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<---More Recent 65. Characters as values in P&P 64. David Hume & Pride and Prejudice Earlier Answers-->

Name:Micheal Purcell
Question 66 I have a friend who is looking for a book on the property/house Pemberly, do you know if such a book exists?
Your assistance would be appreciated.
Reply Dear Michael,

There don’t seem to be books about Pemberley, which may seem surprising, given the interest my writings or their film adaptations have excited. Pemberley is a Great Good Place of the English Imagination (if in a somewhat ‘Tory’ form, I suppose) but it is still interesting to consider what the idea of Pemberley is. I described the wild and unimproved Derbyshire grounds and estate stretching to the horizon partly as Lizzie’s wild romantic sensibility could particularly enjoy itself there, though unlike contemporary Romantic poets who didn’t think they needed to own the landscapes they enjoyed (and all questions as to how Pemberley came to be as it was are of course bracketed in this slightly fairy-tale aspect of my fiction [no mention of enclosures, dubious royal presents from the distant past, or game laws]).

The ironic point of Pemberley was that it made a final reward for someone who had the strength and integrity to reject Darcy, if partly on mistaken assumptions [Collins, Charlotte and Darcy himself initially think that Darcy’s social consequence will ensure his ready acceptance even by someone who personally dislikes him]. But a further irony was, of course, that Lizzie didn’t exactly ‘know’ what she was turning down, so as an embarrassed tourist led astray by her kindly Aunt and Uncle Gardiner she found that to be mistress of Pemberley might be ‘something’. However, at that point she has begun to have ‘reconstructed’ thoughts about what Darcy himself was like (=more ‘like’ ‘what Pemberley suggests, giving Elizabeth some of the respect Emma has for Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey, mingled with respect for Mr Knightley himself [‘what’s the difference?’] in Emma), and hence he himself was closer to eligibility in any case (and isn’t Elizabeth falling for him in the form of the ‘ancestral portrait’, accompanied by the ‘sound track’ of the admiring housekeepers glowing voiceover?). It might be interesting for your friend to study what the references to Pemberley imply about it by another comb-through of the relevant bits of my famous text. We know it has a large family library, the work of many generations, and a gallery of ancestral portraits, we hear of stretches of water suitable for fishing, of wild and unimproved vistas free from the effects of ‘fashion or extravagance’ inducing ‘delight’ in Elizabeth. According to Mrs Bennet Darcy must have two or three French cooks at least (with appropriate premises and lines of supply), Wickham’s father was steward or bailiff, and that pyramid of fresh fruits in season served just before news of Lydia’s elopement seemed to spoil everything must have had many servants and underlings beavering away.

On the other hand, despite its specific location in Derbyshire (a ‘wild’ county), Pemberley isn’t so specifically described as other great properties in my novels—Sotherton in Mansfield Park, for example, or Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey in Emma. General Tilney’s great estate in Northanger Abbey, which provides the title of the book, is interesting as it almost describes the social arrangements which sustain it in a pejorative way—‘whole parishes’ at work in the ‘hot-houses’, for example, Catherine Morland (disapprovingly?) notes. Pemberley remains closer to an oneiric geography of English imagining. However, there is also the question of the adaptation(s), especially that of 1995, in which the house named in The Making of ‘Pride and Prejudice (1996) was given as ‘Lyme Park’, on the borders of Cheshire/Derbyshire. It looked massive, as if Buckingham Palace had joined hands with the British Museum. Other properties ‘to die for’, as the Daily Telegraph put it (I get my hands of these things, you know), included Luckington Court (Wiltshire?), which re-presented Longbourn, and Mr Collins’s humble abode, which suddenly seemed not quite so humble after all (somewhere in Oundle?) However admirable, the adaptation replaces my rather airy oneiric sense of things with real properties, which possess the imagination even of they weren’t quite what I ‘originally had in mind’.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

September 28, 2004 01:42:37 (GMT Time)

Name:Lalith Chandrasekera                     Top
Question 65 Can you help me with this essay question "discuss; characters in novels are merely representations of attitudes and values" I'm doing it on Pride and prejudice
Reply Dear Lalith,

This citation sounds controversial, and it may be, but I wonder just what position it is arguing with, or against? What do people usually claim about or for fictional characters? That they are exactly like real people? Not formally, surely, although a good novelist like me might make you insensible of the difference as you read. Or even that they really are made of flesh and blood? Perhaps the word ‘merely’ is a little mean? But if we put ‘mainly’ in its place we would then have to explain what the residue was: ‘while they may appear to have the solidity and the unpredictability we might, but equally might not always, ascribe to “real people”’ might be one additional phrase. This would then count as part of the novelist’s creative achievement, perhaps. Characters are also actants, who move and move around, perhaps like the pieces on a chess board. These moves may win or lose the novel’s ‘game’. This would make them more important functionally than discursively. I’ll come back to this.

My characters are often kitted out with simple ‘characteristics’, but they may exemplify them in slightly unpredictable ways: the sheer viciousness of Mr Collins in his critique of her and emphasis on the loss of all respectability for all of them, when he hears of Lydia’s elopement, is in character, but we hadn’t quite foreseen this degree of nastiness, perhaps. On the other habnd we apprehend this in discourse (letters). Characters who can change a bit, and so change their story about themselves and other things attract admiration, apparently: Mr Darcy’s understandable family pride has tipped over into arrogance, a sort of hubris, and he acknowledges this. This doesn’t necessarily make him more like a real person than Collins, though nearer to one we might care to know (if he would care to know us). His attitudes and values change as well as his being perceived differently.

Oddly, a way of controverting the claim would be to say that characters are not more than this (what the claim seems to imply), but rather less than this--as functions of the plot. But their capacity for emotional responses might make this seem an ‘unkind’ idea. One way in which my characters belong in a literary genre and won’t be found in real life is perhaps the binary systems which make them out of contrasts with their opposing characters. This is positive and good in the contrast of Elizabeth and Jane, but ‘demonisation’ results from Wickham’s being such a pat opposite to Darcy: the characters sometimes seem to emerge from a machine which defines them in terms of plusses and minuses here. The binarism precedes the individual.

And are real people perhaps conditioned or programmed to behave in certain ways the novel and its narrative reflects? Do they too subtend ideologies when they speak? If characters in novels have ‘no real autonomy’, repeating a script which is ‘written for them, do we?

Characters also move around, perhaps like chess pieces, which perhaps indicates a functionality with respect to their particular ‘genre’--moves in the game, enjoining a different attitude to ‘character’ to the one envisaged. Mr Collins comes from Hunsford to make amends for the entail by marrying a Bennet girl but ends up with Charlotte instead. Jane goes to the Gardiners in London where Lizzie hopes she will cement her relationship with Bingley but finds it destroyed as a result. Lizzie travels to Hunsford to console Charlotte and see Rosings and Lady Catherine but finds herself proposed to by Darcy. She travels to Pemberley as an embarrassed tourist but finds to her astonishment that D. is (a) well thought of locally, (b) there (c) still prepared to forgive and offer hospitality, and perhaps more as they say in the personal ads. Lydia rushes off for ‘fun’ in London unaware that she is disgracing her family and apparently made it impossible for her sisters to marry respectable people. Darcy travels secretly to London and sorts things out with a little help from the Gardiners. This capacity for moves and movements augments our sense of what characters are.

We can still claim that novel characters have no real autonomy, and cannot be unpredictable in the way that real people are. (Are real people autonomous?) Real questions arise as to what extent we can see real people as in some way programmed and so the cause of their own stories, or narrative.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

September 8, 2004 20:20:37 (GMT Time)

Name:Tom Laker                     Top
Question 64 I've heard it said that your title "Pride and Prejudice", and indeed the concepts you use in that novel were influenced by reading the work of David Hume. Is this true, or is this reading too much into a simple choice of title - were you simply after the alliteration...?
Reply Dear Tom,

I’m not sure if this will satisfy you. I of course answer as and for myself, and as you know I characterised myself in terms of my lack of intellectual pretension, even if, readers suspect, perhaps correctly, ironically. There is also a gender issue her, in that philosophy in my time certainly, was ‘masculine’, almost as if itself gendered. You may remember, and I myself have been able to read, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1928), in which the father figure is a philosopher is as one of the children explains, wrapped up in the problems of ‘subject and object and the nature of reality’—something the novel, perhaps the women in it, explore less abstractly, less-it’s implied—aridly. This also reminds us that the novel and the discourses of philosophy are, or have, different tasks, differently ways by which they define and ‘know’ themselves. So the sense of relation between myself and Hume is likely to remain indirect. Also Hume was a well-known sceptic, execrated by such‘immediate mentor, my ‘dear Dr. Johnson’ for teaching, as Johnson put it, that mankind has been bubbled [deceived] for ages’.

But when all’s said and done, isn’t there certain congruence in the approach to ideas, impressions, how knowledge is obtained, how epistemological mistakes may be made, in my work and Hume’s? My first impression of a title for pride and prejudice was first impressions, and second thoughts, you known, are not always best. Ideas or impressions, if we except things like miracles, as Hume did discursively and I did in effect, in writing novels, or is that simply the sort of novels I wrote? Ideas and impressions become of supreme importance to both of us, the provisionality of knowledge, the theme of epistemology, however differently conceived. Darcy forms an unfavourable impression of Elizabeth, Elizabeth of him. His idea is soon dispelled; hers intensified by being practised on, but also as things are never quite what they seem. (Darcy’s disposition seems as if it may be bad, his actions destructive, and they may be that even if he is acting for the best according to his lights—his interpretation of just how it is, with society, with Wickham, with the ingenuous Bingley makes him behave in a way that Elizabeth is bound to interpret as damaging and arrogant. The reader is finally re-positioned, seeing Darcy as being as protective of the ingenuous Bingley as Elizabeth is of her fairly naïve sister. Hume’s work on impressions and ideas might suggest parallels with my practices—but I’m not saying I studied him closely. I read his history, but then my attitude to history-writing was ambivalent.

Perhaps you might consider these things from the Hume angle? What would he have thought of me? (In the scandalised as well as the neutral sense, perhaps.) Incidentally, you may find a good deal of help in a book by Adela Pinch on Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion from Hume to Austen (Stanford University Press, 1996), in which it’s pointed out, for example, that some aspects of Hume’s biography ‘encode some pervasive eighteenth- century ideological contradictions: between the claims of sociability and those of individualism; between notions of identity based on family and status and claims of identity based on individual worth’, which again suggest issues in my novels, most immediately Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion in this case. There is also a perceived combination of scepticism and conservatism in Hume, well-attested, which might suggest further congruences with my work.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen

September 3, 2004 01:57:08 (GMT Time)