Saturday, July 30, 2016

Of Rocks and Men

Mt. Rainier from Skyline Trail, Paradise Visitor Center
"What are men to rocks and mountains?" 
Pride and Prejudice chapter 27

Funny how the minds of Jane Austen fans can work in the same directions.

Recently, Sara Emsley posted a nice blog entitle "What are Men to Rocks and Mountains" with some great pictures from Alberta, Canada. Clearly, she was inspired by the scenery to think about the quote from Pride and Prejudice. I had the same experience hiking on Mt. Rainier near Seattle, Washington last week. As I looked over the rocky snow-draped mountain and the glacier-strewn boulders I, too, couldn’t help but think of Jane Austen’s words.

“No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. "My dear, dear aunt," she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone -- we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers." Pride and Prejudice chapter 27

Elizabeth Bennet speaks these words at a particularly difficult time. Her best friend Charlotte has just married a man Elizabeth feels is ridiculous. Mr. Bingley has just jilted her favorite sister.  She has finally been rid of the proud Mr. Darcy, who had the nerve to find her to be just “tolerable”. Finally, she has recently learned that her friend Mr. Wickham has withdrawn his preference toward her in favor of an heiress, although Elizabeth is kinder toward Mr. Wickham than she is toward Mr. Bingley.

In he midst of the gloom, Elizabeth is invited on a summer tour with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Surely the opportunity to find some certainty in her life leads her to welcome such a trip.

But it is not to be. While her perceptions of rocks and mountains may be fixed, Elizabeth Bennet will return from the trip with every perception of the men in the story overturned. She will come to question and finally fully reverse her perceptions of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. As she tells Jane:

"You never will be able to make both of them good for any thing. Take your choice, but you must be satisfied with only one. There is but such a quantity of merit between them; just enough to make one good sort of man; and of late it has been shifting about pretty much. For my part, I am inclined to believe it all Mr. Darcy's, but you shall do as you chuse." Pride and Prejudice chapter 40

Elizabeth’s vision of rocks and mountains may not shift, but her perception of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham certainly does. Sometimes when we search for certainty, it’s just not there, but the rocks and mountains are still awe-inspiring.

Here’s the view on Mt. Rainier.

The rocks: Nisqually Creek with cloud-shrouded Mt. Rainier behind
The mountains: Tatoosh Range from Paradise Visitor Center
Narada Falls on the road to Mt. Rainier
Mountain stream, Skyline Trail, Paradise Visitor Center
Sub-alpine meadow

Old growth forest at the base of Mt. Rainier

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