Money may make life more pleasant but it’s no substitute for love
Victoria Chang’s poem, “Mr. Darcy” takes on one of the more controversial moments in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. Chang’s poem begins:
In the end she just wanted the house
and a horse not much more what
if he didn’t own the house or worse
not even a horse how do we
separate the things from a man the man from
the things is a man still the same
without his reins here it rains every fifteen
minutes it would be foolish to
marry a man without an umbrella
Chang’s poem makes gloriously clever use of enjambment (sentences that spill over line breaks) and homophones and half rhymes in order to emphasize the poem’s theme of entanglements and muddied distinctions. And the entanglements and muddied distinctions that Chang is interested in are those of money and romance.
The passage in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to which her poem refers is the one where Jane—Elizabeth Bennet’s older sister—asks Elizabeth how long she has been in love with Mr. Darcy, whose proposal she has just accepted. Lizzie’s response is the famous comment: “It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.''
Readers have never been entirely certain how to take this moment in the text. Have we been wrong to find Elizabeth charming and witty throughout the novel? Does her exterior conceal a mercenary core?
Chang’s poem seems to suggest this understanding of the novel. While the speaker of the poem wisely observes that “it would be foolish to marry a man without an umbrella” the speaker’s ending observation/question that:
when I wave to a man I
love what happens when another man with
a lot more bags waves back
is surely meant to leave us feeling a little uneasy about such unabashed acquisitiveness. And if the speaker is a problem, then Elizabeth Bennet, her role model, must be one as well.
But we should be hesitant to condemn Elizabeth Bennet for her comment. First, a little more attention to economic matters before most 21st century marriages might go a long way to lowering the divorce rate and increasing the happiness of those who do stay married. Second, Elizabeth is being very wise if she is noting that the care and attention Mr. Darcy pays to the grounds at Pemberley and to the staff to live there, and the high esteem in which his employees hold him all suggest he’s a responsible and kind man, as well as a wealthy one. And third, Elizabeth may just be kidding. After all, the narrator tells us that:
Another intreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect; and she soon satisfied Jane by her solemn assurances of attachment. When convinced on that article, Miss Bennet had nothing farther to wish.
Jane knows Lizzy better than anyone does. Her insistence on a serious answer suggests that Lizzy is at least half-joking. And it confirms for us that, no matter how pragmatic an eye she has towards the many ways in which having money makes life more pleasant that living without it, she really does love Mr. Darcy.
You cannot separate the things from the man, as Victoria Chang’s poem observes. But you can love a man for who he is, while also acknowledging the pleasure you take in the things that he has.
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