Please forgive me for not posting last week. I was stranded out of state, and while I had my computer, I did not have much time. I’ll save my thoughts on fortune and luck in Austen for a later date. Today, I wanted to discuss the imagery of new life in spring.
This sort of device is a favorite amongst literature teachers, and I confess I am convinced they often see more to books than the author intended. Likewise, I might run that risk in this post, but I think it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless.
Elizabeth Bennet arrives in Kent in the early weeks of March. While we’re told Rosings’ park is quite beautiful, and Elizabeth enjoys walking, it still would have been devoid of Spring. Trees would not have budded, grass would not be green, and flowers were not blooming. If we compare that to Elizabeth’s story arc, we can see some similarities.
If we compare that to Elizabeth’s story arc, we can see some similarities. The excitement of the new neighbors and the Militia are over. Elizabeth sees Wickham give attentions to another lady and then she leaves the area for several weeks all without so much as a sigh of longing. Jane, we know, is depressed. She has not forgotten Bingley and the touch of winter his departure brought on their lives lingers. Darcy, likewise, remains prevalent in Elizabeth’s mind. When she hears of his coming to Rosings, she actually looks forward to the entertainment.
Elizabeth had heard soon after her arrival that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintances whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine, who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself. -Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 30.
Upon his arrival, he calls immediately on the Parsonage, shocking Charlotte so much as to believe it due to Elizabeth. As time goes on, Charlotte thinks Darcy in love with her friend. Indeed, in his haphazard and awkward way, he did attempt to court Elizabeth as they walked amongst the grove and he called nearly daily on the Parsonage. However, like a new bloom is susceptible to frost, Darcy’s courtship is destroyed by an untimely conversation between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth.
Darcy, unaware that his position is weakened and he has waited so long in displaying any affection toward Elizabeth she instead has different impressions of him, he offers a wilting bouquet to Elizabeth. Unimpressed, she unequivocally refuses him. And like a child watching leaves fall from a tree, readers have to wonder if any good can come of such a death to something that promised beauty. Indeed, like a tree survives winter by dropping its leaves and drawing in its resources, Darcy writes a heartfelt, bittersweet letter and disappears, presumably forever.
However, Spring restores life. The morning after Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth notes, for the first time, the change of scenery.
After walking two or three times along that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the park. The five weeks which she had now passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. -Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 35.
Upon reading Darcy’s letter, Elizabeth first refuses to believe any part of it. In the midst of winter, it often feels as though Spring will never return and that the earth now covered in snow and frozen ground will one day bring forth beauty. Like a determined seed, Elizabeth’s sense of justice permeates her cloud of anger and hurt just enough to allow that there was some merit in Darcy’s perception of Jane’s behavior. From there, a ray of light shines on the seed when she accepts the truth of Wickham. Daily, she watered the seed.
Mr. Darcy’s letter she was in a fair way of soon knowing by heart. She studied every sentence; and her feelings towards its writer were at times widely different. -Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 37.
The seed was not love for Darcy. No, it was herself. Would she grow from this encounter? Could she bloom and treat him with respect if they ever met again? Could she show her humility and swallow her pride? Elizabeth was tested when she saw Darcy again at Pemberley. Having passed that test, next came the disaster with Lydia. Now, Elizabeth must wonder if Darcy was honorable enough to continue to love her or if her old opinions about his pride were real. By this time, however, her roots had grown strong, and while there might be storms and pests, she was not so hasty in her assumptions.
By this period, however, her roots had become strong, and while there might be storms and pests, she was not so hasty in her assumptions. She no longer leaped to conclusions based on Darcy’s actions or inactions. Instead, she did what was probably the hardest for her to do, and that was waiting. At just the right time, she was given the opportunity to speak with him, and then the whole truth came out from his lips, and she no longer had to guess. In short, she bloomed and matured, wowing the world with her beauty.
When discussing poetry, Elizabeth declares bad poetry can drive away love while Darcy says he had thought it the food of love. Elizabeth replies:
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
Certainly, Darcy and Elizabeth’s love ends up being more than a slight inclination and their trials nourish it. So, too, Elizabeth’s new understanding of herself and the world is not a mere changing over of leaves and many a storm sustains it for it was built upon strong understanding. A stark contrast to this is Lydia. She never changes in the novel. Her situation changes from carefree to wayward and
So, too, Elizabeth’s new understanding of herself and the world is not a mere changing over of leaves and many a storm nourishes it for it was built upon strong understanding. A stark contrast to this is Lydia. She never changes in the novel. Her situation changes from carefree to wayward and disreputible daughter to properly wed and yet her behavior and understanding of the world never alters. And certainly as was common in poetry and prose of the era, the troubled youth might have become the image of morality. Perhaps if she had not been found by Darcy and had been tossed aside by Wickham or paid some punishment for her behavior she would have bloomed differently. Instead, “the sonnet,” saving her from a terrible fate, seems to be what killed her chance of ever becoming more.
In conclusion, as the timeline of Pride and Prejudice spans a year, traits of each season reflect in the plot. The meat of the story which sees the biggest character growth and revolution occurs during Spring. Whether it was by happy accident or intent on Austen’s behalf, we cannot know. For myself, I’m inclined to believe Austen chose the setting on purpose. What do you think?
For the poll, where should Darcy propose?
- At the Parsonage
- At Rosings
- On a walk
- Not in Kent