Persuasions #5, 1983 Pages 11-12
A LITTLE QUERY ON MR. AND MRS.
Keiko Kimura Parker
Burnaby, British Columbia
For perhaps the twentieth time I was rereading Pride and Prejudice, when suddenly a passage caught my eye. It is in Vol. III, Chapter XVII (Chapter 59 in some editions). Darcy and Elizabeth have by this time come to a perfect understanding of his/her feelings and each other’s. The next morning Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy visit Longbourn again, and Mr. Bingley, eager to give his friend Darcy another opportunity of walking out with Elizabeth, inquires:
“Mr. Bennet, have you no more lanes hearabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?” (Italics are mine.)
Surely Mr. Bingley mean to say “Mrs. Bennet,” for Mr. Bennet is nowhere in sight in this chapter. (My immediate guess was that he had taken refuge in his library.) Also it is Mrs. Bennet who replies:
“I advise Mr. Darcy, Lizzy, and Kitty,” said Mrs. Bennet, “to walk to Oakham Mount this morning …”
What a strange thing to see “Mr. Bennet” when it should so clearly have been “Mrs. Bennet”! Could this be one of “a few typical errors” that Jane mentions in her letter to Cassandra (Letter 76, Chapman ed.) upon publication of Pride and Prejudice, her “own darling child”? I dashed off an excited letter of my discovery to Joan Austen-Leigh. After a while, I calmed down a little, and decided to look into other editions of Pride and Prejudice in my home library. Here is the result of my private poll: four editions for “Mr.,” three editions for “Mrs.,” and one “abstention.” (I did not include my paperback copies.)
The four editions that have “Mr.” are: R. W. Chapman: Oxford Illustrated; St. Martin’s Illustrated Library of Standard authors (1908-09); International Collectors Library, N. Y. (a fairly recent (1970’s?) edition, for its Canadian agent’s postal code appears on a leaflet inserted in the book); and Greenwich House Classics Library, Crown Publishers Inc., N. Y., 1982, with reproductions of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations.
The three editions that favour “Mrs.” include: Collectors Edition, Pocket Books Inc., N. Y., 1940 (a hard cover pocket book); E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., N. Y., 1976, illustrated by Isabel Bishop; and Jane Austen, Her Complete Novels, Avenel Books, N. Y., 1981, with 30 of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations.
The one “abstention” mentioned above is: Chapters from Jane Austen, Cambridge Series of English Classics, Lees and Shepard, Boston, 1889, which deletes the chapter in question. Interestingly enough, the Japanese edition (in English) published for the benefit of Japanese students of English literature, has “Mrs.”, as do three different Japanese translations which I have enjoyed reading in the last two years.
And so, what does all this excited and hurried “opinion poll” prove? Absolutely nothing! When I finally calmed down sufficiently to look into R. W. Chapman’s notes, I found that he had been there already. He states “Mr. Bennet should probably be Mrs. Bennet.” He even ventures the same guess: “Mr. Bennet was probably in his library.”
What I thought was a great discovery on my part had been discovered in fact a long time ago. Still, the question remains – why did Dr. Chapman leave in “Mr.” in his own edition when “Mrs.” makes so much better sense? A blind loyalty to the first edition of 1813?
Any opinions, ideas, or information?
Keiko Parker, a “Japanese Janeite,” has loved JA since her university days in Tokyo. In this connexion an interesting comment occurs in Anthony Powell’s Memoirs Vol. IV The Strangers All Are Gone, and was drawn to our attention by Helen Dickerman of Long Island. Mr. Powell writes that travelling in Japan in academic circles he met many distinguished female professors “Among such learned ladies one could not help feeling moved that some had been persecuted during the war years for their devotion to Jane Austen. One would like to read Jane Austen’s own phrases describing that harassment coming about.”