Does anyone else feel as though these chapters are discordant? I am not even sure what I mean by that, but they have a different flow. I felt as if I were getting different set pieces rather than a story. This isn’t meant as a complaint—just an observation.
Willoughby’s observation of the Dashwoods was lovely:
He was received by Mrs. Dashwood with more than politeness; with a kindness which Sir John’s account of him and her own gratitude prompted; and every thing that passed during the visit tended to assure him of the sense, elegance, mutual affection, and domestic comfort of the family to whom accident had now introduced him
This truly is a congenial family. I do wonder how people would describe my biological family. I think it would be different. One friend used the word “terrifying” as one adjective. 😉
It is interesting the Austen isn’t much for physical description. It is common in Austen that one’s nature is described and scaffolded first for for her, it is more important. We are seeing the female protagonists described for the first time in Chapter 10. And just like in Northanger Abbey, while attractiveness is desirable, beauty is rare, and in this novel, I would argue, problematic.
So what do we actually know of Willoughby after this chapter? Is Marianne right? Is he perfect?
Austen offers another masterclass in knowing one’s characters:
In Mrs. Dashwood’s estimation he was as faultless as in Marianne’s; and Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted her sister, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want of caution which Elinor could not approve, in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.
Each woman is true to her nature, and we completely understand and know how they feel about Willoughby. We further are not surprised to learn that:
Her mother too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised, by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it; and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Edward and Willoughby.
In one week all of this has happened! We are part of two completely different stories here. Elinor, the sort of pragmatist, and Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne, the impetuous romantics. Whose story will win?
I do not entirely understand the cruelty about Col. Brandon. Yes, we have the impestuouness of youth. They are young and in love, and people who are 35 who have cares and are not passionate about life are to be pitied, apparently. Got it. But, Brandon has done nothing to these people. Is Willoughby jealous? Does he spot that Brandon cares for Marianne? I don’t believe Willoughby sees and understands other people. And Marianne is not Isabella (we seem to agree on this.) She doesn’t seem to be a mean girl/person, but here she kind of is. Is this just throwing everything to the wind as she engages fully in feelings for Willoughby so everything is up for grabs? Someone help me with this. I don’t like this side of her.
Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at all times, was an illustration of their opinions.
Someone of Marianne’s disposition would scoff at Elinor and consider her a stick in the mud, but there are perils to this type of behavior. Like what? Well, maybe in expressing negative opinions about others who have done nothing wrong, like of Col. Brandon in the previous chapter. But of course, I mean something more than that. Or, is this just part of the frumpery of the age that is unfortunate, and aren’t we glad we live in a time when people can express how they feel?
There is one way that I admire Marianne, and that is that her conversation is never insipid. Elinor, being a woman of civility, has boring conversations with her new acquaintances on a daily basis. I’m guessing staying home and reading a good book would not be acceptable. Great—let’s go to the Park again and hear Mrs. Jenning’s stories for a fifth and sixth time, and let’s hear nearly zero from Lady Middleton except encomiums on her terrible children. This bolsters her enjoyment of Brandon’s conversation. I am having trouble though entangling the following paragraph. I get the gist of it, but I find some of it confusing:
In Colonel Brandon alone, of all her new acquaintance, did Elinor find a person who could in any degree claim the respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship, or give pleasure as a companion. Willoughby was out of the question. Her admiration and regard, even her sisterly regard, was all his own; but he was a lover; his attentions were wholly Marianne’s, and a far less agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing. Colonel Brandon, unfortunately for himself, had no such encouragement to think only of Marianne, and in conversing with Elinor he found the greatest consolation for the indifference of her sister.
Col. Brandon has a secret.
The whole horse incident is so perfect for showing us Marianne. She accepts the horse completely. It is perfect. It is romantic. She will get to ride along the downs, and it is a gift from her lover.
It is Elinor, as usual, who has to point out reality like, we aren’t rich, we can’t afford to build a stable and hire a new servant. Wake up, Marianne!
I was annoyed that Marianne didn’t instantly grasp this and suggested, among other not so nice ideas, that the horse could just use a shed (not caring for the horse’s comfort) and that mom could bear the cost of the servant meaning less comfort for everyone from less money.
But, before I could harden my heart completely against selfish Marianne, she wakes up out of her romantic dream and understands this will not do. Good job, Marianne. To her credit, it didn’t take long or much convincing.
This chapter, everyone, is about sex. My notes tell me that the horse that Marianne now owns, despite it being continued to be housed by Willoughby, is named Queen Mab. The Fairy Queen Mab sent sexual fantasies was said to encourage romantic love. Hmmm.
Adding to this notion, Willoughby uses Marianne’s Christian name, something that men only did when engaged.
Margaret, whom we rarely hear from (does anyone else find this odd?) witnesses an important moment in the parlour when Willoughby takes a lock of Marianne’s hair. Sure, this sounds simple enough, but the implication is huge and I urge you to take a look at Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.”
Surveillance culture continues with a very difficult scene of Mrs. Jennings and Sir John engaging in raillery against (and I use that word deliberately) Elinor as they try to get Margaret to spill who Elinor is in love with. They think they are being fun and jolly, but this causes Elinor pain. First, she is a rule follower. It is indecorous to be open about romantic attachments, especially when nothing has been promised. It’s emotionally dangerous, for one thing. Marianne is the passionate one, but I think Elinor’s feelings are quite deep, maybe even deeper than Marianne’s. Not being open about such things does not make one less of a feeling person.
Second, as of Chapter 12, we are in the dark about Edward, and I think we are to believe, so is Elinor. I don’t think she has heard anything from him since she left. No letter, message, or visit. I think she is feeling pretty hurt and possibly confused. Mrs. Jennings and Sir John do not mean to be unkind. They aren’t malicious, but what they are doing is no less painful.
And then there is discussion about a visit away. Such a shift!