"I would we were all of one mind, and one mind good." --Cymbeline, V.iv.209-210. An English teacher's log. Slow down: Check it once in a while.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Balancing the Gaza story

Please check out this web site for some balancing information about Gaza.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Note on a Pride and Prejudice Cliche

Warning: Plot spoiler. If you haven’t read the book, close this site and read it. (You’ll be glad you did.) Then come back.

At a noon lecture at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, the Festival’s former Artistic Director, Libby Appel, spoke about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and about her production of a play version of the novel, now on the stage at the Festival’s Bowmer Theatre.

The talk was lively and entertaining, but at one point I could not contain myself, shaking my head and saying “no” in slightly too loud a voice. (After the talk, when I spoke with her privately, Ms. Appel said, generously, “You should have argued with me” and, once I had made my case, “You win.” So I felt absolved for piping up.)

Her general theme was the “balance” in Austen’s novel—equal virtues and vices on both sides of the divides between classes and genders. In the name of this supposed ideal of balance, Ms. Appel made the assertion that got my dander up, namely, that one reason Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy took so long to come together was Elizabeth’s pride and her prejudice against him. Almost everyone falls into this interpretive trap: pride and prejudice on both sides, or pride in him and prejudice in her.

To quote Yeats in a different context (“The Folly of Being Comforted”), “Heart cries ‘No!’”

Elizabeth is not guilty of any such thing. Her initial judgment of Darcy was absolutely right, since he was a puffed-up, self-righteous, peacock, and he later explicitly admits as much. What changes him into someone worthy Elizabeth’s respect and love is precisely her refusal of his proposal on the grounds of his pride. It is his reform, and not the cure of anything wrong in her, that motivates her change in feeling toward him. Yes she is wrong about the Wickham facts, the victim of another’s hypocrisy. But she is not wrong about Darcy’s character. When he is reformed, she sees it and only then (rightly) warms to him.

Any interpretation that puts the abstract idea of aesthetic balance, rather than this moral transformation, at the center of the book has missed the essential point and the universal greatness of the novel.

This has all been said better by Philip Thompson, from whose short essay on the book (which appears in Dusk and Dawn: Poems and Prose of Philip Thompson [San Diego: One Mind Good Press, 2005], available at onemindgoodpress@aol.com) I quote:

Pride and Prejudice portrays a world that is well-ordered, prosperous, pleasant, bright, cheerful, peaceful, conversable, and utterly defective, a world populated by an ogre, a dummy, a wisp, a cynic, hypocrites, nitwits, opportunists, an oaf-cum-sycophant, and a shameless vulgar mess of a mother-out-loud.

“Darcy is a mock-regal, polished, pontificating mannikin, who is literally born as a human being under the influence of a radiant and invincible goddess with the attributes of morality, intelligence, justice, merriment, seriousness, affection, liveliness, and unselfishness; a goddess who is as well a thoroughly English girl of a thoroughly typical English country town of 1800. She fills us with a lucidity and wisdom that are inseparable from vitality.”

In the presence of this goddess and the transformation she inspires, mere aesthetic balance is but fluff.


HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY to all, and may we all soon see a return to the true ideals of the republic.