Authors: Paula Marantz Cohen
“Collins,” corrected Stan. “Mr. Collins. Elaborate a bit on that, will you, Lila?”
“Well,” Lila continued, clearly pleased that her comment had elicited the request for more, “it wasn’t his fault that the law gave him the property. He tried to do right by the family.”
“I understand Elizabeth turning him down,” added May. “He wasn’t her type. But he should have asked one of the younger girls. Mary, for example, would have been right for him.”
There was general agreement that Mr. Collins and Mary Bennet would have been a good match.
“And Charlotte?” continued Stan. “Do you think she was right to accept him?”
“What choice did she have?” observed Lila. “And she did get her own room, which is important.”
“Herb always lets me decorate the house however I want,” noted Dorothy. “One thing, when your husband doesn’t want to get involved, you get to pick out the wallpaper. I tell my friends whose husbands are always saying they like this color and not that color that at least with Herb, you know, whatever you do, he’ll accept it. So he naps a lot. It’s a small price to pay.”
“You take the good with the bad,” noted Pixie Solomon philosophically
“I do feel sorry for Charlotte,” offered May. “She had so much to offer that I don’t think Mr. Collins could appreciate.”
“She had her friends,” said Lila. “What more did she need?”
“And what’s your impression of Elizabeth Bennet?” asked Stan, hoping to take advantage of what seemed like a tenuous return to the events of the novel. “Do you like her?”
“Too sarcastic for my taste,” noted Dorothy. “I can’t say I’d be friends with her.”
“I like her,” countered May. “She sees things everyone else doesn’t, but it doesn’t keep her from joining in.”
“I agree with Dorothy,” said Pixie. “She’s stuck-up. Very snooty.”
“No,” said Lila, who clearly had begun to enjoy the discussion and fancy herself something of a literary critic. “It’s the rich one, Darcy, that’s stuck up. He’s proud, she’s prejudiced. There’s the title:
Pride and Prejudice.”
She looked expectantly to Stan for approval at this feat of analysis.
Stan nodded at Lila, but before he could respond, Dorothy shouted: “No! She’s the proud one, and he’s the prejudiced one. He’s the one who looks down on her for not having enough money. That’s like Christians looking down on Jews, or whites looking down on blacks.”
Pinkus Lotman, who had taken a course at his synagogue on the roots of anti-Semitism, now felt himself in his element, which he hadn’t during the discussion of domestic relationships. “Prejudice,” he intoned in a slow and pompous tone of voice, “is when one individual or group of individuals labels another individual or group of individuals based on generalized qualities assumed to apply to all. We say,” he continued, and Stan feared that once begun he might never relinquish the floor, “that Jews have big noses and are cheapskates because of certain unflattering generalizations that have emerged over many years based on fears and the positions held by Jews in the societies in which they find themselves. These stereotypes breed prejudice, which in turn—”
Pixie Solomon, who had no interest in Pinkus’s definitions, interrupted. “She’s the prejudiced one because she thinks he’s a bad person based on a few not-so-nice things he says, but she doesn’t really know him. She pre-judges.” Pixie gave the group a significant look.
“I agree with Pixie,” said May “She’s judged him incorrectly, and his pride gets in the way of appreciating her.”
“No,” insisted Dorothy, still attached to her theory and determined to make it prevail, “her pride gets in the way of seeing him, and his prejudice against her family gets in the way of seeing her.”
“And he’s right,” proffered Milt Tarkoff, until then silent but now finding an obvious point
identification. “You don’t marry a woman, you marry her family”
“Well,” said Stan, “I think you all have a point about this pride and prejudice thing. It’s certainly been subject to different
interpretations over the years, so you follow in a long tradition of debate. I wonder what you think, Flo,” he said, looking over to where she was sitting in what she had hoped was unobtrusive silence toward the back of the room. His voice, far from being sarcastic or challenging, sounded genuinely interested in her opinion.
She paused, thinking how she would put it. It was a question to which she had actually given some thought already, though she hadn’t expected to have to air her conclusions in public.
“I think the two ideas go together,” she said slowly now, keeping her eyes on Stan, who seemed engrossed in her response, “and that both characters suffer from both defects. When you’re too proud, you generally don’t see things—good things—in people because your pride blinds you to them. That makes you prejudiced, because, then, you’re likely to jump to conclusions about what these people are like based on insufficient information. Darcy and Elizabeth both suffer, in different ways, from this problem, but they’re both intelligent and sensitive enough to learn from their mistakes. I don’t want to give away the plot, though.” She stopped, embarrassed, since Stan was listening to her more intently than her words seemed to warrant.
Everyone agreed that Flo had come up with a good compromise: Pride and prejudice referred to both characters and did not need to be parceled out between them. This resolved, the group could return to the question of whether Mrs. Bennet was right to let her daughters hang out with soldiers in Meryton. Daughters at that age, it was agreed, generally have a mind of their own, though certain limits must be set.
After another fifteen minutes spent discussing what a terrible job their own children were doing bringing up their grandchildren and how they would never have stood for being talked to the way their granddaughters talked to their daughters, Stan intervened with the announcement that the class was formally over. They would meet next week at the same time and place
to continue the discussion. He urged those who could to finish the book, and those who felt they weren’t up to it, to rent the latest BBC production. The Garson-Olivier version, he explained, though charming, was not faithful enough to the book to serve the purpose. “Well, I love that movie,” responded Norman, “and I think that Jane Austen could take a lesson from it.”
Everyone converged on the refreshment table in the back and continued the discussion about how to manage and marry off daughters. Stan gathered his notes, which had gone largely unconsulted, and was putting them into his bookbag when Flo approached. She didn’t really know, as she walked up to him, what she was going to say, but she did know she would say something. The class had had a strangely invigorating effect on her.
“I’m afraid the discussion wasn’t quite what you had in mind,” she offered as he glanced up at her with a mix of pleasure and embarrassment.
“Not at all,” he said, sitting down behind the table and looking at her directly now. “I feel there’s a lot to be learned from this kind of discussion. There’s digression, of course, but there are surprising nuggets of profundity. These people have had the life experience that my college students—and even the best graduate students—haven’t had. The point about Mrs. Bennet, for example, is really quite insightful. I think the feminists were taking her part a while back, but they didn’t say it in a way that convinced me as well as your friend Dorothy did. I’ll have to reread all of Jane Austen now through the lens of Boca Festa.”
“That sounds like quite an undertaking,” laughed Flo. “I think you might want to work up to it gradually.”
Stan said nothing, but continued to look at her.
She looked back at him. “I see there’s punch here, but no coffee,” she finally said with the deliberation of someone who had thought on this at some length. “I wonder if you’d like to come back to my apartment for some.”
There was no need to take the car. The pod clubhouse was only a few steps from Flo’s apartment. She unlocked the door and let Stan go in ahead of her.
“Well?” she said as he stood there, his shirt looking like it needed a good pressing, his hair disheveled, and the beads of perspiration, the familiar sign of his anxiety, beginning to form on his forehead. But before he could respond, she walked over, and standing in front of him, very close, brought one hand behind his head and her lips up to his in a swift, sure movement.
It was a kiss that lasted a very long time. But it wouldn’t be right, given the age and dignity of the subjects, to describe anything that happened after that.
MY’S fiLM ENDED WITH
ORMAN’S WEDDING CERE
mony. It was a discreet affair held in the pod clubhouse, where Carol
as though she were the mother, not the daughter-in-law, of the bride. The wedding was an accomplishment, she acknowledged to herself, perhaps her greatest accomplishment to date, but she was not one to rest on her laurels. Her eye was on Lila, who, she decided, looked lonely, though very well dressed in an Oscar de la Renta gown and a necklace and earrings that weren’t chopped liver, either. Stan and Flo were present, informally serving as best man and matron of honor (no special attire required). They were, to adapt Lila’s phrase, “living in sin” in Stan’s house, where Flo was gradually putting Stan’s books in order.
The film did not win an Academy Award, but it did win second place in the NYU Student Film Festival, and Amy and her friends took it to Sundance, where Robert Redford himself, during a few moments at a cocktail party for student directors, said that he liked it, particularly the use of the elderly romance as the film’s structural hinge.
Adam, as “best boy,” had been invited to go with the group to Utah. Carol had originally been against it—he would miss a week of school and hockey practice—but he had thrown a tantrum that had lasted two days, and impressed by his stamina, which she felt reflected energy and initiative, Carol had yielded and jetted off with him to schmooze with the beautiful people.
Indeed, the festival proved to be a marvelous forum for
Carol’s networking skills. Along with hawking Amy’s film and arranging auditions for Adam for the latest film about a child prodigy (this one battling Nazis during World War II), she managed to meet Steven Spielberg. She explained to Alan on the phone that she hoped to engage him for the annual fund-raising dinner of the North Jersey chapter of Hadassah. Spielberg had a new film in production and was very busy, but Alan had no doubt that, whatever the obstacles, his wife would prevail.
AULA MARANTZ COHEN IS DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH
at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She lives in Moorestown, New Jersey, and her in-laws are snowbirds in Boca Raton, Florida. She is the author of five nonfiction books, including
Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth
The Daughter as Reader: Encounters Between Literature and Life.
This is her first novel.