Volume 3, Book 6, Chapters 1-6

Priscilla (again); A Debate; More than One Debate; A Railing; A Gothic Place and Lonely Woman; A Rattle; A Mystery; What Mood Is This Book In? (A Mystery)

To Austen-l

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. V, Ch. XI, Priscilla

From an earlier thread:

I did not mean to suggest that Priscilla was not physically fearful of her husband. And Cecilia did accept later that Priscilla believed her husband when he told her Cecilia was playing a coquette's game. I found Mrs. Harrel's excesses hard to swallow, especially when she was guilt tripping Cecilia for all she was worth. That comment especially, " ' ... rich, -- rolling in wealth which you do not want, -- of which had we but one year's income only, all this misery would be over, and we might stay in our dear, dear country!' " I find this diatribe outrageous, and hardly fair when Cecilia had already almost drained her personal fortune dry to give her husband a few more runs at the gaming table. I don't like Priscilla; she bears an uncomfortable resemblance to some twenty something women I know. Her sense of entitlement to the money of someone she did not even like anymore I find inexplicable. And remember that when her husband did succeed in obtaining for that 3,000 pounds which was to make " all their misery be over", he was only pounding a final nail in his own coffin.

As the book progresses, we will find more of what Monckton is capable of. I agree with Ellen that physical violence could not be ruled out.

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney: Cecilia: Priscilla very irritating

To Jill and Burney friends,

Yes I agree Priscilla is irritating, and if she is afraid -- which is what I was basically arguing for -- she also uses that fear as a weapon with which to manipulate Cecilia. Shortly before Harrel blows his brains out, he says she never felt anything for him. Now we are given no sense he ever felt anything for her, but somehow in the closing scenes he seems capable of understanding he ought to have done better and how mean and stupid his life has been. On the other hand, it reminds me of one of those comments from Gone With the Wind by Rhett Butler that have stayed with me over the years. He says to Scarlet, she's not unhappy that she committed the crime, but she's terribly terribly sorry she's going to jail. That's Harrel. In his last moments he's swilling champagne for all he's worth, and his papers show what the man was. It's in the comparison with Priscilla he comes off well. He goes down with all flags flying; she goes down whining and trying to pull Cecilia into the waters with her to get a few more moments of what we would call the unexamined existence.

I'd like to bring Austen in here. Often on this list we get into arguments or debates because some people seem to dislike the female Austen chooses as her heroine, and like the female Austen makes anti-heroine. Candid people can disagree because no heroine is perfect, and no anti-heroine is without her merits. (I'll except Isabella Thorpe from that, though even she can be sympathised with when one remembers Captain Tilney and her sisters.) Burney creates in Priscilla someone very few of us could easily endure. Is there anyone who would defend her? It's hard, for even on the basis that she was not educated to support herself, she need not have spent like a queen what she never earned.

Ellen Moody

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. I, A Debate
August 16, 1998

Since Mrs. Delvile was not expected until later that day, Cecilia decided to visit her friend Henrietta Belfield. Cecilia wanted to see her before she left town with the Delviles, and " ... whatever her doubts about Mortimer, of her [Henrietta] she had none". As Cecilia passed the windows in the front of Henrietta's home, she glimpsed her friend holding a letter and kissing it. Cecilia uneasily suspected the letter was from Mortimer, a suspicion which seemed to be confirmed by Henrietta's hastily hiding it in her pocket upon the entrance of her friend.

Henrietta seemed to be under the mistaken impression that Cecilia was homeless, due to the events of two evenings previous. Cecilia hastened to reassure her, and the two busily exchanged mutual pledges of regard. Cecilia was strongly tempted to try to abstract the secret of Henrietta's love, but was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Belfield. Of course the good dame could let no opportunity lapse of trying to further the match of her son to the heiress, but before Cecilia could slip out, in came the two creditors of the evening of Harrel's suicide. She was taking Henrietta's hand in farewell, when she was arrested by Mr. Hobson's relating his visit to Portman-square. Both Hobson and Simkens had to moan a little about their lost money. Cecilia asked if anything would be left for Mrs. Harrel, but since she (Priscilla) evidently had treated them with scorn, she did not receive much of their sympathy. " ' ... what have we creditors to have with a man's family? Suppose I am a cabinet maker? When I send in my chairs, do I ask who is to sit upon them? No; it's all one to me whether it's the gentleman's progeny or his friends, I must be paid for the chairs the same, use them who may. That's the law, ma'am, and no man need be ashamed to abide by it.' " Realizing that she would not be able to mollify their indignation, she ordered her chair.

Mrs. Belfield was dismayed that Cecilia was preparing to escape without getting an earful from her, and urged her to stay, or return, "to drink a dish of tea". Cecilia told her that she was leaving town the next day. Henrietta followed her to her chair, but no confidences were to exchanged by the friends that day. Cecilia was also pursued by Mrs. Belfield loudly deploring the absence of her son, and by Simkens and Hobson, each trying to get his own voice heard.

As Cecilia reached St. James-square, she mulled over the significance of the letter she had seen Henrietta caressing " 'And if such,' cried she, ' is the depravity of this accomplished hypocrite, if such is the littleness of soul that a manner so noble disguises, shall he next, urged, perhaps, rather by prudence than preference, make me the object of his pursuit, and the food of his vain-glory? And shall I, warned and instructed as I am, be as easy a prey, and as wretched a dupe? No, I will be better satisfied with his conduct, before I venture to trust him, and since I am richer than Henrietta and less likely to be deserted, when won, I will be more on my guard to know why I am addressed, and vindicate the rights of innocence, if I find she has been thus deluded, by forgetting his talents in his treachery, and renouncing him for ever!"

Cecilia's moments of righteous indignation flame out all too soon. A few words, a passionate glance from Mortimer, and she forgets all her virtuous intentions.

That morning's events had considerably dampened her ardor to reside in the home of Mortimer. At least she saw none of him that day.

After dinner, Mr. Delvile told Cecilia that two suitors had called during the day, each claiming to have the endorsement of her late guardian. Cecilia told Mr. Delvile that both the unfortunate men had been ill treated by Mr. Harrel, and that she had never given either the slightest encouragement. She requested that Mr. Delvile make her disinclination for a match with either of them, clear.

Mr. Delvile then asked if she had chosen another person to take the place of Mr. Harrel as her guardian. Cecilia responded that she planned not to, unless absolutely necessary. Mrs. Delvile made an uncomfortable observation; " ' I believe your affairs will not much miss him! Since I have heard of the excess of his extravagance, I have extremely rejoiced in the uncommon prudence and sagacity of his fair ward, who, in such dangerous hands, with less penetration and sound sense, might have been defrauded of half her fortune.' "

Cecilia reconsidered the confession she had planned to make. She was afraid sympathy would not be found there.

Jill Spriggs

August 17, 1998

Re: Burney: Cecilia:III:VI:1, More than One Debate

Reading over Jill's posting I realised we have several debates in this chapter.

First, there is the funny Dickensian one of three clowns whom Burney uses to send up the middling sort of people who have probably not changed all that much. Another element in the Dickensian speeches Austen and Burney pour out is the transparency of the speaker's motives. The speaker professes to care about one thing more than any other (Mr Parker the health of all the world and the salubrity of his spa; Mrs Belfield her anxiety for her son's happiness and that of the young Miss; Hobson and Simkins fairness). What they care about is money and position. The joke is the concern such people have with details. The world is filled with people who really care about which TV they own, what kind of couch. Yet who can gainsay their form of wisdom:

" ' ... what have we creditors to have with a man's family? Suppose I am a cabinet maker? When I send in my chairs, do I ask who is to sit upon them? No; it's all one to me whether it's the gentleman's progeny or his friends, I must be paid for the chairs the same, use them who may. That's the law, ma'am, and no man need be ashamed to abide by it' " (Oxford Cecilia, edd. MADoody and PSabor, p. 448)

The second debate is a silent one over Cecilia. Who shall get the control of her person and money? What Cecilia seems to forget is she has given away a large portion of her money. We are told she did this before she was twenty-one so it won't stand up in court, but I wonder if this is wholly true. Cecilia seems not to understand that all the fawning before her is the result of everyone feeling confident she is a fantastically rich heiress. But we know she has signed an IOU to Monckton for nearly the amount of her inheritance from one of her sources.

At the conclusion of the chapter, we are told she couldn't get herself to tell the Delviles about how she had been fleeced of over 9000 because she was morally wrong to do it (p. 451); I think we the readers are supposed to know that were she to tell the mother and father would cease being so polite and Hobson, Simkins, and Mrs Belfield would turn away from her.

This is a lesson I think Cecilia will learn the hard way.

A final debate is that within Cecilia over whether to try to find out what is in the letter Henrietta hides. Burney uses letters in the way Austen does: they forward the plot, reveal characters, are ironic. But since the text is not an imitation of the psychology of the writer in natural easy English which had become the mode since Clarissa but harks back to the kind of extravagant rhetoric one finds in letter-fictions of the latter 17th and early 18th century, Burney's use of letters does not come off with the intense interest Austen's -- or other letter-writers of the later 18th century do. It's curious that in this Burney is such a throw-back. Why does she not write letters to reveal the workings of a man through natural English? She read the novels of her period. There was Rousseau, Madame Riccoboni, so many in English too. She wrote and read letters herself. Curious. Any suggestions anyone?

Ellen Moody

Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. II, A Railing
To: AUSTEN-L@VM1.MCGILL.CA

Mortimer was up and gone by the time Cecilia arose the next day, a fact which she did not regret.

As Cecilia and the Delviles were preparing to depart, who should arrive, but the other remaining guardian, and he was angry. As Ellen had already noted, the remaining guardians would each like to enjoy a portion of Cecilia's allowance, even though Mr. Delvile would never admit it. Mr. Briggs had relished the idea of the share of Cecilia's allowance that would be his if she lived with him, and he was furious that the bird was preparing to fly the coop. Cecilia had not notified him that she had decided against residing with him, and he had laid in sumptuous (for him) provisions, which all were spoiled from the warm weather. The Delviles were watching the unexpected guest with astonishment, contempt (Mr. Delvile) and humor (Mrs. Delvile). Cecilia tried to tell him that they were at that moment preparing to leave, but Mr. Briggs was determined to put up a fight for his guest. " ' ... come for you myself; take you to my own house. Got every thing ready, been to the broker's, bought a nice blanket, hardly a brack in it. Pick up a table soon; one in my eye.' " When Cecilia tried to correct his mistaken impression, he insulted the second to the last of the Delviles: " ' Won't consent, won't consent! what will you go there for? hear of nothing but dead dukes; as well visit an old tomb.' "

Mr. Briggs teased and tormented Mr. Delvile for some minutes, but at last they escaped, pursued by noisy lamentations; " He followed them to the coach, with bitter revilings that every body was to make more of his ward than himself, and with the most virulent complaints of his losses from the blanket, the breast of mutton, the crabs and the lobster!"

The atmosphere in the coach enroute to the castle was less than cordial.

Jill Spriggs To Austen-l

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. III, An Antique Mansion
August 19, 1998

Far in the misty past I seem to remember, in Great Expectations, a clerk young Pip had befriended named Wemick (was that it?) who had altered his home so it resembled a miniature castle, complete with moat, drawbridge, and cannon. Wemick was so very proud of his little domain, and his pride reminds me of the pride Mr. Delvile so obviously felt in his.

"Even the imperious Mr. Delvile was more supportable here than in London: secure in his own castle, he looked around him with a pride of power and of possession which softened while it swelled him. [Remember Wemick's totally different demeanor at work?] His superiority was undisputed, his will was without controul. He was not, as in the great capital of the kingdom, surrounded by competitors; no rivalry disturbed his peace, no equality mortified his greatness; all he saw were either vassals of his power, or guests bending to his pleasure; he abated, therefore, considerably, the stern gloom of his haughtiness, and soothed his proud mind by the courtesy of condescension."

Remember how disappointed Cecilia was when her intention of haughtily refusing a proposed alliance between her and Mortimer, was foiled when it became obvious that Mr. Delvile had no such intention? Once again she was cheated of the opportunity to show her disapprobation of the young Delvile, by his consistently absenting himself from her presence, and, when with her, " ... his conversation was always general, and his attention not more engaged by Cecilia than by his mother." Damn! Balked again!

Mortimer, " ... far from manifesting any design of conquest, shunned all occasions of gallantry, and sedulously avoided even common conversation with her." At first Cecilia was surprised, then her pride rescued her, and she returned cold shoulder for cold shoulder. For all her anger, however, " ... she found some consolation in seeing that those mercenary views of which she had once been led to accuse him, were farthest from his thoughts."

In an effort to push her stillborn romance from her mind, Cecilia busied herself with " ... walking and reading, she commissioned Mr. Monckton to send her a Piano Forte of Merlin's, she was fond of fine work, and she found in the conversation of Mrs. Delvile a never-failing resource against langour and sadness." The Delviles had alienated all the neighboring gentry, so nonfamilial society was not to be had. Mrs. Delvile, whose unhappiness was endemic, dating from her early marriage to a man she knew not, and after she knew him, could not esteem. "Ardent in her disposition, and naturally violent in her passions, her feelings were extremely acute, and to curb them by reason and principle had been the chief and hard study of her life. The effort had calmed, but had not made her happy." Into this desolate life came the son any mother could have dreamed of, and she loved him with all the pent up emotion she possessed. Mr. Delvile, senior, was filled with pride at this heir he had begotten, and " ... consulted him in all his affairs, never mentioned him but with distinction, and expected the whole world to bow down before him."

Mortimer, whose disposition more closely resembled his mother's than his father's , " ... opposed him in nothing when his pleasure was known, but ... forbore to enquire into his opinion except in cases of necessity." I think it amazing that this man was as universally esteemed as he was; with his upbringing, one would expect him to be spoiled rotten.

Cecilia had been at the ancestral seat of the Delviles for three weeks, not seeing anyone outside of the family except at church. The monotony was briefly lifted by a letter from Priscilla Harrel, which was, as might be expected, filled with self pitying whining. A more selfless letter came from Mr. Arnott, who related events leading up to the funeral, including an abduction of the body by the creditors. Mr. Arnott wrote sadly that all peace was behind him, since he had been deprived of the happiness of being able to see Cecilia. Cecilia wrote to Priscilla, promising to bring her to her own home in Suffolk when she could (why she would want such an ungratifying guest is beyond me), and to Mr. Arnott, in kindness trying to discourage any hopes he might have of her.

Things would shortly be livened up by a feminine visitor, who at least would not be boring.

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney, Cecilia, III:3:5: A Gothic Place and Lonely Woman

There are a number of striking elements in this chapter: the gothic like mansion, the loneliness and isolation of the family, and Mrs Delvile's desolate marriage

For the first what's remarkable is how nearly realistic Burney is; the house is only shaped with various kinds of things which make it visibly a gothic castle. In fact many Elizabethan/Jacobean piles of stone would have given this impression in the 18th century. There were no macadamised roads; no communication beyond letters and the use of coaches and horses. Reading through one feels Eva Figes's main thesis is demonstrated: the ruined gothic castles of the overtly gothic are simply dream or nightmare variations on how many an upper class woman might have felt at times. Of course this leaves out the life of the house, the servants, the children. We are talking of the world of their imagination and not moment-by-moment real life.

This of course is created by the isolation of the family. But while Austen presents us with three or four families who are in constant communication whether they detest one another or not, Burney doesn't. Probably the truth is somewhere inbetween.

I was most struck by Mrs Delvile who married for money. Marriage as a sheer business arrangement in which the inner lives of the people involved doesn't count -- supposedly. Of course it does and each of Austen's novels is written against this notion and for companionate affectionate marriage; at the same time each of them shows us women who have anything but, as do so many Victorian novels. I suggested that in an earlier scene Mr Delvile recalled Sir Walter Elliot; well, Mrs Delvile is Anne's mother, Elizabeth, Lady Elliot (nee Stevenson) and perhaps, given the picture of Northanger Abbey and the General's stern hard presence, Mrs Tilney, mother to Henry and Eleanor. I don't mind quoting the passage again:

"Her strong mind disdained useless complaints, yet her discontent, however private, was deep. Ardent in her disposition, and naturally violent in her passions, her feelings were extremely acute, and to curb them by reason and principle had been the chief and hard study of her life. The effort had calmed, but had not made her happy" (Oxford ed, MADoody and PSabor, Cecilia, p 461)

Is not this a Johnsonian style summary of what we learn to have been the truth of Lady Elliot and Mrs Tilney's lives? Mrs Delvile also takes her chief solace in her love of the child who is congenial to her. The description of Mrs Delvile's reliance on Mortimer Delvile reminded me of how Eleanor Tilney has come to value her brother, Henry, and how Henry knows Eleanor needs him and how Eleanor's high opinion of him is something he values and lives up to:

"he knew, too, that while without him, her [Mrs Delvile's] existence would be a burthen, her tenderness was no effusion of weak partiality, but founded on the strongest assurances of his worth" (p. 462)

This could also describe how Catherine comes to love Henry Tilney. She has by the end of the novel the strongest assurances of his worth too.

I thought Burney also pulled off the presentation of Delvile and Cecilia as themselves keeping away from one another, wary, unsure, Delvile with some secret, and Cecilia, with her suspicions, very well.

It seems to me there is no novel in the period I have read thus far which has given me more sense of the context within which Austen wrote her novels than this one of Cecilia.

Ellen Moody

Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. IV, A Rattle

One friend of mine calls me and asks me to visit whenever her mother (or mother-in-law, or father-in-law, or sister; she has a very difficult family) is in town. My presence insures good behavior on the part of the rels, and deflects too close scrutiny of the beleaguered hosts. Mrs. Delvile must have felt some relief from the presence of her rattle relative Lady Honoria when she came for a four week visit, thanks to Cecilia. And, for all her rather self righteous attitude about the flibbertigibbet, I think Cecilia was entertained (if also exhausted) in spite of herself.

I enjoyed Burney's rather tart comment about the status of ladies' education in the late 18th century; "Lady Honoria had received a fashionable education, in which her proficiency had been equal to what fashion made requisite; she sung a little, played the harpsichord a little, painted a little, worked a little, and danced a great deal." The study of her life was to create astonishment with her prattle, rather like some middle to late adolescents of our time. If the hearer is an avid gardener, the youth will recommend the cementing over of all public gardens as the measure best suited to the general good. If the listener is a dedicated skier, the young person pronounces that only pot bellied geezers ski; snowboarding is where it's at. Lady Honoria had fertile ground for her recreation; her greatest pleasure lay in shocking and appalling the very staid Lady Delvile and Cecilia. I suspect she would find a kindred spirit in our own Scottie. Especially since Lady Honoria was described by Burney as " ... a character of so much levity with so little heart..." Some of her complaints about the Delvile household sound as if they could have been penned by SB about our own Austen-L: " ' ... I vow I have sometimes such difficulty to keep awake, that I am frightened to death lest I should be taken with a sudden nap, and affront them all.' "

When Lady Honoria was about to expire of boredom, in spite of the fun of baiting Cecilia and Lady Delvile (as challenging as taking candy from a baby), she gleefully brought Cecilia the news that their party was about to be increased through the addition of Lord Ernolf and his son Lord Derford. The increased potential for fun Lady Honoria found very stimulating; " ' We can ask him [Lord Derford] ... for a little news, and that will put Mrs. Delvile in a passion, which will give us a little spirit. ... he knows nothing in the world of what's going forward. And, indeed, that's no great matter, for if he did, he would not know how to tell it, he's so excessively silly. However, I shall ask him all sorts of things, for the less he can answer, the more it will plague him, and I like to plague a fool amazingly, because he can never plague one again.' "

Sounds like lots of fun.

Lady Honoria, in looking for a spouse, thought a fool to be preferred for a husband; " ' ... you might have done exactly what you pleased with him, which, all together, would have been no inconvenient circumstance.' " Cecilia preferred someone she could learn from, to someone she would need to teach. Lady Honoria thought that a bunch of bull; " ' ... one has enough to do with tutors before hand, and the best thing I know of marrying is to get rid of them. I fancy you think so, too, only it's a pretty speech to make.' " Lady Honoria also deplored Lady Delvile's distaste for gossip; " ' Mrs. Delvile will hardly let it be repeated, for fear it should happen to be untrue, as if that could possibly signify!' "

The dispirited mood of Mortimer was commented upon by the irrepressible Honoria, contrasting his manner to the one he displayed the summer before,

"'I wish you might have been here last summer; I assure you, you would quite have fallen in love with him.'

' Would I?' said Cecilia, with a conscious smile."

Lady Honoria may have been flighty, but she was no fool. She noticed Cecilia's expression when she mentioned that her sister, Euphrasia, might marry Mortimer.

" ' I believe, my dear,' ... looking very archly, ' you intend to be married to him yourself?'

' Me? no, indeed!'

' You look very guilty, though,' cried she, laughing, ' and indeed when you came hither, every body said that the whole affair was arranged.'

' For shame, Lady Honoria,' said Cecilia, again changing colour, 'I am sure this must be your own fancy, -- invention -- '

'No, I assure you; I heard it at several places; and every body said how charmingly you fortune would build up all these old fortifications: but some people said they knew Mr. Harrel had sold you to Mr. Marriot, and that if you married Mortimer, there would be a law-suit that would take away half your estate; and others said you had promised your hand to Sir Robert Floyer, and repented when you heard of his mortgages, and he gave it out every where that he would fight any man that pretended to you; and then again some said that you were all the time privately married to Mr. Arnott, but did not dare own it, because he was so afraid of fighting with Sir Robert.' "

Cecilia was predictably appalled that she had been the focus of so much gossip, but being a resident of a small town, I find the general knowledge of her business not at all surprising.

Cecilia found out more of Lady Honoria's younger sister, Euphrasia, who was being considered as a prospective wife for Mortimer. She was two years younger than Lady Honoria and apparently the favorite of their grandmother, who planned to leave Euphrasia her estate. She had met Mortimer once, and did not like him: " ' ... she thought him too gay.' "

Cecilia had some food for thought as she dressed for dinner. She was unsure how much of what Lady Honoria told her was baseless, but she was more concerned about her own self betrayal. And what would this blabbermouth do with the knowledge?

Lady Delvile asked Cecilia if she had learned of the coming visitors from Lady Honoria. Cecilia agreed, then expressed a hope that they were not coming with hopes of her reconsidering Lord Derford's proposal of marriage. Lady Delvile told her that it was common knowledge that Mr. Harrel had prevented Cecilia from receiving prospective bridegrooms. She asked Cecilia if she had yet met " ' .. of the many admirers who have graced your train, which there is you have distinguished with any intention of future preference?' " Cecilia told her there was only one which, if her fortune had been smaller, would have solicited her hand, and that the only one who would still gladly have her, should her fortune be lost. She was speaking of Mr. Arnott, and deplored the fact that she could not love him as a wife should her husband. Cecilia did tell Lady Delvile that she was not telling her everything about the state of her heart, but promised to never deceive her. Lady Delvile exclaimed, " ' ... among the whole race of men, I scarce know one to whom I should think you worthily cosigned!'

Cecilia wondered just who the "scarce" might encompass. Only with difficulty did she restrain herself from telling her friend all; she feared appearing to solicit Lady Delvile for her help.

A storm would reveal much to our heroine.

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney: Cecilia:III:6:4: A Rattle

As I was reading I wondered if Lady Honoria was supposed to be a female John Thorpe: she doesn't care if what she says is the truth; she doesn't care if what she says contradicts what was said before; she doesn't care if what she says hurts anyone; she will say what comes into her mind in order to get attention; she can do everything a little well (passably enough to fool those who know nothing about the particular art), but she can not do anything very well. A mess of medocrity, Lady Honoria.

Ellen Moody

From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
 Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. V, A Storm
To: AUSTEN-L@VM1.MCGILL.CA
August 20, 1998

We are now half way through our book. Hard to believe?

One evening Cecilia and Lady Honoria took a stroll in the Park and were enjoying themselves so much that they did not notice how far they had come until they met Mortimer, who informed them that they were two miles distant from home and then continued his walk. Lady Honoria was annoyed by his unfriendliness, and after surmising that he must be in love, made a comment that hit its mark; " 'I am sure that if he is, his Mistress has not much occasion to be jealous of you or me, for never, I think, were two Damsels so neglected!' "

Ouch!

Their musings upon the possibilities for Mortimer's matrimonial future were interrupted by a sudden rain storm. Seeking shelter under a tree, they " ... were joined by Delvile, who came to offer his assistance in hurrying them home; and finding the thunder and lightening continue, begged them to move on, in defiance of the rain, as their present situation exposed them to more danger than a wet hat and cloak, which might be changed in a moment." Apparently scientific studies were not part of Lady Honoria's fashionable education, for she steadfastly refused to stir from the spot; "... she clung to the tree, screamed at every flash of lightening ..." in spite of all Cecilia's and Mortimer's pleas. Persuaded of her determination to remain where she was, Mortimer then begged Cecilia to go home with his assistance. He would then return for the silly one. At first Cecilia refused, feeling that she should remain with her friend, but " ... the storm encreasing with great violence, the thunder growing louder, and the lightning becoming stronger, Delvile grew impatient even to anger at Lady Honoria's resistance, and warmly expostulated upon its folly and danger." Her unreasoning fear made her deaf to his arguments, and finally Mortimer successfully persuaded Cecilia at least to seek shelter. A memorable exchange ensued;

"Delvile eagerly said to Cecilia, ' Come then, Miss Beverley, let us wait no longer; I will see you home, and then return to Lady Honoria.'

' By no means,' cried she, ' my life is not more precious than either of yours, and therefore it may run the same risk.'

' It is more precious, ' cried he with vehemence, ' than the air I breathe!' and seizing her hand, he drew it under his arm, and, without waiting her consent, almost forced her away with him, saying as they ran, ' How could a thousand Lady Honorias recompence the world for the loss of one Miss Beverley? we may, indeed, find many thousand such as Lady Honoria, but such as Miss Beverley -- where shall we find another?'

Cecilia, surprised, yet gratified, could not speak, for the speed with which they ran almost took away her breath; and before they were near home, slackening her pace, and panting, she confessed her strength was exhausted, and that she could go so fast no longer.

' Let us then stop and rest,' cried he, but why will you not lean upon me? surely this is no time for scruples, and for idle and unnecessary scruples, Miss Beverley can never find a time.'

Cecilia then, urged equally by shame at his speech and by weakness from fatigue, leant upon his arm; but she soon repented her condescension; for Delvile, with an emotion he seemed to find wholly irrepressible, passionately exclaimed ' sweet lovely burthen! O why not thus forever!' "

Pretty hot stuff.

Cecilia, of course was all offended dignity, and her " ... strength ... now instantly restored," she walked on without assistance, Mortimer following with broken apologies; ' " ... pardon me, Cecilia! -- Madam! -- Miss Beverley, I mean --' "

Her aloofness was to be brief; they were then caught in " a violent shower of hail". Mortimer caught up and urged her to stand under a tree where he could shelter her by standing before her, taking the brunt of the wind. He, not wanting to again offend her, took off his hat and held it before her without touching her. Cecilia was touched, emotionally this time.

" Cecilia now could no longer be either silent or unmoved, but turning to him with much emotion, said, ' Why will you do this, Mr. Delvile?'

' What would I not do,' answered he, ' to obtain forgiveness from Miss Beverley?'

' Well, well, -- pray put on your hat.'

' Do you command it?'

' No! certainly! -- but I wish it.'

' Ah!' cried he, instantly putting it on, ' whose are the commands that would have half the weight with your wishes?'

And then, after another pause, he added, ' do you forgive me?'

Cecilia, ashamed of the cause of their dissension, and softened by the seriousness of his manner, answered very readily, ' yes, yes, -- why will you make me remember such nonsense?'

' All sweetness,' cried he warmly, and snatching her hand, ' is Miss Beverley! -- O that I had the power -- that it were not utterly impossible -- that the cruelty of my situation --'

' I find,' cried she, greatly agitated, and forcibly drawing away her hand, 'you will teach me the folly of fearing bad weather!' "

Apparently the only thing keeping Mortimer from proposing marriage to Cecilia was something about his situation. Not a pre-engagement, I suspect, but the pride of the family that never would contemplate giving up the all sacred name for something as profane as money.

A servant approached bearing an umbrella, which Mortimer took to shelter Cecilia, instructing the menial to go in search of Lady Honoria. Cecilia took the umbrella from him and made her way without his assistance, in spite of the fact that " ... the walk was so bad from the height of the grass, and the unevenness of the ground, that Cecilia had the utmost difficulty to make her way; yet she resolutely refused any assistance from Delvile, who walked anxiously by her side, and seemed equally fearful upon his own account and upon hers, to trust himself with being importunate."

Cecilia was pretty tired of a Delvile who was one moment, all ardent love, the other, "most scrupulous reserve". She finally entered the castle through a gate which Mortimer held open, and " .. in a tone of voice the most dejected, he said, ' I am grieved to find you thus offended, but were it possible you could know half the wretchedness of my heart, the generosity of your own would make you regret this severity! ' "

The always compassionate Cecilia instantly relented, but since they were surrounded by servants inquiring for the absent Lady Honoria, there was no opportunity for peace making.

The stunned Cecilia was passively led to bed to drink "white wine whey". She pondered the facts that, while it was now obvious that Mortimer " ... loved her with tenderness, with fondness loved her ...", it was also apparent that he had a " ... desire to conceal and to conquer it ... ". She wondered if the clause in her uncle's will requiring the prospective husband to take her name was the snag, or if there was some entanglement with Henrietta Belfield. She felt that the most probable alternative was a marriage pending with Lady Honoria's sister Euphrasia. Cecilia felt that Mrs. Delvile was her friend, and would not act to prevent an alliance between Cecilia and her son, but the most formidable obstacle would be the proud arrogant Mr. Delvile. No money would sufficiently wash Cecilia from the stain of insufficiently noble birth, and the loss of the 10,000 pounds would only confirm her unsuitability in his mind.

Cecilia mused,

" ' If this, however, ... is at last his situation, how much have I been to blame in censuring his conduct! for while to me he has appeared capricious, he has, in fact, acted wholly from necessity: if his father insists upon his forming another connection, has he not been honorable, prudent and just, in flying an object that made him think of disobedience, and endeavoring to keep her ignorant of a partiality it is his duty to curb?' "

Well, it appears Cecilia had figured it all out. Her course? " ... to guard her own secret with more assiduous care than ever, and since she found that their union was by himself thought impossible, to keep from his knowledge that the regret was not all his own."

Easier said than done. And there would be consequences for the evening just spent. What usually happens in novels to someone suffering from amorous frustration, who allows his/her feet to get wet?

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney, Cecilia:III:6:5: The Storm

Again we have a scene which could have occurred in a Gothic novel -- and probably does occur in one. The difference lies in the realistic visibilia, a use of dialogue which is realistic rather than inflated, and a perpetual attention to probability with some comic moments thrown in now and again (especially against Lady Honoria who it amuses me to think of standing in the pouring rain hugging her tree).

Jill is right to point out the scene includes some "pretty hot stuff". She leans on him; he grasps his sweet burthen. It also includes a bit of of what the eagle-eyed Clarissa Harlowe would recognize as typical male manipulation: in grasping her, Delvile offended Cecilia; he backs away but not before he removes his hat and refuses to put it back on his head unless she first forgives him. Lovelace is a past master at this game, except of course when Lovelace offends he does things like remove Clarissa's neckerchief (meaning he bares her breasts), and then (if I remember correctly) he has way of continuing his offenses until she forgives him. I suspect Burney expected us to get this kind of manipulation. There is only one hero in Austen who we are invited to think plays this sort of game: Frank Churchill.

Again and again I think to myself how strong is the content, the central visuals, the dialogues, and the story line. I also think how much better the book would have been could Burney have used natural easy modern English. Her language continually puts us at one remove when we begin to get close to a character's mind or into a scene; it is also often in the narrator's portions stilted and indirect when it should be sharp, simply, and direct.

Still I can understand how her contemporary audience was strongly impressed by this book. It can not be called a silly book even if the heroine is a paragon and I at least as yet have not been seriously worried about her. This scene is a good example of how Burney misses an opportunity to make us genuinely anxious for Cecilia. She's just too self-aware, too much in control. Now maybe what Burney had was too much pride to reveal her own vulnerability through Cecilia while of course Austen's own inner life was poured into all her heroines.

Ellen Moody

Date: Fri, 21 Aug 1998
Sender: Jane Austen List
From: "Jill L. Spriggs"
Subject: Cecilia, Vol. III, Bk. VI, Ch. VI, A Mystery

Cecilia had two days to think about how she would react to the events of the day of the storm. She and Lady Honoria had caught colds; it seemed that hers was less severe, thanks to the protective actions of her reluctant lover. The entire group met at dinner, Mr. Delvile senior offering "stately congratulations" on their recoveries, Mrs. Delvile quietly welcoming them.

Mortimer postponed his appearance as long as he could without exciting comment, then immediately set to work carving the meat. He was ill at ease, and "Cecilia was struck by the melancholy tone of his voice, and the moment she raised her eyes, she observed that his countenance was equally sad." (Oxford ed, MADoody and PSabor, Cecilia, p 478) Mr. Delvile noticed Mortimer's lack of spirits, and urged him to seek medical advice. Mortimer made a response that essentially meant that physicians had no cure for what ailed him. Lady Honoria humorously thanked Mortimer for the assistance he gave her when they were caught in the storm, and he tried to respond in kind, by praising her courage in braving the storm under a tree. Mr. and Mrs. Delvile were shocked when they realized that Mortimer had deserted Lady Honoria, but Mrs. Delvile was reassured when Lady Honoria told her of her refusal to leave; " ' ... he wanted to persuade me that in the open air I should be less exposed to danger than under the shelter of a thick tree!' " (p. 479) Mrs. Delvile mockingly offered the use of a collection of childish science books for her education, but of course that went right over Lady Honoria's head. To deflect Mrs. Delvile's sarcasm, Lady Honoria commented that she thought Delvile was trying to find a reason to be alone with Cecilia. Mrs. Delvile quickly replied that, " ' ... she was alone, -- I saw her myself the moment she came in. ' " (p. 479) Cecilia and Mortimer were still disturbed, remembering that day, and too hastily assured Mrs. Delvile, that " ' ...he was gone... ' "[Cecilia] and " ' I had the honour to wait upon Miss Beverley to the little gate; and I was just then returning to Lady Honoria when I met her ladyship coming in. ' "[Mortimer] (p. 480) The ever conscious Mr. Delvile was annoyed that Mortimer would escort Cecilia back home before Lady Honoria (birth should always take precedence).

After feverishly conversing on any subject that presented, to prevent untimely conjectures about the reason for their depressed moods, Cecilia and Mortimer lapsed into morose silences. Cecilia saw that Mortimer was seeking an opportunity to speak with her, but, dreading hearing of some insuperable obstacle to a marriage between them, Cecilia evaded all opportunities for a tete a tete.

The combination of mental stress and neglected health began to tell, and Mortimer fell ill. Cecilia felt responsible, suspecting that a large part of his ill health was due to her refusing him any opportunity to have it out with her. What a time for the two expected guests to come!

Lords Ernolf and Derford arrived and were thankfully received by Cecilia, who at last had fellow victims to share the attention of Lady Honoria. Unease about Mortimer's health were augmented by the visitors immediately commenting on the unhealthy appearance of the young Delvile. Apprehensions of mother and lover were revived, and, " Cecilia reproached herself with having deferred the conference he was evidently seeking, not doubting but that she had contributed to his indisposition by denying him the relief he might expect by concluding the affair." (p. 482) She decided to buck up and bear any bad news Mortimer might have to impart, the next opportunity they might have.

Unfortunately, that was the very morning that Delvile finally acknowledged that he did not feel well, and immediate chaos ensued. Possible illness in the treasured heir was to be dreaded as one of the greatest of evils. Mortimer tried to laugh off his indisposition, but the family doctor stated that he was, in fact, ill. Mr. Delvile was ready to call in the entire Royal Academy of Physicians and Surgeons, but Mr. Lyster felt that the cavalry would not be necessary for a cold. After a brief chat, the doctor accompanied Mortimer to his room to examine the unwilling patient. Cecilia impatiently waited for the verdict in her room, but when none came, she returned downstairs, where she was joined by Lord Ernolf and Lady Honoria. She teasingly accused Cecilia of causing Mortimer's illness; " ' Why this tender chicken caught cold in the storm last week, and not being put to bed by its mama, and nursed with white wine whey, the poor thing has got a fever!' " (p. 484) The pampering of the last of the Delviles was animatedly discussed by all but Cecilia, who was for some reason distracted with thoughts of her own. Mr. Lyster again entered the room, and gave as his verdict the reason Mortimer had taken ill was staying in his storm-soaked clothes all that fateful evening.

Worse and worse! "[Cecilia] was conscious that whatever was the indisposition of Delvile, and whether it was mental or bodily, she was herself its occasion: through her he had been negligent, she had rendered him forgetful, and in consulting her own fears in preference to his peace, she had avoided an explanation, though he had vigilantly sought one. She knew not, he told her, half the wretchedness of his heart. --- Alas! thought she, he little conjectures the state of mine!' " (p. 485)

Diversion from this gloomy line of thinking was soon to come. Lady Honoria gleefully shared with Cecilia her plan for excitement.

" ' ... as a friend, in confidence I must acquaint him, I believed you intended to marry Mortimer --'

' Good heaven, Lady Honoria!'

' O, you shall hear the reason; because, as I assured him, it was proper he should immediately call him to account.'

' Are you mad, Lady Honoria?'

' For you know ... Miss Beverley has had one duel fought for her already, and a lady who has once had that compliment paid her, always expects it from every new admirer; and I really believe your not observing that form is the true cause of her coldness to you.'

' Is it possible you can have talked so wildly?'

'Yes, and what is much better, he believed every word I said! ' "

Does anyone remember P.G. Wodehouse's Bad Girl Bobbie Wickham who instigated mentally negligible (as Jeeves described him) Bertie Wooster to puncture Sir Roderick Glossop's hot water bottle with a needle on the end of a stick? Do you suppose Plum might have read Burney?

Cecilia vainly tried to persuade Lady Honoria (hmm, Sir Roderick had a daughter named Honoria) to " ... go back and contradict it all ... " (p. 486). Lady Honoria felt it was totally unnecessary. I did like her description of Bertie, err, Lord Ernolf: " ' ... his poor head is so vacant, that I am sure if one might but play upon it with sticks, it would sound just like a drum. '"

It was a gloomy household, with the master and mistress so visibly concerned for their son. Cecilia found pleasure only in befriending Mortimer's dog, Fidel, and spent most of her time out of doors, rambling with her canine companion.

The next morning when Mr. Lyster came, he recommended that Mortimer have a change of air, making a trip to Bristol. When his fever and cough left him, he would be encouraged to go. Would Cecilia lose her chance to clear up the mystery?

Jill Spriggs

Re: Burney, Cecilia:III:VI:6: What Mood Is This Book In? (A Mystery)

I think this is a good chapter to use to ask, What mood is this book in? There are several places where the mood of the fiction does indeed recall P. G. Wodehouse. Sometimes characters make comments on one another which are so mocking and deflating, one has to say Burney herself did not take her fiction seriously. In this chapter Jill quotes the following description of the (rich, idle, ever-so-sensitive and sensible in the S&S sense Mortimer):

" ' Why this tender chicken caught cold in the storm last week, and not being put to bed by its mama, and nursed with white wine whey, the poor thing has got a fever!' " (p. 484).

But consider Biggs's continual mockery of the fiction and the characterization of him too.

One problem we have in reading this book is it was written before there was a changeover from regarding novels and poetry in general as primarily entertainment or autobiographical. The most general praise for them would be they were moral enough to reflect values one could find in sermons (much better of course for the purpose) or satirised something or somebody specific. It was the 19th century which elevated novelist and poet into vatic status; it was Matthew Arnold who said religion was turning out to be a myth and not a helpful one in modern society and it was the business of the poet to be our new priests.

Another is after the 1790s people read to involve themselves deeply in an imagined psychological consciousness seriously, deeply dwelt in. Burney clearly comes before this too. Modern interpretations of novels by and before Austen suffer by their emphasis on what to the readers of the time was in the margins not the center of novels. We might say Burney is in a number of fundamental attitudes closer to Smollett and farce than Austen ever could be; between Burney and Austen came all those romances Austen mocked, but they changed the novel and taste permanently. More is owed to Mrs Radcliffe than is often realised. Consider the scene wherein Cecilia goes out with the dog to spend time in the landscape. Both Austen and Radcliffe would have taken us there to muse with Cecilia and that is what we would come away remembering because we find it pleasurable and meaningful in a way Burney's generation didn't.

Ellen Moody


Ellen Moody.
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