Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wives and Daughters: P&P - The Gibsons and the Bennets

I meant to make this posting on W&D about the passive aggressiveness of both Mr. and Mrs. Gibson (don't you just "love" how Mr. Gibson guilts Molly into doing/saying/feeling what he wants her to by withdrawing his affections and presence...see conversation about Molly calling Clare/Hyacinth "Mamma" in chapter 15) and also about the lack of expression the narrator notes in both Mrs. Gibson's and Cynthia's eyes, whilst cleverly observing that this was the era during which the eyes were universally recognized as being the windows to the soul...but no matter.

I read chapter 24 tonight and since I know P&P chapter/verse I couldn't help but being struck by this passage:
and to those whom he liked Mr Gibson could be remarkably agreeable.

And who does that sound like if not Mr. Bennet?

Cynthia and Molly looked their best, which was all the duty Mrs Gibson absolutely required of them, as she was willing enough to take her full share in the conversation.

And who does not insist on her share of the conversation if not Lady Catherine de Bourgh?

'Cynthia is not a dunce either,' said Mrs Gibson, afraid lest her daughter's opinion of herself might be taken seriously. 'But I have always observed that some people have a talent for one thing and some for another. Now Cynthia's talents are not for science and the severer studies. Do you remember, love, what trouble I had to teach you the use of the globes?'

'Yes; and I don't know longitude from latitude now; and I'm always puzzled as to which is perpendicular and which is horizontal.'

'Yet, I do assure you,' her mother continued, rather addressing herself to Osborne 'that her memory for poetry is prodigious. I have heard her repeat the "Prisoner of Chillon" from beginning to end.'

'It would be rather a bore to have to hear her, I think,' said Mr Gibson, smiling at Cynthia, who gave him back one of her bright looks of mutual understanding.

And this whole passage reminded me strongly of Elizabeth deflecting Mrs. Bennet while they were visiting Netherfield when Jane was sick--not so much in content but in tone and even cadence.

I imagine that I am making too much of this, and that as a Janeite, I see Austen's influence everywhere, but I have to wonder whether consciously or unconsciously, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were in Gaskell's mind when she was forming Mr. and Mrs. Gibson. Mrs G. certainly has the same matchmaking tendencies as Mrs. B., and her husband is forced to retreat into his shell to escape from her silliness.

Final note today - I noticed a discrepancy in the conversation cited above.

In my Penguin Classics edition, Cynthia says "I don't know longitude from altitude," whereas the online source that I cut and pasted from says "I don't know longitude from latitude..."

I prefer 'altitude' to 'latitude' because it's funnier (and Cynthia playing at Mrs. Malaprop is funny!). I do think Cynthia has a better sense of humor than I originally gave her credit for, but I wonder which is what Gaskell actually wrote. Perhaps Jenny Uglow will mention this in the bio--I'm not reading her analysis of W&D until I finish the book. Of course, regardless of what Gaskell wrote, critics will debate what she meant because she regularly made mistakes with chronology and geography and had a hard time keeping straight what she called various characters. All part of her charm, in my opinion.


  1. Oh I don't think you are making too much of it. I read W&D last year and came to it fresh, but felt JA's presence very much so. I think the examples you use are good ones.

  2. Interesting connections! I'm sure you're not reading too much into it. And how interesting about the textual discrepancy -- I wonder if it's a silly mistake, or if there is a story there.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Bells and Dorothy. I loved W&D when I read it before, but it's even more enjoyable looking for Austen-connections while I read.

    I've got to find out whether that altitude/latitude was a typo or an error, or what!