Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Response: A First Look at Chapter 1

I think you make a very nice point, Mr. M, about Mrs. Bennett's foremost concerns being the welfare of her daughters. I don't believe that she has in her mind her own social advancement when arranging matches for her daughters. We see her repeatedly emphasize to the girls that it is no pleasure for a woman her age to go into society, and that all she wants is to see them well-matched. While one could take this as Mrs. Bennett putting on a show for the world and secretly scheming to improve her own status, I do not believe that she possesses the depths required to put on much of a show about anything (an unkind assessment, perhaps, but not an unfounded one). Mrs. Bennett certainly wants to do her best as a mother, and believes that in order to do so one must marry one's daughters well.

But, then, we again come up against the question of what it means to marry your daughters well. Mrs. Bennett remarks at least once that there was a well-off soldier that she could have taken up with instead of the wry Mr. Bennett -- as you mentioned, she appears to believe that marrying well means marrying money. The frivolity with which Mrs. Bennett conducts herself in this first chapter and the objections which Mr. Bennett raises seem to be aimed towards discouraging us, the readers, from agreeing with Mrs. Bennett (although society certainly seems to have her back in this matter). The teasing which Mr. Bennett inflicts on Mrs. Bennett may serve as another warning to the reader: marrying for beauty (without considerations to intellect) is also ill-advised. Mr. Bennett isn't being cruel in playing dumb; instead, he is both exercising a means of coping with the inequalities between himself and his wife, and expressing his own thoughts and concerns about what makes a good marriage.

Here's another thought: in parrying Mrs. Bennett's requests, Mr. Bennett may also be attempting to assert his own will and beliefs in what I believe is a world ruled primarily by women: the world of visiting and news, a world in which matches are considered and made. I haven't really fleshed this out, and it might not have much relevance to the current line of discussion, but I think it could be good to keep in mind as we examine who decides what in the process of matchmaking and courtship.


I have packed up my copy of PNP for the move, but rest assured that I'll squirrel around for it the moment I get that box transferred. In the mean time, I'll give your questions another look and will eagerly anticipate your next post.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A First Look at Chapter 1

I'd like to give the narrator the consideration she is due after asking (and then attempting to answer) some questions about the Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. The questions I mentioned in the previous post need to be answered, and while we have no need of a summary, I do suspect that some things which seem obvious now might prove richer if an attempt were made to describe them explicitly.

When I first read the opening to their conversation, I mistakenly characterized Mrs. Bennet as bothering her husband with trivial things, imposing her interests on him - or something like that. But this kind of thinking can stand only if Mrs. Bennet's point is trivial and only if Mr. Bennet can truly be said to be blamelessly suffering from his marriage. But neither of these is true.

Even if Mrs. Bennet's manner of getting to her point seems annoying for its indirectness or its impracticality, her aim is charitable, and serious. When she says, "Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune" and that he is "a single man of large fortune," the reader ought to recognize the importance of this news. In this period, it would be a mark of shame not to have a husband. A spinster is regarded as a failed woman and would be thought little of. More importantly, because a woman could not command wages sufficient for supporting herself in any occupation, she must rely on a husband when she can no longer rely on parents and family. We could very well imagine Mrs. Bennet neglecting these serious needs of her children; but, she does not neglect them: she is actively engaged in seeing to their futures. So, Mrs. Bennet's errand ought be taken seriously, and Mrs. Bennet, for her work, ought to be respected for her effort.
Objection: Some might think that a mother in this time would be praised and blamed insofar as she succeeded at marrying off her daughter. She would be accorded even higher esteem for securing a husband of high social standing. Could it be that Mrs. Bennet acts to improve her reputation? If so, Mrs. Bennet's asking her husband to see Bingley is ultimately self-serving.

What do you think, Ms. W? This objection has some credence in light of the way Mrs. Bennet behaves and competes with her peers. I think its too cynical.
Furthermore, if Mrs. Bennet's mission is a serious one, then no one can claim Mr. Bennet is suffering from a nagging wife. Instead, Mr. Bennet is juvenile - taking pleasure in bothering his wife in the face of so serious a matter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Steps

In attempting to take up a book and read it closely, one might choose to spend a while thinking about theories of close reading or thinking about what kind of book this is and in what way it would be best to interpret it.

Unfortunately, that one would be a fool, because that kind of work relies on a familiarity with the text which can only be gained by asking the first questions first.

The first questions, in books with characters, are (1) What is Dr. Smith doing? (2) why does Dr. Smith do what he does here? (3) How do we know that's why? and -- once we identify the most likely motivation -- (4) what do we think of Dr. Smith and his action?

* These questions are sometimes very easy to answer, sometimes very hard to answer.

In my second post -- coming later tonight, Ms. W -- I'll begin by trying to answer these questions with regard to Ch. 1.

-- Mr. M

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chapter 1: On marriage

With the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, it is made quite clear to the reader that this is going to be a book about marriage (or, at least, people intending to be married). What remains unclear, and what I hope will be one of our big questions going forward, is what the nature of that marriage should be. What are the priorities that should drive match-making? (love? fortune? comfort?) What role should one's family play in the process of deciding whom to marry? What sort of pairing leads to a good marriage, and what does a good marriage look like?

The first conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet does little to clarify matters. Mrs. Bennet subscribes to the universal truth cited in the opening line, and seems to consider a good match for any of her daughters to be primarily determined by the lucky gentleman's income. It is only after two mentions of Mr. Bingley's large fortune that she admits that "it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them" (3). In doing so, she lumps her daughters together into a larger category of "marriageable" -- it doesn't seem that personality plays much of a role in Ms. Bennet's calculations. Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, has his own set of priorities (informed, perhaps, by the silliness of his own marriage), and seems to delight in throwing Ms. Bennet's assumptions and generalizations back in her face. While reassuring Ms. Bennet that "[he] will send a few lines by [her] to assure [Mr. Bingley] of [his] hearty consent to [Mr. Bingley's] marrying whichever he chooses of the girls" (4), he makes an exception for Lizzy; Mr. Bennet may believe that personality must have something to do with making a suitable match.

In opposing another of his wife's views, Mr. Bennet takes an interesting stance on the universal truth. Although he appears to be playing dumb when he asks of Mrs. Bennet: "Is that [Mr. Bingley's] design in settling here?" (3), he is actually making a rather bold statement: it is not universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife! This brings up two options for us to consider. Either a) the narrator is already guilty of sarcasm, or b) perhaps marriage, or at least marriage motivated by the possession of a good fortune, is not the best outcome for a single man or woman. If both are be true, we will need to be on the lookout for more convincing justifications for marriage and better criteria for selecting our mates.


All right, that all sort of came out at once. It's a little rough, but I hope it raises some good questions and/or makes sense. Here are some other things I was wondering about in Chapter 1:
1. What can we draw from Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's respective preferences for their daughters? From these preferences (Lydia's good humor, Lizzy's "quickness"), can we begin to build a framework of what makes someone loveable/marriageable?
2. Why is having a fortune so important to Mrs. Bennet? Why does having a fortune qualify you to be in want of a wife? I've been having some thoughts about the ability to create a new family unit and how that plays into the relationship between married couples and their families, but they're not really coherent yet.
3. Mrs. Bennet is obviously not a great soul, but what is she lacking? What would be a better business of life than trying to get her daughters married, especially in a world that seems to be largely composed of visiting and news? What do these people DO all day, anyway? (more of a historical question)

ALSO: I had a genius idea about citations. We should pick an edition in Google Books and use those page numbers for a standardized reference. It's searchable so it shouldn't be too much of a pain to find quotes. What do you think? This one looked good.

Time for some yogurt. Let me know what you're thinking.