Volume 1, Book 1, Chapters 7 - 11

A Project: Best Laid Plans and Plots; The Significance of Money; Epistolary/Dramatic Analogies; An Opera Rehearsal: Artaserse, 1779; The Plight Of The Working

To Austen-l

Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002

Reply-To: Jane Austen List

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, I:I:VII, A Project: Best Laid Plans and Plots

The more time Cecilia spent in the Harrel establishment, the less congenial it became. With unease she saw the insidious influence of the spendthrift Sir Robert Floyer, and her friend Priscilla's disregard of their headlong pursuit of perdition. Mr. Arnott was always there, moping about.

" What chiefly damped her hopes of forming a friendship with any of the new acquaintance to whom she was introduced, was the observation she herself made how ill the coldness of their hearts accorded with the warmth of their professions; upon every first meeting, the civilities which were shewn her, flattered her into believing she had excited a partiality that a very little time would ripen into affection; the next meeting commonly confirmed the expectation; but the third, and every future one, regularly destroyed it. She found that time added nothing to their fondness, nor intimacy to their sincerity."

She had mistaken the childish friendship of Mrs. Harrel to be something more durable, and Cecilia found herself in a veritable Vanity Fair of superficiality and materialism. Her longing for escape would unfortunately render her vulnerable to an unwise attachment.

Cecilia was struck with a radical idea'

"She purposed, for the basis of her plan, to become mistress of her own time, and with this view, to drop all idle and uninteresting acquaintance, who while they contribute neither to use nor pleasure, make so large a part of the community, that they may properly be called the underminers of existence: she could then shew some taste and discernment in her choice of friends, and she resolved to select such only as by their piety could elevate her mind, by their knowledge improve her understanding, or by their accomplishments and manners delight her affections. [sounds promising, if only it were as easy as it sounds!] This regulation, if strictly adhered to, would relieve her from the fatigues of receiving many visitors [that part is true], and therefore she might have all the leisure she could desire for the pursuit of her favourite studies, music, and reading."

Another aside; in Frances Burney's novels I notice that girls are rarely pushed forward to show off their mastery of the pianoforte, or the lute, or the harp, or whatever. Was it only years later this became common practice? Or was Frances' childhood so rich with the performances of professional musicians that no ordinary amateur, like perhaps Fanny, would presume to entertain such luminaries as frequented her father's home, with her girlish efforts?

Cecilia's strong sense of public responsibility must have been from early indoctrination by her uncle the Dean. How many young girls in her position would feel a " ... strong sense of DUTY, a fervent desire to ACT RIGHT [as the] ruling characteristics of her mind ..." I am sure Sir Robert had no such aspirations, and would be appalled when he learned of the bent of his intended's mind.

Cecilia realized that it would be most difficult to put her resolutions into effect in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harrel. She decided to call upon her two other guardians and decide which home would be more congenial for spending the remainder of her minority. Before she could put her intentions into action, she was temporarily diverted by the presence of a visitor, welcome, for a change.

Mr. Monckton could no longer remain away from the object of his passion, and had to see what changes had already been wrought in his beloved. He rapidly saw that Cecilia had already conquered the heart of Mr. Arnott, but was relieved to see that not only was it not reciprocated, but Cecilia " ... had so little watched Mr. Arnott as to be unconscious she had inspired any [love]. " Mr. Monckton had no opportunity for a personal chat with Cecilia, but hoped for the best later in the day, when he had been invited for dinner. Cecilia also was eager to communicate with him about her pet project, but opportunity was not to come. She was the center of attention of both Mr. Arnott and Sir Robert Floyer, who Mr. Monckton saw also was a competitor for Cecilia's hand. He saw no danger from that quarter; Cecilia's disgust at Sir Robert's scrutiny was obvious. Maybe the next day, at the rehearsal of a new opera, he would have more opportunity.

Jill Spriggs

This is written in response to Jill's "A Project."

Perhaps Cecilia's plans for filling her hours with a program of study is a satire in the way at the close of S&S Marianne's plans for her program of study were. Both derive from Johnson making fun of people's pride, of how the "best laid plans" never get anywhere, about our false ideas of our own virture. Of course the difference is Cecilia is surrounded by such awful people, we can understand.

The 3 guardian plot is artificial. It is very hard to string incidents in a plot along. The picaresque novel relies on putting the character into journey mode. The epistolary inner novel relies on intense psychological conflict and meditation. It's as if Burney is nervous and wants to make sure she has something to do next. It reminds me of a teacher with a lesson plan to give her courage. Events should emerge from characters and as the result of the characters' natures. Perhaps we will see Burney begin to do this together with this 3 guardian set up; also perhaps in Camilla she was able to drop this pre-conceives tripartite symmetry.

Ellen Moody

June 14, 1998

Re: Burney: Cecilia, Chs 7-11: The Significance of Money

As I read this week's chapters I tried to think of what I thought was the theme running through them that was most significant. I came up with money. Cecilia is feted, chased, and treated with real defence because she is an heiress. Our subtitle is Memoirs of an Heiress. And she will inherit a great deal of money, 10,000 pounds with a yearly income of 3,000. We are given to understand she is beautiful, but none of these men would be after her is she had not this income--except pehaps Monckton who is a desperate figure, genuinely enamoured and has already sold himself for enough years to get his hands on his wife's income to support him in a future marriage.

The sum tells us something further: it is a fairy tale amount. In S&S Austen gives Miss Grey and Miss Morton fabulous sums; it is also highly unusual for a commoner to have the income of a Darcy. In reality, the probability would have been he would have bought himself or been "honored" by a title.

Money is central to the developing story of the Harrels and Sir Robert Floyer. It is clear Mr Harrel is very like the characters in Vanity Fair who exist without adequate income by (paradoxically) getting so deeply into debt based on the tradesmen's own precarious state (Mr Hill was himself desperate for a job) which will lead them to wait on in hopes of being paid. Mr Harrel is head over heels in debt. Mrs Harrel's life depends upon her money. Her parties are honeyed by money. We have already heard of how Miss Larolles loves going to auctions where bankrupt people have to sell all. Sir Robert Floyer, gambler, is leading Mr Harrel to overspend--shades of Mr Elliot and Mr Smith's relationship. We might think of what Mrs Smith once was, and Austen hints she was not guiltless.

The story of the Hills caught the readers at the time. According to a note in my edition, the frontispiece of a book showed Cecilia giving money to the frantic Mrs Hill. These are characters out of Dickens.

I was fascinated by the opera rehearsal (and shall try to write a separate posting on this tomorrow evening), but the only reason Cecilia gets to go is she has money and therefore connections.

A related more abstract observation: it strikes me that underlying Burney's insistence on money as a central mover of what we see, is her attempt not to be hypocritical. She is not altogether successful because she idealizes her heroine. But apart from Cecilia, and perhaps Mr Arnott--who is very attractive in his gentleness and also helpless to change his brother-in-law one iota--not a character is seen through any emotionalism. Perhaps this is a problem. It's all too hard. What succeeds in Johnson's journalism as a "character" in a clearly satirical or allegorical sketch of satire does not carry into the novel that well. We want real characters. But they are slowly emerging from the chrysalis of Burney's antithesis and sardonic appraisal of motives. I thought a number of the scenes more effective because we are getting to see a definite story develop.

Ellen Moody

Re: Cecilia, Chs 7-11: Epistolary/Dramatic Analogies

This novel shows the same tracking of time we find in Austen's books. As a new chapter opens, we are told the next morning, the next day; within chapters we are told a visit occurs a specific number of days after some other events; hours are counted; events are rooted in morning (before dinner), evening, and after supper. There are a number of explicit references which the notes tie down to a specific year. One suggests that the almanac being used in 1779. That's interesting because it suggests that upon the success of Evelina (1778), immediately Burney began this huge book. Critics and biographers talk of how she hoped for her play to be staged, and how both her father and Crisp encouraged her to write one because they saw little cash registers in one another's eyes as they viewed what could have been made from Evelina with a proper negotiation beforehand. But if she did begin a play, perhaps she also began a novel?

Why track time? To create verisimilitude. To be able to create intensity through slipping in a number of intense incidents which expand time to the psychological experience of them (which has nothing to do with the calendar). To fix the scenes in the diurnal reality of the reader. To give pace and rhythm. One of the problems with earlier fiction is it does none of this. It jumps ludicrously across years, piles in incidents, doesn't give the sense of felt life careful arrangement of felt time does.

And of course it derives from Richardson.

Ellen Moody

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, V. I, B. I, Ch. 8, An Opera Rehearsal

The nature of Cecilia's pursuers was quite different from those of Evelina. Cecilia was never left unprotected and vulnerable as was Evelina, so her harassers seem to be of more the avaricious type, rather than the horny. Every man in her circle, with the exception of Mr. Arnott, were lusting after her money; Sir Robert, Mr. Morrice, Mr. Monckton, Mr. Gosport, even her so called guardian, Mr. Harrel had his own designs on the money. I do wish that Frances had departed from her habit of creating devastatingly beautiful heroines. I feel Cecilia would have been even more effective if she were plain. Unfortunately, we would have to wait for Jane Eyre for that.

Mr. Monckton again was thwarted in his desire for a tete a tete with Cecilia. Would he have been as transparent if we had not been informed by the author? I think so; and wonder at the fact that apparently Mr. Monckton's passion has gone unrecognized thus far.

Jill Spriggs

To Austen-l

June 15, 1998

Re: Burney: Cecilia, I:8: An Opera Rehearsal: Artaserse, 1779

To Jill's postings on the assembly and breakfast, I'd like to add one on the opera rehearsal. I was fascinated. This probably comes from my husband's love of opera and my having for a very long time now gone with him to all sorts of operas, listened to them on radio and through recordings, and watched them on TV. I have, however, never seen one rehearsed. I wondered if wealthy people with connections still get to see such a thing. I assume the patrons of the opera do. Why not their "friends?" Last night my husband and I went to a very great performance of Hamlet done by the Royal Shakespeare Company here in Kennedy Center in DC; when I called almost immediately after it was advertised I found I could only get tickets starting from Row M back. It seems somehow the seats from A-N were not available to the general public as yet.

It is the mention of which opera is rehearsed that enables Doody to say the almanac Burney used is that for the year 1779. It's Artaserse. A footnote tells us the composer was one Bertoni and the librettist Metastasio. Having read a few 17th century French heroic romances in my time (Clelia, Cassandra) I know what the plot must be like; actually late 19th century French operas are often heroic romances set to music (e.g., Thais). Doody says the action of Cecilia "runs through 1779" and "she is faithful to the current events of that year."

Much of this chapter could have occurred in Evelina. As with Evelina Burney concentrates on the audience, not any particular play or musical event. We have that same (?) gloomy man-hater, Mr Gosport's satiric observations. Maybe readers would have enjoyed Cecilia being chase by young men as Evelina was, but here the issues brought up are not young man snatching at one but things like sycophancy (which seems to much exercise Burney thus far in this book). There is also a much longer attempt to characterize what makes good music and to put into words the experience of the music (Oxford 1988 Cecilia, Ch 8, pp. 64-5).

Unhappily we get nothing like this is Austen. I rather think she supposed it a digression. Remember how we are told Catherine was deeply involved in watching a play in Bath until she saw Tilney in the audience; then she couldn't keep her mind on it. It doesn't matter what the play was. But she was also making a virtue of necessity. The fact is she didn't experience this kind of thing. She didn't have the acess Burney had to the upper class world and its luxuries and art forms.

Ellen Moody

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Volume I, Book I, Chapters 9, 10, and 11; The Plight Of The Working

I am going to post on the chapters out of order because I find the plight of Mrs. Hill was dealt with in these chapters in an unusually sensitive manner, especially when one has read (I must confess, only part of) The Wanderer, in which the protagonist was driven to desperation by the slowness of the wealthy to pay for services and goods supplied by the working class. Burney seemed to have been more aware of the plight of the poor than most, and the vividness of her descriptions makes me wonder how her knowledge was gained. It was through Cecilia's eyes we become more and more aware of the callousness of the wealthy, especially for those too poor to have recourse to the law. First we had Miss Larolle's ghoulish fascination with the auctioning of the possessions of persons more advanced on the road to perdition, then Mrs. Harrel's disregard for the pleas of the starving woman, not a beggar, but a supplicant for wages owed. Mr. Harrel's reaction when Mrs. Hill told him of the loss of her only son, "So much the better, there's one the less of you ..." reminds me of Scrooge's reaction to a request for funds for the poor, in essence, let them die and decrease the surplus population. How are these examples of heartlessness different from a more contemporary proposal for orphanages for the children of people on welfare?

But I am revealing my own prejudices ...

Jill Spriggs

From: Nancy Mayer
Subject: Cecilia: Mrs. Hill's money The Plight Of The Working
X-To: Jane Austen List

Some of the callousness to people like Mrs. Hill comes from the belief of many that they were placed in positions of power and money due to some virtue on their part and that the poor were punished by God for some shortcoming.

Another source is the opinions that were presented later by Adam Smith "They do not need more money for if they have it they will only breed like rabbits." ( Whether Smith was alive or not at the time in which Cecilia is set is immaterial as the ideas were there.)

Third is the upperclass idea of honour. It was a matter of honour to pay one's gambling debts immediately but no one paid the tailor. Tradesmen were expected to be so thankful for having the lordly one;s patronage that they would wait for payment. When the rich did not pay their bills the poor went bankrupt starved or were thrown into prison.

Last is the fact that people like Mrs. Hill had no champion. There was no one to force Harrell to pay her the money owed. Small minded mean bullies have a way of finding the ones they can cheat and intimidate.

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