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Here's the mail, it never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail

Elizabeth, like me, is tickled to have received letters in the mail. She's been expecting to hear from Jane for a while, and finally two letters from Jane have arrived. The Gardiners, once again proving how lovely they are, set off on a walk, leaving Lizzy alone to read her correspondence.

Hum-de-dum, chatty news from home, this is all so very pleasant until . . .

WTF?

Lydia has run off with Wickham.

Apparently they were bound for Gretna Green, a town just over the border in Scotland. Parental consent was required in England for a child under the age of 21 to marry (regardless of gender, by the way), but Scotland didn't have such a requirement. As a result, it was a rather popular destination for elopements. Of course, an elopement to Gretna Green was terribly scandalous, so if Lydia and Wickham have run off, there's going to be an uproar. How very ill-considered of them.

WTF x 2!

The second letter brings worse news still: Lydia and Wickham didn't actually go to Scotland and get hitched. It appears they've gone to London (and gone to ground), and that they are, to use a term of art, living in sin. There are many places where such a thing is still considered scandalous today, but I can assure you that at that time, it was really, truly a serious scandal: so bad, in fact, that not just Lydia but also her entire family would be considered ruined (and quite possibly be treated as pariahs, of a sort).

Wickham is engaged in intentional debauchery of the worst sort – he's despoiled a young virgin outside the bonds of matrimony and has no intention of doing the right thing by her at all. (Shades of Willoughby from Sense & Sensibility – one can just imagine him keeping Lydia around as long as suits him, then discarding her in favor of the next Mary King, as long as he can get a fortune out of it.)

Enter Darcy, stage right

A distraught Elizabeth starts to dash for the door in order to find the Gardiners, only to encounter Mr Darcy, come to pay a call. She's pale and upset and barely able to communicate, leading Darcy to exclaim "Good God! What is the matter?" – a statement that Austen assures us is motivated by heightened emotion.

Mr Darcy is exceedingly sweet in this scene, really, although Austen cagily withholds his thoughts and opinions from us here, thereby precluding us from knowing all that's in his mind. It's a clever decision on her part, since we are thereby almost entirely forced to see things through the filter that Elizabeth employs, even though we are left to make our own conclusions about Darcy's motivation, thoughts and feelings.

[S]he sat down, unable to support herself, and looking so miserably ill that it was impossible for Darcy to leave her, or to refrain from saying, in a tone of gentleness and commiseration, "Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take, to give you present relief? —A glass of wine;— shall I get you one? —You are very ill."

"No, I thank you;" she replied, endeavoring to recover herself. "There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news which I have just received from Longbourn."

She burst into tears as she alluded to it, and for a few minutes could not speak another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense, could only say something indistinctly of his concern, and observe her in compassionate silence. At length, she spoke again. "I have just had a letter from Jane, with such dreadful news. It cannot be concealed from any one. My youngest sister has left all her friends—has eloped; — has thrown herself into the power of — of Mr Wickham. They are gone off together from Brighton. You know him too well to doubt the rest. She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to — she is lost forever."

Darcy was fixed in astonishment. "When I consider," she added, in a yet more agitated voice, "that I might have prevented it! — I who knew what he was. Had I but explained some part of it only — some part of what I learnt — to my own family! Had his character been known, this could not have happened. But it is all, all too late now."

"I am grieved, indeed," cried Darcy; "grieved — shocked. But is it certain, absolutely certain?"

"Oh yes! — They left Brighton together on Sunday night, and were traced almost to London, but not beyond; they are certainly not gone to Scotland."

"And what has been done, what has been attempted, to recover her?"

"My father is gone to London, and Jane has written to beg my uncle's immediate assistance, and we shall be off, I hope, in half an hour. But nothing can be done; I know very well that nothing can be done. How is such a man to be worked on? How are they even to be discovered? I have not the smallest hope. It is every way horrible!"

Darcy shook his head in silent acquiescence.

"When my eyes were opened to his real character. — Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not — I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched mistake!"

Darcy made no answer.

It is only now, as Darcy is pacing the room, lost in sober contemplation, that Elizabeth realizes that she's fallen for him and actually wanted him to renew his proposal to her. Only she is equally convinced that he will not do so, given the huge scandal hanging over her (already undesireable) family. Elizabeth starts sobbing in earnest, more because of Lydia's situation than her own loss. Darcy, realizing there's little comfort he can offer, decides to take his leave. Elizabeth is sure he's keen to distance himself from her and the scandal. I find her conclusion to be logical, of course, but not necessarily valid based on the way Austen has written Darcy's words and conduct here.

"I am afraid you have been long desiring my absence, nor have I anything to plead in excuse of my stay, but real, though unavailing, concern. Would to heaven that anything could be either said or done on my part, that might offer consolation to such distress! — But I will not torment you with vain wishes, which may seem purposely to ask for your thanks. This unfortunate affair will, I fear, prevent my sister's having the pleasure of seeing you at Pemberley today."

"Oh, yes. Be so kind as to apologize for us to Miss Darcy. Say that urgent business calls us home immediately. Conceal the unhappy truth as long as it is possible. — I know it cannot be long."

He readily assured her of his secrecy — again expressed his sorrow for her distress, wished it a happier conclusion than there was at present reason to hope, and, leaving his compliments for her relations, with only one serious, parting, look, went away.

Austen takes a moment to assess Elizabeth's relationship with Darcy. She goes on the offensive, essentially taking to task any reader who might claim that Elizabeth's love for Darcy makes no sense because it's not based on initial attraction. She as much as says "Look – her attraction to Wickham was based on initial attraction, and look how badly that turned out!"
The Gardiners return and agree to depart immediately to help as they're able, and Mrs Gardiner is left wondering what, exactly, Lizzy told Darcy and what the exact nature of their relationship is. While it seems like a simple enough statement on its face, the Gardiners being unaware of the precise nature of the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy is a crucial plot point, as we shall see going forward. And now, one of my favorite scenes from the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice for the evident depth of feeling and distress conveyed wordlessly by Colin Firth:




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Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
boreal_owl
Feb. 15th, 2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
It's been a while since I read Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. I found out that it is a modern version of P&P. Although I haven't read P&P, some of the plot descriptions seem familiar. If you haven't read Bridget Jones's Diary, I think you'll enjoy it. (The book is much better than the movie.)
kellyrfineman
Feb. 15th, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC)
I read Bridget Jones's Diary before it was even a movie. It's definitely a modernized retelling of P&P, with Bridget's mother filling both the mother and Lydia roles. One thing I love about the movies is Colin Firth's participation. Fielding describes the character of Mark Darcy as looking a lot like Colin Firth (as Mr Darcy), and then Colin Firth actually signed on to play the role of Mark Darcy in the movies, and my joy in the whole metafictional awesomeness of it was complete.
mostly_irish
Feb. 15th, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
I love the way this scene was done in the mini-series. Colin Firth OWNED that whole, "concerned pacing bit." And the audience — like the reader — was pretty sure he was going to make something awesome happen b/c he loves Elizabeth. Meanwhile, poor Lizzy thinks she's a lost cause. LOVE it.

Know what else I love?

"Here's the mail, it never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail"

Blue's Clues references!
kellyrfineman
Feb. 15th, 2011 10:58 pm (UTC)
It's the anguish when she's crying and he really wants to touch her or do something useful and he really can't, so he's all "alas!" and "woe!" without saying a word.

In other news - I sing the Blue's Clues mail song on average of once a month. I love that song. Although for me, Blue's Clues means STEVE. And no stuffed dog - just the cartoon one. Because I watched it when my kids were little, and that's how it was back then.
mostly_irish
Feb. 16th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
Blue's Clues means Steve and cartoon Blue for us too! We watch the re-runs on Netflix on-demand. I know some shifty "brother" character was brought in at some point, but I'm just going to ignore the present and focus on the past.
rachelswardrobe
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
I always wonder what attracted Wickham to Lydia... sure she probably amused him, but leaving Brighton to 'live in sin' with her was a big risk, he ought to have known that he'd be in trouble, that people would come after him. I always wondered why he didn't just keep the affair to Brighton... I guess the Forsters would have picked up on it. I can only assume that in this instance Wickham is ruled by his dumb-stick!

Love colin firth in this scene... it also amuses me that men always used to think that women were ill if they were upset, lol

Oh, oh, one other point... Lizzy did find Darcy physically attractive when she first saw him, at least she did if she's included in 'the ladies ...'at the assembly rooms ball. She just found she didn't like it when he opened his mouth, lol. I don't think Austen needs to go on the offensive, it takes many people years to see someone in a different light
fuzzyfostermom
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
Isn't it explained later that Wickham was really fleeing his creditors in Brighton, and saw the opportunity to take a chippie with him - and, not being one to deny himself anything, did? I suspect that what attracted Wickham to Lydia was her availability...the fact that she wasn't too nice (or to smart) to run away with him.
rachelswardrobe
Feb. 17th, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
Ah ha, I'd forgotten that, it's been a long time since I last read p&p!
fuzzyfostermom
Feb. 17th, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
I re-read it recently & I think that was the first time that explanation leapt out at me. I mean, you're right, with everybody going on about how she has no money or connections, it definitely raises the question.
kellyrfineman
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
I believe that fuzzyfostermom has it right about the explanation for Wickham. He probably figured they wouldn't be able to find him (and, indeed, without Darcy's help, they wouldn't have done), and he'd have used Lydia until he tired of her then left her to find her own way home.
fuzzyfostermom
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
The million dollar question to me is, even if Lizzie HAD told everyone about Wickham's character, would it really have prevented this debacle, as she claims? Would it have a) prevented her father from allowing Lydia to go to Brighton or b) caused Lydia to stay away from Wickham while there?

We know what Lydia is - the scandal might very well strike her as exciting and only increase Wickham's appeal in her eyes, as he sweet-talked her 'round. And we know what Mr. Bennet is - would the presence of one rotten apple in the barrel have struck him as sufficient reason not to throw Lydia in? I have always suspected not.

Darcy says at one point that HE could have prevented it all, by making Wickham's character known - but remember how very unpopular he'd made himself in the district. Would anybody have listened before it was too late? Lizzie was almost incapable of believing him at first, and she had more knowledge to work with than most.
kellyrfineman
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
Fine points, all. It's possible that if Wickham's nature had been known, it might have been enough to get Mr Bennet to behave responsibly. Or perhaps it would have been enough for Colonel Forster to rescind the invitation or oust Wickham from the regiment. But I rather suspect that you're correct here.

Darcy's regret about not speaking himself wasn't necessarily limited to Hertfordshire. It could have predated that time, even.

Part of my pet theory about why he's so difficult at the first assembly is that he's still getting over Georgiana's near-ruination, which would have transpired not all that long before then, really!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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