June 11, 1996
July 9, 1996
Re: S&S: Chs 34-36: Present Structuring and the Epistolary Novel Underneath
I'd like again to point out some parallels between these two books first written and then rewritten and published in sequence; specifically we are come to the end of Volume II (Chs 34-6 in the Oxford are Vol II, Chs xii-xiv). The parallels illuminate the distinctively different tones of these books and show their similar comedic structures. For they are finally traditional comedies in structure--like Shakespeare's plays we move downward to some crisis, and then into some nadir, up through a quiet kind of interlude or stasis (Act IV in Shakespeare, the concluding chapters of Volumes II in both S&S and P&P), and then swing upwards for a close.
This final stasis at the nadir may be described by saying we are at an absolute low point in the fortunes of our heroines with respect to their matching up with their heroes. First, S&S. Elinor has not only between her and Edward a lack of income to support them, and a lack of any way for him to gain a profession commensurate with his status as a gentleman and member of the gentry and his education, but his secret engagement to Lucy is an established fact, she has had to sit in a room with him and Lucy and has had the real selflessness or sensitivity to give them time alone together; on top of this she has met and been insulted by his mean-minded proud and ill-natured (written on her brow) mother who proceeds so shamelessly to insult Elinor that Fanny Dashwood is actually momentarily embarrassed for this mother. As the chapter closes Lucy is invited to stay with the Dashwoods and Mrs Ferrars, and even Elinor is led to think there may be something manipulable for Lucy in the courteous and kind treatment offered her by Fanny Dashwood and Mrs Ferrars; Lucy is elated; she will now be living under the same roof with Edward.
As to Marianne, well, it's all over. Willoughby is married to Miss Grey. He has written her a cruel insulting letter. She is wretched and has a kind of frantic desperation to her behavior which augurs ill. Athough John Dashwood is a real ass (thanks to Edith for reminding us that Mr Collins does marry a woman with no fortune and no beauty), he is probably to be seen as accurate in his continual reiteration that Marianne has lost her first bloom forever. Maybe it wasn't worth the having, but it's gone; a new kind of softer look of an adult may come later--if she survives.
If we turn to the closing chapters of P&P in Volume II (the parallel chapters in the Oxford are xvii-xix, in the Penguin Chs 40-2), we find the a similar kind of nadir in our heroines' fortunes, with the significant difference of several notes of hope and happiness which are part of P&P''s brighter more truly comedic tone, using comedy in the philosophic sense of not simply funny laughs, but a fulfilled ending for the members of the group, a little "paradise" in the here & now pictured in the traditional couplings of the heroes and heroines.
First the nadir. Elizabeth, like Elinor, seems utterly parted forever from Darcy. He has asked her to marry him, and she has repulsed him with the anger of one long humiliated by him. She has insulted him for all she's worth. There seems no likelihood of any meeting between them ever again. We see nothing in his character to make us imagine he'll come riding hell-for-leather over the hills towards Longbourne--like our faithful Edward earlier in _S&S_ comes to Barton Cottage from Plymouth. Jane is cut off from Bingley and there seems a marrriage in the offing between Bingley and Darcy's sister, at least if Caroline Bingley can swing it. And Bingley seems unable to jump on a horse without Darcy's approval. Lydia has gone to Brighton, and Elizabeth has told her father this is a bad mistake. The final chapter of volume II also opens with a dwelling on the quiet desperation of a life like Mr Bennet's with a wife who has not his acute understanding or more subtle feelings (Oxford Ch XIX, p 236). (Watching the movie Persuasion I was again reminded of the prevalence of this theme in Austen when Ciarhan Hinds was given the lines about Benwick marrying a woman like Louisa; he does not foresee any permanent happiness at all.)
The notes of hope are there of course. The Gardiners have arrived to take Elizabeth on holiday. Alas they are not off to Lakes and they are going for a shorter holiday, and intense agitation is set on foot because the last words of Volume II leave us with Elizabeth to go to Pemberley. Elizabeth has ascertained through sifting the maid that Darcy will not be there. Still there is the sense she's moving towards Darcy quite firmly. Also Elizabeth has not despaired of Darcy in quite the way she will when in Derbyshire they meet because she has not yet fully being to admit to herself she admires, loves, indeed physically desires him. Here we can usefully compare the real ugliness of what Elinor endures in the closing three chapters. She does love Edward, and very deeply apparently. She wants to help him still, does not blame him. In these three scenes which close volume II of S&S instead of being buoyed up by a decent uncle and understanding aunt, Elinor has only around her the kindly fool Mrs Jennings (who has been altered slightly to make her kindly) and very nasty sneering people; she bears up pretty well but it's not much fun for her at the Dashwoods or Middletons in these chapters.
So it's not as bad with Elizabeth as it is with Elinor and Marianne and maybe Jane Bennet--though Jane's case seems pretty hopeless--still Darcy could relent and let his singularly supine and indifferent friend come to his lady--maybe this time she will grab when the grabbing's good. Looking ahead from the turning point, life's next blow on Elizabeth comes in the form of Lydia running off with Wickham, and is ambigous because paradoxically Lydia's running off in the clinches or knots Darcy's relationship with Elizabeth in a concrete way through the wonderful agency of money. Ahem. It also shows his nobility of character to her, his loyalty, and the whole meeting in Derbyshire where he acts so humbly and she too with a kind of quiet eagerness to show she is aware of his value is a swerve upwards towards the happy ending.
If we look forward to Volume III in S&S, life's next blow on Elinor is Marianne's near death, which is not likely to bring Edward to Elinor, and if it gives Brandon another chance to show his stuff, Marianne is still blind to Brandon's deeply romantic nature. As I think I said once before he's an escapee from a Gothic romance, disguised in a flannel waistcoat, and Marianne is unable to see beyond it.
Of course Austen writes in 3 volumes mindful of her audience's expectations and the established tradition of the circulating libraries. The idea is to use these traditional and commercial demands. The BBC people did divide their movie into a plunge into a nadir, with notes of hope--as Louisa plunges to near-paralysis, the Captain turns to Anne; we have seen his intense pain for her when he lifted her into the carriage, now again we see him try to talk to her on their way home. But the two are parted, and it is in Bath that the upswing for Anne will occur.
Attention to formal matters is well paid in Austen's work and all variations on it which remain true to it, though one may speculate that had Austen lived she might have chaffed at the rigid demands of a Mudie's Circulating Library (I know his firm came a little later, but the 3 decker was firmly in place already); Trollope found it stifling eventually and tried other structures again and again, which other structures allowed him to escape certain kinds of meaning inherent in the traditional comedic structure. Some movie-makers do make their films as many minutes long as they artistically want a sequence to be in an ideal way--and the hell with the producer, the sponsor, and the audience's attention span, but the BBC is not to be expected to act in this way.
RE: S&S Chs 346: Journal Letters by Elinor
I'd like to say that these weeks' three chapters seem to me to represent without that much revision by Austen a letter or a number of letters which comprise a journal-letter by Elinor. It would be much like Evelina in Fanny Burney's novel. It is hard to know to whom, since it doesn't make sense to me that Mrs Dashwood would want to hear what Elinor has to say, would like it the least little bit, being so "candid" (like Jane Bennet herself). So they are Elinor to X, a friend somewhere else. If you look back to Chapters 23-4 in the Penguin (Vol I, Ch xxii, Vol II chs i-ii in the Oxford), you will notice a similar disposition of materials, a similar dominance of Elinor's voice, the same presentation of Lucy which makes her words become a form of snarling, as in "'Are you ill, Miss Dashwood?-- you seem low--you don't speak;--sure you an't well?'" (Penguin Ch 35, p 202). Another indication that this was a letter is the absence of a deep sense of Marianne's presence. This is all a welling up from within Elinor, and she has a pen whose ink is acid.
Last week's chapters, in comparison, cannot have come just from letters by Elinor. The actual matter of Elinor's letters, some of it unrevised and unshortened is there all right; for example in Chapter 32, pp, 181- 3, the first whole paragraph through Paragraph 8, which material comes to a close with the phrase "Early in February..."). It was through Elinor's eyes one first observed Marianne changing towards Brandon:
"'His chief reward for the painful exertio of disclosing past sorrows and present humiliations, was given in the pitying eye with which Marianne sometimes observed him, and the gentleness of her voice whenever (though it did not often happen) she was obliged, or could oblige herself to speak to him" (Penguin p 182).
I suggest at this point we did not have the further generalization that Elinor was glad to see the growing together of the pair, but that we were actually given conversation. The reason Brandon and Marianne never speak in our present S&S is its revised state. The dialogues were cut in order to make room for the new material and overarching point of view and quicker pace.
But last week's chapters also contain a great deal of an originally very long letter by Brandon now following what's left in a concise form from the revision of letters by Marianne and her mother (Chapter 31). The Marianne material (so to speak) is represented by a concise third-person omniscient narration in Paragraphs 1 -9 (pp 170-1, the opening of Chapter 31. It is Marianne whose feelings well up against Mrs Jennings, who felt so strongly the words actually kindly meant: "'Now, my dear, I bring you someting that I am sure will do you good." (Penguin 171) There is also a concise rewrite of a letter originally written by Mrs Dashwood from Devonshire to Elinor (Ch 32, Paragraphs 2-5, pp 179-80, from "To give the feelings or language of Mrs Dashwood" .... to "she judged it right that they should sometimes see their brother").
RE: S&S: Chs 34-6: More on epistolary possibilies and limitations
: But back to S&S. Ellen, I don't understand why you think Elinor would wield the acid pen in an epistolary novel. I think everyone would be coolly and justly treated in Elinor's letters. It's Marianne, on the contrary, whose writing I think would give vent to all her spleen against all those unfeeling people who torment her with their tasteless kindness. I'm wondering now if, in the original Elinor & Marianne, Elinor was invited to London at all. She's not given much to do there. Perhaps Marianne wrote to her sister at Barton, telling her of Willoughby's and Edward's betrayals?
I like this. Yes. Maybe more of the material than I am supposing was written by Elinor was written by Marianne. It would give the novel far more taste, far more fillip, a pungent quality and variety at the same time. I feel sure Austen was always thinking of entertaining us as she went. She didn't want to bore us even for a little bit; and the novelist always puts everything they've got into the first one. Think of Pickwick Papers and A Tale of a Tub; they just poured it on.
One problem though: in a letter-novel the technical problem includes achieving verisimilitude through first-person narratives; that is, in a 3rd person omniscient narrative the "fiction" the reader accepts is that the impersonal narrator knows all, sees all, and is even allowed to hold information back. Now Austen uses this kind of "cheat" to achieve suspense not only in Emma but Northanger Abbey. Where the heroine is blind to circumstances some of the others see and which the narrator also has seen, but been "holding back" on us and only letting us peek at through the eyes of another character--in Emma twice we move into the perspective of Knightley who does suspect something "fishy" between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. I think this kind of flexibility offered by the omniscient narrator is one of the reasons Austen switched from epistolary to 3rd person narrative. One always has to explain why the letter-writer knows something.
Consider the deeply inward and deeply painful nexus out of which this and previous week's chapters grow. How right Darcy is here. Consider the final qualification of this shattering sentence from the turning point at the end of Volume I. I should say I think Austen used what had become a conventional division of three volumes:
"She was stronger alone, and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her apearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be"--the "regrets so poignant and so fresh" of the second part of the sentence throw over the "unshaken firmness" and "appearance of cheerfulness" to the point of near dissolution (Penguin 119)
Part of the moral pattern of the plot is to show us that Marianne must learn that an appearance of cheerfulness and an apparent unshaken firmness are not at all cheerfulness and unshaken firmness. Marianne does not know Elinor is shattered. Marianne is wholly unaware that "Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her forever from the object of her love. Marianne does not know how deeply Elinor loves Edward--to the point of forgiving him, of seeing her case as merely "pitiable," while his is "hopeless. She has merely lost the thing dearest to her heart in life. Nothing much. Ahem. In the previous chapter only Elinor or an omniscient narrator could tell us that "Elinor was almost overcome--her hert sunk within her, and she could hardly stand... and worse upon realizing the hair in the ring was Lucy's as to the intensely brief "I did," "with a composure of voice, under which was concealed an emotion and distress beyond anything she had ever felt before. She was mortified, shocked, confounded" (Penguin 114).
In the first scene beween Lucy and Elinor I am fascinated by the depiction of Marianne playing crashingly loud at the piano while Lucy and Elinor apply their razor-like words across one another's skins. Much of course has been revised. I was sorry that the movie did not pick up on this. Imagine it.
Still I agree that the acid pen can certainly also be held by Marianne, and thoughout the novel the earlier scenes with Mrs Jennings and some of the pieces of the scenes with Lady Middleton might be worthy the bold unashamed pen of a Marianne. One must return and return again to the tones in those three brief epistles of Marianne's that we are given. Let us recall Marianne's sharp tongue in Chapter 10:
"'But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank, I have erred against every common place notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful:--had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared'" (Penguin 42).
This is a satire on the tete-a-tetes she's seen between Edward and Elinor. That's why the mother breaks in.
Now in this week's three chapters while Marianne could not relate as she wouldn't be able to understand or give their significance--as in Lucy's "'Are you ill, Miss Dashwood?--you seem low--you don't speak;--sure you an't well.'" (Pegnuin 202); nonetheless in this week's chapters we have such bitter scenes of the unkind Dashwoods & mean shameless Mrs Ferrars, the tasteless Middletons, the childishly obtuse Mrs Jennings, the in a way painful Palmer relationship that if these scenes are read in a serious tone, they make one's flesh creep. It could very well be through Marianne's eyes that we saw Mrs Ferrars insult Elinor's drawing. It is Marianne after all who becomes enraged at Mrs Ferrars and boldly says who cares for any Miss Morton; it is Elinor we care for. Or ought to.
There is a comparison between Jane Bennet and Marianne. If Marianne is to be seen as the candid interpreter and sincere and earnest, some of the material which might seem appropriate to Elinor in the book could have come from Marianne's pen. One difference though is that Jane Bennet sees the bad and difficult and turns away or prefers to see good; until near the end of the book Marianne either will not see or openly despises what is different from her
Two thoughts: Much in the present S&S can only be fully accounted for by the present 3rd person omniscient narrator, but there is much left over from the original Elinor and Marianne. Austen's nephew, James Edward-Austen Leigh wrote that the earliest of Austen's writing may be found in the extant Sense and Sensibility.
The other: what a exciting story this first novel is in a way. So much is doing. That's why I think the movie works so well. Compare it to the movie of Persuasion or text of Emma. Less is happening; the two latter are more diurnal, more realistic. But we have several stories going here with duels and pregnancies and spunging houses and flights to India in one, deep pain and betrayals in the other two, yet a third couple, the Dashwoods (I hesitate to think Charlotte would have turned into a Fanny Dashwood when Mr Bennet died, but one can never predict these things...), not to omit the Palmers, with Mrs Palmer's childbed appearing ironically in just the way such things appear in the world, for that's all the world cares for, the paragraph in the newspaper telling that the Palmers as a family have a male heir. I know this first novel has never been a critical favorite, but readers have liked it all along; like P&P it has always been well-known; there's a lot here.
Isabel Armstrong speaks of 2 revisions, and others speak of a first novel long under consideration or apparently being written during the first half of the 1790's and then revised and revised, we have to take into account that an enormous amount has been changed, sifted, altered, rearranged, replotted, disguised.
RE: S&S, Chs 34-36: This and that
In reply to Nancy McEnroe:
Edward lived with his mother (Chapter 34) in London but didn't Lucy visit with the John Dashwoods? At the end of Chapter 38, Lucy moved from the Middletons' to Harley Street where the John Dashwoods lived. In Chapter 37, Lucy gets thrown out of Harley Street after her sister informs Fanny of Lucy's engagement to Edward. I might have missed it, but I don't recall that the Steeles were ever invited to stay with Mrs. Ferrars.
I assumed that Mrs Ferrars was staying with her daughter while in London since there was no separate street address given. But that would not cohere with the practice of Mrs Jennings and her daughters who all live in different houses. What I was thinking of was Lucy's sense of triumph at being in a place where she would see Edward in a daily kind of way, and the sentence at the close of Volume III which reads:
"Such an opportunity of being with Edward and his family was, above all things, the most material to her interest, and such an invitationthe most gratifying to her feelings!" (Penguin 113).
The narrator gives the idea an emphasis by the use of the exclamation mark and the sense of the sentence is the John Dashwoods, especially Fanny, are as good as living with Mrs Ferrars. Lucy will be "with Edward and his family" when she comes to live with Fanny. Maybe they are not under the same roof, but in Lucy's mind it's almost the same thing. For example, in this week's chapters, when Fanny gives a party, it is so natural and expected that Edward will be there, that Elinor dreads going. Edward though has managed to stay away.
I'd also like to remark in connection with Edward's expected presence at his sister's as a regular thing (and Robert is there as a regular thing, so that's why Lucy can snare him) several parallels between Edward and Willoughby's behavior and contrasts between Elinor's and Marianne's response to this behavior in this concluding section of Volume III. Edward leaves his card twice, and Elinor is "pleased that he had called; and still more pleased that she had missed him." Willoughby left his card once and this devastated Marianne; she refuses to go out afterwards. Willoughby stayed away from the Middletons' party much to Marianne's dismay; Edward stays away fro the Dashwoods' party much to Elinor's relief. Marianne asks Edward (Chapter 35) why has he not come to visit earlier and he says he "was engaged elsewhere" (now there's a right pun with Lucy sitting right there); of course Willoughby does not visit but is "engaged" elsewhere too, and makes excuses. Only Brandon shows the first night Marianne and Elinor come to London.
Finally I tend generally to attribute the acid tongue of the present book to Elinor and not to Marianne because I see Elinor as anything but complacent and insipid. I see her as behaving conventionally, but not thinking conventionally. Remember her comment to Marianne's sharp tongue to her:
"But I thought it was right, Elinor,' said Marianne, 'to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgements were gien us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbours. This has always been your doctrine, I am sure.'
I see in Elinor some of Austen's own "regulated hatred" as expatiated upon so long ago by DWHarding. Admittedly the above exchange shows that Marianne has no soft tongue herself. But consider the lack of sentimental slather in Elinor. It was Marianne who complained so incessantly of Mrs Jennings' rudeness and said she couldn't stand it, but it is Elinor who cites Mrs Jennings as her first reason for not going to London. Marianne is all too willing to leave her mother over Christmas, but the mother says she doesn't mind;' nonetheless Marianne and the mother weep as if they never will see one another again; Elinor who genuinely worried about the mother being alone, is "the only one of the three, who seemed to consider the separation as any thing short of eternal'" (Penguin 133). There is nothing so irritating as this kind of sentimental slather that Marianne and the mother indulge themselves in, and the response to it, almost as a kind of medicinal antidote, is an acid tongue--to cut the "grease."