Sense and Sensibility: Volume II, Chapters 9 - 11 (31 - 33)

To Austen-l

July 2, 1996

Re: S&S II:9, Ch 31: The Two Elizas: An Inset Gothic Romance

I am not at all tired of talking of S&S. We are in the midst of some of the most intriguing passages in the book. Take, for example, Brandon's long story of his beloved Eliza and her daughter, Eliza II, as Luisa puts it, how are we are to read it? Luisa measures it by standards of probability first from the point of view of the social expectations and behavior of society in general at the time. She asks, would a girl who had been known to have left a husband or family and lived with a man be taken in as a governess by a good family. I think not and suggest that is why it is so important in Austen's novels (and those of others) in this and throughout the Victorian period to hide the unconventional behavior. In MP the first thought of the Bertrams is to try to prevent people from finding out Maria has left her husband and thrown herself (in effect) at Henry Crawford. In Clarissa once she leaves her family and finds herself living in the same house with Lovelace, she is lost to any help from her family or apparently anyone. When she flees Lovelace, she has nowhere to go but way down--into the streets. She does not turn whore, but that partly because of her nature and the plot which carries her back to Lovelace; when she flees again, she finds herself arrested for debts, for the price of her living at Lovelace's whores' house, and ends in a spunging house. Your position in the network was overthrown by a loss of reputation, whether you were a man or a woman; again that's why Mr Bennet is surprized Wickham takes Lydia with him; Bennet forgets Wickham's debts were enough to "ruin" him anyhow.

Luisa also measures both Elizas by standards of personality strength drawn from 20th century expectations of what we respect. I would also say she appears to be looking for an upbeat role model which is not how real people today behave, but rather how they talk and would like to think they might or do behave--modern statistics of girls getting pregnant out of wedlock and ending up on welfare or in other various horrors of routines suggest that Eliza I & II are still with us. In any case the standards Luisa applies are anachronistic for the ideal at the time was very different from our own; in particular women were taught to feel a horrified shame if it became known that they were living with a man; some really did imbibe these values and felt permanently "ruined" if they had full sexual intercourse with a man without the bethrothal and marriage sequence to accompany it. Clarissa talks of running into corners and hiding in truly poignant long sequences of deep depression; she goes mad at one point.

But I suggest more to the point of Brandon's story in this sequence we are not to read the Elizas (I or II) as fully-imagined sufficiently realistic conceptions of people in the same way as we can Elinor or Marianne or Catherine Morland or Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe. I read this rewrite of a letter by Brandon as perhaps some of the earliest material that Austen wrote for E&M that we now have, and see it as a kind of inset conventional gothic romance redeemed by Austen's own genius for giving it just the details to rescue it from total melodrama, as in her leaving deliberately vague and sinister the detail Luisa and Doug quoted about Brandon's brother's cruelty to Eliza I. Since Austen herself in her letters and in most of the parts of her other novels--and in all of Northanger Abbey makes a conscious point of presenting realistic material, tests other novels by probability and versimilitude, and seems to want to create a new ideal for both a hero and heroine in the novel, we might say she's got it coming. Still that which we parody and move away from is that which we began with, and the details of the story of Eliza I and II recall not only the story of Clarissa but that of countless other heroines in Gothic and sentimental romances of the period.

It's interesting that from the screenplay of the movie we can see that originally Emma Thompson (and those who helped her over the years to revise and rewrite the script) envisioned a kind of dumb show to convey this primal material. For curiously while one could say this whole story represents a weak spot in this book, nonetheless because it is raw, it is about primal emotions, it takes us into homelessness, despair, the streets, nightmares, all those things which don't enter "normal" daily lives--or don't seem to in the drawing room--it is actually powerful stuff. That's why gothic romance sold and still sells. Ms Thompson also placed it not well after Willoughby humiliates Marianne by snubbing her in public, but juxtaposed to Willoughby's goodbye to Marianne on the evening before he learns his aunt has discovered his intrigue with Eliza II. As written it is meant as an ironic undercut of the tender scene between Willoughby and Marianne, and his apparent intention to propose:


Miss Marianne, will you do me the honour of granting me an interview tomorrow--alone?


Willoughby, we are always alone! [here's a hint Marianne's suspicions have been aroused by their private trysts]


But there is something very particular I should like to ask you...

Juxtaposed immediately to this Thompson originally intended the following silent pictorial narrative sequence:


A district of exetreme poverty, populated by the LOWLIFE of LONDON: FOOTADS, dogs, rats and SCAVANGERS of all kinds. IN the distaince a tavern belches forth drunken REVELLERS who sway and reel into the night. A hooded HORSEMAN pulls up hs exahusted steed at the entrance to a slum. He dismounts and looks up at one of the windows. The rags hanging there twitch as if someone is watching for him He strides inside.

Of course it's Brandon ("hollow-eyes and dropping with weariness"); inside is Eliza II in a room which reminds me of Clarissa's in the novel, and Hogarth's prints of such places: "a bare room partitioned wiht filthy rags hung from the ceiling and lit with stinking tallow lamps. Eliza is "eavily pregant. She burst into tears and runs into his arms." (Screenplay 114-5).

I suggest they dropped this lest their envisioned modern audience laugh. It would have needed a Visconti to put it across and the movie would have had to be done in a totally different mood--that say of Cocteau's _Beauty & the Beast_ or Polanski's _Repulsion_. It did not fit the comic and light conception. But Ms Thompson took her cue from Austen's book astutely and in the right spirit. It's clear from the poetry chosen she is a real reader of 18th century and 19th century British literature; she goes into by-ways which are no longer those which are popular or praised by those who look for the socially acceptable.

In sum, we should not read Brandon's story from the standpoint of modern moralizing role models or 18th century real life, but as a piece which belongs to the deep currents of Gothic romance, in Byron ultimately psychologically subversive, in Shelley politically subversive, but in Austen something she was intent to replace by stories which however grounded in real psychological life were intended to "empower" her readers to control their primal impulses out of motives of prudence. Which is one way of reading the story of Elinor (now standing for prudence) and Marianne (now standing for primal impulse).

Another interesting aspect to me of Brandon's story is that as worded in Chapter 31 it would appear Willoughby did not know that Brandon was the adopted father of the girl he seduced, lived with, and abandoned; Brandon words seem to suggest he at least thinks Willoughby did not know he was Eliza's adopted father:

Little did Mr Willoughby imagine, I suppose, when his looks censured me for incivility in breakig up the party, that I was called away to the relief of one, whom he had made poor and miserable (Penguin 177).

In the earlier sequence at Barton Park there seemed to be some hints in Austen's text that Willoughby had reason to alienate Marianne from Brandon; these hints were clearly taken up in the earlier sequence and the above-quoted one by the movie- makers, but I'd like to suggest that Austen's text is either not fully revised or deliberately left ambiguous. Perhaps in the original E&M Willoughby knew Brandon was the father and Brandon suspected Willoughby was the one who had run away with Eliza, but was not sure; or Willoughby knew & felt an antipathy to the adopted father (and in such a small world as Austen's everyone naturally knew even the details of other people's incomes), Brandon didn't suspect him at all until he came to London which is the way the present text by Austen reads. The movie seems to have picked up Austen's original intent. I wonder if there was a duelling scene in E&M; Clarissa ends with a powerful one...

Ellen Moody

To Austen-

July 25, 1996

Re: S&S; Ch 32: Brandon & Marianne

In response to Penny's posting today I'd like to say that we are about midpoint in the book, and Austen is now taking pains to bring Marianne closer to Brandon. It is prepared for in all sorts of ways. Ch 31 brings us Brandon's story, his behavior not only to Eliza I but Eliza II, and in confirming his deeply romantic nature I think Austen meant us to see how he is actually a perfect fit for Marianne. I'll only quote one line since I went on so long on the inset romance this morning:

"[Elinor] saw with satisfaction the effect of [Brandon's story of Eliza I & II], in [Marianne] speaking to him, even voluntarily speaking, with a kind of compassionate respect..." (Penguin 179).

In this area the movie does much more; as Edith says there is no dialogue beween Marianne and Brandon in the present S&S; in the movie we are given a slow trajectory in which Marianne gradually learns that Willoughby was fairy, Brandon true gold.

Perhaps Austen was more interested in keeping up the satire; in these chapters we have John Dashwood's return, his self-interested conclusion, that Brandon is gone on Elinor, and his officiousness to forward this "union." Later Mrs Jennings misunderstands a conversation between Brandon and Elinor to mean Brandon has asked Elinor to marry him. Again maybe in the original E&M this thread was far more developed.

Ellen Moody

Re: S&S Ch 33: Favorite Lines

This chapter contains the scene in the jewellry shop in which we meet, although do not know it, the arrogant coxcomb so admired by his mother and sister, Robert Ferrars and see his treatment of the shopkeeper, his value for toothpick cases (doubtless very important probably as a prop for getting ahead and being respected in the world), and the responses of Elinor and Marianne to him; then John Dashwood appears, and a little later we get the dialogue between Elinor and John which is a brilliant as that between John and Fanny Dashwood which opens the book. It contains two of my favorite lines in S&S. I find so quietly angry because of the depth of emotion underlying it the four words:

"Elinor could only smile" (Penguin 190).

I also have always grimaced over Elinor to her brother:

"'Certainly... and assisted by her [Mrs Ferrars'] liberality, I hope you may yet live to be in easy circumstances.

His grave reply:

'Another year or two may do much towards it...'

suggests to my ear he's even a greater ass than Mr Collins who just might have picked Elinor's hint up.

Ellen Moody

PS. A query: would Elinor be purchasing pierced earrings? Clarissa wears pierced earrings. When did loops (like George Eliot wears) come in? I believe the non-pierced or clipped variety is a late 19th century invention. Anyone know?

Re: S&S: The Earliest of the Finished Novels

I would like first to agree with Diana that in S&S Austen is finding her voice. It is the earliest of the "finished" novels--or perhaps the most unfinished of them. I have always thought the published Northanger Abbey which is usually presented as Austen's first actually represents a later text than that of the published S&S. Northanger Abbey is in fact smoother, has less "crudities," moves swiftly, alternates between dramatic and pictorial narrative and meditation with all the savoir faire of P&P. But that's precisely why as an older person I find S&S interesting. It's as if one can peer into the sources of the developing great artist, see all the threads not yet put together seamlessly.


Re: S&S: Marianne's hysterics

Hysteria is a transliteration into English from the Greek for womb; from Elizabethan times on one reads of women gripped by passions said to erupt from the womb; it's seen as pathological, a kind of strange madness, a convulsion from within; by the 18th century writers talk of disturbances of the nerves (we'd say nervous system), some deep trauma. The word is linked to women historically & philologically: think of hysterectomy. In the 18th century the word is used to signify a convulsive fit of laughter or weeping; the OED quotes Richardson in Sir Charles Grandison: "The woman was taken out of the coach in passionate hysterics." When someone is "hysterical" (and it is usually a woman who is so characterized, but not always), they are said to be in a convulsive excitement or fit; the word "hypochrondia" is often found with the word "hysteria," also morbid; girls can also have hysterical fevers (the OED quotes Sir Walter Scott) and this was said to lead to loss of appetite. All of the above is probably what we are to imagine Marianne is experiencing. Thus if she is to be imagined as totally physically innocent, Austen has certainly overwritten this book or presented a girl who is self-indulgent with insufficient cause. Or at least that's the way I've always read the book.

The OED says lavendar water is a perfume compounded from alcohol, ambergris, from the distilled flowers of lavender. But this doesn't explain it sufficiently for me. Since the OED says that ambergris is also a perfume used in cookery, and says nothing else, I assume there was perhaps a high content of alcohol to relax the individual. I have been told that Lady Godie's (?) Drops so popular among 19th century American women and advertised in their magazines was a distillation of opium.

Ellen Moody

My understanding of ambergris is that it is a waxy substance that was harvested from the intestines of sperm whales and used as a fixative in perfumes, right into this century. Nowadays, modern chemistry and our concern for endangered species makes this unnecessary. I'm not a perfumer, but my take on lavender water is that it is simply lavender cologne, and that lavender was (and may still be) considered to have soothing herbal properties, and is meant to be applied externally and inhaled. Could anyone provide a more informed opinion? I'm puzzled about the reference to "cookery."


From: "Darcy E. Veach"
Organization: Grand Canyon Drive
Subject: Lavender Cookery; Mrs & Mr. Bennet

Lavender water as part of cookery seems odd today, but in the 18c the lady of the house supervised the making of simples and other medicinals. Perfumes and tinctures and such were often made in a "still room," which I think comes from "distillery." Early chemistry seems to have run from cooking through apothecaries to alchemists.

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