Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 5 (ch 27)

Marianne is quick to accept the fine weather as an excuse for Willoughby's continued failure to appear, concluding that he must not yet be in town because he is off hunting. Elinor remains perplexed and unconvinced.

We get further description of life with Mrs Jennings: She keeps a wonderful household (they want for nothing) and is invariably kind. We see her moral fibre, as well, since she has refused to "drop" her "old city friends". This is a telling line, even though it goes by so quickly: The old city refers to the commercial district, and the reference is therefore to friends Mrs Jennings made through her husband, who had been in trade, prior to them becoming wealthy. Even though she is now wealthy, Mrs Jennings hasn't given up her friends from back in the day - an admirable trait, according to Austen, since she gives the same sort of faithfulness to old friends who are in a different economic group to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, who not only continues to call on her now-poor friend, Mrs. Smith, but also goes up against her father and sister to defend that decision. Austen takes a swipe at Lady Middleton here for wishing that her mother would "drop" her old acquaintance.

Colonel Brandon comes nearly every day to sit with them. He "came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor". That's right, Brandon doesn't actually talk to Marianne; instead, he gazes at her with admiration and concern. What could possibly be concerning him? Is it just that she doesn't reciprocate his fondness for him? I think not (heck, I know not), but I'm not saying more just yet - and neither is the good colonel.

Willoughby leaves his calling card at the house about a week after the Dashwoods' arrival in London to indicate that he stopped by while they were out. The Dashwoods assume he just got to town and will come back the following day, but he doesn't come, nor does he write. There is an excellent article about calling cards - what they were, how they were used, how those carried by men differed from those used by women, and the importance of the mode of delivery - over at Jane Austen's World, if'n you're interested. (I know I was!)

Elinor finally works up the nerve to say something to Marianne to try to suss out what hers and Willoughby's relationship is, but to no avail:

"You are expecting a letter, then?" said Elinor, unable to be longer silent.

"Yes, a little--not much."

After a short pause. "You have no confidence in me, Marianne."

"Nay, Elinor, this reproach from you--you who have confidence in no one!"

"Me!" returned Elinor in some confusion; "indeed, Marianne, I have nothing to tell."

"Nor I," answered Marianne with energy, "our situations then are alike. We have neither of us any thing to tell; you, because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing."

Elinor, distressed by this charge of reserve in herself, which she was not at liberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances, to press for greater openness in Marianne.
I have to hand it to Marianne - she has a point here. Elinor is obviously keeping something back, and Marianne has just called her on it. Austen is pointing out that the sisters are a sort of mirror image of one another - they are in similar circumstances and not talking about it with one another.

Both sisters are in love. Each sister believes the other to be secretly engaged - Elinor knows Willoughby has Marianne's hair and that Marianne has written to him; Marianne believes it's Elinor's hair in Edward's ring.

Both are also dealing with some form of impediment to their relationship and are parted from the man they love. At present, we know that Marianne wants to see Willoughby, who appears to be avoiding her (not only because he doesn't call at Mrs Jenning's house, but because he refused Sir John's invitation to an evening's entertainment). Elinor does not really want to see Edward, because she knows he is secretly engaged to marry Lucy Steele. And she has sworn not to tell a soul about that, so her hands are tied by her own code of honor.

Elinor starts to worry about Marianne's health - whether physical or mental we aren't told, although it seems to be a combination of both, really - and she writes to her mother to urge her to question Marianne about it. No sooner has she finished her letter than Colonel Brandon turns up, basically to ask whether it's true that Willoughby and Marianne are engaged. That's the word on the street, you see, and he (at least) is aware that Marianne has sent him letters.

Poor Brandon

". . . I came to inquire, but I was convinced before I could ask the question. Is every thing finally settled? Is it impossible to--? But I have no right, and I could have no chance of succeeding. Excuse me, Miss Dashwood. I believe I have been wrong in saying so much, but I hardly know what to do, and on your prudence I have the strongest dependence. Tell me that it is all absolutely resolved on, that any attempt, that in short concealment, if concealment be possible, is all that remains."

These words, which conveyed to Elinor a direct avowal of his love for her sister, affected her very much. She was not immediately able to say anything, and even when her spirits were recovered, she debated for a short time, on the answer it would be most proper to give. The real state of things between Willoughby and her sister was so little known to herself, that in endeavouring to explain it, she might be as liable to say too much as too little. Yet as she was convinced that Marianne's affection for Willoughby, could leave no hope of Colonel Brandon's success, whatever the event of that affection might be, and at the same time wished to shield her conduct from censure, she thought it most prudent and kind, after some consideration, to say more than she really knew or believed. She acknowledged, therefore, that though she had never been informed by themselves of the terms on which they stood with each other, of their mutual affection she had no doubt, and of their correspondence she was not astonished to hear.

He listened to her with silent attention, and on her ceasing to speak, rose directly from his seat, and after saying in a voice of emotion, "to your sister I wish all imaginable happiness; to Willoughby that he may endeavour to deserve her,"--took leave, and went away.

I say again, poor Brandon.

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