August 3, 1996
Re: S&S, Chs 47-50: A Biting Cool Close
This is in reply to Luisa's posting protesting not only the marrying off of Marianne to Colonel Brandon but in the last few paragraphs of the novel the tone of the narrator towards Marianne. The ending of S&S is ironic and cool. It is not the apparently happy ending we find at the close of P&P.
Not only is Austen suddenly acerbic towards Marianne once again, but towards just about everyone, including even Elinor. For example, we have an analogue to the famous closing sentence of NA:
"I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience."
If Marianne is not to fulfill her "dreams of rapture" (I use Imlac's term for one dangerous strain in the imagination), this recalls Catherine Morland's marriage, which is celebrated in prosaic words:
"To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well."
It seems Catherine and Henry didn't suffer so very much after all; it all took a very short time, and as for "perfect happiness," I take this to be partly ironic too (let us recall Austen's description of the General's slow grudging acceptance of Catherine, the Morlands' prosaic attitudes, Henry Tilney's own disillusionment as expressed in many of his well-known witty speeches).
This final bow (or curtsy) is the same sort of thing moral of the story brought before us as what we are supposed to learn from reading Lucy Steele's story:
"The whole of Lucy's behavior in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therfore, may be heldforth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing vevery advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience" (Penguin p 319).
The above is an epitomizing sentence. The several paragraphs on the Middletons and Ferrars which close the story are all in the same tone, e.g.,
"and setting aside th jealousies and ill-will continually subsisting between Fanny and Lucy, in which thei rhusbands of course took a part, as well as the frequent domestic disagreements between Robert and Lucy themsevles, nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together (Penguin p 320)"
Indeed. Well at least Elinor and Edward "were never insulted by [Mrs Ferrars'] real favour and preference" (Penguin, p 319).
Elinor does not escape the scalpel. She is going to live very modestly in a cottage with a man who has been given his income by the man who becomes her sister's husband. As Margaret Kennedy said of him (most unsympathetically):
HE spends his time sitting about in low spirits, except on theose occasion when he has not even the courage to sit. Other people determine his fate for him; his mother bullies him, Lucy traps him, and then jilts him fo rhis richer borhter, Colonel Brandon supplies him with an income and Elinor marries him (quoted in Ivor Morris's Mr Collins Considered).
She may be older, but she is definitely second in income and status as the book closes, and we are to rejoice the two sisters' living together never produce disagreement. That is not the same thing as saying they never disagree underneath the politeness. Her marriage is not presented in rapturous terms either; instead we get:
"after waiting some time for [the] completion [of the improvements to the cottage], after experiencing, as usual, a thousand disappointments and delays, from the unaccountable dilatoriness of the workmen, Elinor, as usual, broke through the first positive resolution of not marrying till everything was ready, and the ceremony took place in Barton cottage early in the autumn" (Penguin p 318).
Here is how the presumed first euphoria of their marriage is presented:
"The first month of their marriage was spent with their friend at the Mansion-house, from whence they could superintend the progress of the Parsonage, and direct everything as they liked on the spot;--could chuse papers, project shrubberies, and invent a sweep" (Penguin 318).
I might here note what the narrator hints of some of the possible nuances of Edward's own behavior and words after the marriage as opposed to his absolute agreement with everything darling Elinor says before (and there is irony directed at Elinor for her assumption Lucy meant to be malicious when she sent the message; Lucy may have thought Thomas saw it was Robert, not Edward). Here's the narrator on Edward's deeper sense of Elinor's attitude towards him as opposed to his voiced kinder or more generous one:
"He could do nothing till he were assured of his fate with Miss Dashwood; and by his rapidity in seeking that fate, it is to be supposed, in spite of the jealousy with which he had once thought of Colonel Brandon, in spite of the modesty with which he rated his own deserts, and the politeness with which he talked of his doubts, he did not, upon the whole, expect a very cruel reception. It was his business, however, to say that he did, and he said it very prettily. What he might say on the subject a twelvemonth after, must be referred to the imagination of husbands and wives" (Penguin 311).
And while we might imagine Edward consumed with love for the individual Elinor, the narrator seems to leave room for doubt on this one too. We are told of his rushing instantly to ask Elinor to marry him upon Lucy's marrying Robert that:
"for after experiencing the blessings of one imprudent enegaement, contracted without his mother's consent, as he had already done for more than four years, nothing less could be expected of him in the failure of that, than the immediate contradtion of another" (Penguin p 306).
But it will be said, "but who cares for Lucy, Elinor, Edward, any of them." "Who cares for these people" (shades of Marianne rebuking Mrs Ferrars over Elinor's fire screens). My beloved Marianne has these paragraphs written so unsympathetically and is matched to this quiet older man who I am supposed to feel sorry for. She's settling for this. Though of course the words of the narrator make it clear this is quite clear to Austen; it is obvious to her Marianne is settling; and we might see here a parallel between Marianne's marriage to Brandon and Charlotte's to Mr Collins, though as with Catherine and Henry this is no hard fate. Consider the Colonel's character and Eliza's fate with his brother:
"She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another!"
Still although we have here a kind of Byronic hero sans youth, because of that lack of youth (and is not that what one cannot forgive him for), one imagines wrinkled skin, thinning hair maybe, and not the prowess of the smooth and young Willoughby (the movie cheated by using the deliciously handsome Rickman), who may not be able to come up to the let's say 6 orgasms a night the Willoughbys of the world just might be up to, at least for a couple of months. To say Marianne will one day have wrinkled skin, that her breasts will go flat to match that "flannel waistcoat" too doesn't help. To say, as the narrator does, that she learned to love Brandon as devotedly as she might have loved Willoughby because she "could never love by halves" doesn't help either. But it is of a piece with this book which is deeply distrustful of dreams of rapture possibly because as in the novel itself they are only the other face of anguish. This is a novel against female masochism or at least the indulgence of it as a way to that ultimate thrill of penetration.
I will conclude by referring anyone who's interested to Austen's earlier _Love and Friendship: a novel in a series of Letters_ in which we find a series of letters from one Laura to one Marianne and which display a much less generous attitude towards the romantic impulse (the self-congratulatory heroine is really a selfish common thief who deludes herself and is ludicrously and blindly selfish). We can create a continuum and say that gradually Austen did begin to in her published writings sympathize more and more deeply with the Marianne's of the world, first through Fanny (yes through Fanny), then through Anne Elliot who we are told dislikes Mr Elliot because she values the open-hearted, the frank, the sincere, the enthusiastic (so does Knightley, and on this basis condemns Jane Fairfax).
And since we are to start _Emma_ soon (August 11th), and I have been too much identified as loving Elinor (which I do), I'd like to say I also love Marianne; I didn't name any daughters after her, but my daughters are Laura and Isabel, the other two heroines of _Love and Friendship_, "romance lady names" as someone once said to me. I'm sorry for Marianne that she didn't know the rapture and had only the anguish, and then was given merely gentle happiness, and not that wild pull of an abandonment of self to some man or lover for at least a time; I don't know if it's worth it, but she didn't get it; I agree. She was cheated of this. After all her embodiment does make me wonder about Jane Austen herself, the private woman we don't find in the letters, but is there in her novels, in Marianne, in Fanny, in Anne Elliot as well as the more socially acceptable and relatively emotionally invulnerable figures like Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma Woodhouse.
Re: S&S: A Romantic Ending?
It's true that Austen does give Marianne the one deeply romantic man in the book, a strong type with whom she can know as much happiness in this world as is possible. And that's the rub. As is possible. As both Elinor and Marianne agree, had Willoughby married her, he would soon have tired of her and thought after all the money more important than a loving wife; now he has not a loving wife, and money galore, so he thinks the latter doesn't matter. The idea is I suppose not only compatibility (which Brandon and Marianne have, as have Elinor and Edward), but simpler basic things which are not easy come by, like common kindnesses and courtesies as a regular thing throughout the day to offset the things two people who are married regularly say to one another which outrages if they were to say to two other people, those other people might never speak to them again--that's the kind of thing I imagine Austen to be referring to when she speaks of what Edward might say of his chances of getting Elinor's yes when he turned up a twelvemonth after the ceremony as opposed to what he says during the engagement.
For the problem is, if we were translate the image of the moon into some reality, what would it be? I have a hard time imagining what is meant by desiring the moon and stars. Is it some ecstasy? And how do we get it? Does not this sort of thing come from within? Does it need a partner? If it's ecstasy in a relationship we're talking about, then we're talking sex--and I suggest it is sex, for the basic complaint against Brandon is he's old, not that he doesn't read Cowper. I know Austen could not have read Balzac, but she seems to have had an intuition, call it the imagination of genius which sees far without having had to have lived an experience, that (in the French) "Le degout, c'est voir juste. Apres la possession, l'amour voit juste chez les hommes." So Willoughby after marrying Miss Grey, so too even Marianne and Elinor after marriage and their men. Then they must depend on far more than the euphoria which can't last to sustain them.
Austen's ending is balanced between romance on the one hand, and coolness, bite, and disillusion on the other.
Did Elaine Bander say she thought S&S was Austen's best book?
January 9, 1996
Re: Cold Women in S&S?
Elinor is deeply emotional; that she can control her emotions is why she is a heroine. I take just any passage (one I listened to today in my car, read aloud by Sarah Badel on an audiocassette):
"Elinor's heart was full. The past, the present, the future, Willoughby's visit, marianne's safety, and her mother's expected arrival, threw her altoghter into an agitation of spirits which kept off every indication of fatigue, and made her only fearful of betraying herself to her sister. Short was the time, however, in which that fear could affect her, for within half an hour after Willoughby's leaving the house, she was again called down stairs by the sound of another carriage.--Eager to save her mother from every unnecessary moment's horrible suspense, she ran immediately into the hall, and reached the outward door just in time to receive and support her as she entered it" (Penguin, Ch 45, p 283).
Or actually read Chapter 23; begin anywhere. I love the sentence wherein she decides that yes "she was stronger alone" best, when she grasps that through silence she can be firm, appear (not be) cheerful "as with regrets so poignant and fresh, it was possible" for her to be. That is, through it not being spoken, for this would break her.
The unemotional women in this book are Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton, and again and again does Austen point this out. They are her portraits of cold women. And what is the key to their lack of emotion. They are heartless. "Elinor's heart was full." Never would Austen use this phrase of Mrs John Dashwood or Lady Middleton. Its resonances are all wrong. As Austen uses the word heart, they want a heart altogether. Between them it's doubtful that they could get up one. One wonders how their blood is carried about their bodies--but then they do seem bloodless don't they? We are told that's why they like one another; they recognize a kindred unemotional--heartless--spirit.
I came across a portrait of a cold woman today by a poet Austen knew well--Alexander Pope. It is one that one cannot say Lady Middleton or Fanny Dashwood are modelled on for Fanny has the passion of greed, and Lady Middleton ocasionally seems to care whether her furniture and table and settings are known to be fashionable. But there is a great likeness or similarity in Pope's conception of coldness in his Chloe. The portrait is found in his Moral Essay II, and his interlocutor (Teresa Blount) is imagined as saying
"'Yet Cloe, sure was form'd without a spot'"
to which Pope replies:
Nature in her then err'd not, but forgot,
Then there's the scene where Elinor is deeply distressed by Mrs Jenning's teasings over a young man whose name begins with a letter F, and the atmosphere begins perceptively to thicken with a helpless humiliation (Elinor's) and Marianne's frustration in her inability to shut either Margaret or Mrs Jennings up and our narrator tells us Lady Middleton suddenly observes "it rained very hard" (ch 12). Or the one where everyone is embarrassed or angered because suddenly Brandon must flee and no-one get to go to Whitwell and the really dense Sir John publicly needles Brandon ("I do not want to pry into other men's concerns. I suppose it is something he must be ashamed of") and Mrs Jennings starts in on his natural daughter, we are told "Lady Middleton actually took the trouble of saying something herself about the weather" (Ch 13). She cannot bear for any indecency to be spoken -- not that Brandon is prey to the nastiness of the world and our narrator alive to it. Austen's nastiness is directed at the outrageous nastiness of the world which is accepted.