Tea Time Tattle- Jane Bennet

on a white wooden table red roses, cup of tea, heart made of lac

Last week, I discussed Bingley and how some view him as spineless and stupid. Today, I want to consider Jane Bennet.

Fan Fiction usually portrays her as simplistically angelic or stupid and disgustingly naive. A few make her less angelic or maybe even evil. Rarely does one give her a sort of dreamy approach. I tend to disagree with all of these approaches for Canon Jane. Again, this is not criticizing any fan fiction but rather examining the character as Jane Austen wrote her. Be merry and recreate however you please for a re-imagining!

We first learn about Jane with her mother defending her chances with Mr. Bingley while her father has said he would champion his second daughter, Elizabeth.

Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia.

To which Mr. Bennet replies:

“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.”

Now, the next interaction reveals Mr. Bennet’s teasing personality and we can be sure he doesn’t actually think so little of his daughters. Jane Austen undoubtedly did this to help reveal Elizabeth as the primary protagonist. It’s worth noting that, usually, in novels of the day the heroine was perfectly demure and beautiful. She was often naive and the target of a cad who she had believed to be a hero. She lacked independence and her romantic interest was usually as pure as she was. In other words, the ingenue. The flip side to the ingenue was the femme fatale who used feminine wiles to try and achieve her means.

If the latter sounds familiar, then it’s because Lady Catherine accuses Elizabeth Bennet of using her wiles to entrance Darcy. However, just as there is far more to Elizabeth than her charming personality which “bewitched” Darcy, Jane Bennet is no ingenue despite it seeming so on the surface. Austen does not give us blank characters.

Jane is not really mentioned again until she dances with Mr. Bingley who is soon revealed to have a heart of gold. While Jane reveals her thoughts about Bingley’s sisters, the reader understands that Elizabeth believes Jane is being too kind-hearted. She also says things to the effect.

69c48443b14dcb7cfac35e3ab277e04eAs the book is from Elizabeth’s perspective, it seems that Elizabeth would be justified in thinking Jane too naive to see the guiles of Caroline and Louisa Bingley. Jane is also mentioned as being the only one who saw merit in Mr. Darcy (although I think Elizabeth was the only one who thought him so bad. I think the rest of the area was mostly indifferent to him while it was an all-consuming obsession for Elizabeth). We learn about half way through the book that Darcy isn’t actually bad, most of it was Elizabeth’s prejudices. Jane is also vindicated in regards to Caroline Bingley. She was not alone in arguing for her brother to stay in London. Darcy, he admitted himself, had more weight there. I could say more about Caroline and her motives, but I’ll leave it at the fact that in the end we’re told that she learns enough to stay in Darcy and Elizabeth’s good graces.

So is Jane stupid for seeing the good side in Caroline and Darcy when Elizabeth did not? I’ll admit, I always had trouble with this quote.

if the same circumstances were to happen again, I am sure I should be deceived again.

Ms. Austen is very authentic about human nature. It takes many times for us to learn. Elizabeth is wrong about Charlotte and she did not learn. She was wrong about Mr. Darcy and still she did not learn. She continued to doubt him. It is not until the final chapters that she really overcomes her prejudices about the world. Why should Jane be any different? Why is it forgivable for Elizabeth to be prejudiced in a hateful way while Jane is prejudiced in a sweet way? If you’re going to make mistakes about people and how the world operates, I think having a rosy view on things would be the better way. Both sisters faced separation and heartache. Elizabeth’s cynicism did not protect her from anything and it does not make Jane naive for being so tenderhearted.

Ah, but there’s more to this impression of a naive, stupid Jane than just Caroline and Darcy. What about Mr. Wickham?

What a stroke was this for poor Jane! who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual. Nor was Darcy’s vindication, though grateful to her feelings, capable of consoling her for such discovery. Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear the one without involving the other.

Elizabeth has just confessed she was mistaken about Darcy’s character. Jane has learned she was mistaken about Caroline’s. It is only sensible then to consider that they might be mistaken regarding Wickham as well. Elizabeth is very hot-headed and largely believes Wickham and then Darcy based on their own words and appearances. Consider that Elizabeth did not consult with Colonel Fitzwilliam, as was offered. Even if she had, he might have lied to corroborate Darcy’s story. Elizabeth really hadn’t learned very much from the ordeal by this point and it was just as likely that Darcy could still have been a villain. The fact that he wasn’t, I believe, was Austen’s way of reinventing the trope.

janebennet2005Elizabeth argues with Jane and tries to make her pick a side. Hmmm…refusing to change one’s opinion is not generally stupid. It might later prove to be so but we typically call that stubbornness. That’s something the entire Bennet family has in spades. Mrs. Gardiner even says Darcy’s real fault is his obstinancy. So, if we do not fault Darcy for his stuborness and often gladly wear Lady Catherine’s intended insult of “obstinate, headstrong girl” as a badge of honor, why then should we fault Jane for sticking to her understanding?

Jane shows even more prudence when she says this regarding Elizabeth asking if they ought to expose Wickham:

To have his errors made public might ruin him for ever. He is now, perhaps, sorry for what he has done, and anxious to re-establish a character. We must not make him desperate.

There is more regarding Jane’s opinion about Wickham to examine. After Lydia’s elopement, Jane remains hopeful that Wickham intends an honorable marriage. When Mrs. Gardiner tries to calm Elizabeth and remind her of Jane’s views, Elizabeth replies in a fit of passion:

Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever might be their former conduct, that she would think capable of such an attempt, till it were proved against them?

Well, gosh. Is it stupid to give someone a chance to prove themselves? The benefit of the doubt? The idea of innocence until proven guilty? Regardless of what Darcy’s letter said Wickham had never displayed such dishonorable actions to them. Elizabeth had once hated Darcy on Wickham’s behalf. Next, she hates Wickham on Darcy’s behalf. Jane is level-headed and considers that Wickham might have reasons for his treatment to Darcy but that does not necessarily translate to maltreatment of all mankind. She is wrong, we discover, but I can’t fault her for being cautious to condemn the man who, hopefully, would be her brother-in-law.

Throughout the ordeal, Jane supports Mrs. Bennet’s anxieties alone until Elizabeth arrives. Once Elizabeth is there, she can split that burden but must also soothe her sister. Elizabeth blames herself for not exposing Wickham but dearest Jane replies with this:

“But to expose the former faults of any person without knowing what their present feelings were, seemed unjustifiable. We acted with the best intentions.”

Having lived years with guilt and regret and seeking professional help, I can say the line about best intentions can give you a world of freedom. While Elizabeth is busy flaying herself with regrets which adds to the stress she’s feeling, Jane can handle it better. She was not quick to jump to conclusions, she did not act in haste, and had the best intentions at heart. She has nothing to reprove herself with and can bear this entire situation all the easier.

As the crisis continues, and stories about Wickham rip through Meryton, Jane and Elizabeth both reassess their first feelings.

Elizabeth, though she did not credit above half of what was said, believed enough to make her former assurance of her sister’s ruin more certain; and even Jane, who believed still less of it, became almost hopeless, more especially as the time was now come when, if they had gone to Scotland, which she had never before entirely despaired of, they must in all probability have gained some news of them.

When more evidence came to light, Jane did not stubbornly stick her head in the sand. When Mr. Gardiner writes after Darcy finds Wickham and arranges for them to marry, Jane offers this piece of wisdom:

“We must endeavour to forget all that has passed on either side,” said Jane: “I hope and trust they will yet be happy. His consenting to marry her is a proof, I will believe, that he is come to a right way of thinking. Their mutual affection will steady them; and I flatter myself they will settle so quietly, and live in so rational a manner, as may in time make their past imprudence forgotten.”

Elizabeth refuses to believe that others will forget about the situation but, once more, she over reacts. Of course, people will soon forget. A greater scandal will come and in the end, Lydia is married and respectable. That’s hardly the enduring scandal people need to remember the situation forever. I am convinced Elizabeth’s concerns on the matter shrink significantly when Darcy and Bingley arrive, even more so once Bingley proposes and they likely evaporate entirely when Darcy asks for her hand a second time. Let’s be honest, Elizabeth’s real concern here is how Lydia’s actions will affect her possibilities with Darcy. Not with just any suitor but a man who has reason to hate Wickham. The text explains as much so I won’t go into it here.

There is one more character that Jane is sometimes accused of being wrong about. The love of her life, Mr. Bingley. What does the text say about how she handles seeing him again? She was anxious before his arrival and told Elizabeth she could meet him without a problem if only others did not constantly stare at her or talk about it. After he visits Longbourn, Jane says this:

“Now,” said she, “that this first meeting is over, I feel perfectly easy. I know my own strength, and I shall never be embarrassed again by his coming. I am glad he dines here on Tuesday. It will then be publicly seen that, on both sides, we meet only as common and indifferent acquaintance.”

That does not seem naive or stupid to me. Elizabeth, for whatever its worth as her powers of judgment are in serious question by this point, replies:

“Yes, very indifferent indeed,” said Elizabeth, laughingly. “Oh, Jane, take care.”

“My dear Lizzy, you cannot think me so weak, as to be in danger now?”

“I think you are in very great danger of making him as much in love with you as ever.”

Hmmm…but does Jane take care to not make Bingley love her? Or does she act as she ever does and he chooses to seek out her feelings? She did not really change her reactions to him as though she learned from the “mistake” of concealing her emotions too much. She can be stubborn, after all. She can only be herself, as much as any other Bennet daughter can be. But she does not send him flying in the other direction. And I think that was encouragement enough for Bingley. He knew as well as anyone that she had every right to hate him but the fact that she met him with as much attention as she had before when at worst she was accused of being indifferent toward him, I think was a sign he rightly interpreted as reason for hope. Additionally, if she were suddenly bold, she would not be the Jane he fell in love with and had as much potential for disaster as it did for success.

 

I hope I’ve made a case for a more complex Jane that is neither all angelic or naive and stupid. She is delightfully complex as full of flaws, insecurities, anxieties, and worries as the next person but she also has wisdom, intelligence, and fortitude.

If you would like to read more about my observations regarding Jane Bennet, I invite you to read my posts on A January of Janes in which I compare and contrast Jane Bennet and Jane Fairfax.

What do you think of Jane Bennet?

 

 

 

 

Tea Time Tattle- Bingley

TTT.jpgThis is a new thing I’m rolling out on the blog. Along with Wordless Wednesday and Thursday 300, it will be related to the Music Monday post…somewhat. So break out the tea pot and get cozy. We’re going to sit down for a nice long chat.

The Music Monday post made me think of Bingley and Jane. This week, let’s talk about Bingley and next week we’ll do Jane.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged in Fanon that Bingley is a spineless idiot entirely dependent upon Darcy.

Blech.

I don’t know where people get this impression. The man had flaws, sure he did. So does everyone in the book. SO DOES EVERYONE. That’s what makes Austen so great. Her characters feel real because no one is perfect or flat.

Let’s look at some of the descriptions of Bingley before we really get to know him.

Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, and ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy’s regard, Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgement the highest opinion.

Have you ever had someone you could depend on? Someone whose opinion you valued and respected? Most people would say yes. I think that’s all this passage means. Bingley respected Darcy’s opinion. There’s no reason to interpret this passage into the extremities that Bingley couldn’t do a thing without Darcy telling him.

Next, there’s this:

In understanding, Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever.

Have you ever had a friend that you thought was more intelligent than you? Someone who maybe understood things better or faster? I’m pretty good at history and reading. I can write a good story, but I need help with copy edits. I’m nearly hopeless with science or math. Does any of that make me think I’m stupid? No. I would hope no one else thinks I am simply because I have strengths in different areas. I can’t understand that chemical equation, but I can break down that Shakespeare poem for you.

Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offense.

So here we have the balance. Darcy is clever, with no real details given as to what he’s clever about, but then Bingley is the one who understands social cues and graces better.

You say, “That’s all well and fine, Rose but Bingley’s behavior in the story supports his spineless and stupid ways.”

As a writer,  I will admit readers need to be careful about what we show and not just what we tell. Just the other day I mentioned to a friend that in Sense and Sensibility, characters are described in generally flattering terms (or at least relatively benign), and then their personalities reveal them to either be endearing or annoying. I’m looking at you, Mrs. Jennings. I would say, however, to never disregard how an author has described a character. Jane Austen does this frequently. Mrs. Jennings might have been intrusive and annoying, but she meant well and was kind-hearted. Does any of her behavior nullify this description?

Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother, was a good-humoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar.

No, it doesn’t. Likewise, I maintain that Bingley’s actions throughout Pride and Prejudice do nothing to nullify the intelligence and strength of character Austen describes him as having.

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We all know about how Bingley left Meryton and stayed in London after Darcy told him Jane wasn’t that into him. People either blame Darcy or Bingley for that with very few splitting it between the two. However, let’s look at other things before we get there.

Bingley is obviously outgoing. He makes friends easily and mingles at the ball with strangers. Outings are referenced, and he continues to pay attention to Jane whenever the Bennets are present. Even when Jane is at Netherfield, he has plans to dine with the officers. However, there are no mentions of other people spending a lot of time in his inner circle. It is said that the Bennets returned a call on Netherfield. Nothing is said of them hosting dinners at Netherfield. It appears that regardless of how outgoing in a crowd Bingley is, he may not excell at fostering and deepening friendships.

That could be for a few reasons. Perhaps he cannot focus. Darcy does point out how easily Bingley’s attention can be redirected. However, he remained in Hertfordshrie for over six weeks. He had plenty of time to build relationships. Indeed, at the Assembly, he seems eager to please. He tells everyone he wants to host a ball. Then Lydia and Kitty remind him of that, and he emphatically agrees to it.

Hmm…he likes to make people happy.

Being a people-pleaser is not a bad thing. It does not by default make you weak or unintelligent. Notice that he’s friends with Darcy not a man like Wickham. Bingley is smart enough to choose his friends carefully. In fact, while generally pleasing the people of the area but not immediately becoming close friends with any of the other gentlemen is a prudent move. It shows he doesn’t make rash decisions.

Perhaps that is why he tip toes around Jane. He likes her. He singles her out, and Elizabeth even jokes that he ignores other ladies to the point of nearly being uncivil. However, he does not call on Longbourn frequently. He does not act as the besotted lover. For example, there’s an extreme difference in his behavior and Mr. Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility. Maybe Bingley is just more proper. However, he is not taking pains to get to know Mr. Bennet better. Even Mr. Collins made his plans plain to one of the Bennet parents as soon as possible. Finally, let us not forget that Darcy says Bingley had often been in love.

What I am getting at, is that I think there is a bit of insecurity or timidity in Mr. Bingley. Darcy says Bingley is modest but I think it’s a touch more than that. It’s not that he’s sitting in amazement that Jane is even talking to him. It’s that he’s clearly uncertain what she’s thinking and feeling. This, from the man who can easily read societal cues. Rather than just rushing in, he holds back. Even Charlotte says that Jane needs to show more, not only because Jane seems too serene but because Bingley is clearly following Jane’s lead.

After Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, she allows for the fact that Jane might have needed to show her feelings more openly to Bingley. This feels like it should be an exoneration for Darcy. Indeed, Elizabeth seems to allow any residual anger to evaporate over the issue. Instead, she’s left with regret that her family’s behavior contributed to the situation.

If Darcy is justified in believing Jane indifferent then why is Bingley often called spineless for believing him? The answer is that readers presume Bingley must have understood Jane better than Darcy did. True, he definitely spent more time with her than Darcy did. But did he understand her when even her closest friends can say that she concealed her feelings too much? For a man that seems to have innate feelings of modesty and insecurities, how could Bingley have acted differently? He deferred to a friend he trusted, who had never steered him wrong and bravely acknowledged his own weakness. How is that spineless?

When Bingley returns to Hertfordshire, he is immediately drawn to Jane again. Indeed, even when he saw Elizabeth the previous summer, he was attempting to ask about her. The poor man clearly has a loyal heart. Unfortunately, Jane is even more likely to act indifferent than before (more on her next week). What can make their story complete but the help of the same man who had previously intruded? Darcy saw what Bingley was too scared to see. Jane still loved Bingley. Once Bingley had that boost in confidence, he didn’t hesitate to propose.

Now, I believe every character is the hero of their own story. However, Bingley is not the hero of Pride and Prejudice. Therefore, one can argue he didn’t go through any big character development. Variations are different things, of course. We writers put in the character development that Jane didn’t show. In canon, however, Bingley doesn’t really evolve. He returns to Hertfordshire feeling insecure and modest. Granted, it takes quite a bit of courage just to come back. So, if Bingley was able to propose at the end and hasn’t gone through any evolution, then he was made of the same stuff at the beginning. If he’s not spineless at the end when he marries Jane regardless of Darcy or Caroline’s opinions, then he’s not spineless at the beginning. Instead, he has better information. And that’s not stupid of him.

What do you make of canon Bingley?