Monday, September 27, 2010

Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 4

This chapter opens with Marianne making a comment to Elinor about Edward Ferrars. Whereas Marianne bemoaned Edward's lack of artistic taste to her mother in the last chapter, she actually says something to her sister here, and Elinor . . . does not take it well. She goes on a rather long and defensive rant, really, which tips us off more clearly to her attraction to Edward than a simple "I think I like him" ever could have done. She comments that although he seems merely average-looking on first acquaintance, the combination of his personality and his "fine eyes" (a phrase I've borrowed from Darcy's description of Elizabeth in P&P) have her convinced he's almost handsome. (Those of you who read along with Northanger Abbey last August may remember how delighted Catherine was to overhear her father referring to her as "almost pretty".)

". . . What say you, Marianne?"

"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do in his heart."

Elinor started at this declaration, and was sorry for the warmth she had been betrayed into, in speaking of him. She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion. She believed the regard to be mutual; but she required greater certainty of it to make Marianne's conviction of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next--that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.

"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think very highly of him--that I greatly esteem, that I like him."

Marianne here burst forth with indignation--

"Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

Elinor could not help laughing. "Excuse me," said she; "and be assured that I meant no offence to you, by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared; believe them, in short, to be such as his merit, and the suspicion--the hope of his affection for me may warrant, without imprudence or folly. But farther than this you must not believe. I am by no means assured of his regard for me."

That's Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood from the 2008 miniseries, looking shocked at Marianne's question.

First, I can't help but point out how Austen has borrowed from herself. In Chapter 6 of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy remarks to Caroline Bingley that, "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment." Here, that exact same sort of sentiment is attributed to Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne by Elinor, who is a more rational being than her mother or sister. It doesn't mean she's not also emotional - after all, she confesses to liking Edward quite a bit, and to believing that he returns her interest, although she isn't certain how free he is to act on his own inclination. She carefully explains how he seems despondent at times, and how at times he seems to want to insert some distance into their relationship.

As Elinor is careful to set out, it is apparent to her that Edward is engaged in a tug-of-war with his feelings: on the one hand, they seem to have quite a bit in common, and their temperaments suit one another perfectly. Edward seems genuinely to like her and be attracted to her, but he seems also to be attempting to hold himself back from her, as well as making sure they do not, in fact, become too close, as if he has some other responsibility or obligation holding him back. (Goodness. I believe I may have just described Edward Ferrars as a sort of PushMe-PullYou.) Elinor thinks that Edward's conflict may be based on his mother's expectation that he will make an Important Marriage, but she is not truly certain about this, and notes that sometimes he seems determined only to feel friendship for her, and nothing more.

For us readers, the assumption that Edward is holding himself back because of his mother seems to be confirmed by his sister, Fanny Dashwood, who pulls Mrs. Dashwood aside to "hint" that if Edward were to marry someone like Elinor, their mother, Mrs. Ferrars, would be most seriously displeased, and might not give Edward his inheritance. I love how Austen describes this scene:

. . . [I]t was enough, when perceived by his sister, to make her uneasy, and at the same time, (which was still more common,) to make her uncivil. She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law on the occasion, talking to her so expressively of her brother's great expectations, of Mrs. Ferrars's resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in; that Mrs. Dashwood could neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavor to be calm. She gave her an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week to such insinuations.
"She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law" - HA! Here's how chapters two and three played out in the 2008 miniseries (if you don't wish to go past that, then stop watching at the 8 minute mark). You'll note how some things are made to seem far slighter than in the book, but it's exceptionally great for the exchange between the two Mrs. Dashwoods, which starts at about 5:40 in the video:

As luck would have it, Mrs. Dashwood gets a letter from a distant relative offering her lodgings that she can actually afford, and she hastens to accept, wanting to get away from her horrible daughter-in-law as soon as possible. I should note that while she makes a snap decision, she consults with her daughters before sending her letter of acceptance. We aren't told what Marianne has to say about it, but we are privy to Elinor's thoughts on the matter (another instance of balancing "sensibility" - Mrs. Dashwood's snap decision - with "sense" - Elinor's long-held thoughts on the matter).

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