Let me begin by thanking you for all your well wishes for me and my family since the last post. I am happy to report that my husband and I have fully recovered from Covid-19. It was a rough couple of weeks, but I am fully aware of how fortunate we both are and I wish for full recovery for others who may be dealing with this disease right now.
For today’s post, I want to talk about the significance of location in some of the most memorable scenes/events in Austen’s novels. Specifically, I want to discuss why I think it is so brilliant that Austen wrote Mr. Darcy’s first proposal at Hunsford parsonage. I can never read the proposal scene (or watch it) without feeling the awkwardness of the moment. Darcy and Lizzy simply don’t understand each other’s feelings. Lizzy hates Darcy (specially after her conversation with Col. Fitzwilliam) and Darcy is about to offer one of the worst proposals ever offered. He offends her by his thoughtless words, and she breaks his heart by her direct refusal and accusations. And all of this passionate exchange takes place at Mr. Collins’ house.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Austen’s decision to write the proposal at Hunsford was specifically because of any or all of the reasons I am about to list. But I don’t believe it was a random decision. She could have easily written that scene during a walk in one of Rosings’ paths, but she did not. Whatever Austen’s reasons may have been, I think Hunsford was an excellent location because:
- It afforded Darcy and Lizzy a good degree of privacy. After all, they were alone for some time and their conversation was of a private nature. Being at the parsonage, when others were “conveniently” visiting at Rosings, gave them the opportunity to say what needed to be said and even though it was a disaster, I would not change it for the world. More importantly, they exchanged some not-so-sweet words, which would have been very embarrassing if they were overheard by others.
- The juxtaposition effect: One of the elements I enjoy when reading and/or watching the proposal scene is the juxtaposition of Darcy, with all his wealth and power, against the house in which he finds himself proposing. One cannot help noticing how out of place Darcy is at the parsonage. He is Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, master of a great estate, rich and respected by the ton. And yet, he finds himself offering for Lizzy at Husford parsonage, a house that is so below him in consequence, or as he himself would say, is so beneath him. He is so completely out of his comfort zone when he is proposing. Had Darcy proposed to Lizzy at Pemberley or Rosings, his words about the differences between their station would have been echoed by the grandeur of those houses and would have had a different effect (not better or worse, just different). But instead, he is making his terrible proposal while standing in the parlour of the house of one of the very relations he is degrading. The juxtaposition makes it almost comical.
3. It highlights the significance of Elizabeth’s choice. Despite the ugliness of the moment, despite the hurtful exchange, and despite our wish for these two to unite, I think it is safe to say that we are all proud of Lizzy for refusing Darcy’s proposal. She could not possibly accept the hand of a man who had just degraded her and her relations. However, the moment he leaves, I cannot help but notice that Elizabeth is left behind to face her decision at the parsonage. To me, this further highlights the consequences of her decision. The parsonage symbolizes how dull and dreary her future may look like now that she has refused Darcy’s advantageous offer.
4. The irony of it all. Let us not ignore the elephant in the room. For me, the biggest irony in all of this is that Elizabeth is proposed to in the house of a man whose offer she had refused months earlier. Poor Elizabeth has been proposed to twice (at this point of the story) and each offer is more ridiculous than the last. First, Mr. Collins offers for her at her own house. And then she has to endure yet another terrible proposal from a man she hates (at this point), while she is staying at the house of the other man she can barely stand. Knowing Austen’s sense of humour, I am inclined to think this was all intentional.
Now, you may say I am reading too much into this whole location business. But as a writer, I tend to visualize the scenes I write before I write them. So, my writing is really a process of describing the scenes that dance around in my head. So when I think about Darcy’s disastrous proposal, Lizzy’s flat refusal, and their angry and passionate exchange, I cannot think of a more fitting (and ironic) place than Hunsford.
Now, if we compare the location of Darcy’s first proposal to the second proposal, we can clearly see how different these two locations are in nature, in mood and in outcome. How fitting that the first one should be offered at the parsonage and the second during a walk near Lizzy’s home. What do you think? Do you think these locations were chosen on purpose?