The Awkward Conversations of Great Literature

Warning: potential spoilers lie ahead!

We can probably all remember Awkward Conversations we’ve been part of, but what about the ones we weren’t even there for? Conversations that technically never even happened, because they are fictional, but can make us squirm with sympathetic embarrassment nonetheless.

Mr Collins’ proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for example. We, like Miss Elizabeth, want to get the unpleasant necessity over with as quickly as possible, but he drones on and on, pontificating about his two favourite subjects, viz. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr Collins.

Thomson-PP11

A word of advice to any young lady readers: if you are proposed to by a man who mentions another woman more often during his proposal than he mentions you, refuse him. We know he doesn’t stand a chance with Lizzy, but he’s so certain of his own desirability he doesn’t even need her answer to start congratulating himself.
Full credit to David Bamber for truly conveying the depths of awfulness in this Pilbeam among parsons.

Agatha Christie’s Lady Bundle Brent, on receiving a similar proposal in The Seven Dials Mystery, opts to leg it out the window herself, not being burdened with a mother who will insist on her seeing it through. If anyone knows of a book in which the pompous proposer is defenestrated, please do let me know.

I’m currently half-way through Anna Karenina – for the first time – and I have already grimaced through some very awkward conversations. This one’s a prize-winner, though: Oblonsky comes to ask his brother-in-law (in town on business) to dinner.

Piotr Petrovich Karataev by I Turgenev Illustration by P Sokolov
It goes something like this:

Oblonsky: Come to dinner!
Karenin: I can’t.
Oblonsky: Why not?
Karenin: Because I am about to sever the ties between us by divorcing your sister, my wife.
Oblonsky: Oh! Well, come to dinner anyway…

What are your favourite Awkward Conversations? Tell all! Unless they’re in the second half of Anna Karenina, in which case please wait a few weeks before commenting…
Awkward silences also welcomed, although please include the context as well as the silence πŸ™‚

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7 thoughts on “The Awkward Conversations of Great Literature

  1. Funny!! I love Jane Austen – there’s something so comforting about her world, or her representation of it. Her books are some of the few I reread regularly. Mr Collins has to be one of the most cringe-worthy characters in fiction, I die every time.
    I read Anna Karenina a few years ago, and my memory having more than a few holes for thoughts to fall out of, I can’t give you specifics, but I do remember most of the book being, while surprisingly thought-provoking on levels I didn’t expect, terribly awkward – like one long awkward conversation.
    I’m trying to think of specific Awkward Conversations……probably the most awkward are when one party puts out something important to them, and gets a big fat nothing in response. That’s awkward!

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