Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. II, Book IV, Chapter VI, A Man of the Ton
Warning! This is a very long post, for a very long chapter!
In Evelina passages of intense emotionality were interspersed with passages with some comic relief, keeping the overall tone of the book lighter. There have been fewer of these interludes in Cecilia, but in "A Man of the Ton" we have one. Earlier in the book we learned of the different types of people we would find in the fashionable world (or the Ton); we had the Volubles (Miss Larolles) and the Supercilious (Miss Leeson). In Chapter VI we were introduced to the Insensibilists (Mr. Meadows) and the Jargonists (Captain Aresby). Cecilia, in spite of the desperate state of her legacy from her parents, allowed herself to be diverted in spite of herself by the indolent efforts of Mr. Meadows to converse with her. In spite of the fact that the mere fact of being seen talking with the icon was enough to confer instant fashionability, Cecilia was inexplicably offended when Meadows began yawning hugely just after asking her a question. After a pause of some minutes, he again made the effort to speak, but Cecilia was again discouraged when instead of attending to her response, he began absently biting his fingernails. Mr. Gosport, always happy to act as a guide to the fashionable world, explained the nuances to Cecilia after discomfiting Mr. Meadows by teasing him for giving so much time and effort to this young lady. Mr. Gosport informed Cecilia of the differences between the Insensibilists, like Mr. Meadows, who at all costs must appear to be suffering from a permanent case of boredom. Remember Captain Aresby, who was so fond of mangling foreign languages in an effort to appear sophisticated? According to Mr. Gosport, he belonged to the category of Jargonists.
While Mr. Gosport was expounding on the different fashionable affectations, a long absent acquaintance appeared; the clumsy Mr. Morrice. He had kept a low profile ever since the night of the masquerade, when he had achieved so much destruction in his attempt to jump over the table at the instigation of Sir Robert (or was it Mr. Monckton?). He was quite embarrassed and would have slunk away, when he was seen by Mrs. Harrel, who good naturedly put him at his ease. Discomfort appeared again at the appearance of Mr. Harrel, who to his amazement had also forgiven and forgotten. Morrice's natural sprightliness returned.
When the party determined to adjourn to the tea-room, Cecilia spied young Delvile, who promptly joined the party. Cecilia, still filled with her intentions of overcoming her partiality for him, was ill at ease. Delvile, was not. I think that since he thought she was engaged to Sir Robert, he was safe to indulge himself with admiring her to his heart's content. He had no idea of Cecilia's freedom, or that his partiality might endanger her peace of mind.
"The openness of his attentions, and the frankness of his admiration, which hitherto had charmed her as marks of the sincerity of his character, now shocked her as proofs of the indifference of his heart, which feeling for her a mere common regard, that affected neither his spirits nor his peace, he manifested without scruple, since it was not accompanied with even a wish behond the present hour.
She now, too, recollected that such had always been his conduct, one single and singular moment excepted, when, as he gave to her his letter for Mr. Belfield, he seemed struck as she was herself by the extraordinary co- incidence of their ideas and proceedings; that emotion, however, she now regarded as casual and transitory, and seeing him so much happier than herself, she felt ashamed of her delusion, and angry at her easy captivation."
Cecilia's resolution deprived her of the power of enjoyment of the moment. Delvile was his best charming self, bemoaning the loss his home had suffered with the departure of its fair visitor, and asking her to introduce him to Mr. Harrel then his wife. The couple were elated by this mark of their acceptability to the aristocracy, and did their best to make him feel welcome to visit their home at any time. Mortimer then clarified the reason for his continued comfort in Cecilia's presence when he suavely guessed that the honor would not be extended to " '... a certain happy gentleman of this company;' glancing his eyes towards Sir Robert Floyer."
When Sir Robert appeared to be in search of her, Cecilia resolved to not anger him again by appearing to give preference to another, in this case, Mortimer. She tried to give him the slip by rushing through the crowd and downstairs before he could reach her. Mortimer, trying to understand the reason she disclaimed a relationship with Sir Robert, saw her intention of trying to avoid a meeting with same, and followed closely upon her heels. When she had made good her escape, he asked,
" ' Why, what a little thief you are ... to run away from us thus! what do you think Sir Robert will say? I saw him looking for you the very moment of your flight.'
' Then you saw at the same time,' said Cecilia, 'the reason of it. ' "
Mortimer's response annoyed Cecilia, and confirmed her in her opinion of his hard heart: " ' Will you give me leave,' cried he, laughing, ' to repeat this to my Lord Ernolf?' "
If confimation was required of the state of Cecilia's heart, the instinctive reaction to Mortimer's response gave it: " ' You may repeat it, Sir, if you please, ' said Cecilia, piqued that he had not rather thought of himself than of Lord Ernolf, ' to the whole Pantheon.' "
Mortimer's willingness to banter rather than to get down to the business of lovemaking lost some of its sting for Cecilia when she realized that he still thought she was engaged, and was being coy when she disavowed the relationship. If he only knew, she consoled herself ...
Morrice found a table in the tea-room for the party, and Delvile, when he saw Sir Robert had no intention of joining them (undoubtedly piqued because he saw Cecilia's flight to avoid him), took the seat next to Cecilia. Her translator for the Ton, Mr. Gosport, took the one on the other side. The other side of Cecila's table was entirely occupied by the indolent Mr. Meadows, who lolled along the entire bench. When Mrs. Mears asked Mr. Meadows to make room for people next to him, he pretended he did not hear. When the well meaning Mr. Morrice tried to make the tea while leaning over the human obstacle, he overturned the urn of boiling water. Cecilia was directly in its path. Mortimer instinctively protected her by leaning in front of her, taking most of scalding himself. She was " ... at once surprised, ashamed, and pleased at the manner in which she had been saved." He ignored his own pain and with concern inquired if she had been injured. Once he had been assured of her safety, he was compelled to go home to seek treatment for his own injuries.
Mr. Morrice, appalled at the destruction he had once again wrought, slunk away. Mr. Meadows feigned ignorance about the fact that he was the true cause of the fiasco. Tea was finished in relative tranquility, but instead of going home as Cecilia wished, the party was continued, the ladies strolling through the rest of the apartments.
It seems that Cecilia was to meet just about everyone she knew that evening. Who should she meet but Mr. Albany. Each member of the party was chagrined and sure he was going to target him or her personally for remonstrance. Of course Cecilia was the target; how unjust that she should be accused of self indulgence and heartlessness just when she had been the target of the Harrels'. Cecilia was abandoned by all the women during his harangue, and of course all the men hustled in to take their places. For the first time Cecilia was willing to allow Sir Robert to take her hand and assist her in escaping the eccentric old man. The carriage was called, and she finally made her escape, to be annoyed by exclamations from the thoughtless Mrs. Harrel all the way home.
Cecilia had considerable food for thought. The most significant piece was the fact that the actions of Mortimer gave every appearance of returning her partiality. Again she began considering the possibility of a marriage with Delvile junior.
July 27, 1998
Re: Burney: Cecilia:II:4:6: A Man of the Ton: Mr Meadows and Austen's Mr Ferrars
As Jill remarked, this is a long chapter and we have many people who affect "the ton," the affectations and hypocrisies of the fashionable world. It strikes me it is as worked-up a scene as the masquerade, and, at least for me, in some ways succeeded better because the scenes were sharply satiric of affectations and hypocrisies still around us today and were funny. I also noticed two passages Austen had in mind when she wrote two of her novels. The character of Cecilia again recalls that of Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Anne Elliot with the important difference that the point of view by which Cecilia judges or responds feelingly to what is in front of her and rejects it Austen leaves implicit Burney makes explicit. This is perhaps one of the reasons Austen is considered the superior artist and still read. There is no difference in vision; there is a significant one in the art that represents it; Burney is direct when Austen is indirect.
Take the opening dialogue between Cecilia and Mr Meadows. This I think Austen parodies in NA where Henry Tilney offers to talk to Catherine in the way "everyone usually talks," and make her laugh at his absurd affectation of superciliousness and boredom. Mr Meadows begins it with the very same words Tilney begins:
"'Have you been long in town, ma'am?'
'This is not your first winter?
'Of being in town, it is.'
'Then you have something new to see; O charming! how I envy you! -- Are you pleased with the Pantheon?'
'Very much; I have seen no building at all equal to it.
'You have not been abroad. Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There's no looking at a building here after seeing Italy.'
'Does all happiness, then, depend upon the sight of building?' said Cecilia..." (1988 Oxford Cecilia, edd. MADoody and PSabor, p. 274).
This recalls Elinor's conversations with Robert Ferrars wherein it is equally clear the man is gross, and Elinor's retort is one of my favorites in Austen: "Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition." One difference might be that what Robert Ferrars laughs at -- Edward Ferrars's joining the church -- makes the modern reader dislike him too; in some of Burney's scenes I fear that what Burney turns from with a saturnine loathing many a modern reader might find alluring.
Mr Meadows and Cecilia's conversation continues and I hear echoes of it in other Austen works. For example, when Cecilia says she likes "public places soberly" (in moderation), and he says he envies her for enjoying public places (he of course despises them), she replies: "'And have not you the same resources'?" I think of Emma and Mrs Elton. It is a question which lady really has the inner resources and rich occupation she fancies she has.
I agree with the editors that some of the animus fuelling this scene is Burney's resentment on her father's behalf of people who went to "hear music," and didn't bother even to pretend to listen. When Mr Meadows says, nothing is
".... 'so disgusting to me [as things 'that require attention,' like concerts]. All my amazement is that these people think it worth while to give Concerts at all; one is sick to death of music,'"
"'Nay ... if it gives no pleasure, at least it takes none away; for, far from being any pediment to conversation, I think every body talks more the performance than between the acts. And what is there better you could substitute in its place?'" (pp. 276-7).
Some of the dialogue and the scenes with Miss Larolles and Mr Morrice are hilarious. Miss Larolles cannot bear
"'Mrs Mears in her old red gown again! I begin to think she'll never have another. I wish she was to have an execution in her house, if it was only to get rid of it! I ws so fatigued with the sight of it you can't conceive'" (p. 286).
The malice is exquisite: it's directed at Mrs Mears as well as Miss Larolles. We should not forget Burney is enjoying personating Miss Larolles as much as Austen enjoyed personating Lady Susan. I also thought of Austen's narrator delicious hits at Maria Bertram upon her marriage to Rushworth, as for example when Austen says of Maria's inward preparations for her marriage:
"In all the important preparations of the mind she was complete: being prepared for matrimony by an hatred of home, restraint, and tranquillity; by the misery of disappointed affection, and contempt of the man she was to marry. The rest might wait. The preparations of new carriages and furniture might wait for London and spring, when her own taste could have fairer play" (Penguin MP, ed TTanner, Ch 21, p 216)
Underneath both passages lies a similar revulsion against the perversion of human nature which finds in an expensive wedding to a rich man or an expensive dress ways in which to secure the admiration of the crowd and fend off its scorn. Burney has the bigger joke. Miss Larolles just despises the self-victimizer all the more.
A curious kind of merry humor is directed at Mr Morrice, merry if you forget that his misery is the result of his sycophancy. He has been mortified to show himself since he overturned the table at the masquerade in his attempt to amuse the crowd. Now he is all "solicitude" and "anxiety" to please. One almost prefers the boor Sir Robert Floyer; one certainly prefers Miss Larolles. In Morrice's eagerness to please he this time overturns a pot of boiling water which almost spills on Cecilia who is attempting to make the tea; Delvile intervenes, and he gets all wet:
"Morrice . . . now flew round to the other side of the table, and calling out, 'let _me_ help you, Miss Beverley, I can make tea better than anybody,' he lent over that part of the form [bench] which Mr Meadows had occupied with one of his feet, in order to pour it out himself: but Mr Meadows, by an unfortuante removal of his foot, bringing him forwarder than he was prepared to go, the tea pot and its contents were overturned immediately opposite to Cecilia (p. 288).
She makes slapstick out of her own mortification at memories of her father's behavior -- and that of others too when in the midst of the Lady Catherine de Bourghs and their various worldly entourages.
I did find Albany more interesting and more moving because of the footnote. If it is that we have in him and Belfield a mirror of the ways in which the poor poet, Christopher Smart, who went mad, behaved in public, it is touching. It also makes sense: to go around pronouncing in this way is mad behavior. It doesn't seem so mad because the rest of the characters are so theatricalized.
This is a strong chapter in the older Johnsonian mode: it relies on the reader's ability to respond to psychologized types and characters and sharp ironies taken from life. There are, however, a couple of fast-moving dramatic pictures which are modern in their in-depth feel. For example, when Cecilia attempts to aspect Sir Robert and finds she has also escaped Delvile, who then comes after her:
"Cecilia saw that Sir Robert, who had hitherto been engaged with some gentlemen, seemed to be seeking her; and the remembrance of the quarrel which had followed her refusal of his assistance at the Opera-house, obliged her to determine, should he offer it again, to accept it; but the same brutality which forced this intention, contributed to render it repugnant to her, and she resolved if possible to avoid him, by hurrying down stairs before he reached her. She made, therefore, a sudden attempt to slip through the crowd, and as she was light and active, she easily succeeded, but though her hasty motion separated her from the rest of her party, Delvile, who was early looking at her ... saw into her design, but suffered her not to go alone; he contrived in a moment to folow and join her. The scene begins 'Why what a little thief you are!'" (p. 284).
The chapter is another good one.
Re: Burney: Cecilia:II:4:6: Miss Larolles and Persuasion
Austen was remembering Miss Larolles' movements in this chapter when Anne tries desperately to maneuver herself so that she is sitting on an outside chair and can therefore hope Wentworth will come over. Austen remarks Anne's efforts meet with about the same success. Here is the original passage:
"'Do you know,' continued Miss Larolles, 'Mr Meadows has not spoke one word to me all the evening! Though I am sure he saw me, for I sat at the outside on purpose to speak to a person or two, that I knew would be strolling about; for it one sits on the inside; there's no speaking to a creature, you know, so I never do it at the Opera, nor in the boxes at Ranelagh, nor any where. It's the shockingest thing you can conceive to be made to sit in the middle of those forms [backless benches]; one might as well be at home, for nobody can speak to one.'
'But you don't seem to have had much better success,' said Cecilia ..." (p. 286).
Austen's narrator echoes the last words very closely. The irony at one remove gives Austen's line an ironic resonance not in Burney; on the other hand, Cecilia's comment has a note of kindness and rue in it that is appealing too.
July 28 and 29th, 1998
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. II, Book IV, Chapter VII, A Reproof
The morning after the outing to the Pantheon, Cecilia intended to write to Mr. Monckton requesting his presence, but before she could complete it, she was informed that he was already present. Mr. Monckton had grave news to impart; the Harrels were so deeply in debt they owed more than Mr. Harrel had ever owned. He warned Cecilia not to be tempted to attempt a rescue which must be futile. She let him know that he was too late, and that she had signed another note with the usurer for 7000 pounds to prevent the imminent suicide of Mr. Harrel. Mr. Monckton demanded to know why she had not consulted with him before taking this step, and Cecilia said that there had been no time; she had given Mr. Harrel her oath to prevent his suicide. I have to agree with Mr. Monckton's response: " ' An oath so forced ... the most delicate conscience would have absolved you from performing. You have, indeed, been grossly imposed upon, and pardon me if I add unaccountably to blame. Was it not obvious that relief so circumstanced must be temporary? If his ruin had been any thing less than certain, what tradesmen would have been insolent? You have therefore deprived youself of the power of doing good to a worthier object, merely to grant a longer date to extravagance and villainy.' " Mr. Monckton could not have stuck upon a more effective remonstrance.
When Cecilia pleaded that she was only trying to save Mr. Harrel from suicide, Mr. Monckton insisted that Mr. Harrel had no intention of killing himself; it was a trick to extract more money from his charge. Mr. Monckton told Cecilia that he would inform her other guardians of the actions of Harrel, to see if there were any chance of undoing the damage. He also urged her to change her place of residence, to avoid any chance of Harrel's imposing upon Cecilia further. When Cecilia voiced her wish to move to the home of the Delviles, Mr. Monckton urged her to reconsider. She told him of the sort of home she would have with Mr. Briggs, but Monckton informed her that if she moved in with the Delviles, the common assumption would be that she was going after young Delvile. This was uncomfortably close to the truth. Since she refused to live with Mr. Briggs, and he had talked her out of living with the Delviles, she must remain with the Harrels.
An aside. Mr. Monckton was convinced that he loved Cecilia, and all he did was for her benefit. In truth, all he did was to preserve her unentangled state, leaving her free for himself when his wife would at long last kick off. Someone who truly loved, would not endanger his beloved's means of living, to keep her from a rival. While Monckton most definitely did not wish to see Cecilia's fortune depleted, he would prefer that to losing her to another. And maybe the loss of her fortune would render her less attractive to would be husbands. He was not so very averse to Cecilia's continued residence with the Harrels, because this would result in the continued general assumption of her engagement to Sir Robert, discouraging would be rivals, especially the very dangerous Mortimer Delvile.
Mr. Harrel, seeing the surprise of his acquaintances upon meeting him at the Pantheon, decided to further deaden suspicion by holding a grand entertainment in his home. " Levity so unfeeling, and a spirit of extravagance so irreclaimable, were hopeless prognostics; yet Cecilia would not desist from her design." She determined to speak with Mr. Arnott, urging him to join her in pleading with Mrs. Harrel to consider fleeing with her husband from London, to save expense. He did try, but Mrs. Harrel only promised to mention it to her husband when she had a chance. Of course, that chance never came. Cecilia then tried again, but Priscilla replied that she hated the country except in summer time, and she could see no use in making sacrifices "before- hand". As a last resort, Cecilia snatched an opportunity to speak with Mr. Harrel alone to propose her idea of living abroad. He listened, but claimed that things were not that bad, and he was enjoying " ' an uncommon run of luck' " and would shortly be able to pay everyone all he owed them. She pointed out (naively) the uncertainty of expecting money from that source, but of course Mr. Harrel brushed off her concern.
Cecilia was realizing that the light at the end of the tunnel was that of an oncoming train.
July 29, 1998
Burney: Cecilia,II:4:7: £7,000!!!!
Is not £7,000 an enormous amount of money to give away? In my reading of 18th century literature and 19th until about mid-century, it seems money was scarce upon the ground. As Darcy's income of £10,000 without his having been given any knighthood is somewhat improbable, so too it seems to me all this money Cissy has to "piss away" (you'll excuse the expression) is even more improbable.
While Monckton remains the most interesting character, Harrel begins to come close as he moves into frantic bankruptcy and is obviously hoping to retrieve his fortunes by gambling and sheer effrontery. Mrs Harrel too is a probable type. After all, if ruin is coming, why rush the punishment?
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. II, Bk.IV, Ch. VIII, A Mistake
Cecilia, comfortable in the assurance that Mortimer would cast off his mantle of friend (not lover) if he only knew she was not engaged to Sir Robert, eagerly looked for an opportunity to set him straight. Things seemed to work in her favor; young Delvile quickly took advantage of his introduction of the Harrels to call upon them pretty much every day. Although he was always quick to defer to Sir Robert's superior claim upon Cecilia's company, she enjoyed his undivided attention when her "fiance" was busy playing cards. The topic of conversation was often Mr. Belfield. The first job Delvile had considered for him had not panned out, but other possibilities were in the works. Belfield was not very disappointed; he still was having a hard time accepting the loss of all his grand dreams.
Cecilia distracted herself from her frustration at Devile's continued assumption of her entanglement, by paying another visit to the Belfields. Cecilia's suspicion was confirmed: " ... the noble friend of her brother ... had now pointed out to him a method of conduct by which his affairs might be decently retrieved, and himself creditably employed. Miss Belfield spoke of the plan with the highest satisfaction; yet she acknowledged that her mother was extremely discontented with it, and that her brother himself was rather led by shame than inclination to its adoption."
One evening Cecilia found herself alone in the drawing room, Mrs. Harrel having left to write a letter, when Sir Robert returned to it early, before the other men. Cecilia was obeying her first impulse to flee, when she realized that she finally had an opportunity to notify Sir Robert once and for all that she did not wish to marry him. As she paused, wavering, Sir Robert, mistaking her mood, pursued her. He took her hand and was raising it to his lips, murmuring, " ' You are a most charming creature!' " when who should pop in but Mortimer. He was unsure whether to withdraw, but as the rest of the men of the party shortly began trickling in, he did not have to decide. Cecilia spent the remainder of the evening in a state of mortification, and decided to call upon Mr. Delvile senior the next day and request him to call upon Sir Robert himself, to make an end of her farce of an engagement.
Ellen is so right about Burney throwing suitors at Cecilia at the least provocation. Who the heck is Marriot, and why is he entering the scene now? What is Belfield's first name? Another "M" do you suppose? Cecilia's story is becoming tedious for me. I keep wanting to signal Burney to speed it up, cut to the chase, anything to move this story along! I also keep expecting the loan sharks to start circling around her wanting their money or the interest on the loan - where have they disappeared to?
I wonder too if we'll get to meet the rich man Mr. Briggs has found for Cecilia - another "M" in the wings? Mark, Marshall, Mitchell, Mordicai, MacKenzie?
Sallie Knowles July 30, 1998
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. II, Book IV, Ch. IX, An Explanation
Filled with confidence, Cecilia went first thing the next morning to have a confidential chat with the Delviles. She was fortunate enough to find the father and son together, and took advantage of the opportunity to have the truth out before both of them. Cecilia explained that she never had any intention of a closer alliance with Sir Robert, and that Mr. Harrel, " ... urged by too much warmth of friendship ..." declined to communicate her refusal of Sir Robert's proposals. She asked Mr. Delvile about the most efficacious way of putting an end to the universal assumptions of her engagement.
" The extreme surprise of young Delvile at this speech was not more evident than pleasant to Cecilia, to whom it accounted for all that had perplext her in his conduct, while it animated every expectation she wished to encourage."
Mr. Delvile proceeded to wind up for a typically verbose response, but Cecilia, eager for resolution, nipped in with " ' ... will you think me too impertinent should I entreat the favour of you to speak with Sir Robert yourself, and explain to him the total inefficacy of his pursuit, since my determination against him is unalterable?' " Before he could answer her, a servant interrupted, requesting a consultation with his employer, and Mortimer and Cecilia found themselves alone.
Mortimer was speechless for some time after his father's departure, and when he spoke, he told of his shock at the news. He also gave his reasons for his assurance of her engagement; his hearing a positive statement to that effect by Mr. Harrel, and Cecilia's own emotion at the opera rehearsal. Intending " ... to leave nothing that related to so disagreeable a report in any doubt, she resolved to tell him ingenuously the circumstances that had occasioned her alarm: and therefore, though with some pain to her modesty, she confessed her fears that she had herself provoked the affront, though her only view had been to discountenance Sir Robert, without meaning to shew any distinction to Mr. Belfield."
Cecilia would have done well to listen very carefully to Mortimer's response; " ' you are then at liberty? -- Ah, madam! -- how many may rue so dangerous a discovery!' "
Mortimer then admitted that he had failed to see that which in Sir Robert had attracted her, and had even considered the possibility that she had entered into an engagement of which she had repented.
This conversation becoming painful to Cecilia, she began to wonder why Mr. Delvile was taking so long to return. Mortimer's response was interesting:
" ' It is not, indeed, will timed, ' said young Delvile, ' just now, -- at the moment when -- ' he stopt, and presently exclaiming, ' Oh, dangerous interval!' he arose from his seat in manifest disorder.
Cecilia arose, too, and hastily ringing the bell said, ' Mr. Delvile I am sure is detained, and therefore I will order my chair, and call another time.'
' Do I frighten you away?' said he, assuming an appearance more placid.
' No,' answered she, ' but I would not hasten Mr. Delvile.'
A servant then came, and said the chair was ready.
She would immediately have followed him, but young Delvile again speaking,she stopt a moment to hear him. ' I fear,' he said with much hesitation, ' I have strangely exposed myself -- that you cannot -- but the extreme astonishment -- ' he stopt again, in the utmost confusion, and then adding, ' you will permit me to attend you to the chair, ' he handed her down stairs, and in quitting her, bowed without saying a word more.' "
If there were no obstacles to the marriage of Mortimer and Cecilia, he would without a doubt have spoken of his own love at that point. Too bad Cecilia did not seem to realize this. It was sufficient for her to guess the state of Mortimer's affections. She thought the reason he did not immediately propose to her was that he was " ... shewing a diffidence of success which assured her that her own secret was still sacred, and that no weakness or inadvertency on her part had robbed her of the power of mingling dignity with the frankness with which she meant to receive his addresses."
Her confidence was premature. Young Delvile did not come to pay his addresses. While she waited impatiently, she received a note from Lord Ernolf requesting that he be allowed to visit her. Cecilia, wishing to wrap up any loose threads, invited him to call upon her any time that day. He was there within the hour, and explained that he had come before, but had been informed by Mr. Harrel that she was positively engaged to Sir Robert Floyer. He had been informed by Mr. Delvile the true state of affairs, and he had come to ask for the honor of his son calling upon her, while he would call upon Mr. Briggs. Cecilia politely but firmly informed him she was not interested.
Sir Robert was continuing his attentions unabated, so Cecilia resorted to writing to him herself. It worked. He did not call in Portman Square the next day, and appeared "sullen and out of humor" when he did visit the next.
Mortimer continued to make his absence felt, and Cecilia wondered, " ... why, then, so assiduous in his visits when he thought her engaged, and so slack in all attendance when he knew she was at liberty?"
Burney: Cecilia,II:4:9 The Mystery
I wonder if Delvile is engaged to someone else?
Jill is right about the central scene of the piece:
"' It is not, indeed, will timed, ' said young Delvile, ' just now, -- at the moment when -- ' he stopt, and presently exclaiming, ' Oh, dangerous interval!' he arose ... he handed her down stairs, and in quitting her, bowed without saying a word more.' "
The information that accompanies this is Delvile visits Cecilia frequently when he thinks she is pre-engaged, but leaves off when he realizes she is not. Perhaps he has been fooling himself: he likes her and enjoys her company. The time she spent with his mother was idyllic to all three (Delvile, mother, and Cissy). This looks forward to Edward Ferrars who fooled himself into thinking he was doing no harm following the irresistible bent of his affections for Elinor during their time together at Norland Park before the Dashwoods left for Devonshire. When Edward hears they will be near Exeter, he gets excited, and Mrs Dashwood thinks he is thinking of how far they will be from him; on rereading the book, we see he is thinking of how close they will be to Lucy Steele. Edward could not have known that the Steeles were cousins-many-times- removed of one Mrs Jennings who is mother to Sir John Middleton's wife.
We don't know much about Delvile. If Monckton is not idealized -- here is a suitor married to an old woman for her money, someone Austen would not have presented pleasantly at all -- perhaps neither will Delvile be idealized.
August 2, 1998
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. II, Bk. IV, Ch. X, A Murmuring
To distract herself from her romantic woes, Cecilia again decided to visit the Belfields. The invalid had gone out on a ride in a coach that morning, and had enjoyed the exercise so much that his doctor recommended that he do it every day. Obviously spoken by someone unaware that coaches did not grow on trees. The expenses from obtaining all that he would need for a time abroad, left little for coach rides. Cecilia again offered pecuniary assistance (come and get it while you can!) and Henrietta promised to ask her mother. Cecilia came again the next day to see if Mrs. Belfield would accept the money. When she arrived, Mrs. Belifield herself came out to meet her. The delicacy and sensitivity of her children were not present in this woman, and she had done well to keep out of sight. She began with a whining recitation of her woes. It was apparent that Belfield was the apple of her eye, and Cecilia noticed with annoyance how little value she put on the excellencies of her daughter. Mrs. Belfield complained that none of his wealthy friends were giving him effortless livings, and she felt that he deserved a life of ease merely because he was so very gentlemanlike in appearance and manners. I found her disgusting, but a lot like some mothers I know.
" ' But I may thank myself, for if I had but been content to see him brought up in the shop -- yet all the world would have cried shame upon it, for when he was quite a child in arms, the people used all to say he was born to be a gentleman, and would live to make many a fine lady's heart ache.' "
" ' Who could have thought of his living so among the great folks, and then coming to want! I'm sure I thought they'd have provided for him like a son of their own, for he used to go about to all the public places just as they did themselves.' "
Cecilia was quite kind and patient with this petulant woman, but even Cecilia's patience would come to an end. This fond mother's plans for her son would soon enough be revealed. The first hint came when she confided, " ' ... I'm surprised, ma'am, you can wish him to make such a journey to nobody knows where,, with nothing but a young master that he must as good as teach his A.B.C. all the way they go! ' "
Cecilia, finding that all attempts at consoling this woman were futile, decided to leave. She first turned to Miss Belfield to find if her offer of money was to be accepted, and upon an affirmative answer, gave her ten pounds. Mrs. Belfield pursued her, thanking her for her "genteelness", and assuring her that she would let her son know the amount, which of course was the last thing Cecilia wished. She returned to urge Mrs. Belfield to do no such thing. Cecilia understood, although she deplored, Belfield's reluctance to expose his friends to his relatives.
For two weeks Mortimer had not called at the Harrels', and Cecilia was uncomfortably aware that before the fact she was not engaged was known, he had visited every day. Mrs. Delvile sent a note expressing sadness that Cecilia had so long absented herself from her home, and asking her to come and dine with her the next day. Cecilia had not called because she did not wish to appear to be pursuing her son, but she felt a refusal might raise more questions than it might avoid. It was with trepidation she faced meeting Mortimer again, but her flutters might have been avoided if she had known that he would not be present. Mrs. Delvile was alone, and their dinner would be joined by only Mr. Delvile. Cecilia was puzzled: " Hitherto, when she had visited in St. Jame's-square by appointment, the air whith which he had received her, constantly announced that he had impatiently waited her arrival; he had given up other engagements to stay with her, he had openly expressed his hopes that she would never be long absent, and seemed to take a pleasure in her society to which every other was inferior. And now, how striking the difference! he forbore all visits at the house where she resided, he even flew from his own when he knew she was approaching it!"
After dinner, Mr. Delvile requested a conference with our heroine. He asked if her engagement with Sir Robert was really not to be thought of, and then asked if it were really possible that she had refused to consider a union with the son of an earl. He was amazed. " ' This is a very extraordinary circumstance! ... the son of an earl to be rejected by a young woman of no family, and yet no reason assigned for it! ' " His lectures continued at great length, until Mrs. Delvile took pity and " redoubled her civilities and caresses, and used every method in her power to oblige and enliven her." Cecilia began to " ... suspect that some engagement was in agitation on his own part, and that while she thought him so sedulous only to avoid her, he was simply occupied in seeking another. This painful suggestion, which every thing seemed to confirm, again overset all her schemes, and destroyed all her visionary happiness."
But how to reconcile this with the obvious emotion he was fighting at their last meeting?
Cecilia hoped to unravel the mystery at the entertainment Mr. Harrel had planned for two days later. Mortimer had already accepted his invitation. If he did not show up, Cecilia would know all was at an end. If he came, she might be able to find what was bothering him.
Re: Cecilia, II:4:10, A Murmuring: Mrs Delvile, Mrs Belfield, and Cecilia
Mrs Delvile's behavior is strange. In this week's chapters and this last one of last week, she speaks sarcastically and cuttingly to Cecilia. She is clearly angry Cecilia has stayed away. Yet Mrs D never invites Cecilia to St James's Square, never confides in her anything about Devile. Were we to assume she is afraid of her husband? We are given no clue that she is. If she were Cecilia's friend, would not she tell her that her son is engaged?
The problem with Mrs Belfield reminds me of the problem with similar characters in Radcliffe. She is a dull bore, complaining, whining, unaware of the stupidity of her actions and her selfishness. Such a person in real life might irritate, but Burney does not succeed in making us laugh (as Austen might) or in making us grimace sardonically. We are not distanced. We are only irritated and bored. There is also the problem of Cecilia's snobbery. Cecilia seems too fussy; no one who is less than perfect in their values is acceptable. One facet of their acceptability is their willingness to keep their place, to humble themselves before Cecilia. Burney simply does not keep the distance between herself and her characters and Cecilia necessary for her to judge contemplatively or see the scene simply as distanced satire on general types. It is that; it is also a piece of Burney snobbery and maybe priggishness too. I wish Cecilia had another failing besides generosity with her purse.
August 3, 1998
Subject: Burney Cecilia, II:4:10, Cecilia and Emma
It is precisely the fact that Cecilia, while quite ready to be appalled at the presumption of Henrietta's love for Mortimer, is so blind to the fact that, to the Delviles, her love for Mortimer would be equally presumptuous, that hits me so hard. Cecilia is a snob in a way that none of Burney's heroines are, that I can recall.
Here is another parallel with Emma. Emma is appalled at the presumptuousness of Harriet. That Harriet should even dream Mr Knightley could be attracted to Harriet "proves" to Emma how misguided she has been in teaching Harriet to think well of herself. Emma never seems to notice that she is Miss Woodhouse to Harriet and Harriet is Harriet to her. Emma is similarly appalled at the idea of Jane Fairfax at Donwell. But how would Emma take it if a Lady Catherine de Bourgh looked down upon her as merely a gentleman's daughter, not a daughter of a baronet or higher? Emma loathes the snobbishness of Mrs Elton, but does not see her own. True Emma hides hers under courtesy and good manners, but then so many people then seem not to know their place. Thank Heavens for the Coles (I can almost hear Emma saying -- how nice it is the Coles are so alive to the great favor Emma does in visiting them).
Five years later I wrote a version of the following to two lists (EighteenthCentury and WomenWritersAndRomance @Yahoo) I now own:
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002
Subject: [Womenwriters] Persuasive Biography Certainly Possible
My contribution to our biographer's tales this week is a recommendation: if you've not read it, try Amanda Foreman's enormously readable, Geogiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Foreman is a clever woman and like Stella Tillyard (Aristocrats) has had access to an enormous cache of private papers in the archives of several wealthy powerful English families. Like Tillyard, out of these and thoroughly reading in closely related secondary sources, Foreman concocts a persuasive and sympathetic portrait of Lady Georgiana Spenser Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Foreman is sophisticated: she is aware of and quotes all the objections (including an early allusion to Holmes's Footsteps), but shows that by taking into account through astute intuitive reading and looking at probabilities with a candid eye, you can write a biography even of a woman who after the first few years of her life did not expose her real feelings about her husband and her husband's mistress (and possibly her lover too), and many of whose papers were destroyed by her relatives. Foreman has a gift for precisely the right suggestive word, for compactness and concision, and I can see why her book sold as it's written as a quickly moving narrative of political and social events punctuated or larded with lots of quotations manifesting the inner lives of Georgiana and her intimates. Foreman is not bothered by the problem of what is a subjective statement and her own subjectivity; she pronounces all over the place; she will choose a version of the truth that seems to her accurate (and I have to say most of the time she seems to be right) and sticks to it.
Partly to "test" her out I decided to read The Sylph, an epistolary novel published in 1779 and attributed to the Duchess. It was excoriated at the time. What a shame. Here we have a novel which exposes how people at the top of society could and did treat one another as objects to be traded. It has no more flaws than Evelina or no more absurdities. I am a bit startled at the portrait of the heroine's husband: he is clearly a portrait of the Duke as mean, dense, indifferent, amoral, tyrannical. It also shows how women of the period really believed in some of these repressive mores like utter obedience to husbands; they were afraid to behave otherwise I suppose. The book was translated by Isabelle de Montolieu but I haven't been able to find a copy on the Net; probably to read this text I'd have to go to France to a great research library.
Anyway I recommend both these books as testimony to what one can do with the remnants of lives as these appear in papers if one only has the perception, nerve, and gift for writing.
As I wrote on 18thCentury@Yahoo, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is also of interest as a bellwether of attitudes. It's conservative in outlook and its fundamental paradigm and some of its assumptions hark back to Nancy Mitford's kinds of books (e.g., Madame de Pompadour). Some of her remarks are refreshing. Like Amanda Vickery's in her The Gentlewoman , Foreman argues that the private is public and women's work behind the stage is central to what occurs on the stage -- those who have read Nancy Mitford's books (or for that matter Madame de Lafayette's) will see the alignment. She does not want to separate women off from men in a sisterhood because they didn't live that way -- though she doesn't sufficiently take into account really the reason for such books was men ignored women in history (as Austen pointed out). Other things are disturbing: she's very comfortable dismissing the poor as "rabble" and the French revolution seems a horrible eruption of violence which needed to be put down; she's also as fond of the word "robust" as other critics used to be of the word "inscribe." The word robust is a synonym in this book for effrontery and cool ruthlessness.
Still it -- and another one I'm trying to read at the same time but am really too tired at night to get on properly with it (Chantal Thomas's Les Adieux à la Reine, a fictional historical memoir) -- may be said to refute some of the contentions ironically and seriously brought forth in A. S. Byatt's The Biographer's Tale.
Cheers to all,
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2002
Subject: [EighteenthCentury] The Sylph, 1779
This is to recommend an epistolary novel,The Sylph. It has been attributed to the Duchess of Devonshire. It's a remarkable book and swift easy reading: it's written in a lucid seemingly modern style. Among its many kinds of content are portraits of the "ton," the world to which the actual Duchess belonged and of which she was said to be a leader. Those on our list who remember back to Austen-l will recall that the "ton" much exercised Fanny Burney in her Cecilia. Well here you see a much franker, rawer picture of the world Cecilia only glimpses. The gambling, large debts, exploitation of tradesman and one another are all here. Left out of Cecilia but frankly put into The Sylph is the trading in women, the dirty tricks and abductions played on them, the indifference of powerful wealthy aristocrats to the emotional lives of the less powerful members of the family who then learned to go and do likewise.
I remember reading that Evelina was at one point packaged together with The Sylph. That is, you could buy the two printed as a pair in a set of two volumes. The publisher was attempting to "pass off" The Sylph as Burney's. This upset Burney's father very much as The Sylph can also be said to have some devices and at least in surface content have allegiances to libertine literature of the period. But in fact the publisher makes visible a real truth: the two books are connected and the world Burney was shyly (inhibitedly) pointing to, without really critiquing how women were abused by it, lies open to view in the Duchess's book.
I suggest anyone interested in Burney ought to read this one. Here is the life of aristocrats among whom she lived which she took for granted but did not herself dare dramatize in her novels -- nor even tell the whole of by any means in her diary-journals.
Amanda Foreman's biography of the Duchess probably led to the reappearance of this novel. She introduces it with a sudden concise compact retelling of the Duchess's life which brings out all the implications she wanted the reader to pick up as she showed the Duchess acting at length. Some questions have been raised about the attribution, but if the book is not by the Duchess it still mirrors the world she actually belonged to and Cecilia mirrors more chastely.
Cheers to all,