So much to unpack in these three chapters.
Much is made of Edward’s lack of purpose, lack of a goal. Having money can be such a pain. He is privileged, but in order to get to have the money, he must do what his mother wants. As long as she is alive, he needs her approval. He isn’t completely lacking in goals. We find out that he did want to go into the Church, but mom said no. She is willing to let him join the Army or be a lawyer (genteel enough professions) but he didn’t want them. So he does nothing.
I have some pity for him, but not that much. And I do wonder at Elinor’s interest in him. Does anyone else find themselves troubled by Edward’s lack of oomph?
I would also suggest that Elinor’s thoughts on Edward, and her placing nearly the entire blame for Edward’s lack of compass on the mother is quite interesting. There are a lot of bad mothers in Austen’s works. To be fair, good fathers are sorely lacking as well.
My notes say that in late 18th century, there was growing discussion about duty to the parent vs. individual will. This is an issue Austen is quite interested in, though I would argue in her case she is interested not only in what do we owe the parent, which becomes more interesting if the parent is abusive or problematic in some way, but also, what do we owe society in the sense of manners and conduct? How important is the approbation of our neighbors? For those thinking I’m jumping around too much, in terms of the civil conduct, sometimes behaving civilly to people might be difficult. What if they are rude? Insolent? Bad people? Shouldn’t we follow our inclinations and be rude in response? Thus the conundrum of responsibility to civility/society vs. our individual will.
And what do you make of the Palmers? I find them very funny, but when I began to type up my thoughts, I also realized, (after reading all three chapters) that I find them frustrating and sad as well. I do think these three chapters are wittier then anything else I’ve seen, but I am detecting some bitter in the laugh.
They [the Dashwoods] attempted, therefore, likewise, to excuse themselves; the weather was uncertain, and not likely to be good. But Sir John would not be satisfied—the carriage should be sent for them and they must come. Lady Middleton too, though she did not press their mother, pressed them. Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer joined their entreaties, all seemed equally anxious to avoid a family party; and the young ladies were obliged to yield.
“Why should they ask us?” said Marianne, as soon as they were gone. “The rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the park whenever any one is staying either with them, or with us.”
I have great sympathy for Marianne’s remark. The price really does seem high to have to be around unpleasant people for a few hours at a time.
Wow—this chapter increases our knowledge of the Palmers. He is a jerk that I sometimes find amusing:
“You and I, Sir John,” said Mrs. Jennings, “should not stand upon such ceremony.”
“Then you would be very ill-bred,” cried Mr. Palmer.
“My love you contradict every body,” said his wife with her usual laugh. “Do you know that you are quite rude?”
“I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred.”
Bu dump dah (drum riff). It’s mean but funny.
Because of Austen’s description of Charlotte as friendly and unprepossessing in Chapter 19, and making it clear that she was quite unlike her sister, I thought we were to like her, and I was already to. And I kind of appreciated how, while she is married to this unpleasant curmudgeon, she puts on a good face and makes fun of the situation. She doesn’t allow him to pull her down. And then I came to Chapter 20.
Charlotte is stupid and vapid, and I mean 21st century stupid. She would have me crazy in about 5 minutes, and I would spend the entire time she was visiting at the Park in my room. People who exaggerate and are unable to tell the truth about anything (and I don’t think Charlotte is malicious. I think she is saying things to the best of her ability) make me crazy.
When asked if she knew Willoughby, Charlotte responded:
“Oh dear, yes; I know him extremely well,” replied Mrs. Palmer;—”Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him for ever in town.
Wow! We next find out that Colonel Brandon is the one who told her that Marianne was to marry Willoughby. That seemed so out of character. Then to find out that was completely false, and Charlotte inferred it based on nothing. Later, we “find out” that Colonel Brandon had wanted to marry Charlotte herself, but there is less than zero evidence for this. Now I think Mr. Palmer should be praised for not committing murder.
My serious question is this: have we learned anything of any use from Charlotte? Can you imagine how frustrating this would be to be Elinor?
Poor Sir John. So desperate for constant activity to keep his own demons away. (Sorry—I am projecting.)
After meeting the Steeles, he goes to invite the Dashwoods to another party. They decline to his great dismay.
Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to keep a third cousin to himself.
We once again discover in this chapter how awful the Middleton children are, and I do blame Lady Middleton (though Sir John is an absent father.) All three children are awful, but when the Steeles are so upset on behalf of the wounded three year old and are so glad the accident wasn’t worse, and the Mother had done so much for her, Marianne’s comment is perfect:
“Poor little creatures!” said Miss Steele, as soon as they were gone. “It might have been a very sad accident.”
“Yet I hardly know how,” cried Marianne, “unless it had been under totally different circumstances. But this is the usual way of heightening alarm, where there is nothing to be alarmed at in reality.”
Marianne herself can be quite theatrical and passionate, but I think this is Austen’s way of showing us that she doesn’t cross the line, and she definitely is able to detect problems in others. Do you agree?
We continue to see Marianne’s lack of hypocrisy. The Steeles claim to find everything about the Middletons delightful, and Marianne won’t go there.
“What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is!” said Lucy Steele.
Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. She did her best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Middleton with more warmth than she felt, though with far less than Miss Lucy.
The weight is placed on Elinor to support societal expectations. And this is not a criticism of Elinor on Austen’s part. To Austen, civility is really important. Not hurting people is really important, but I would argue that she also appreciates Marianne’s stance.
Elinor does get to put her own opinion in, and she does it well.
“And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine children in my life.—I declare I quite doat upon them already, and indeed I am always distractedly fond of children.”
“I should guess so,” said Elinor, with a smile, “from what I have witnessed this morning.”
“I have a notion,” said Lucy, “you think the little Middletons rather too much indulged; perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is so natural in Lady Middleton; and for my part, I love to see children full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and quiet.”
“I confess,” replied Elinor, “that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence.”
We do know from letters Austen wrote that she couldn’t abide ill-behaved children. I would have to agree.
So, does Austen hate children?