Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Till this moment I never knew myself"

Vol I is world-class, and Vol II is better. Austen does not go so much from scene to scene as from strength to strength -- Charlotte's married fate, Lady Catherine's not-so-petty tyranny, the Worst Proposal Ever, the letter -- can we pause to note that the moral turning point for our heroine occurs when she is by herself, reading and rereading, and carefully thinking over her own observations and judgments? The Letter Scene is an aria of psychological acuteness, right up there with Dorothea's similar realization about her own life over half a century later: an amazing moment where the heroine's awareness of herself, her entire world, is transformed completely by her own insight.

Minor points:

- Jane's quiet yet deepening depression is like a sad minor return of Marianne's hysteria and near-fatal illness. Poor Jane! fading away....

- I completely forgot about Col Fitzwhatshisname, who is sort of like Darcy Lite. Elizabeth isn't that insulted that he apparently likes her, but not enough to be poor with her (these guys complaining about poor women remind me of Marilyn Monroe's gold-digger: "I don't want to marry him for his money, I want to marry him for your money!"). He and Charlotte both allow mercenary concerns to dictate their love lives, but the author doesn't condemn either one of them. What else are they supposed to do? seems to be the conclusion. It's like Ellen Olenska gently reproving Newton Archer: "Oh, my dear—where is that country? Have you ever been there?"

- Trying to draw biographical conclusions from literary works is especially pointless when it comes to Austen, but there are so many repetitions in the novels of a kind of primal scene where a heroine offends propriety and suffers for it (Marianne confronting Willoughby, Catherine suspecting the general, Lydia and Kitty chasing after soldiers) you have to wonder if something like that happened to "the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly" who grew up into our author. I have to, anyway. (Ditto the echoes of "Willoughby," "Wickham"....)

....damn, I might just reread Vol II again before going on. It's not as sparkling and delightful as Vol I, but I just want to love it and squeeze it and call it Georgiana.