Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 17

Edward accompanies the younger Misses Dashwood back to Barton Cottage, where Mrs Dashwood is delighted (if surprised) to see him. Edward didn't send a message ahead that he was coming, you see, which is rather thoughtless of him, really.

I really appreciate this bit of narration that opens the chapter. The italics were added by me:

Mrs Dashwood was surprised only for a moment at seeing him; for his coming to Barton was, in her opinion, of all things the most natural. Her joy and expression of regard long outlived her wonder. He received the kindest welcome from her; and shyness, coldness, reserve could not stand against such a reception. They had begun to fail him before he entered the house, and they were quite overcome by the captivating manners of Mrs Dashwood. Indeed a man could not very well be in love with either of her daughters, without extending the passion to her; and Elinor had the satisfaction of seeing him soon become more like himself. His affections seemed to reanimate towards them all, and his interest in their welfare again became perceptible. He was not in spirits, however; he praised their house, admired its prospect, was attentive, and kind; but still he was not in spirits. The whole family perceived it, and Mrs Dashwood, attributing it to some want of liberality in his mother, sat down to table indignant against all selfish parents.
We are reminded how very enthusiastic Mrs D can be about seeing people she likes, and you can just picture Edward defrosting as the warmth of her welcome washes over him. I especially like the sentence I added italics to - it makes plain how easy it is to love Mrs Dashwood, but the narrator here also strongly implies that Edward is in love with Elinor. Is it a mistake on Austen's part to put this here when it's never been established as fact, or is it a deliberate choice to tip the reader that this is so when the characters themselves are uncertain? I have no clear answer, but boy, do I hope it's the second.

Throughout this scene, we see that Edward is somewhat lacking in spirits and seems prone to become lost in thought. Marianne's accusation of him being "reserved" at the end of the chapter seem to send him off into a melancholy reverie. Clearly, something is weighing on Edward's mind. I can say for certain that when I first read this chapter, I discounted Austen's representation of a pensive Edward and was quick to accept Mrs Dashwood's conclusion that it's all related to his mother, but looking at it again now, it seems plain that there's something else going on besides anything to do with his mother.

I especially like the conversation about money in the middle of the chapter, which begins with Marianne's question to Edward:

"What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"

"Grandeur has but little," said Elinor, "but wealth has much to do with it."

"Elinor, for shame!" said Marianne, "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."

"Perhaps," said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."

Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end."
First off, a reminder as to what a "competence" is (per the Merriam Webster dictionary): "A sufficiency of means for the necessities and conveniences of life". In other words, it is the minimum amount required for a married couple to support themselves and their family. Marianne claims she needs about two thousand pounds per year as a competence (i.e., just to get by on), whereas Elinor believes that she'd have plenty to get by on (with some to spare) at only half that amount. We shall see if they each get at least what they claim to seek by the end of the book!

Now let us leave Edward to brood a bit until tomorrow, when we get a further hint as to what he may be brooding about.

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