On Thursday we talked a little bit about what is considered private and what is considered public within the society of Pride and Prejudice. I think Austen spends a lot of time portraying this in regards to what is appropriate to say in front of others, but we briefly talked about private vs. public life in regards to relationships. I was really interested in this idea and wanted to explore it a little further. In our last class, Professor Thakkar talked about how important the family is when thinking about marriage, relationships, and love, but I want to expand this out to include the general public, as well. Throughout the novel relationships and matchmaking are undertaken in the presence of others. For example, Jane makes significant developments in her relationship with Bingley while dancing, and talking at these large dances, which include most if not all of the town. Additionally, gossip and talking about Bingley with others played a large role in Jane and Bingley’s relationship, as well.
When I looked at LIzzie and Darcy’s relationship, I realized Lizzie’s affections for Mr. Darcy are often cultivated when they are apart or when Lizzie is stuck within her own thoughts. For example, Lizzie’s opinion of Mr. Darcy grows significantly while she wanders the grounds of Pemberley. While speaking to members of the Pemberly staff Lizzie thinks, “This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more…” (p 188). Additionally, her opinion of Darcy is further heightened after she learns that Mr. Darcy has paid Wickham to marry Lydia through her aunt’s letter.
At first I thought this made their relationship more private in some way, but now I’m not so sure. But I do think it’s interesting that Lizzie’s opinion of Mr. Darcy is most improved when she finds out information about him through other people. (I might even argue that in groups of people they often bring out the worst in each other and lose esteem for one another). But I don’t know if we can necessarily hold this up in complete opposition to a relationship like Jane’s. Although, LIzzie and Darcy’s interactions are cultivated less in a large public setting in front of people, their opinion of each other is actually formed through second hand knowledge from other people.
I think this gets even more interesting when you think about Lizzie’s reaction to Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. She’s upset at Lydia, yes, but she’s also upset that she didn’t make Wickham’s character public (at least to her sisters). “As that was the case, neither Jane, to whom I related the whole, nor I, thought it necessary to make our knowledge public; for of what use could it apparently be to anyone, that the good opinion which all the neighbourhood had of him should then be overthrown?” (pg 248).
I wondered what others thought about these things? Are relationships more private today? (Is a bar or party really that different from a ball?) Are people’s reputations today nearly as important as they were for Jane Austen? Do people take issue with the fact Lizzie’s opinion of Darcy is so informed by others? (But if it weren’t and she only used her own judgement then they probably would not have married).