01 March 2010

Jane Austen Liturgical Allegory: My Take

Given that I and my blog-partner have taken our pen names from Pride and Prejudice, I could hardly be expected to let slide this post from Saint Louis Catholic and Fr. Z's post and comment thread on a liturgical allegory based on characters from P&P without comment.

The original argument, from Saint Louis Catholic, has merit but is flawed. He casts Elizabeth Bennet as "today's faithful Catholic, bright, hopeful and coming of age," Mr. Darcy as the Extraordinary Form, and Mr. Wickham as the Ordinary Form. As pointed out by several commenters on Fr. Z's post, Mr. Wickham is too bad a character to represent the Ordinary Form. The Ordinary Form is better represented by Mr. Bingley, who is essentially good but a bit naive, friendly but a little too chatty, monied but from a "new family" who has only recently entered society. Mr. Darcy is an excellent analogue for the Extraordinary form, being richer and handsomer than Mr. Bingley, more refined, quieter and better-educated, and of an ancient lineage--though he sometimes tends to be more proud than is good for him, and can seem unwelcoming to strangers (though his friends and servants love him dearly, and say there is no better man).

Rather than casting Lizzy Bennet alone as today's faithful Catholic, I would have her share that role with her sister, Jane. Together, they represent the best future of the Latin Church--Lizzy brings Darcy out of his shell, Jane helps Bingley grow up and find his feet, and with their respective marriages, Bingley and Darcy go from being merely friends to being brothers.

I like the suggestions offered in Fr. Z's thread as casting for Miss Darcy (the Anglican Use: of the same ancient lineage as Darcy, made a mistake in the past but came home to her beloved brother) and Lydia Bennet (LifeTeen Mass: lively and attractive, but ultimately causes trouble for her family). Mr. Bennet may be those bishops and priests who dislike the liturgical conflict and try to hide in the library to avoid it, coming out occasionally to make a wry comment, and rarely doing anything useful. Mr. Bennet does manage one tremendously useful thing in the story: he supports Lizzy in her refusal to marry Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins might represent the "hippie" variety of liturgy. He is silly and ignorant, and trying desperately to find a young woman to help him carry on his legacy and appease his patroness. He tries to carry off Lizzy--today's faithful Catholic, remember--but she can't stand him and sends him packing. He ends up with the older and more practical Charlotte, who puts up with him, but only because she had little other choice. Charlotte Lucas Collins represents the long-suffering Catholics of the 70s and of modern liturgical deserts, who like the almost-spinster put up with hippie Masses because there's nothing else going. Charlotte is very happy that her younger friends, Lizzy and Jane, marry better than she did.

Mrs. Bennet is the poorly-catechized Catholic parent. She hopes her daughters will marry (go to church) but does not much care to whom (to which liturgy). She is well-intentioned but not always as refined as Jane and Lizzy could wish. Mr. Darcy is almost driven away by the combination of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, but he loves Lizzy too much to go away forever. When he returns, and marries Lizzy, Mrs. Bennet is greatly surprised, but eventually declares herself in raptures that her daughter has found a good man.

If Mr. Darcy is the EF, and Miss Darcy the Anglican Use, then Mr. Wickham must represent (as others suggested) the Anglican/Episcopalian Communion. He grew up in the same region as the Darcys, was Mr. Darcy Sr.'s godson and given a gentleman's education, but he squandered it. He tried, in a last-ditch effort, to lead Miss Darcy astray, but she returned to her brother just in time. He is handsome and charming at first, but is deeply morally flawed. In the book, he elopes with Lydia Bennet--this is where the comparison seems to fall down, as I do not know what will happen to the LifeTeen movement.

There, I think my allegory is complete. Allegories are necessarily imperfect, and I cannot think of how to cast some of the other characters who loom large in the reader's imagination: to wit, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Miss Caroline Bingley. I also cannot find any role for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Sir William Lucas, or the middle Bennet sisters Mary and Kitty. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than me can manage it.

P.S. Please notice how gracefully I have avoided the issue of the best film adaptation by using a watercolor image from a 1907 printing of the book.