Monday, October 18, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 16

Marianne overindulges in her grief over Willoughby's departure, her mother refuses to ask if she's actually engaged because Marianne would feel compelled to answer her, and she doesn't want to cause Marianne any further grief by mentioning Willoughby or by "forcing" Marianne to disclose something that she has promised to keep secret (!), and here we are, to the halfway point of this chapter, more or less.

Marianne's insistence on not just being miserable, but on actually doing all the things that will make her the MOST miserable is something to take notice of - it's in keeping with her melodramatic tendencies, which we've already seen plenty of, but it is decidedly something we'll be seeing more of as we go along.

A word about a comment made about Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, because you know I love those two characters. It is easy, with our modern understanding of the word, to think that Austen is only casting aspersions at them in this paragraph:

It was several days before Willoughby's name was mentioned before Marianne by any of her family; Sir John and Mrs Jennings, indeed, were not so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour;--but one evening, Mrs Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,

"We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again...But it may be months, perhaps, before that happens."

"Months!" cried Marianne, with strong surprise. "No--nor many weeks."

Mrs. Dashwood was sorry for what she had said; but it gave Elinor pleasure, as it produced a reply from Marianne so expressive of confidence in Willoughby and knowledge of his intentions.
"Sir John and Mrs Jennings, indeed, were not so nice". Those of you who read the "August at the Abbey" posts about Northanger Abbey last year may recall a discussion of the word "nice" from the post where Catherine and the Tilneys take a walk together, in which I said that according to Dr. Johnson's dictionary, "'Nice' meant 'accurate, scrupulous, or delicate' – more to do with things being neat or tidy or precise or particular, and not at all to do with being pleasing or agreeable". I rather suspect that Austen is using it in both senses: She intends it seriously in its Johnsonian sense (Sir John and Mrs. Jennings are not behaving with delicacy, nor would we expect them to), and somewhat teasingly in its more modern sense - it would be perceived by Marianne as an unkindness.

We also see from this passage that Marianne is quite certain that Willoughby will be back extremely soon. (Imagine how much more miserable she'd have been otherwise - as if there were somehow lower depths of misery for her to plumb!)

About a week after Willoughby's departure, Marianne finally deigns to go walking with her sisters, and what should they espy but a man! On horseback! Oh joy! Oh rapture! It is Willoughby! It must be! Marianne practically races toward the lane where the man is, so Elinor (bless her) tears off, too, because although she's pretty sure it's NOT Willoughby, she doesn't want Marianne to look like a lunatic for rushing off on her own toward whomever it is. And when Elinor figures out who it is, she probably didn't mind rushing at all, since it is EDWARD FERRARS! (Dun dun dun . . . )

Edward is there and acting dutiful, muttering about being in Devonshire for a fortnight (two weeks) but staying at Plymouth (whence departed the Pilgrims), and saying he'd left Norland a month ago.

One of my favorite lines from Sense & Sensibility is Elinor's, the last in this section:

"And how does dear, dear Norland look?" cried Marianne.

"Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, "probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."

"Oh," cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."

"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."
Marianne is so forthright with Edward that she tells him she doesn't care for Sir John and the rest of his family, which is a pretty bit gaffe on her part, manners-wise. Marianne gets so vexed with Edward's observance of the proprieties and his lack of swooning behaviour toward Elinor that she treats him "as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection." I suspect that's rather less warmly than he actually OUGHT to be treated, but closer to what is proper.

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