July 13, 1999
Re: S&S, Chs 10-12: Queen Mab
Again and again in novels of the 18th and 19th century a woman who is a strong horsewoman is presented as a strongly sexual presence. The two go together. Mary Crawford's love and ease at horseback riding are to be compared to Fanny's fear, discomfort, unease. Hunting and horseback riding were seen as -- and indeed are -- highly physical and demanding activities and, like dancing and other interactions far from the courtesies of a drawing-room, allowed space, room, time, freedom from chaperones for couples to become close. Recently I came across an interesting use of the connection in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Aurora Floyd where the anti-heroine uses a horsewhip first on a horse and then on a man. More gentle and subtle connections may be found in a number of George Meredith and Anthony Trollope's novels.
We are really talking about the realm of innuendo. There are a number of innuendoes suggested about Willoughby and Marianne: the exchange of locks of hair, the long evenings they spend together, the walks. I remember reading in various essays and on Austen-l long disquisitions too on the erotic overtones of the name of the horse: Queen Mab. This takes us back to Romeo and Juliet, and endows the whole relationship with an air of dream and fantasy too.
Re: Margaret Dashwood
To gauge how Margaret originally functioned in the epistolary novel Elinor and Marianne that was revised into the novel told in the 3rd person often from Elinor's point of view but often just from the tone of the omniscient narrator (which can "melt" or blend into Elinor's), one thing one could do would be to gather all the remarks and paragraphs given Margaret in the present novel and see if there's some pattern. Let me try to do this just for the Chapters we have read and what I remember of the chapters we've yet to come to.
In chapters 1-11, she is not given anything to say directly, but is rather presented as a younger version of Marianne as well as a companion to Marianne. We are told:
"Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humoured well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life" (Penguin 6).
At the Middletons what is said of her is that she echoes Marianne's absurd idea Brandon is aged:
[Brandon's] appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty (Penguin 30).
This chapter ends with the comment that after he paid so much real attention to Marianne's playing the piano:
"she was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel's advanced state of life which humanity required" (Penguin 31).
We could perhaps remember our author at the time of the this novel's publication was 36.
Margaret's third appearance is part of the important encounter of Willoughby and Marianne. Here she is clearly Marianne's companion. They walk gaily together, agree on the exhilaration of the walk; they laugh with delight until the wind grows very high, then they are both "chagrined and surprised" and "obliged, though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their own house;" this circumstance justifies a wild run down the hill; alas Marianne who starts ahead beats Margaret down because she slips and falls down the hill. Margaret runs home to get help; we are told in the following chapter she calls Willoughby "Marianne's preserver... with more elegance than precision" (Penguin 41). In other words Margaret's word is slightly affected.
Later in the novel she makes slyly astute remarks as in dialogues where after the others wish romantically, she wishes they would all inherit a lot of money or have a lot of money.
I have a couple of speculations.
First 13 is not so far in age from Marianne as the modern reader may think and as the movie reinforced--the movie made Marianne into a definite child of 12. Thirteen is quickly fourteen, and Lydia is not far off from fifteen when P&P opens. Marianne is sixteen and one-half. Margaret is not that far from Marianne in understanding either; they reinforce one another. I suggest in the original novel she functioned as a correspondent to whom letters were written from London. One of the delights of the epistolary form is to read the same event told in utterly different ways because told through the eyes of two different people.
So I speculate that from London Elinor wrote the mother the truth; one reason this novel "seems close to Austen" as Ursula among others have said is that Austen simply took some of Elinor's letters and turned them into something slightly more impersonal to make an omniscient narrator. Elinor wrote the mother from somewhere urging the mother to ask Marianne if she and Willoughby are engaged or not. The mother replied. Now Marianne rapturizes and postures for the younger sister who does not see through it. If the younger sister is too young to hear of the real sexual material, Marianne wouldn't tell it; she might speak in an affected and overmelodramatic way when she first comes to town, much like she does in these early chapters; that is, before she has the deepening traumatic experience. So Austen originally was able to give us the pleasure of comparing different versions. Margaret was Marianne's confidant at first; Margaret in other words was only somewhat younger than Marianne, not a child. Austen never makes a child a central character in her books. When the epistolary form was cut there was no need for this affected posturing confidant who was more naive than her sister, but was capable of the sharp remark.
Another use I'll speculate for Margaret was as a plot complicator. Epistolary narratives can often have several plots running at once; it can take in a lot of complication because the correspondents talk, talk, talk. Think of LaClos's Les Liaisons Dangereuseswhich carries several parallel plots. Not having reached the age of discretion, but knowing more than she ought or is capable of understanding, she says more than she ought. She spills the beans, and creates plot complications.
Let's also recall that Austen says P&P was much longer when it was _First Impressions_; she "chopped and lopped" and some of the chapters in P&P are oddly short and others suddenly longer; at the end the chapters have these odd lines or sudden stops in the middle of a chapter. Something was lopped or chopped. Maybe Elinor and Marianne was also longer and more complicated; epistolary forms can give histories at length, cover generations; S&S represents a stream-lined version into omniscient narration. You had to have someone telling the story of the Dashwoods at the opening; some outsider who is telling someone else. Thus the play-like form of P&P comes from its nearness in original format to plays; the narration of S&S and lack of of reliance on dramatic narrative an episolary form which was trying to be realistic. Brandon's story was also told in a letter perhaps by him. And Willoughby's story was a letter by him. There's also his wife's letter. And then there are Marianne's letters to Willoughby; they were the real "sauce" of the original novel.
Thus, to return just to the issue of Margaret in the original epistolary novel, Margaret was a kind of plot device, another postbox and voice, and when the form was changed the device was no longer needed, yet there she was; she filled out the family group; was there to keep Mrs Dashwood company when the girls went to London; and in some of the scenes already written she had some good lines; in Chapter IX, she provides a companion, and we get a lovely line from Marianne to her:
"'Is there a felicity in the world... superior to this?--Margaret, we will walk her at least two hours'" (Penguin 37).
The whole scene at the opening of Chapter IX, the encounter itself are all well done. Why give it up? The book was her child as Elvira commented. She was proud of her work, and changed what needed to be changed as epistolary narration was no longer the rage it had been in the 1790's, and perhaps as what she originally wrote was more melodramatic and gothic and deeply romantic than what we've got--imagine the Brandon story told at length, Marianne's letters, Elinor's. Perhaps this is a much subdued version of a first intense attempt.