Lucy and Todd

“In vain have I struggled” – Pride and Prejudice

In The Gloves Are Off : Thoughts on Literature on July 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm

‘“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent.’

That ‘doubted’ is so characteristic of Austen’s mind: rich, ironic and sensitive.  She’s like Bach in the way she screws the joints of a sentence together until the whole thing works.  Intricate things, pounded on to the page with succinctness and acute clarity, result in a paradoxical kind of beauty.

And so begins one of the angriest scenes in English literature – one of the sexiest too.  In spite of the cultured dialogue, what they’re saying to each other isn’t polite at all.

Elizabeth replies:

‘“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot–I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. …”

Mr Darcy…seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips till he believed himself to have attained it. …

“And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.”

“I might as well inquire,” replied she, “why with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? Was not this some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil? But I have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings decided against you–had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” …’

Darcy eventually gets a word in:

‘“And this…is your opinion of me!… Thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps…these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. …But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?–to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said–

“You are mistaken, Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner. …You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it. …From the very beginning–from the first moment, I may almost say–of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”’

The weariness conveyed by the term, ‘prevailed upon’, sums up the marriage market Elizabeth and her peers (and Jane Austen herself) were subjected to, a lottery in which their own qualities rarely took precedence over the extent of their dowries.  But the TONE of her fury is not subjugated but brave and free.  Elizabeth is ‘magnificent’ (as George Sanders says of Bette Davis during her meltdown at the party in All About Eve).  She really lets him have it!

This book, and this scene in particular, are the start of feminism in England.


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