Volume 2, Book 3, Chapters 6 - 9

A Man Of Genius; Cecilia Makes a Friend at Last; An Expedient; Calling the Surgeon In; A Remonstrance; A Victory; A Letter and an Aphorism

Date: Tue, 14 Jul 1998
To: Jane Austen List
From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
 Subject: Cecilia, Volume II, Book III, Chapter VI, A Man Of Genius

It is so very difficult to practice self control and not give away details of the plot that would spoil the present suspense! And self control has never been one of my strong suits!

In the previous chapter, when Miss Belfield spoke of a friend having found out Mr. Belfield, I just knew it had to be Mortimer. And of course, who should Cecilia run into as she entered Belfield's apartment, but the same young Mr. Delvile. Characteristically, he slipped away after making a provocative remark about Cecilia's goodness in visiting the sick. Cecilia was so dismayed by her apparent confirmation of Delvile's suspicions, that she was momentarily distracted from the reason for her visit. The sight of the girl in tears returned her to "...the benevolence of her heart...". The tears were not from sorrow, but happiness from the knowledge that two were interested in her brother's plight. Delvile had persuaded Belfield to be "obliged to him". The natural affinity Cecilia felt for this interesting girl soon elicited her story, with the proviso that her brother must never know she had been so frank.

Belfield, as the only son in a family of six daughters, was as spoiled as one might expect. His natural abilities encouraged his father to hope that " ' My boy will be the ornament of the city, he will be the best scholar in any shop in London.' " The problem was that young Belfield's exposure in school to the moneyed elite, destroyed any taste he might have had for earning his living in his father's shop. When Belfield expressed a wish for a university education, old Mr. Belfield " ... hoped a little more learning would give him a little more sense, and that when he became a finished student, he would not only know the true value of business, but understand how to get money, and make a bargain, better than any man whatsoever within Temple-Bar." Only a man without a university education would think one would imbue his son with these attributes! " ... the son again returned, and returned, as his father had hoped, a finished student; but, far from being more tractable, or better disposed for application to trade, his aversion to it now was more stubborn, and his opposition more hardy than ever." This poor swan had been unsuited by his education for the occupation his father intended him for, and was so spoiled by his parents' indulgence of his expensive pastimes, that he could only take "... a private lodging at the West end of the town, to which he thence forward directed all his friends, and where, under various pretenses, he contrived to spend the greatest part of his time." His silly mother, proud of the company her son was keeping, became his "...never failing confident and assistant ..."

Editorial comment: Belfield's behavior was not so unusual. Rebellion against authority is a characteristic of the age, no matter what authority is being exercised. Those who know, no long suffering parents of a teenage son (or daughter!) who will brook no authority, have lived a sheltered life indeed. Parents who disagree on the handling of said rebel, to the detriment of his/her well being, are also far from rare. I personally have been blessed to possess a spouse that unconditionally backed me in all the tumults of my own young Belfield.

Belfield eventually tired of his purposeless existence, and joined the army. The results of that experiment were already expanded upon in Chapter II of Volume I. Belfield's father died, and his son eventually ruined the business that had been the making of the family, through his negligence and inattention. He hoped to enjoy the fruits of this business, but without a strong guiding hand, it withered and died. The agent Belfield had left in charge of the business left the country with what little money that was left, and the business was bankrupted. Belfield had to find a means of supporting himself.

One can suspect the feelings Frances had for her time at court, in this passage about the luckless Belfield:

" ... [Belfield] now saw the conclusion of his difficulties in the prospect of a place at court. [he], with half the penetration with which he was gifted, would have seen in any other man the delusive idleness of expectations no better founded; but though better discernment teaches us the folly of others, experience singly can teach us our own! he flattered himself that his friends had been more wisely selected that the friends of those who in similar circumstances had beguiled, and he suspected not the fraud of his vanity ..."

What a sad coincidence that it was the uncle of Sir Robert Floyer that Belfield relied upon for his place at court. Sir Robert had a candidate of his own, but the uncle promised Belfield the place, only asking that he " ... have patience until he could find some way of appeasing his nephew. ... Already declared opponents of each other, Sir Robert felt double wrath that for him [Belfield] Cecilia should reject his civilities; while Belfield, suspecting he presumed upon his known dependence on his uncle to affront him, felt also double indignation at the haughtiness of his conduct." The day after the duel, the uncle sent word that he felt that, under the circumstances, he must withdraw his partisanship and offer the place at court to Sir Robert's candidate. So Sir Robert had cost Belfield both his health and his place at court.

Depression was now the curse of Belfield, in addition to the unhealing wound. His one principle had remained refusal to contract debt, so he withdrew to the lodgings in which Cecilia had found him. He hoped to heal unassisted and again try the army. His despondence and the unhealthiness of his situation only worsened his health, and his servant became alarmed, notifying Belfield's mother of his true situation.

She immediately rushed to her son's side, but he, while ill, was scarcely more cooperative. Mr. Albany had accidentally happened upon Belfield while in search of another sick person. Delvile, meeting Belfield's servant in the street, surprised from him his master's true situation, and visited him, offering him his services. Belfield was still ashamed of the condition in which he found himself, and coldly rebuffed him. Delvile was hurt and did not further attempt to see him, but continued to inquire about him at the door. Belfield slowly relented, and finally agreed to see Delvile on the very day that Albany brought Cecilia.

Just her luck!

Belfield's indulgent mother had denied all but the basic necessities of life to her youngest daughter to offer more money to her heedless and thankless son. Henrietta would have been content with her lot, but his refusal to submit to control of any kind, and his humiliation at being reduced to the lodgings he had engaged made things very uncomfortable for them all. Does not seem to me that he (nor his mother) spent much time worrying about his long suffering sister. The mother discharged the servants and shut up her home, so she and her daughter could better attend the prodigal son. The mother was so distressed by the pass her beloved favorite had fallen to, that she had nearly lost her senses, and made the life of poor Henrietta even more miserable. At least she had finally seen the error of her ways, but the consciousness that she was a big factor in his downfall, increased her unhappiness. Belfield also had come to a realization that he was the cause of his own shipwreck. One hopes that this awareness would help himself to exert himself to his mother's, and his sister's benefit.

Cecilia, much moved by this sad tale, determined on a course of her own to help Henrietta. One that would not necessitate the expenditure of money.

Jill Spriggs


July 14, 1998

Re: Burney: Cecilia: Cissy Makes a Friend at Last

I'd like to amend the statement I made last night. I read on and discovered that Cecilia does make a friend. Mrs Delvile. She manages to move in with the Delviles during the time the Harrels are gone to Violet Bank. While Mrs Delvile is a good deal older than Cecilia, our modern demand that friends be close in age could not be a requirement in Austen's where people lived far apart, died young, stayed close to their families, and remained within their class. I think of Austen's friendship with Mrs Lefroy and Anne's with Lady Russell (Lady Russell is a friend as well as mother to Anne). There is also an actual dialogue between Mrs Devile and Cecilia.

On the other hand, there is a mystery here. Why do the Delviles not invite Cecilia to stay on? I think the dialogue between Cecilia and Mrs Delvile is meant to arouse our suspicion and create suspense.

Another turn in the plot is signalled by Mr Harrel's real eagerness to have Cecilia back again. I surmize he had made some sort of deal with Floyer and it was agreed if someone he maneuvred her into an engagement and actually succeeded in pressuring her to marry Floyer, perhaps Floyer would have forgiven him some debt. We have in this scene some of the matter about engagements we have discussed earlier. Cecilia has to be careful not to compromise herself by living under the same roof with Floyer. Mrs Harrel's indifference to Cecilia's return could signal something too. What makes Mr Harrel half-hysterical drives Mrs Harrel into turning her face to the wall and refusing to deal with the problem. What's the problem? Bankruptcy. One wonders what will happen to Mrs H if she loses Mr H. Now he wants to get his hands on her money.

As usual the ambiguity of Monckton's behavior -- both decent and utterly ruthless or self-serving is interesting.

And what an arrogant ass is Delvile -- until Cissy moves in for a while. That last chapter where she stayed with the Delviles had a pleasant feel. One felt sorry she had to leave this congenial place.

Ellen Moody

From: Ellen Moody
Subject: Cecilia, II:III:6: A Man Of Genius
Cc: oldbuks@aol.com
July 16, 1998

To Austen-l

This is written in response to Jill's posting on the history of Belfield. I too was struck by the relevance of Belfield's behavior. Although the particulars were a group of 18th century cicumstances, the behavior of the young man was recognizably simply human. Perhaps some of the mistakes Belfield makes seem more likely to happen to a young man in high school than college, but a lot of it struck me as going in in a different variation today. I caught the reference to court life and peculiar bitterness of it. Court life has ever allured the deluded. On the whole the story rang true despite the melodramatic touches. I thought it the best sustained emotiona sequence thus far.

Ellen Moody

Date: Wed, 15 Jul 1998
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Volume II, Book III, Chapter VII, An Expedient

The problem for Cecilia; how to procure medical care for Belfield without exciting the suspicions of those who could learn of it. The only possibility she could see would be to keep both the surgeon and Belfield ignorant of the benefactor. It was now that Cecilia found out the reason she had excited such suspicions in Delvile when exiting the doorway she had found shelter in, when fleeing the mob. The doorway was not that of the residence of Belfield, as I had surmised, but that of his surgeon. Delvile knew it from the inquiries he himself had made. Now, how to set him straight?

In the meantime, she send an anonymous letter to Mr. Rupil the surgeon, requesting that he attend Belfield, giving his approximate address, and asking that he pretend the meeting was accidental, offering him "ample recompense" for so doing. She designated Mrs. Hill for her messenger; she knew this woman would not betray her trust. She waited in the shop her generosity had made possible, while Mrs. Hill completed the errand. Mr. Rupil was already in the company of another would be benefactor; with amusement he insisted on attending Mr. Belfield gratis, for the " ... pleasure of serving a gentleman who is so much beloved."

A fly rapidly flew into the ointment with the appearance of Delvile (who had apparently followed Mrs. Hill) in the shop. The prospect of further confirmation of her partiality for Belfield appalled her, and she was surprised when Delvile did not tease her, but only bowed and left. At least she was pleased that his inclinations for benevolence so closely resembled her own.

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney: Cecilia, II:3:7: Calling the Surgeon In

Reading Jill's post on Cecilia's good Samaritan activity on behalf of Mr Belfield I am struck by how easy Burney makes it for Cecilia by giving her a fortune. Evelina was an heiress too, even if a bit manqué. I have only read the first chapter of Camilla a long time ago, and the first couple of The Wanderer. I am wondering if Burney moved away from heiresses; it would not be so easy to present life as ultimately acceptable with a good Providence in charge, if Cecilia were as poor as the Dashwoods or Fanny Price.

Ellen Moody

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Volume II , Book III, Chapter VIII, A Remonstrance

Upon her return to the Harrels', Cecilia's prolonged absence was inquired into at such length by Mrs. Harrel, that Sir Robert, in a proprietary manner, let her know that unexplained absences would not long be tolerated without his wishing to inquire into their cause. When Cecilia coldly rebuffed him, Mr. Harrel let it slip that Sir Robert was also expected to be of the party when they adjourned to Violet Bank, assuring Sir Robert that they would keep closer watch on her there. Priscilla scolded Sir Robert for being so sure of Cecilia, that he felt her safe from the allurements of other men. His response was a jolt for our heroine; " ' Afraid of what, madam? ... afraid of a young lady's walking out without me? Do you think I wish to be any restraint upon Miss Beverly's time in a morning, while I have the happiness of waiting upon her every afternoon? ' " It was apparent that Mr. Harrel had never told Sir Robert of Cecilia's refusal.

Cecilia resolved to speedily set Sir Robert right herself, since it was obvious that Mr. Harrel had no intention of doing so. It was at this point that Mr. Harrel truly shone in his ability to juggle. First he would not allow any discourse to proceed between Sir Robert and Cecilia that did not include himself. After Sir Robert gave up in disgust and left, Cecilia determined to confront Mr. Harrel about his laxity in carrying out her commission. Since he feared a renewal of requests for her money, he disappeared with as much alacrity as he insinuated himself into her conversations with Sir Robert. The guy was slippery as an eel. His slipping days were numbered, however.

Again Cecilia turned to Mr. Monckton for counsel. He counseled even more against her removal to Violet Bank, than her own inclinations would indicate. He pointed out that the general assumption about her engagement to Sir Robert would be confirmed by their residing in the same house, and recommended that she flatly refuse to go. He hoped to have unimpeded access to his prey during the holiday, apparently failing to realize that she could hardly reside in the house alone, without chaperones.

The next day Cecilia notified the Harrels of her intention to remain in the city when they left two days later. At first Mr. Harrel treated her desire as a joke, but when he realized her seriousness, used every argument at his disposal to dissuade her. With reluctance he allowed her to speak with him alone. When she remonstrated with him for failing to communicate her aversion to a match with Sir Robert, he responded with, " ' ... when young ladies will not know their own minds, it is necessary some friend should tell it them ... ' " Cecilia realized that any arguments with this man were futile, so any disentanglement from her supposed engagement must come from her own efforts.

The next morning at breakfast Mr. Harrel reminded her of their imminent departure. When Cecilia again spoke of her intention to stay, he, as one of her guardians, flatly forbade her. He added that he intended to have some alterations made in his home during his absence, and they would particularly affect Cecilia's room.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and Cecilia resolved to ask Mrs. Delvile if she could spent the holiday with her. If Sir Robert still proved to be determined upon his return, she would ask Mr. Monckton to notify Sir Robert of her aversion to the married state, at least with him.

Jill Spriggs

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Volume II, Book III, Chapter IX, A Victory
July 16, 1998

Asking someone if you can come stay with them for two weeks is still difficult, even after more than two hundred years. Cecilia was delighted when Mrs. Delvile made it easy for her; even more so when she found that Mr. Delvile was going to be gone to visit a friend (the guy has friends?). Mrs. Delvile was delighted with the prospect of such agreeable company to help her pass the days, and immediately ordered an apartment to be made ready for her.

One can imagine the triumph (well disguised) with which Cecilia made her announcement to the Harrels, as well as the consternation it caused Mr. Harrel. He could not well dispute her right to reside with any of her guardians she chose. Sir Robert felt spurned (about time, too). Cecilia's friend Priscilla was past caring what her friend did. By that time she regarded Cecilia as a spy and killjoy, and only wished her gone. In vain did Mr. Harrel importune her; " ... she coolly answered that her engagement with Mrs. Delvile was decided, and she had appointed to wait upon her the next morning." Cecilia only regretted the impossibility of her sharing her good news with Mr. Monckton. Methinks he would not greet the news with Cecilia's enthusiasm. That young Delvile was pretty good looking ...

What a change in situation! " [Cecilia] was no longer shocked by extravagance or levity, no longer tormented with addresses which disgusted her, nor mortified by the ingratitude of the friend she had endeavoured to serve." Unfortunately, Cecilia found no opportunity to correct Mortimer's mistaken impressions. He no longer brought up the subject. Cecilia, reluctant to bring it up herself, decided to wait until he again became curious.

Cecilia wished to discover the state of Belfield's recovery, but dared not risk another surprise meeting with her friend. She decided to write to Miss Belfield, to try to find if there was anything she could do. Henrietta promptly replied, but the news was not good. Belfield was depressed, and his depression retarded his recovery. Cecilia was worried, and " ... determined that her very first visit from Portman Square should be to its fair and innocent writer."

The following two weeks glided by on gossamer wings, and it was with sadness she found a letter from Priscilla requesting her return. It was perhaps made more intense by the knowledge that her former friend did not really wish her return, but was writing at the instigation of her husband. Cecilia desired nothing more than " ... being settled in his family [Mr. Delvile] for the rest of her minority." Her hopes of being invited were disappointed; was Mrs. Delvile wishing to discourage the developing intimacy between her son and Cecilia?

Mortimer accompanied Cecilia to her coach as she left and made a rather surprising communication: " ' I wish to apologize to Miss Beverly before her departure, for the very gross mistake of which I have been guilty. I know not if it is possible she can pardon me, and I hardly know myself by what perversity and blindness I persisted so long in my error.' " Before she had a chance to become too pleased, he continued, " ' ... though your anxiety was obvious, its cause was obscure, and where any thing is left to conjecture, opinion interferes, and the judgment is easily warped. My own partiality, however, for Mr. Belfield, will I hope plead my excuse, as from that, and not from any prejudice against the Baronet, my mistake arose: on the contrary, so highly I respect your taste and your discernment, that you approbation, when known, can scarcely fail of securing mine.' "

So then Delvile thought Sir Robert was the happy man!

Hastily Cecilia disavowed this preference, and the coach drove her away as Mortimer stared, unbelieving.

Weary of so frequently being misunderstood, Cecilia resolved to urge Mr. Monckton to see Sir Robert as soon as possible.

Her first meeting with Priscilla was ill designed to atone for the loss of her friend Mrs. Delvile. To the former coldness, awkwardness was now added. Mr. Harrel was more ingratiating than ever, but when Cecilia saw that no renovations had been made, her disgust with him grew to even greater proportions. The only person she found acceptable for conversation was Mr. Arnott. Sir Robert, however, began treating her with greater respect. Unattainable objects are always the most desirable.

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney: CeciliaIII:2:9: A Letter and an Aphorism

I'd like to add just two observations to Jill's piece on this chapter.

First Henrietta Belfield's letter. It was more naturalistic than those we have had previously. Henrietta apologizes for it ("I am sadly ashamed to send this bad writing"), but I am glad it is not full of the rhetorical tricks of the previous ones. There is a very good book on early epistolary fiction by Robert Adams Day, Told in Letters, in which he argues most letters in novels until Richardson were "icing on the cake." They were there to show the writer's virtuoso techniques as a writer off; they were melodramatic, super-sensibility triumphs. The letter during the masquerade are of this type.

But after Richardson letters became instruments through which one reveals the heart. To do this the language used must be simple. It is so in Henrietta's letter. She can write of her brother: "I often wonder why he hates so to be obliged, for when he was rich himself he was always doing something to oblige other people" (p. 240).

I also want to say how Burney's generation loved an aphorism, a saying, a little nugget of knowledge. Burney writes: "Few are the days of felicity unmixed which we acknowledge while we experience, though many are those we deplore, when by sorrow taught their value, and by misfortune, their loss." We are put off by all this parallelism and antithesis, but I suppose Burney's generation treasured such a saying all the more for its graceful turns (as they would see it).

Ellen Moody

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