In 1759, Adam Smith wrote in Part 3 of his Theory of Moral Sentiments that “Love does not judge of resentment, nor resentment of love. Those two passions may be opposite to one another, but cannot, with any propriety, be said to approve or disapprove of one another” (192). Kenneth Moler has argued that Smith’s work on the sentiments exerted an influence on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, written some forty years later (567-69). Similarly, Peter Knox-Shaw examines Elizabeth Bennet’s query, “‘Is not general incivility [toward others than the beloved] the very essence of love?’” (160) and finds in it an echo of Smith’s observation in Moral Sentiments (Pt. 1) that “though a lover may be good company to his mistress, he is so to nobody else” (87-88, n. 44)—although the similarity seems rather faint to be heard as an echo. On the “incivility” of lovers, anyway, Smith and Austen would generally seem to agree, but possible influence by one writer on another can be found as readily in disagreement as agreement. Despite her apparent convergence with Smith on some points, would Austen have accepted Smith’s views on love and resentment, namely, that neither can judge the other?
An extreme case
Conceivably, Austen set out in Pride and Prejudice to test this sort of hypothesis concerning love and resentment by taking the extreme case of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, as he has the proper temperament for us to focus upon in examining Smith’s claim. In an early discussion of his faults, Darcy himself acknowledges his central character flaw to Elizabeth Bennet:
I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for.—It is I believe too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful.—My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.” (63)
This admission is an honest self-evaluation—and perhaps an even more serious self-critique—yet Darcy also seems rather proud about his resentful character, for he remarks of his temper that it is “too little yielding . . . for the convenience of the world” and of his feelings that they “are not puffed about with every attempt to move them.” Samuel Johnson, however, defines “resentful” in an entirely negative sense, as “[m]alignant; easily provoked to anger, and long retaining it” (Johnson), an understanding of the term that Austen, and therefore Elizabeth, would likely also share.
Elizabeth, in fact, who had been wittily waiting for some trait in Darcy to lightly poke fun at, retreats into a half-serious observation: “‘That is a failing indeed! . . . Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well.—I really cannot laugh at it. you are safe from me’” (63). Her point is well-taken. If Darcy’s fault is a tendency to a resentfulness that cannot be placated, then to laugh at him for this failing would run the risk of drawing upon oneself that very resentment. Darcy does not protest that he has no genuinely implacable resentment. Instead, he suggests his powerlessness to correct his fault: “‘There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome’” (63). Through these words, Darcy appeals to a basic Christian assumption fundamentally at odds with the ongoing Enlightenment project, for he questions the power of education to overcome evil natural to humankind. The particular evil may differ from person to person, but each has an intrinsic defect that education cannot rectify. Darcy implicitly acknowledges that his resentment is implacable, and Elizabeth later vividly recollects “‘his boasting . . . of the implacability of his resentments’” (90) and that he “‘hardly ever forgave,’” for his “‘resentment once created was unappeasable’” (105). Darcy is aware of Elizabeth’s impression, and neither explicitly nor implicitly denies its accuracy. As the romantic hero of Austen’s story, therefore, he is perfectly suited for testing Adam Smith’s view that neither love nor resentment can judge one another.
Austen is not the first writer to thematize “resentment”—nor even “implacable resentment.” In the hundred or so years prior to Austen, as Neil Hargraves notes, such Scottish Enlightenment writers as Lord Kames, Adam Smith, David Hume, and William Robertson investigated “resentment” both with an eye toward understanding Scotland’s violent and factional past and as a means toward overcoming that past (1-21). This investigation was obviously in line with the Enlightenment project of moral improvement via education, the assumption being that through understanding resentment, one could tame it. Yet, Hargraves repeatedly (at least eight times) notes that these eighteenth-century intellectuals write of implacable resentment, which would surely be untameable and thus ought to call into doubt the entire project. Indeed, he notes that often, “the mere recital of Scottish history fostered factional resentment” (1). In fact, “the writing of history could . . . easily [be] accused of perpetuating resentment” (4), and Austen herself parodies this danger in her satirical History of England, writing of Henry the Sixth:
I cannot say much for this Monarch’s sense—Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him and the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my Spleen against, and shew my Hatred to all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information. (Juvenilia 178)
Austen thus knew and satirized histories of factional resentment similar to those that the Scottish Enlighteners sought to overcome.
Austen would also likely have been familiar with a couple of dramas that expressed the theme of an implacable resentment. In John Home’s popular 1756 Scottish tragedy Douglas, the character Lady Randolph early in Act One, Scene One exhorts her husband:
Oh! rake not up the ashes of my fathers:
Implacable resentment was their crime,
And grievous has the expiation been. (8)
But the resentment long continues to work its ill effects as the tragedy remained popular in both Scotland and England for several decades. Austen herself knew the play well enough to quote a line from it in Mansfield Park (149). In fact, she generally loved drama and the theater, as Penny Gay has shown, and she would also certainly have known Nicholas Rowe’s 1702 tragic play The Fair Penitent, whose seductive character Lothario could readily have served as a model for the various cads in Austen’s novels. Possibly, he might have helped her shade Wickham’s character. Since our more immediate focus, however, is Darcy, the following statement by the character Horatio from Act Four, Scene One of Rowe’s drama may prove of interest:
I am not apt to take a light offence.
But patient of the failings of my friends,
And willing to forgive; but when an injury
Stabs to the heart, and rouses my resentment,
(Perhaps it is the fault of my rude nature)
I own, I cannot easily forgive it. (335)
These words do not explicitly show Horatio openly describing his temper as resentful, and he even claims to be one “not apt to take a light offence.” Nevertheless, he confesses that due to resentment grounded in the “fault” of his “rude nature,” he cannot easily forgive an injury that stabs to his heart. This acknowledgment may remind us of Darcy’s admission that, based on the “fault” of his own resentful temper, he “‘cannot forget . . . offences against” himself (63) and Elizabeth’s recollection of this admission as meaning that he “‘hardly ever forgave’” (105). Although the terms differ—“rude nature” versus “temper”—both Horatio and Darcy appeal to their basic character as explanation for their stubborn resentment.
Darcy’s ardent love
Although Darcy initially has no interest in Elizabeth and even deplores her inferior social status, he soon begins to notice her attractive features, especially the way in which her face is “rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes,” the “light and pleasing” aspect of her figure, and the “easy playfulness” of her manner (26). From this series of closely spaced moments of recognition, Darcy discovers to his surprise that he is attracted. He begins “to wish to know more of her” and therefore starts to attend “to her conversation with others” (26). He certainly comes to realize that she enjoys reading, for in his presence, she turns down a card game in favor of a book (40), and in a conversation that soon follows, Darcy maintains that for a woman to be truly accomplished, she must demonstrate “‘improvement of her mind by extensive reading’” (43). He also enjoys conversation (27-28), attends to hers, as already noted (26), and obviously takes delight in her conversational art, as evidenced by his smiles at her verbal adroitness (49, 63, 102, 197, et passim), which he later characterizes as her “‘liveliness of . . . mind’” (421). Elizabeth’s attractiveness for him is thus both physical and intellectual. Already at an early meeting, due to the “mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner,” he finds himself never “so bewitched by any woman as he was by her” and realizes that he could “be in some danger,” yet he continues to admire the “‘colour and shape [of her eyes], and the eye-lashes, so remarkably fine’” (56-57). Because of his own “tolerably powerful feeling towards her” (105), he also later pardons her friendship with the despised Mr. Wickham.
Due to her social inferiority, however, he regularly attempts to maintain emotional distance, “scarcely [speaking] ten words to her through the whole of” a day (66) or adopting “a colder voice” in her presence (201). Despite his best efforts to resist her charms, he falls ever more deeply in love with her through each subsequent meeting, as he confesses to her in his initial proposal of marriage: “‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you’” (211). His is a genuine struggle between an elevated pride and an overwhelming love, for when he finally approaches her to propose, “he came towards her in an agitated manner” (211)—though he expresses himself eloquently in “representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer” (212).
Elizabeth engenders resentment
Although Elizabeth “could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection,” she not only does not love Darcy, she has a “deeply-rooted dislike” for him (211) based partly upon what she considers his “‘malice’” (107, cf. 90). She is “roused to resentment” by his “pride,” by his “sense of her inferiority,” and by the “real security” of “his countenance” that revealed “no doubt of a favourable answer” to his marriage proposal (211-212). To his astonishment, she turns him down:
In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation.” (212)
From such an adamantine rebuff, Darcy can hardly react with easy equanimity:
Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. (212)
Indeed, we see that he reacts with a resentment expressed quite visibly in his countenance.
According to the eighteenth-century Scottish historian William Robertson, a complacent response by an aggrieved individual would seem “hardly to be compatible with the strong resentment which calumniated innocence naturally feels” (489). In his pride and sense of self-worth, Darcy feels himself wronged both by Elizabeth’s rejection of his marriage proposal and by her manner of rejecting it, so he must struggle powerfully for self-control: “He was struggling for the appearance of composure, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it” (212). He then asks “in a voice of forced calmness” why Elizabeth has rejected him “‘with so little endeavour at civility’” (212). Elizabeth offers three reasons: his insufferably proud manner of proposing, his highhanded interference in separating his friend Bingley from her sister Jane, and his cruel refusal to support his longtime acquaintance Mr. Wickham in the latter’s desire for a church career (213-14).
At the first two charges, Darcy’s countenance undergoes a “changed colour,” but he maintains an “assumed tranquillity” (213). The third accusation, however, rankles him:
“You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns,” said Darcy in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour.
“Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?”
“His misfortunes!” repeated Darcy contemptuously; “yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.” (214)
Consistent with Robertson’s views on “the strong resentment which calumniated innocence naturally feels” (489), Darcy’s more strongly resentful reaction at this third, entirely inappropriate accusation is fully justified—and itself serves as evidence of his innocence. Given Darcy’s resentful temper, we might therefore expect that he would not forget Elizabeth’s offense against him and that his formerly good opinion of her would be lost forever, for like Horatio in Rowe’s Fair Penitent, he has received “an injury [that] / Stabs to the heart” (Rowe 335).
Excursus: Jane Austen’s Christianity
Darcy is manifestly caught in a dilemma, and if love is to overcome resentment, then the former will have to provide the epistemological framework for judging the latter since such powerful feelings as love and resentment cannot simply be repressed. We need, however, to know a bit more about Austen’s views on love—and that requires something of an excursus into her religious orientation. Jane Austen was a Christian, a clergyman’s daughter, and a church-going Anglican, but her Christianity is difficult to pin down. According to Oliver MacDonagh, Austen’s “Christianity was Christocentric in the orthodox pious-protestant sense” (42), but even that definition is not very specific.
Christopher Brooke states that she was influenced by Evangelicalism, but was no Evangelical herself (126-27). Indeed, he notes her criticism of the sermons preached by her Evangelical cousin Edward Cooper for being too full of “Regeneration and Conversion” and “zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” (127). Brooke suggests that these words imply some disdain for the Calvinist piety associated with British Evangelicals, especially their emphasis upon predestination, for she took a broad view of God’s compassion, writing in one of her composed prayers the petition that “thy mercy be extended over all mankind” (128). He contends that she “retained to the end of her days a preference for a traditional Anglican theology” (129), but also softened in her attitude toward Evangelicals as she grew older, for he notes some positive remarks in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight discussing the piety of Miss Knight’s suitor, James Plumptre:
And as to there being any objection from his Goodness, from the danger of his becoming even Evangelical, I cannot admit that. I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason & Feeling, must be happiest & safest.—Do not be frightened from the connection by your Brothers having most wit. Wisdom is better than Wit, & in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side; & don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others. (18-20 November 1814)
Clearly, Austen writes of Evangelicals from an external perspective, and Brooke concludes that “her comments and her prayers suggest a middle-of-the-road Anglicanism—rather high than low church” (Brooke 136).
Consistent with this view of Austen’s Christianity, we learn from Michael Wheeler that one of the few books personally “owned by Jane Austen herself, and not simply borrowed from her father’s library of 500 volumes . . . , was William Vickers’s A Companion to the Altar, later referred to by a great-niece, Miss Florence Austen, as a ‘book of devotions always used by Jane Austen.’” Wheeler further notes that this book was intended for preparing the Christian for holy communion (410). Given her Anglican faith, Austen would undoubtedly have been familiar with readings from the widely used Anglican Book of Common Prayer, such as this one from the 1778 edition to be recited on “the next Sunday before Lent”:
O Lord, who hast taught us, that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace, and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee: Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. (15)
This collective prayer is immediately followed by the Authorized Version of St. Paul’s famous hymn to love in First Corinthians Thirteen, which includes these lines (verses 4-5): “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (15). The word “charity” sounds odd to our contemporary ears, but Austen would have understood it to mean an active, generous, giving, and forgiving love. Neither in these two lines nor in the larger context of First Corinthians Thirteen are either “pride” or “resentment” explicitly mentioned, but a strong warning against pride can easily be read in such expressions as “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” and a warning against “resentment” can perhaps be found in “thinketh no evil.” The more recent Revised Standard Version, in fact, offers precisely this translation of verse five: “[Love] is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”
Let us further note that against pride and related vices, the Litany from the same 1778 Book of Common Prayer also warns: “From all blindness of heart; from pride, vain glory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us” (xxxvii). The regular Christian reader of such a prayer book would readily connect this admonition with the Lent reading above, and Austen’s own privately composed prayers seem to recall some of the language in these passages:1
Incline us to ask our hearts these [morally self-critical] questions oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves through pride and vanity. (qtd. in Collins 197)
Pardon oh! God the offences of the past day. We are conscious of many frailties; we remember with shame and contrition, many evil thoughts and neglected duties. (198)
Incline us oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves. (199)
Austen’s prayers to God requesting insight into self-pride, pardon for evil thoughts, and assistance in charity towards others clearly resonate with the language of the Anglican and biblical passages looked at above. To round out this excursus and prepare for our return to Mr. Darcy, we should perhaps also note that in one of her prayers, Austen asks God to “bring to our knowledge every fault of temper” (197).
“ Feelings . . . not puffed about”
Let us now return to Darcy. Recall that he has been roused to what he would surely consider justified resentment, and we know from his own words that his “‘feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them’” (63). But this strength of feeling surely works both ways, for in his inner struggle between a long-held pride and a growing love, the latter had conquered, animating his marriage proposal, for his “‘feelings [would] not be repressed’” (211). “Amor vincit omnia,” Chaucer’s prioress might well observe. “Love conquers all,” and Darcy’s strong feelings of love will not be easily puffed away. But can his love overcome his admittedly implacable resentment? For that, he would need a love that is active, generous, giving, and forgiving.
Although nothing is said of his particular doctrinal beliefs, he is an Anglican with “considerable patronage in the church” (203), and he expects the clergy to adhere to respectable moral standards, e.g., he maintains that the dissipated “‘Mr. Wickham ought not to be a clergyman’” (223). Moreover, in a telling moment, he reveals something of his fervor—both religious and romantic—in concluding his letter explaining his actions toward Jane Bennet and Mr. Wickham the day after Elizabeth has so harshly rejected his proposal, for he adds “‘God bless you’” (225), an adieu that Elizabeth comes to consider “‘charity itself’” (409). In the religious language of Austen’s time, as we have seen, the term “charity” meant a love that “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” and that “thinketh no evil.” Darcy’s romantic love for Elizabeth is thus imbued with the Christian concept of a love that is not proud and that seeks to perceive what is good in the loved one. More than an emotion, it is a means of knowing the world—and of knowing how to act in it. It is a love that knows how to overcome even implacable resentment. His love for Elizabeth thus continues to grow even after her uncivil rejection, so much so that it enables him to pass the most severe of tests, that of willingly forging an unbreakable bond of kinship to Mr. Wickham. When Elizabeth’s foolish and headstrong young sister Lydia elopes with Mr. Wickham, apparently without any utterly certain intention of marrying, Elizabeth confesses the fact to Darcy, to whom she bitterly observes that her sister “‘is lost for ever’” (305). Her words literally repeat Darcy’s earlier words in speaking of his resentful nature, for he had said that once his good opinion is lost, it “‘is lost for ever’” (63), a specific turn of a phrase that occurs only these two times in the entire novel. Perhaps recalling his own words, Darcy is described as “fixed in astonishment” (305), and if ever there were a moment in which a family should lose forever his good opinion, this is the moment.
Elizabeth certainly interprets Darcy’s subsequent, gloomy silence as he paces about the room to be confirmation to this loss of opinion:
Elizabeth soon observed, and instantly understood it. Her power was sinking; every thing must sink under such a proof of family weakness, such an assurance of the deepest disgrace. (306)
She, however, is mistaken, for Darcy is already deep in thought over how to locate Wickham and Lydia and arrange for the least dire outcome, and he succeeds in doing so—all without Elizabeth knowing. When she finally does come to know what Darcy has done for her family, and attempts to thank him, he replies:
If you will thank me, . . . let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe, I thought only of you.” (406)
Darcy’s love for Elizabeth enables him to accomplish something entirely opposed to his previously resentful temper. Rather than a loss of good opinion, there is respect for her family. He himself confesses that her rejection of his overbearing marriage proposal had “‘properly humbled’” him (410) and that his subsequent amiability (cf. 293) toward her upon their accidental meeting at his Pemberley estate “‘was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past’” (410). Through his love for Elizabeth, therefore, Darcy not only judges his own resentful temper and finds it wanting, he also finds himself inwardly empowered to overcome it.
Adam Smith may have thought that the opposed feelings of love and resentment did not judge one another, but Jane Austen—whether or not she knew specifically of Smith’s view—appears to have held a radically different opinion. Ever since Juliet McMaster’s 1978 book Jane Austen on Love, we have known that Austen conceives of proper lovers as each taking on roles as the teacher and the taught in a pedagogical economy concerning love, and of proper love as achieving the “integration of head and heart” (45) in a manner that does not lose passion because “the full and mutual engagement of head and heart is what is passionate” (46). But if love involves the heart as well as the head, then love plays a unique pedagogical role, for it also provides an impassioned epistemological framework for understanding the world and acting within it. In Austen’s understanding, the heart’s romantic love must be imbued with the head’s charitable Christian love, which can judge pride and resentment as improper to love and thereby seek a better way. Douglas Bush, writing in 1975, spoke of Austen’s “fusion of Christian virtues and principles and eighteenth-century reason, . . . sensitized and fired by controlled feeling” (196). Perhaps this remark gets at what Austen was up to, namely, responding to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment with a renewed Christian view of the human being. The best education by itself would not overcome one’s natural evil, as Darcy himself remarks of his own “implacably” resentful temper, but a genuine love—neither proud nor resentful, but charitable—could empower one to do so, and in Darcy’s case actually does so.
1. Janet Todd and Linda Bree have recently summarized evidence for and against the attribution of these prayers to Jane Austen (LM cxviii-cxxvi). Because of their view that attribution is suspect, they place the prayers in an Appendix to the Later Manuscripts. Their view awaits scholarly consensus, but even if authorship is uncertain, my larger argument remains intact.
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