Friday, December 10, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume III, chapter 14 (ch 50)

If you ask me (and you didn't, but I am going to pretend you did!), this chapter contains some of Austen's finest displays of wit. It also tells us a bit more about what she thought she was on about.

I'll take "Displays of Wit" for $500, Alex

Let's start with discussion of Mrs Ferrars's "forgiveness" of Edward, which opens the chapter. These first three paragraphs nearly cause paper cuts, Austen's wit is so sharp here (then again, she's always been in fine form when taking on Mrs Ferrars - I suspect it highly likely that Mrs Ferrars was an effigy for some person or persons in real life whom Austen really wanted to put down, but I cannot, of course, prove it):

After a proper resistance on the part of Mrs Ferrars, just so violent and so steady as to preserve her from that reproach which she always seemed fearful of incurring, the reproach of being too amiable, Edward was admitted to her presence, and pronounced to be again her son.

Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.

In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he had revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared, might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before. With apprehensive caution therefore it was revealed, and he was listened to with unexpected calmness. Mrs Ferrars at first reasonably endeavoured to dissuade him from marrying Miss Dashwood, by every argument in her power;--told him, that in Miss Morton he would have a woman of higher rank and larger fortune;--and enforced the assertion, by observing that Miss Morton was the daughter of a nobleman with thirty thousand pounds, while Miss Dashwood was only the daughter of a private gentleman with no more than three; but when she found that, though perfectly admitting the truth of her representation, he was by no means inclined to be guided by it, she judged it wisest, from the experience of the past, to submit--and therefore, after such an ungracious delay as she owed to her own dignity, and as served to prevent every suspicion of good-will, she issued her decree of consent to the marriage of Edward and Elinor.
Turns out that when Fanny married John Dashwood, she got 10,000 pounds from Mrs Ferrars for her trouble - and Mrs Ferrars decides to extend the same gift to Edward and Elinor. With that kind of money in the bank, they'd be able to draw down at least 500 pounds per annum (and perhaps as much as 1,000 pounds, depending on whose financial assessments of the times you read) - when added to the 250 from the living at Delaford and Edward's 3,000 pound fortune (150-300 pounds per annum in interest), they achieved a comfortable competence and could marry stat.

Rather than waiting for the rectory to be completely renovated, Elinor marries Edward at least a month ahead of that. So much for cool logic and common sense - GO GET 'IM, ELINOR! say I. They live with Brandon until their own house is done, then Mrs Dashwood, Marianne and Margaret are there nearly half the time (until Marianne cottons on to the fact that Brandon is desperately in love with her and decides to eat crow and form a second attachment after all).

They are visited with delight by Mrs Jennings, who is still hoping for a Brandon-Marianne union, with feigned affection by Mrs Ferrars (who "came to inspect the happiness which she was almost ashamed of having authorised" and apparently sustained normalized relations with them), and "even the Dashwoods were at the expense of a journey from Sussex to do them honour." HA!

As for Lucy and Robert Ferrars, they worm their way back into Mrs Ferrars's good graces quickly enough. Turns out that Lucy purposefully set out to catch Robert, undoubtedly because he'd received Edward's inheritance (mercenary bitch that she is). Not that I feel sorry for Robert, who is a complete popinjay and a prat:

. . . [Robert] was proud of his conquest, proud of tricking Edward, and very proud of marrying privately without his mother's consent. What immediately followed is known. They passed some months in great happiness at Dawlish; for she had many relations and old acquaintances to cut--and he drew several plans for magnificent cottages;--and from thence returning to town, procured the forgiveness of Mrs Ferrars, by the simple expedient of asking it, which, at Lucy's instigation, was adopted. The forgiveness, at first, indeed, as was reasonable, comprehended only Robert; and Lucy, who had owed his mother no duty and therefore could have transgressed none, still remained some weeks longer unpardoned. But perseverance in humility of conduct and messages, in self-condemnation for Robert's offence, and gratitude for the unkindness she was treated with, procured her in time the haughty notice which overcame her by its graciousness, and led soon afterwards, by rapid degrees, to the highest state of affection and influence. Lucy became as necessary to Mrs Ferrars, as either Robert or Fanny; and while Edward was never cordially forgiven for having once intended to marry her, and Elinor, though superior to her in fortune and birth, was spoken of as an intruder, she was in every thing considered, and always openly acknowledged, to be a favourite child. They settled in town, received very liberal assistance from Mrs Ferrars, were on the best terms imaginable with the Dashwoods; and setting aside the jealousies and ill-will continually subsisting between Fanny and Lucy, in which their husbands of course took a part, as well as the frequent domestic disagreements between Robert and Lucy themselves, nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together.
Seriously, they all deserve one another, don't they, with their concern about status and their money and their greed and their overweening self-interst? Robert and Lucy fight all the time, Fanny and Lucy are mutual rivals, Robert and John play "whose dick is biggest", etc. You can sense Austen cackling over how they're all lying in the beds they've made for themselves.

I've changed my mind, Alex. I'll take "What She Was On About" for $1,000

As far as Elinor goes, she stops being so driven by common sense and hastens her marriage. If Sense and Sensibility (a word which hear means "feeling") are at opposite ends of the spectrum, Elinor starts the novel close to the "Sense" pole - then maintains her public image of being at that same place while suffering from emotional turmoil, finally sliding closer to the midpoint (toward Sensibility) by revealing her distress to Marianne and her mother, having that complete meltdown in front of Edward two chapters ago, then rushing into her wedding as soon as she's able rather than waiting for her own house. (In a quiet country manor such as Delaford, can you imagine how sound must carry? There's poor Brandon, pining for Marianne at night while Edward and Elinor holler and bang their headboard against the wall down the hall. At least, one hopes they do.)

Marianne, who repeatedly said there's no such thing as a "second attachment", now decides that there is, too, such a thing. She started the book with at least one foot squarely on "Sensibility" as her home base, and it is with her decision to marry Brandon that we really see her movement toward the center of the scale. I say this because I don't think that her first decision - a course of "serious study" and a monastic life - is any less "sensible" than her deliberate grief. It's just another manifestation of her over-the-top enthusiasm for things. Marianne plays almost the whole book "all-in" until she agrees to marry Brandon, based in large part on common sense: She knows he adores her. She knows her family adores him. She knows she'll be next-door neighbors with Elinor, her closest friend in the world. She actually likes, respects and admires Brandon, enjoys his company, and marries him in the first instance based on some combination of friendship, esteem and (possibly) gratitude.

She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another!--and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married,--and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!
THAT is common sense at its finest. She is now married to a respectable, dependable man who adores her, head of a very nice household, and patroness of the village. Smart move, Marianne - well done!

However, lest any of you feel that perhaps pure-hearted Marianne got ripped off (there are usually some readers in that camp), I must point out that Austen assures us that Marianne was happy when she married him, and that she came to love him as much or more than she ever had loved Willoughby: "Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby."

Speaking of the devil, Austen tells us that Willoughby does NOT have a wife who plagues his heart out, as Mrs Jennings once wished. Instead of rolling with the sorts of resolution popular among novels at the time, Austen flat-out tells us that Willoughby is not actually miserable. He always regrets Marianne, and the real turn of the screw occurs when his aunt, Mrs. Smith, forgives him and says "if you'd married Marianne Dashwood, I'd have forgiven you right away". Imagine the torment of knowing that he could've married Marianne after all and didn't actually need a rich wife - or, at least, that's how he would see it. I rather suspect that Elinor's predictions in the earlier chapter about him regretting not having a fortune immediately would still have come to pass, but when one is a bit of a romantic, one tends not to recall that sort of thing. So Willoughby gets to pine after Marianne as "the one who got away", forever holding her as the gold standard of young women. But he doesn't get a life of shame, pain and misery.

Mrs Dashwood and Margaret visit Elinor and Marianne often, but Mrs Dashwood shows just how very savvy she is in not giving up Barton Cottage. You see, but the end of the novel, Margaret is now marriage material, and she has kept her very near to Sir John Middleton and Mrs Jennings, knowing they will do their damnedest to get her a suitable spouse.

Elinor and Marianne live happily ever after. Not just because each of them married a man they happen to love, but because of their close relationship. You may recall that the first draft of this novel (which was epistolary in format) was called Elinor and Marianne, a title which calls attention to the sisters as individuals and as a pair. ("The Dashwoods" would have meant the whole family; "The Dashwood Sisters" might have meant all three sisters, and would have focused only on the sisterly bond). The primary relationship throughout this novel is, in fact, the one between Elinor (Sense) and Marianne (Sensibility), with both of them sliding a bit toward the sentence, finding something closer to balance for themselves and therefore finding happiness.

Between Barton and Delaford, there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate;--and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.


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1 comment:

Sonia said...

This is a lovely account of the novel--my favorite JA novel despite the popularity of P&P. Thank you.