Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) 

      So I ended up reading to him for more than an hour.  I read Gray's "Elegy" again, and when I finished that he asked me not to stop, so I read the beginning of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

     After the first half hour or so I realized that he was not listening at all.  I discovered this while reading Jane Austen.  I was so tired by that time that I accidentally turned two pages at once, skipping from page seventeen to page twenty.  I read on for half a page before realizing that I had left out the whole episode telling about Mr. Bonaventure and his money, so that what I was reading made no sense.  I started to explain and go back to page eighteen when it came to me that he had not even noticed.  So I just read on. 

     But why should he ask me to read to him if he did not want to listen?  I was puzzled and worried.

     The more I thought about it, the more the feeling grew in me that it was wrong; it was as if he were playing some kind of trick on me.  And that idea made me feel more nervous than ever--in fact, afraid.  Then I got quite angry with myself for feeling that way.  I told myself that I was making up problems.  There was no reason to believe that he did not really want to be read to, even though he did not pay close attention.  The sound of a voice can be soothing; surely he must be bored and restless with inactivity....I must be patient.

(Z for Zachariah, Ch18, p.168-169)

Some Context

Ann has her 16th birthday on June 15th.  About four days later (June 19th), Loomis speaks again of long-term planning, saying, "we've got to plan as if this valley is the whole world, and we are starting a colony" (152). Ann notes that this idea is nearly the same as her thought while plowing that they were the last two people who could save the human race from dying (96). (See "Epitaph for the Race of Man.").  She does not question Loomis' obvious assumption that they are a couple and will have children.  On the night of June 23rd, Ann asks Loomis questions about his past because of wanting to get to know him better as a prospective partner (156-157).  When she inquires if he was married before, Loomis takes her hand and asks seriously why she asked that question.  Feeling disconcerted and afraid, Ann does not answer truthfully but instead says vaguely, "I was interested" (160).  She then stumbles and accidentally strikes Loomis in the face, after which he says in a quietly reproachful manner, "You should not have done that....You held my hand once before" (160). 

On June 25th, the night after the "hand-holding" incident, Ann becomes alarmed again when Loomis asks, "Do you remember when I was sick--something you did?" (167).  She seems to be afraid he will talk about their holding hands.  When he instead asks her to read to him again, Ann at first thinks it is "strange and unnatural"; but then she remembers "families who did read to one another as a regular pastime" (168).  She chooses Gray's "Elegy" and Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  When it seems Loomis is not listening carefully, Ann becomes briefly worried and nervous again, but then she tells herself, "I was making up problems" (169).  

The following evening (June 26th), Ann plays the piano for Loomis, but she whirls around nervously when she hears his cane tapping twice behind her (171).  Then she goes to bed early, giving as an excuse that she is tired from work.  On the night of June 27th, Ann is surprised when Loomis does not ask her to read or play the piano.  After walking to the church and back with her dog Faro, she lies on her bed and falls asleep.  She wakes up in the dark as Loomis enters her room (175).  As he tries to lie down on top of her, Ann rolls to one side and dives for the door.  When he catches her ankle and shirt to pull her back, she elbows him in the throat, breaks free, and flees to her cave hideout (176).  On July 1st, after three days in hiding, Ann tells Loomis she wants to do farm work as before but live separately in a place she won't reveal (189).

"Mr. Bonaventure" in Pride and Prejudice 

There is no character named Mr. Bonaventure in Jane Austen's novel.  Since the name means "good fortune," Ann is probably alluding to Mr. Darcy, the gentleman whom the protagonist Elizabeth Bennett at first becomes prejudiced against because of his pride but then later falls in love with when she learns he is a good man.  Darcy can be aptly called "Mr. Good Fortune" because he is very handsome and rich, and therefore a fortunate match for any woman able to win his affection.  

In the part of the story that Ann likely reads to Loomis, Darcy's wealth and desirability are first described in Chapter 3.  If Ann skips over this part and the scene when Darcy rejects his friend's suggestion that he dance with Elizabeth, it would not make sense at the end of the chapter when Elizabeth's mother criticizes Darcy's "shocking rudeness" and says, "Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy" (61).  The main part of the passage that Ann probably skips is quoted below: 

     Mr Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.  His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion.  His brother-in-law, Mr Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year.  The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.  (Pride and Prejudice, Ch3, p.58)

(Note: Quotes here are from 1972 Penguin edition in which an introduction and title page take up the first 50 pages.) 


A few issues can be considered with regard to Ann's reading of Pride and Prejudice

1) Why does Ann choose to read a famous romantic novel even though she writes of feeling nervous with Loomis? 

2) Under the circumstances, what might Loomis think about Ann's choice of novel or the ideas described in it?

3) What might the story Pride and Prejudice suggest about the relationship between Ann and Loomis?  Does it provide any insights into their situation?

1) Ann's Choice of Novel

Considering Ann's increasing uncertainty about Loomis and nervousness with him, it seems rather odd that she chooses to read a romantic novel to him.  She seems to be acting as though she were still thinking romantically about him even while her diary shows that her feelings are changing.  This apparent inconsistency between her behavior and written thoughts could indicate that her feelings are confused and she is giving the wrong signals to Loomis.  At the very least, Ann seems very shortsighted or careless in choosing this novel if she does NOT want Loomis to think of her in a romantic way.

2) Loomis' Impressions

Loomis clearly thinks that he and Ann are a couple, since he tells her on June 19th that they must plan to start a colony together.  Ann must understand the implications of this, since she thinks his idea is the same as her earlier hope that she and Loomis would save the human race from dying.  Since Ann does not disagree with Loomis' assumptions, it would be reasonable for him to assume she understands their relationship the same way. 

On June 24th, when Ann asks if Loomis ever got married, he replies, "I thought you were coming to that" (159).  Clearly, Ann's questions about his past have given him a specific impression about her thinking and purpose, and he guessed she was going to ask about his past relationships with women.  What does he assume about her thoughts?  In all likelihood, he thinks Ann is awkwardly expressing interest in marriage through personal questions like those that might be asked on a first date or during traditional courtship.  Moreover, given that they both recognize they are probably the last two human survivors, Loomis would probably think it rather silly to go through a conventional courtship with Ann.

Why does he take Ann's hand and ask her seriously to explain the reason for her question?  It is obvious that he suspects a specific purpose behind Ann's question and he wants her to express that purpose openly.  He must at least assume that she is thinking about marrying him.  He might also think she is awkwardly expressing romantic interest, or a desire to begin a sexual relationship. 

When she stumbles and accidentally strikes him in the face, he says in a quiet and seemingly reproachful manner, "You should not have done that....You held my hand once before" (160).  In saying she should not have struck him, he probably means that it was wrong or inappropriate for her to do so.  It is certainly reasonable for him to feel this way if he assumes they have already become close and they are planning to build a future together--for both themselves and humanity.  Given their relationship, there is no reason for her to feel uncomfortable or strike him when he holds her hand.  This is why he reminds her that she held his hand before.  He clearly feels that her holding his hand and reading to him while he was sick established a very important connection between them.  He also explained previously that her companionship at that time seemed to keep him from dying.  So when he reminds her of holding his hand, he seems to be reminding her of the bond between them and the affection she showed for him before.  

3) Post-Apocalypse Pride and Prejudice?

The following are some of the ideas in Pride and Prejudice that might suggest to Loomis parallels with his and Ann's situation:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. (51)

'Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place...." (51)

Coincidentally, Loomis came to Ann's valley from the north. The day she first learns of his arrival is also a Monday. While Mr. Bingley arrives in a chaise pulled by four horses, Loomis arrives pulling a cart.

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