Friday, October 22, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 19

The chapter opens on Edward Ferrars, martyr extraordinaire: I love it here, hate everywhere else. I MUST THEREFORE GO ANYWHERE ELSE BUT HERE!

Elinor reluctantly chalks all this up to his mother, finding herself seeking to make excuses for Edward's diffidence just as Marianne needed to find excuses for Willoughby's sudden absence. She continues to believe that it's her hair in Edward's ring.

And Mrs Dashwood tells Edward (somewhat patronizingly, I feel) that he might be better off if he had a bit of a backbone profession. Edward agrees with her, as it turns out, and tells us a great deal about the professions that were considered "acceptable" and "appropriate" for gentlemen in his day, and why none of them worked out for him:



"I do assure you," he replied, "that I have long thought on this point, as you think now. It has been, and is, and probably will always be a heavy misfortune to me, that I have had no necessary business to engage me, no profession to give me employment, or afford me any thing like independence. But unfortunately my own nicety, and the nicety of my friends, have made me what I am, an idle, helpless being. We never could agree in our choice of a profession. I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. The law was allowed to be genteel enough; many young men, who had chambers in the Temple, made a very good appearance in the first circles, and drove about town in very knowing gigs. But I had no inclination for the law, even in this less abstruse study of it, which my family approved. As for the navy, it had fashion on its side, but I was too old when the subject was first started to enter it--and, at length, as there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing. I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."
After Edward leaves, Elinor spends time drawing and acting normally, unlike a certain someone else. *cough*Marianne*cough* We're told that Elinor doesn't reduce her own grief this way, but manages not to have it increased by her family tiptoeing around her on eggshells.

Marianne, meanwhile, concludes (wrongly) that Elinor must not give a fig about Edward, since she's not weeping and rending her garments. In fact, Marianne makes it all about herself: Let down my Elinor's lack of melodrama, Marianne praises her own self for nevertheless loving Elinor even though Elinor is so very deficient/defective. Oh, Marianne - you probably think this song is about you.

In fact, Austen lets us know that Elinor thinks of Edward quite often - and her thoughts and opinions vary, depending on her mood and what memory she's pulling forth. Sometimes she approves of his behaviour, sometimes she condemns it. That she remains in doubt as to his true feelings is plainly stated.

The Palmers are here! HOUSE fans rejoice!

A few days after Edward leaves, Sir John turns up at the house with Lady Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, as well as a couple whom Elinor doesn't yet know.

I love how very eager Sir John is to see Elinor. The party is walking to the front door, but he spies Elinor through the sitting room window - just a few feet away - and comes to the window to say hello and tell her who he's brought along. Meanwhile, the party is arriving at the door so they can knock and the servant can open the door, allow them in to the front hall, then announce them to Elinor. I love that Sir John has decided to form the third wall of a triangle through his actions (both my shortening the announcement/introduction and by literally walking that third side).

Mrs Jennings, bless her, can't contain her own excitement and comes crashing into the garden as well to speak through the window. Gotta love their enthusiasm, even if they show a bit of disregard for the proprieties. So much so that Mrs Jennings is blathering on about her surprise at her other daughter's and son-in-law's arrival through the window as Lady Middleton and the Palmers are admitted to the sitting room by the servant, and Elinor has to turn away from her to curtesy, etc.

Mrs (Charlotte) Palmer is her sister's opposite - short and plump and far more earthy, with her mother's good nature. She smiles and laughs and chatters at all times, but her husband, Mr Palmer, is grave and antisocial, preferring to read the newspaper rather than to engage in polite conversation. He determinedly avoids listening to his wife, who finds his behaviour funny, rather than taking offense.

Mrs Jennings makes open reference to Mrs Palmer's pregnancy, which is decidedly a faux pas in that society, especially as things were becoming more conservative when it came to sex and breeding. During earlier, earthier Georgian times, talk about pregnancy and sex was pretty open, but as the 18th century came to a close and the 19th started, British society became more priggish about those topics (a trend which continued into the Victorian era).

Lady Middleton, scandalized by her mother's insensitivity in mentioning Charlotte's upcoming confinement, asks Mr Palmer if there's any news in the paper, to which he replies "No, none at all". So droll, our Mr Palmer - and so determined not to involve himself in inane parlor chatter.

I love how Marianne complains about having to go to the big house for dinner the following day - as if being out and about socially (and fed for free) is an imposition. Elinor reasonably responds that Sir John et al. are merely being civil and sociable. And we are left to wonder what is to happen next.

The next S&S post will be on Monday, but I'll have other things over the weekend.

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