Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 12 (ch 34)

In which we attend the dinner party from hell. But first, I love how Austen takes her gloves off right at the beginning of this chapter and lets her snark flag fly. Behold!

Mrs John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband's judgment, that she waited the very next day both on Mrs Jennings and her daughter; and her confidence was rewarded by finding even the former, even the woman with whom her sisters were staying, by no means unworthy her notice; and as for Lady Middleton, she found her one of the most charming women in the world!

Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs Dashwood. There was a kind of cold hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanor, and a general want of understanding.

The same manners, however, which recommended Mrs John Dashwood to the good opinion of Lady Middleton did not suit the fancy of Mrs Jennings, and to her she appeared nothing more than a little proud-looking woman of uncordial address, who met her husband's sisters without any affection, and almost without having anything to say to them; for of the quarter of an hour bestowed on Berkeley Street, she sat at least seven minutes and a half in silence.
Lady Middleton and Fanny Dashwood deserve one another, do they not? And I love that Mrs Jennings takes a few minutes to assess Mrs John Dashwood and determines that she's a cold-hearted bitch. Oh Mrs Jennings, I do love you so!

Poor Elinor - desperate for news of Edward, but desperately hoping not to actually see him. I love this short paragraph so very much:

Edward assured them himself of his being in town, within a very short time, by twice calling in Berkeley Street. Twice was his card found on the table, when they returned from their morning's engagements. Elinor was pleased that he had called; and still more pleased that she had missed him.

Let's get down to the guest list for dinner, shall we?

Our hosts: John and Fanny Dashwood, cheapskates to be sure, but they want to court the Middletons, so here we are

Mrs Ferrars, mother of Fanny Dashwood and the Ferrars boys, Edward and Robert and a caricature of snooty distemper personified

Mrs Jennings added because she's Lady Middleton's mother, of course

The Dashwood sisters begrudgingly added to the guest list since they are staying with Lady Middleton's mother

The Steele sisters, who cunningly positioned themselves for the invitation by starting a house visit with the Middletons a few days ahead of the party

Sir John and Lady Middleton objects of John & Fanny's sycophancy

and our surprise guest:

Colonel Brandon, whom John & Fanny hope will oblige them by marrying Elinor, thereby putting a final end to any possibility of an Edward-Elinor union

How is this awkward? Let me count the ways:

1. John & Fanny Dashwood, along with Mrs Ferrars, believe - based on Fanny's observations at Norland - that Edward and Elinor have a romantic attachment. John & Fanny are determined to bust it up using Colonel Brandon to block. Mrs Ferrars is determined to be an evil bitch to Elinor, thereby making her displeasure plain.

2. One tactic chosen by Mrs Ferrars to lord it over Elinor is a decision to shower positive attention on the Steele sisters.

3. Lucy Steele believes that Elinor and Edward are romantically attached to one another, but since she's been engaged to Edward in secret for a few years, she's in the catbird seat. She is determined to make Elinor suffer by telling her that Edward isn't going to be there, only it makes Elinor happy.

4. Lucy Steele, sycophant that she is, is only too happy to believe that Mrs Ferrars and Fanny like her - they really like her!

5. Marianne, poor, sentimental girl that she is, understands that Mrs Ferrars is being a disapproving bitch in order to try to run Elinor off, but she doesn't know the rest of the story. She therefore engages in a highly public display of support for Elinor, which is probably far more mortifying to Elinor than any of the moves by the bitchy Steele and Ferrars women. I have to hand it to Marianne, though - she rouses herself out of her own misery in a hurry when she worries that Elinor might actually be suffering, and that's the first nice thing I've been able to say about her in aeons. So.

6. Elinor knows that Lucy is engaged to Edward, and that Fanny, John and Mrs Ferrars would completely flip the shit if they found out about it. She knows that Mrs Ferrars intends Edward to marry Miss Morton, something that Lucy doesn't fully grasp. She knows that Brandon is hopelessly in love with Marianne. In fact, she is the only character who totally understands what everyone is up to and, like us readers, has possession of all the information to allow one to fully appreciate the many stresses and strains going on here.

7. Colonel Brandon, as just mentioned, knows he's in madly in love with Marianne. Man of Action that he is, he jumps up and rushes to her side without even thinking about it when she starts to cry. This does not prevent John Dashwood (Ph.D. in Jackassery) from talking smack about Marianne and trying to sell Elinor to Brandon for a very good price.

8. Sir John compounds the horrifying spectacle of Marianne's outburst and breakdown by relating the full gossip about her in a way that means everyone there could hear him (if they didn't already know the story).

I can hardly wait for tomorrow's chapter, when awkward rises to a whole new level!

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