Bruce Stovel’s A Contrariety of Emotion’: Jane Austen’s Ambivalent Lovers in Pride and Prejudice

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Bruce Stovel’s A Contrariety of Emotion’: Jane Austen’s Ambivalent Lovers in Pride and Prejudice The hero and heroine in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice forever intrigue critics, and in Bruce Stovel’s essay, they are once again analyzed. Thoroughly researched and imaginative in scope, Stovel’s “ ‘A Contrariety of Emotion’: Jane Austen’s Ambivalent Lovers in Pride and Prejudice” presents a novel interpretation of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship. Stovel believes that the lovers’ relationship is neither love-at-first-sight nor hate-at-first-sight. Instead, he firmly believes that since Pride and Prejudice is comic, it has a “both/and rather than an either/or vision” (28). Drawing the definition of “ambivalence” from the Oxford English Dictionary, Stovel clarifies that what Elizabeth and Darcy feel toward each other is ambivalence – “the coexistence in one person of the emotional attitudes of love and hate, or other opposite feelings, towards the same object or situation” (27). Sandwiching his analyses of the ambivalent lovers between his deliberations on Austen’s intentions and other critics’ inductions, Stovel is able to lodge his essay in a broad, meaningful context. However, this strength of Stovel’s essay is also a flaw, because as Stovel spews forth a list of what other critics think, the reader is left to wonder what Stovel himself thinks. When Stovel finally reveals his opinions, he speaks of “moral patterns” and “psychological states” as being ambivalent characteristics of Elizabeth (28). Although Stovel’s idea has great potential for expansion, he fails at explaining this concept clearly. It is difficult to grasp the connection between the “moral” engagement of Elizabeth in “protecting herself from her own sharp intelligence” and her being “humiliated by Charlotte’s defection” (29). After all, Elizabeth prides herself on being a “studier of character” (Austen, 38) and she is shocked at – not “humiliated by” – Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth cannot believe her friend’s defection, because she has previously told Charlotte that it is unsound to believe “it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life” (Austen, 21). Stovel states that Elizabeth’s “psychological predicament” is being unable to think well of others (Stovel, 29). This is untrue, because Elizabeth admires her sister Jane for thinking well of everyone, and she “could easily forgive [Darcy’s] pride, if he had not mortified [hers]” (Austen, 19). In short, Stovel is correct in uncovering the contrarieties of Elizabeth’s thoughts and emotions, but he does so with some poor examples from Austen’s text.

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