Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Heroine Wants Love

Third post on Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth's quest is to find love within marriage. Women today look for the same thing, but now, many women are capable of supporting themselves, so marriage is not a dire necessity. In Regency England, however, women of the upper social classes had two choices: marry well or become a spinster and live off your relatives in poverty. Love didn't often come into consideration when looking for a husband. Neither are ideal choices, as today we know how many marriages break down. Elizabeth is twenty, hardly a spinster, but she lives in a rural area with limited choices, and her dowry is meager. Oddly, in a few months, her journey will introduce her to four possible suitors, and she endures three proposals. Luckily, even in this pre-baseball era, Elizabeth need not fear three strikes and you're out. Her third proposal is a homerun.

At first, she finds Mr. Darcy an arrogant man, caught in his pride and uninterested in her. Shortly thereafter, the Trickster-Herald, her cousin, Mr. Collins, arrives at Longbourn with the intention of ending a family dispute and marrying one of Mr. Bennets' daughters as a solution to the entailment of the estate. Since Mrs. Bennet tells him Jane is taken, Mr. Collins sets his sites on Elizabeth. Why is he a Trickster? Because of his comedic effect. You cannot but find his behavior humorously appalling. He toadies up to everyone while he admitting to Mr. Bennet that many of his flattering comments are rehearsed. In his proposal he acts like a Threshold Guardian, taking Elizabeth near the innermost cave and the conundrum found there: financial security while married to a foolish man or an eternity alone. Mr. Collins remains the Trickster with Mrs. Bennet, encouraging her to believe in his good intentions, but when Elizabeth thwarts him, he proposes to her best friend; another trick, and breaks his word.

The horror for Elizabeth is that Charlotte accepts and may have even worked to bring about the proposal. How is Charlotte to live with such an overweening, egotistical man whose abject humility only exposes his overwhelming pride? As a Herald, Mr. Collins calls Elizabeth to the adventure of marriage; but Elizabeth's intelligence tells her how awful a marriage with such a man might become. Her refusal of the call only shows her good innate sense.

She also meets Mr. Wickham, a ShapeShifter Shadow character in his attractive disguise. Everyone welcomes handsome Mr. Wickham to Meryton. Elizabeth enjoys his attentions and he seems very gentlemanly, plus he encourages her prejudice against Mr. Darcy. He tells her of Darcy's perfidy to himself. This seeming gentleman turns into the worst type of cad later in the story, his actions bringing evil and disrepute the Bennet family. Wickham never proposes to Elizabeth, but certainly behaves in such a manner that the reader believes he wants to.

When Elizabeth goes to visit her best friend and her rejected suitor, she encounters Mr. Darcy again, visiting his aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Mr. Collins' patron. He brings with him Fitzwilliam Darcy, his cousin. Colonel Fitzwilliam also pays attention to Elizabeth, but he is upfront that his desire will not lead to marriage; he cannot afford it. A proposal appears, though, from Mr. Darcy. Again, Elizabeth rejects the proposal when he asks "Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate me on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?" She answers, "You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner."

In my baseball metaphor, Eliza has been to bat twice and stuck out, deliberately made a choice not to play. Mr. Darcy, she thought and believed the most arrogant, conceited, with a selfish disdain for the feelings of others. In his own way he disgusted her as much as Mr. Collins.

Mr. Darcy throughout the story plays several archetypes. In the next pages he becomes a mentor, a wise person who gives the hero a gift to help them on their journey. For all of Elizabeth's poor opinions of him, the very next morning he very civilly approaches her, and hands her a letter.

The letter, the mentor's gift, provides Elizabeth inner vision. In two or three readings, she learns her own blindness, sees her actions and her family's behavior for how it looked to others. She learns truth. The mask of her self-blindness has been ripped off, and from now on, Elizabeth will see.

The five posts on Lizzy's journey:

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