Monday, May 19, 2008

Elizabeth Bennet's courage

I love the way that Jane Austen exposes Darcy's character in the following extract and reveals Elizabeth Bennet's playful sense of humour and her indomitable spirit. The scene takes place at Rosings, the home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This snobbish woman ignores Elizabeth who is not made to feel welcome in the least. Lady Catherine spends the whole time talking to her nephews, Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. However, the latter manages to engage Elizabeth in conversation and persuades her to play the piano. As she starts to perform Elizabeth sees Mr Darcy approach.

"You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."

"I shall not say that you are mistaken," he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own."

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire -- and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too -- for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear."

"I am not afraid of you," said he smilingly.

"Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of," cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers."

"You shall hear then -- but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball -- and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you -- but so it was. He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact."

"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."

"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders."

"Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better had I sought an introduction; but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."

"Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?" said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"

"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble."

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."

Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers."

From the beginning of the chapter we can imagine Elizabeth's distress; trying her best to be civil in an uncomfortable situation. But because she is Elizabeth Bennet she manages to rise above the petty behaviour of those that try to intimidate her whilst simultaneously having a bit of fun at Mr Darcy's expense. Not only is she able to shame Mr Darcy but is also witty, managing to have the last laugh!

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