To accept his first proposal would be to make a mercenary marriage, and she refuses to do it. To accept his second proposal would be to make a prudent marriage, and she does it. The principles that underlie both a prudent and a mercenary marriage are first articulated in Jane Austen’s unfinished novel “The Three Sisters.”6
This story is concerned with the proposal of Mr. Watts to Mary Stanhope. Mrs. Stanhope is the prototype of Mrs. Bennet. She is determined that one of her daughters—if not Mary, then Sophy; if not Sophy, then Georgiana—marry Mr. Watts. And he doesn’t much care which one it is either: “‘It is equally the same to me which I marry of the three.’” Clearly, a female body in his bed is all that matters. Considering that to marry first is, if nothing else, a “triumph” over her sisters, Mary replies to Watts with equal enthusiasm, “‘Well then . . . I will have you if I must.’” This remarkable proposal and acceptance moves quickly from indifference for love to passion for negotiation. Mary has to have everything to keep her mind off the blatant fact that in having Mr. Watts she has nothing. “‘Was there ever such a Wretch?’” asks Georgiana of her future brother-in-law. Among the many things Mary demands of her fiancé is a carriage: “‘a new Carriage hung as high as the Duttons,’” and “‘blue spotted with silver.’” Mr. Watts insists on its “being a Chocolate colour.”
At length however Sophy proposed that to please Mr. W. it should be a dark brown & to please Mary it should be hung rather high & have a silver Border. This was at length agreed to, tho’ reluctantly on both sides, as each had intended to carry their point entire.
Sophy is the only Stanhope whose intelligence, moral sensibility, and affections strike the reader as admirable. In the midst of conversations that seem in their totaling up of the loot more appropriate to Moll Flanders, a heroine surprisingly like that of Pride and Prejudice appears. When Elizabeth decisively refuses Mr. Collins’s proposal of marriage, she follows in the footsteps of Sophy, who turns down Mr. Watts’s offer of marriage. In refusing to comply with Mary’s many demands, Mr. Watts turns to Sophy:
“Your expectations, Madam, are too high for me, & I must apply to Miss Sophy who perhaps may not have raised her’s so much.”
“You are mistaken, Sir, in supposing so,” (said Sophy) “for tho’ they may not be exactly in the same Line, yet my expectations are to the full as high as my Sister’s; for I expect my Husband to be good tempered & Chearful; to consult my Happiness in all his Actions, & to love me with Constancy & Sincerity.”
Mr. Watts stared. “These are very odd Ideas truly, young Lady. You had better discard them before you marry, or you will be obliged to do it afterwards.”
In a fragment that thrives on ridiculous people and witless conversations, Sophy Stanhope is a sobering presence. She states a principle that is central to good marriages in Jane Austen’s fiction. Those who would be husband and wife must unite on the basis of personal respect, hoping to find and foster together a happiness that neither can have as a single man or woman. That Mr. Watts thinks these “odd Ideas” only confirms their significance. For Mr. Watts’s intelligence, perspicacity, and passion are matched only by those qualities of Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s fiction.
When Mr. Brudenell enters the story just before “The Three Sisters” abruptly ends, we have a scene very much like that at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice where the Bennets embarrass Elizabeth and Jane before Darcy and the rest of the company at Bingley’s ball. In “The Three Sisters” Mary embarrasses her sisters publicly when she announces to Kitty and Jemima Dutton and to Mr. Brudenell her engagement to Mr. Watts. Just as Elizabeth is mortified by her mother’s proclaiming Bingley’s impending engagement to Jane before Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Sophy is mortified by Mary’s uttering utter stupidities at Stoneham before the Duttons and Mr. Brudenell. Georgiana records Mary opening the conversation:
“You must know Mr. Watts is very much in love with me, so that it is quite a match of Affection on his side.”
“Not on his only, I suppose” said Kitty.
“Oh! when there is so much Love on one side there is no occasion for it on the other. However I do not much dislike him tho’ he is very plain to be sure.”
Mr. Brudenell stared, the Miss Duttons laughed & Sophy & I were heartily ashamed of our Sister.
This is the first instance in Jane Austen’s juvenilia of shame. As such it is significant. Shame presumes both values held in common and a moral sensibility that responds to them. Those values Sophy articulated when stipulating what she expects when a man and woman marry. The violation of mutual respect and love, Mary Stanhope makes a point of pride. Her sisters are as ashamed of her as Jane and Elizabeth are of Lydia when she returns in triumph to Longbourn with Wickham in tow.
Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up, and ran out of the room; and returned no more, till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining parlour. She then joined them soon enough to see Lydia, with anxious parade, walk up to her mother’s right hand, and hear her say to her elder sister, “Ah! Jane, I take your place now, and you must go lower, because I am a married woman.” (317)
It takes some intelligence to be ashamed; but in this matter as much as all others, Lydia Bennet is her mother’s daughter.
But the issue of shame is central to family pride in Lady Susan. If Reginald de Courcy should marry Lady Susan Vernon, his father will be thoroughly ashamed of him: “It would be the death of that honest Pride with which I have hitherto considered my son, I should blush to see him, to hear of him, to think of him” (261).7 Lady Susan, however, is never ashamed. Shamelessness is her defining characteristic. Her novel begins on this note.
Lady Susan Vernon writes to her brother-in-law Charles, “her aversion,” thanking him for an invitation which he never extended to stay some months at his estate, Churchill, where she will be “afraid of his wife” (246) because Catherine Vernon can see through her every lie. Although Churchill is the last place that she wants to be, Lady Susan can’t stay at Longford, the Manwarings’ estate, because she’s caused no end of trouble there. And she can’t go to London, where her confidant Alicia Johnson is, because she fears Mr. Johnson will destroy her reputation. At Longford Lady Susan has flirted to the brink of seduction with Manwaring and incurred the wrath of his wife. Furthermore, she has interfered with Sir James Martin’s proposing marriage to Manwaring’s daughter by seducing him into proposing marriage to her own daughter Frederica. Frederica is however “violently against the match” (245) because Martin is a later version of Watts just as Watts is an earlier version of Collins.
Her daughter’s wishes have no purchase on Lady Susan, however, because she is determined to have her marry money, no matter the character of the man who has it. Not unlike Georgiana in “The Three Sisters,” who is content to have Mary marry the wretched Watts, whom she herself would not touch, Lady Susan wants Frederica to marry the “contemptibly weak” Sir James, whom she herself wouldn’t think of marrying. So having made a thorough mess of family values at Longford, Lady Susan presents herself at Churchill as the good mother of a wayward daughter.
Once there, she sets about wrecking the de Courcy family by determining to make Catherine’s brother Reginald fall in love with her. Reggie has come to Churchill to have a glimpse of Lady Susan because her reputation is so bad that he may never have a chance to be so intimate with a really wicked woman again. “Lady Susan’s intentions are of course those of absolute coquetry, or a desire of universal admiration” (256). She’s determined to bring Reggie to heel. And she does. He falls in love with the woman he’d been determined to despise. That’s why Sir Reginald writes him the letter in which he tells his son that if he marries Lady Susan Vernon he will make his whole family blush for shame.
Letter 12 of Lady Susan is a classic statement of what a gentleman must do when he considers marrying. The very values that concern Darcy when he proposes to Elizabeth are more particularly articulated in this letter. When as a gentleman Reggie considers marrying, Sir Reginald tells his son, he must take three things into account: “your own happiness, that of your Parents, and the credit of your name” (260). Or, to put it slightly differently, a gentleman must take into account himself, his family, and his place in society. Sir Reginald says that his son is manifestly not doing that because for him to marry Lady Susan is for him to make “a Marriage, which the whole of your Family, far and near, must highly reprobate” (223). Why? Because “the instances of great misconduct on her side, [were] so very generally known. Her neglect of her husband, her encouragement of other Men, her extravagance and dissipation were so gross and notorious, that no one could be ignorant of them at the time, nor can now have forgotten them” (260). It is “my Duty,” therefore, Sir Reginald concludes, “to oppose a Match which deep Art only could render probable, and must in the end make wretched” (261). That very same Art is what Lady Catherine accuses Elizabeth Bennet of deploying against the long-suffering family of the clearly besotted Darcy:
“But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in.”
“If I have, I shall be the last person to confess it.” (354)
But in spite of invoking a common ethical code, Lady Catherine is as blind in implementing it as Sir Reginald is clear-sighted. He knows “the most accomplished Coquette in England” when he sees her (248). She, unmistakably, does not.
Reggie undertakes a refutation of his father’s indictment of Lady Susan in Letter 14 of the novel. He carefully delineates four charges in Letter 12 and sets about answering them. Sir Reginald said, first, that Lady Susan created discord in the Manwaring family when she was at Longford; second, that she did her best to prevent Charles from marrying Catherine de Courcy by maliciously slandering her; third, that she sought out Churchill as a refuge when she was expelled from Longford and was too frightened to go to London; fourth, she is an abusive, uncaring mother.
We as readers see these four charges built up through the first thirteen letters of the novel and summarized unequivocally in Letter 14 as the case against Lady Susan. Reggie undertakes the defense in this case against Sir Reginald’s prosecution. He is a convinced but, nonetheless, inept defender of Lady Susan because we have seen her guilty as charged as the novel unfolded. From this point onward to the end of the novel, Reggie’s job of work is to come to see what his father already so clearly sees. This happens by the characters from Longford showing up at Churchill and by events repeating themselves. And the same thing happens again in London. So the structure of Lady Susan is both systematic and serial. The system is that four charges are built up, stated, and proved. The series that works out the system is that similar things happen in three settings: Longford, Churchill, and London.
Longford initiates Lady Susan’s flirtation with Manwaring, her manipulation of Sir James Martin, and her attempt to force Frederica into a marriage. When Reggie hears about all this, Lady Susan explains it away, blaming the Manwaring women and Frederica for everything. Churchill finds Lady Susan continuing her intrigue with Manwaring by mail while she carries out her seduction of Reggie in person; she also tries again to force her daughter to marry Sir James, who shows up at Churchill uninvited; and Lady Susan blames everything that makes her look bad on Catherine Vernon’s dislike and Frederica’s disobedience. When Reggie sees all of awful things Lady Susan instigated happening before his eyes, she convinces him that they are not her fault. She is said to cast a “spell” (304) over him by her “Arts”; thus she is a witch. Today we might settle for calling her a “Spin Doctor.” As she says to Alicia Johnson, “I can make my own story good with Reginald” (303). Finally, Lady Susan goes to London to force a marriage between Frederica and Sir James. But Mrs. Manwaring is there to dramatize everything that happened at Longford for Reggie. This time Reggie believes it. As Lady Susan says, “Facts are such horrid things!” (303). Reggie, no longer under her spell, indicts Lady Susan’s “perverted Abilities” and “Artifices” and his own “Folly” (305-06). He is rewarded with Frederica, and Lady Susan is punished with Sir James. Although she complains bitterly of being “tired of submitting my will to the Caprices of others” (308)—a splendid commentary on her self-knowledge, certainly—she marries the successor of Mr. Watts and the prototype of Mr. Collins!
Lady Susan finds its systematic unity in building up dramatically, then in stating unequivocally, and finally in solving four problems in a serial structure of repetition. Its structure anticipates that of Pride and Prejudice where, we have noted, Darcy’s principles are the same as those of Sir Reginald de Courcy and where Lady Catherine’s false accusations against Elizabeth are the same as Sir Reginald’s true accusations against Lady Susan, whose Arts and Allurements are indeed her only substance. Unlike Elizabeth Bennet, Lady Susan Vernon cannot read a letter that can shame her the way that Darcy’s letter shames Elizabeth: “She grew absolutely ashamed of herself.—Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd” (208).
At this point in Pride and Prejudice, its midpoint, Elizabeth knows that two of the four problems that arose between Darcy and herself when he proposed to her at Hunsford are now no longer problems. First, she had thought him unjust to Wickham; he was not. Second, she had thought him cruel to Jane in taking Bingley away to London; he was not. But, third, she had thought him unduly condescending to her family; he was. And, fourth, she thought his manners bad; they were. These two problems stand between them. Her visit to Pemberley, however, removes them. But Pride and Prejudice is a great novel because it is as subtle as it is witty, as humanly true as it is artistically sound. Jane Austen knows that intellectual solutions to practical problems are not enough to lead a man and a woman to marry. The heart has its reasons too. If this were not so, Pride and Prejudice would end in Volume III, chapter 3. But it does not. Neither the human condition nor the artistic condition is ready for an ending at Pemberley.
In short, Darcy’s letter solves two problems (those of Bingley’s separation from Jane and of Wickham’s accusations against him) and leaves two unsolved (those of the Bennet family’s conduct and of Darcy’s manners). The visit to Pemberley brings these last two problems to a resolution. Darcy accepts Elizabeth’s family in the person of the Gardiners and acts consistently like a gentleman. When Lydia’s elopement calls both into question again, Darcy acts more like a gentleman than ever. He sees to it that Wickham marries Lydia, and then he asks Elizabeth to marry him. “‘Brother-in-law of Wickham!’” exclaims Elizabeth. “‘Every kind of pride must revolt from the connection’” (338). But not Darcy’s. Having made the Bennet family worse than it was before, he marries into it.
The reason for Darcy’s change is evident at Pemberley, where the Gardiners see that he loves Elizabeth but are not sure that she loves him: “Of the lady’s sensations they remained a little in doubt; but that the gentleman was overflowing with admiration was evident enough” (262); “it was evident that he was very much in love with her” (264). This situation duplicates Bingley’s earlier on, just as Lydia’s elopement with Wickham closely resembles Georgiana’s near-elopement with him. In these dramatic sequences Jane Austen resolves by empathy the problems detailed in the first proposal scene. If one remembers Dorothy Shakespear’s words to Ezra Pound that “a thing doesn’t exist until one has felt it oneself,”8 it is evident that Austen makes Elizabeth feel Darcy’s antipathy to Wickham, and she makes Darcy feel Elizabeth’s objection to his interference between Jane and Bingley. The problems that once made Darcy and Elizabeth see each other as irrevocably divided give way to solutions founded on intelligence and empathy that show them destined to be a couple: “it was an union that must” be “to the advantage of both” (312). By the time therefore that Bingley and Darcy re-enact the beginning of the novel by settling at Netherfield Park a second time, Darcy and Elizabeth have come to know themselves and love each other by virtue of “sense” and “affection.” When Lady Catherine tries to prevent the happy ending to this inevitable union, she not only duplicates Darcy’s earlier interference between Jane and Bingley but also demonstrates that Darcy’s aunt can easily be as troublesome as Elizabeth’s mother. If Darcy has complained about Elizabeth’s mother, she is equally entitled to complain about his aunt. That Elizabeth does not and that she finally convinces him to make peace with Lady Catherine shows how the novel moves relentlessly from a firm sense of self to a harmonizing of familial and social orders. We have returned to the principles of Letter XII of Lady Susan in the most aesthetically satisfying way imaginable.
Readers of Pride and Prejudice are a long way from “Henry and Eliza.” Eliza Stanhope is not quite Elizabeth Bennet. The prison that she escapes from has four walls and bars on its windows; she lands there because of her intractable personality. The prison that Elizabeth escapes from is that of her self. Eliza has no shame; Elizabeth does. Eliza takes revenge on the Dutchess of F.; Elizabeth reconciles herself to Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Eliza tosses her two children—with instructions to them to land safely—out of a prison window; Elizabeth tosses her prejudices out of her life without hurting herself in the least. Eliza never grows up; Elizabeth grows up quickly. Eliza marries and has two children in a paragraph; Elizabeth needs two proposals and a year just to get to the altar. The management of time becomes a hallmark of Jane Austen’s maturity as an artist. The emotional life has its seasons just as the year has its fall, winter, spring, and summer. Even a Da capo al fine ending needs eight chapters rather than eight sentences to repeat a structure of four themes with variations—the four problems of the novel—convincingly. Nonetheless, Eliza Harcourt and her hapless mother, the Dutchess of F. and her jilted daughter, the perfect Charles Adams seeking a perfect wife, Mr. Watts and his pursuit of any wife, and Sophy Stanhope with her idea of a good marriage, as well as the rudiments of structure in story-telling—the repetition and breaking of patterns as they develop from “Henry and Eliza” through Lady Susan, especially in the building up, stating, and solving of problems—show a genetic relationship to Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine and Miss de Bourgh, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his ideal wife, Mr. Collins and any wife, and Elizabeth Bennet knowing the difference between a prudent and a mercenary marriage. The characters and structures of Jane Austen’s stories as a teenager have a lot of growing-up to do before they become the characters and structures of her mature novels. But I think it is safe to say that if their DNA were tested it would show that they were all part of that remarkable family—Jane Austen’s family of fiction.
1. This paper, with a few minor changes, was presented at the meeting of the Jane Austen Society of Australia in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, on 12 September 1998; it was subsequently published in Sensibilities 17 (December 1998): 58-75. I am grateful to the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Sensibilities for permission to reprint it here.
2. All quotations from “Jack & Alice: A Novel” are from Chapman’s edition of Minor Works: 12-29.
3. Caroline Bingley is the one speaking in the first paragraph quoted here.
4. All quotations from “Henry and Eliza” are from Chapman’s edition of Minor Works: 33-39.
5. Margaret Doody and Douglas Murray show that Jane Austen is using a “pot-pourri of musical terms, some legitimate and typically used to mark instrumental music, especially for the pianoforte: Da capo, allegretto, and con espressione . . . . Bravo, Bravissimo, and Encora are traditional Italian calls to hail an excellent performance.” Poco presto is an absurd invention, indicating the pianist should play “a little as far as possible” (Catherine 327-28, n. 125-6). In a word, Charlotte Lutterell hasn’t the slightest idea of the meaning of any of her supposed exclamations of praise.
6. All quotations from “The Three Sisters” are from Chapman’s edition of Minor Works: 57-71.
7. All quotations from Lady Susan are from Chapman’s edition of Minor Works: 243-313.
8. See Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: 24.
Austen, Jane. The Works of Jane Austen. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1933-69.
Doody, Margaret Anne, and Douglas Murray, eds. Catherine and Other Writings. World’s Classics. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. 1922. New York: Random, 1986.
Pound, Ezra, and Dorothy Shakespear. Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909–1914. Ed. Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1984.