Jane Austen on travel

It’s been some time since I posted on Jane Austen, but currently my local Jane Austen group is repeating the slow reads we did a decade or so ago when her novels had their 200th anniversaries. Last year, we did Sense and sensibility, and right now we are doing Pride and prejudice.

There are different ways of doing slow reads, as I know many of you are aware because you do them yourselves. Our way is to read and discuss a volume a month, based on the fact that back in Austen’s day novels tended to be published in three volumes, which makes the volume an excellent demarcation for slow reading. So, last month, we read Volume 2 of Pride and prejudice, or Chapters 24 to 42 in modern editions. This volume starts just after the Bingley retinue has moved to London, and it includes Lydia’s going to Brighton and Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford, where she receives Darcy’s (first) proposal. The volume ends with her arrival in Derbyshire, in the company of her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners.

As those of you who engage in slow reading know, there are many pleasures to be gained from it, and the pleasures are magnified (with great books anyhow) when you slow read a book you’ve read before because, knowing the story, you can glean so much more. Most of us have read this novel many times, but we are always surprised to find something new in our next re-read. What particularly struck me about volume 2 this read was that it is really about “the education of Elizabeth“. She starts this volume being quite prejudiced. She is very sure of herself regarding Wickham’s and Darcy’s characters. She is prepared to give leeway to Wickham in the marriage stakes – that is, his marrying for money not love – but not to her friend Charlotte. But, she then sees how Charlotte has managed her life with Mr Collins, and we see what poor company her family really were anyhow! She also learns that she had misjudged Mr Darcy, and she recognises her own father’s failings. She castigates herself:

“How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.” 

However, this is not the reason I chose to write this post! The reason is that I also came across a wonderful comment from Elizabeth about travel, a comment that could be as true today as it clearly was then. It comes in chapter 27, after Elizabeth had been discussing Mr Wickham’s sudden romantic interest in the heiress Miss King with her aunt Gardiner. Mrs Gardiner suggests Elizabeth accompany her and her husband on a holiday to, perhaps, the Lakes. This is Elzabeth’s delighted response:

“Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone–we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.”

I’ll leave you there, with the wisdom of our Jane!

14 thoughts on “Jane Austen on travel

  1. Hmmm .. Stringer and I made websites of our European travels; for we knew that we would not be able to recall them all without something of the kind. And he, unbeknownst to me, had a driving force behind him ..

    It’s a fact that paragraphs like the one you quote are largely skipped by readers like me ..
    Sighh ..

    • That’s wise, M-R , because we really can’t remember it all for long can we? As you know we started doing blogs, partly for that reason and partly for my parents’ enjoyment (which they did).

      You probably would notice if you read the book a few times!

  2. I haven’t reread JA for ages. So off the top of my head: JA on Travel immediately brings to mind the two girls in Love & Freindship who travel (or plan to) to every county in England in a day and end up in Edinburgh,
    What your actual post reminds me of just how mature JA was to have written as a teenager Elizabeth’s growth to maturity.
    Next time I read P&P what I will be thinking of is that 55 years ago my only thought was how tolerant Mr B was to Mrs B, and now I think what an a***hole he is. And what I will be looking for is if JA dislikes Mrs B and Lydia (and Mary) as much as so many of her fans and reinterpreters do.

    • Love all this Bill, particularly re JA’s maturity as comes out through characters like Elizabeth.

      Mr Bennet is SO interesting. How many of us have changed our attitudes to him once we got over the first romance-focused reading of the novel. Good thing to watch for. Perhaps I won’t tell you what I think she thinks because it’s based on something very simple, really, though I’ve only come to this view fairly recently.

  3. I love that quote about travel, I also appreciate how Elizabeth adjusts her expectations as their plans have to change – the true travellers philosophy – you may not get to see what you originally planned, but just being away seeing something new is always interesting.

  4. “What are young men to rocks and mountains”–indeed. I still haven’t read this book, and shame on me, because I do value characters who possess the ability to reflect on their choices and behavior.

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