Pamela agrees; Debbie’s education at Reed could not be put into better use!
The Last Paragraph of Pride and Prejudice and Kitties
It’s that time of year, so my coauthor, Debbie, and I would like to wish our readers a very happy holiday. And to help us remember the good times of the past, the warmth of fires, friends, and furry creatures, we’d like to quote from the final paragraph of Pride and Prejudice and Kitties:
“At Christmastime, the Darcys and the Gardiners could be seen curled up by the fireside, talking of the past and of all that had happened – of purr and petulance, of pride and prejudice, and the perfect happiness and harmony at the family party now gathered together at Pemberley.”
We’re excited to announce that Pride and Prejudice and Kitties is now out in paper back!
Here is a photo from Pride and Prejudice and Kitties. Can you guess who the character is?
For those of you interested in queries that succeeded in getting book contracts, here is Deborah and my original query for Pride and Prejudice and Kitties:
By Deborah Guyol
Elizabeth displays her most impressive debating skills in her encounter with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has come to warn her against marriage to Darcy. Here at the start of the encounter we see Lady C’s haughty wordiness countered with Elizabeth’s simple impeccable logic:
Miss Bennet,” replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, “you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of a most alarming nature reached me two days ago. I was told that not only your sister was on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.”
“If you believed it impossible to be true,” said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, “I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?”
Shortly thereafter Elizabeth employs the nonbarrister equivalent of “Objection, hearsay,” or “Objection, irrelevant” – “Objection, none of your business”:
“I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer.”
“This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?”
“Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible.”
* * *
“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?”
“Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me.”
* * *
“Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you last spring? Is nothing due to me on that score? Let us sit down. You are to understand, Miss Bennet, that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.”
“That will make your ladyship’s situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me.”
Elizabeth out-argues poor Lady Catherine at every turn, but when it comes to the direct question, she, abiding by her own standards as well as rules of legal ethics, will not lie.
“Tell me once for all, are you engaged to him?”
Though Elizabeth would not, for the mere purpose of obliging Lady Catherine, have answered this question, she could not but say, after a moment’s deliberation: “I am not.”
And, having told the truth, she turns on Lady Catherine, now in the role of judge rather than opposing counsel, accusing her of making frivolous arguments in support of an “ill-judged application.”
Lady Catherine seemed pleased. “And will you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?”
“I will make no promise of the kind.”
“Miss Bennet I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require.”
“And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into anything so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.”
Desperate, unable to accept that she has been bested, Lady C pulls yet another frivolous argument out of her arsenal, again with no effect.
“You are then resolved to have him?”
“I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”
“It is well. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.”
“Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,” replied Elizabeth, “have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Mr. Darcy. And with regard to the resentment of his family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by his marrying me, it would not give me one moment’s concern – and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.”
I rest my case. Elizabeth handily vanquishes the powerful Lady Catherine.
But I am tempted now to engage in the dangerous game of speculation. Let us consider this scene with reference to Jane Austen’s own life. We know that, when she was around Elizabeth Bennet’s age, she engaged in public flirtation – and perhaps fell in love – with a young man whose family was concerned enough to send him away before he became too entangled. Worse, one of the senders had to be the young man’s aunt, a close friends of Austen. Still – the young Jane Austen clearly was not an eligible match for him. Is it not possible that, in constructing Lady C’s confrontation with Elizabeth, Austen saw herself in the role of Elizabeth, lucidly demolishing every frivolous objection to the match, arguing her way into the marriage of her dreams?
By Deborah Guyol
Of course I’ve always wanted to be Elizabeth Bennet, from the moment I first encountered her on the page. But in my younger days, I confess, I was most taken by the fact that Fitzwilliam Darcy, in all his aristocratic pomp and stiffness, fell madly in love with her. Yes, it was my dream, as it is the dream of every right-thinking young lady, to attract first the attention and then the overpowering adoration of the tall handsome guy who seems just out of reach. Preferably by appearing indifferent to his attention and adoration.
Then I grew up, and the more times I reread Pride and Prejudice the more I admired Elizabeth for more than her ability to attract the aforementioned attention and adoration. Her buoyant spirit, her scintillating wit, her supreme self-confidence. These qualities came to mean more to me than the love of Mr. Darcy. If only I could glide through life like that – happy most of the time, angry or sad only at the rare appropriate times. If not exactly impervious to, at least able to withstand with equanimity the occasional slights and failures, ill-natured attacks and outright reversals of fortune that intrude upon even the most charmed of lives. Sigh. That was never me.
But, though I failed to win my own Mr. Darcy, and failed to face life’s every challenge with Elizabeth’s wit and grace, I did not abandon my desire to equal her in something. Alas, in riper years I discovered yet another way in which I could not match the light and lovely Elizabeth. Having become a lawyer myself – examined witnesses, argued positions, asked the court to rule in my favor – I realized that Elizabeth would have made a far better lawyer than I could hope to be. Or let us give her a proper British designation: barrister. The least I can do now is to present my case.
In the early parts of the novel, the reader could be forgiven for mistaking her abilities for mere lively wit. For example:
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.” [says Elizabeth]
This exchange, of course, takes place at Netherfield Park, where Elizabeth is tending her sick sister, Jane, and enduring the incivility of the Bingley sisters and the (apparently) equally unwelcome interest of Mr. Darcy. As the days pass, Elizabeth’s wit takes a more lawyerly turn:
“Miss Bingley,” said [Mr. Darcy], “has given me more credit than can be. The wisest and the best of men – nay, the wisest and best of their actions – may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”
“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth – “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
[Note the implication that Mr. Darcy is neither wise nor good; that he even exhibits follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies.]
“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride – where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”
Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
“Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume,” said Miss Bingley; “and pray what is the result?”
“I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.”
Oh Elizabeth, you sly thing! Conducting an “examination” of the defendant that lesser lawyers can only dream of, and turning it, in the end, into a gentle joke at his expense. The legal language cues continue when, visiting Charlotte Lucas Collins in Kent, Elizabeth unexpectedly finds herself once again in the company of Mr. Darcy.
“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, 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 will not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”
Elizabeth “accuses” him as cleverly as she previously examined him – and manages, at the same time, to flirt with both Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. To bewitch them both. Leading, eventually, to the Colonel’s apologetic explanation that younger sons cannot marry where they please, and then to Darcy’s first awkward proposal.
Here again, Elizabeth demonstrates her mastery of refutation and rebuttal, even in the grip of strong emotion. At the end of this scene, Darcy for the first time truly fights back. Well, he does his best to fight. As expected, he is badly overmatched.
“And this,” cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, “is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,” added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, “these offenses might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? – to congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment; yet she tried to the utmost to speak with composure when she said: “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued: “You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.”
The gloves are definitely off. No more parlor games or polite ripostes. Here, when Darcy insults not only Elizabeth herself but the “inferiority” of her connections, she responds with the ultimate slam – he has behaved in an “ungentlemanlike manner.” As the frequent rereader well knows, these words will haunt poor Mr. Darcy.
By Pamela Jane
I was a kid who hated school, so any book that was assigned in English was automatically suspect. As a senior, we were assigned Silas Marner and Wuthering Heights, so predictably I decided these books were obsolete and had nothing to do with real life. Fortunately none of Jane Austen’s novels were assigned, nor George Eliot’s Middlemarch so I never learned to hate those.
During high school, my friend (and now co-author) Debbie introduced me to Austen’s novels. Like many literate young women, I imagined myself to be the brilliant, witty Elizabeth.
When I was eighteen, I fell in love, dropped out of college and ran away to live with my boyfriend, who was at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Apparently hating school was catchy because after a year or so, he dropped out too.
David’s parents were furious with us when I went to live with him in Portland. They were even more pissed off that I’d left, claiming I’d precipitated his dropping out of Reed. That summer, I flew back to his parents’ house (which to my eyes looked like Pemberley in Connecticut) to talk over marriage plans. His parents had made it abundantly clear that they disapproved of me and our living arrangements, and I felt shy and insecure as I sat holding David’s hand in their well-appointed living room, his mother shaking with rage at the idea that her son was marrying a college drop-out from a broken family. His father, the kindly physician, offered an explanation.
“If you were from Circle Beach or went to Smith”— Dr. Crowley smiled apologetically — “things would be different.”
It was painful to sit in that room, thick with tension, and face these people who felt I wasn’t good enough to marry their son. But of course I wasn’t really there and this wasn’t really happening. What was happening was that I, Elizabeth Bennet, the brilliant heroine of Pride and Prejudice, was standing up to the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the scene where she confronts Elizabeth with a rumor that she is engaged to marry Lady Catherine’s wealthy and distinguished nephew, Mr. Darcy.
Lady Catherine: “If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere, in which you have been brought up.”
“In marrying your son, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentlemen; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal,” I shot back.
“True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”
My father was a noted scientist; David’s father was a respected physician. So far we were equals. But who was my mother? An uneducated woman, the daughter of Italian immigrants (David’s family were mostly descendants from the Mayflower), a divorcee with a dubious mental history (she had suffered a nervous breakdown when I was fourteen).
Ultimately, we did get married and David’s parents went on disapproving of me. As far as they were concerned, the woods of Pemberley were indeed polluted. But although I never won them over, I’ll will never forget that difficult conversation in their living room, and how Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennet helped me get through it.
Though when I was young, I imagined myself as Elizabeth Bennet, as I’ve gotten older I feel some faint sympathy for poor Mrs. Bennet who will lose everything if her daughters don’t marry well. Imagine, losing your home, your 401K if you have one, your dishes and even your sheets. Mrs. Bennet is still silly, still destructive to her daughters’ happiness and her husband’s peace of mind (seriously, I think she was having hot flashes when she thought about starving in the hedgerows). But when you realize what she was up against, she is a little less deserving of contempt.
It’s a tribute to Austen’s genius that the reader always finds something fresh and immediate with each perusal. Her novels are like prisms, casting beams of light that strike us at different angles through the years. Each time we return, we see different dilemmas, different conflicts, and new perspectives.
Thanks to the fabulous Cat Museum of San Francisco for this image of Edward Gorey with his cats. It makes us think of Mr. Bennet in his library, escaping household craziness.
Or is this Mr. Bennet, losing himself in a good book?
Note: This post was originally published in a slightly altered form at womensmemoirs.com.
My late kitty, Mittens, didn’t have much personality. As my friend and co-author, Debbie, once observed, “he’s one notch above a stuffed animal.” I argued for two notches, but she had a point. Poor guy. It wasn’t his fault that he was born with no street-smarts or even house-smarts, and slept 23-3/4 hours a day. He was also terribly timid and ran away meowing if he even saw an ant. The most dangerous thing he ever attacked was a Starbucks straw. So imagine my shock and amazement when Mittens caught and killed a mouse in our living room, just a few weeks before he died.
It goes to show, you never know what someone is capable of. Furthermore, “what someone is capable of” is not fixed or finite; it changes and shifts as we evolve. I’ve seen this truth play out (to one mouse’s misfortune) in many ways. You think you really know someone. You think you know what she is capable of – the limits of her talent, the depth of her insights. And then, it turns out, you totally misjudged. The person you thought you knew so well has unsuspected depth, humor, even virtuosity.
And that person could be you.
When I was in eighth-grade, my English teacher, Mr. Eul, gave us an assignment to write a short story. As an aspiring writer, I was thrilled. Back in the 1960s, we were never given writing assignments in school, and I never imagined there were any living authors. I pictured a cemetery filled with tombstones of my favorite writers with their last names first, like card catalogs in the library:
Baum, L. Frank 1856-1919
“Remember,” Mr. Eul called as we filed out of class that day, “no stories from TV!”
I hardly heard him. I was too excited about getting started.
That night, I set my parents’ old Smith Corona typewriter on my wooden writing desk, rolled in a fresh piece of paper, and began writing a story about a mute boy living in an eighteenth century seaport. It was a dark tale about what lies beneath the surface, and about not being heard – a feeling I knew well from growing up in a family dominated by the strong personalities of my brother and father.
For the next week I stayed up late every night, tapping away with obsessive intensity. Until the short story assignment, all we’d written in Mr. Eul’s class were check marks on multiple choice tests. We were all afraid of him – he liked to humiliate students in class and he snapped girls’ bras in the hallways. Still, I couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he discovered the brilliant writer hidden behind those anonymous check marks!
A couple of weeks later, Mr. Eul announced that he was returning our stories. I could hardly wait to see what he wrote on mine, as he walked around the classroom passing them out. When he came to my desk, he stopped.
“You didn’t write this,” he said, holding up my story. His words hit me like a fist. This was the last thing I had expected.
“Yes I did,” I said. But my voice sounded very small, and Mr. Eul looked very big and imposing looming over my desk. He also looked like he was enjoying himself.
“I don’t believe you.” His voice was hard, accusing. My heart hammered against my chest and a metallic taste of fear filled my mouth.
The classroom was quiet. Everyone was watching, waiting to see what would happen next. Mr. Eul leaned over, his eyes boring into mine. “I’m going to keep this story so you won’t try to use it again in high school.”
Mr. Eul didn’t think I was capable of writing the story I handed in, and I couldn’t find the words to explain that stories were part of me; they were who I was. I would never “use” a story again, like a piece of recycled laundry. (He never did return my story, though the incident itself has become one of my favorite stories to tell.)
And it’s not just talent that is at issue. Qualities such as drive, courage, tenacity – and the fact that you probably don’t take 23-3/4 hour naps – profoundly affect what you accomplish. Whether you’re writing a novel or chasing a mouse, your inner self is a cosmos, infinite and unchartered. No one can survey it at a glance, or predict the limits of what you can achieve.
As for Mittens, he went back to attacking Starbucks straws after the mouse-catching incident. But I had new-found respect for him. In his own way, that dead-but-still-warm mouse was Mitten’s masterpiece, his magnum opus.
I brought this hat back from Venice when we were living in Florence a few years ago. I know – it’s more of a Henry James than a Jane Austen thing. Mittens has that world-weary look of the perpetual traveler. Maybe it’s Mr. Wickham on one of his post-marital sojourns while Lydia visits Pemberley. Jane Austen mentions London and Bath but he could have taken a quick jaunt to Venice. He definitely looks like he may have had too much of a good thing.
Poor Mittens; he was not a terribly excitable kitty. His main response to our taking him to live with us in Florence was to yawn.