As I write this post, I’m feeling a shared identity with Sharon Lathan, who wrote a post on June 15, 2015 titled “Gentleman Anglers in Jane Austen.” Read both posts, if you’d like – they are similar. Well, her post is the superior – but that’s not the point. 🙂 The shared identity comes from fishing… We both enjoy fishing and note that Jane Austen did too — at least a couple of her characters did.
Fishing is not a subject mentioned often in Jane Austen’s novels, but according to David Selwyn’s Jane Austen and Leisure, it’s the third top sport mentioned. Since only Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner fish in Pride and Prejudice and Capt. Harville, a naval captain from Persuasion, merely keeps a net, I suspect sports in general aren’t among the top attractions to Miss Austen’s writing.
The conversation soon turned upon fishing, and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm in arm with Elizabeth, gave her a look expressive of her wonder. Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme; and continually was she repeating, “Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me, it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. My reproofs at Hunsford could not work such a change as this. It is impossible that he should still love me.
In this excerpt from Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy is thinking of love. And that is the beauty of Austen’s writing — multiple emotions or dimensions are carried through a single action. Maybe Darcy is thinking of love too… But Mr. Gardiner? He’s thinking of fish. On my fishing trip this summer, my husband thought primarily of fish. But me? I thought occasionally of Austen…
Like Lathan, I adore all that is revealed at Pemberley through the few references to fishing. After spending time with serious anglers this summer, I too can attest that they don’t readily share their equipment, their favorite spots, or their secrets. They are happy to do so; they are not a stingy lot. But sharing comes only after they have identified you as “kindred spirits” and worthy of the trust.
This newly gained understanding makes those few passages in Pride and Prejudice all the more powerful and revealing. Through fishing, Austen opens Darcy for us – the invitation to fish, and the gentlemen’s fishing party the next day, bridges the gap between Elizabeth’s family and Darcy. He reaches out to her uncle on equal footing – offering of himself, his home, his loves and his streams. He becomes more approachable, more human, more alive to us – and the significance is not lost on Elizabeth. She grasps the magnitude and ponders it, perhaps not recognizing it has already transformed her heart.
But wait… Let’s not forget the most precious moment of all – Darcy leaves the fishing party when he learns Elizabeth is to call upon Georgiana. Wow! I can’t imagine any of the men I encountered on our trip giving up a fish — even for Elizabeth Bennet. This may be the greatest display of true love, Austen-Style. 🙂 Well played, Miss Austen. Well played.
This is a summer post – light and lively. And I hope you have found your summer to be the same in some regards — and you’ve gotten to enjoy a favorite sport or two. (And if anyone knows, I’d love to hear the top two sports discussed in her novels… Fascinating.)
Now as we look to fall, I turn my attentions to the dark corners and sharp wit of Northanger Abbey and the fascinating personality of Isabella Thorpe…
See you next month!