Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sense and Sensibility: Volume Two

I'm writing this post in segments as I read the novel. There's too much to remember otherwise. So ... for all two of you still reading these posts on Austen's book, here goes!
As volume two of the work, comprising fourteen chapters, begins, Elinor continues ruminating on Edward's treatment of her, or as she calls it in her mind "his ill-treatment of her." She initiates the subject with Lucy, knowing this: "that Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her, appeared very probable." The depiction of Lucy Steele in the movie as a silly, vapid girl, clueless of the allure of the much-older Elinor and ignorantly falling into confidence with a rival, is simply false. Lucy confided in Elinor with full knowledge of Elinor and Edward's attachment. In fact it was precisely because she knew of it, that she chose Elinor for these confidences. Elinor ponders, "What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there be, but that Elinor might be informed of it by Lucy's superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him in future?" Elinor sees clearly that she is being warned by the fiancee: "Stay away from my man!" Because the engagement is a secret, what other way does Lucy have to warn Elinor than telling her about it? No one else will warn Elinor off. Lucy must do it herself. When you next watch the movie, keep these facts in the front of your mind; they radically change all that transpires between the two girls. It's quite difficult, but remember while watching also that Elinor is a young, vibrant 19 year old, and Lucy is about five years her senior -- nearly an old maid and a desperate one, and likely to wait many more years for Edward until his mother finally dies off and the final obstacle is removed for their union.

Now we move to London and Elinor and Marianne's vacation there with Mrs. Jennings. Marianne goes only hoping to see Willoughby. Elinor goes to accompany her. When Marianne immediately writes Willoughby there, and writes again, and a third time, Elinor assumes by this display of intimacy that a real (if secretive) engagement exists between them. See the pattern of secret engagements in the book? Unlike in the movie, Lucy does not accompany them to London; she drops out of the plot for now. Much of the events in London track well between book and movie. The sisters do at last see Willoughby at a party, and Marianne is rebuffed and stricken.

Again, the most disturbing variance between book and movie comes with Col. Brandon and his account of his life as it involves the woman-from-his-past, Eliza. Eliza was his first cousin, not some orphan from the workhouse. She was a rich heiress, not penniless. She was not "passed from man to man," as the movie claims. Col Brandon's father, her uncle and her guardian, married her to his elder son rather than to Col. Brandon, in spite of the fact that he and Eliza were deeply in love. The father dies. Brandon moves overseas to distance himself from his brother's marriage to the woman he himself loves. What a tragic plot! Why did they change it in the movie? Two years later, he hears that they are divorced; his brother has been an odious husband.

The end of Eliza's life is as the movie depicts it -- seduction, dissipation, loss of fortune. Col. Brandon found her at last in a "sponging-house," a jail of sorts for debtors where every last available penny was squeezed out of them before they were sent at last to prison. He made her comfortable as she died of consumption. Brandon tells Elinor that Marianne and Eliza resemble each other in temperament. The warning is clear -- Marianne should be guarded safely to avoid the same pitfalls at the hands of unscrupulous men. "Their fates, their fortunes cannot be the same," he says to her. "Had the natural sweet disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind, or an happier marriage, she might have been all that you will live to see the other be." Elinor is that firmer mind. Brandon is that happier marriage. Marianne is safe-guarded by these two against sure destruction.

Eliza did leave a young daughter in Brandon's care, the child of neither his brother nor himself. This Young Eliza, now Brandon's ward, was seduced by Willoughby when she was 16, nearly the same age of Marianne when he wooed her. (He likely transferred his attentions straight from one girl to the other, perhaps overlapping.) Brandon rushed to his ward's aid when she was left alone and helpless, near to delivery of Willoughby's child. Willoughby came to London about 2 weeks after Brandon rushed there. The soldier demanded a meeting with the scoundrel, and as Brandon describes it to Elinor, "We met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish, his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad." The two men fought a duel! Since  Col. Brandon, a seasoned soldier, would hardly miss so easy a shot, we must assume he was lenient to Willoughby and allowed him to live. Again -- why omit such a thrilling event from the movie?

Austen likes things in two's: Two Elizas with similar ends. Two sisters with impossible beaus. Two beaus who deceive. Even Young Eliza in this novel strongly resembles Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by begging a vacation to Bath with a wayward friend under questionable supervision, only to be seduced there by an unscrupulous man.

Imagine this, however: Brandon and Marianne later marry. Her husband now has a ward who is only a year older than she herself is, and the ward has a child belonging to Marianne's old sweetheart. In the movie, the sheer discomfort of this arrangement is never presented, but it's beyond imagining that Austen didn't consider it.

Marianne's other pickle now is that she is bound by her own Maxim of Love. Remember it? "That no one can ever be in love more than once in their life." She staunchly defended this truth to all detractors. Now she faces a horrible fate -- she has loved deeply. Willoughby is lost to her. Therefore, she will never love again. Never! Marianne weeps for Willoughby, weeps for what she's lost, but she's also weeping for the love she believes she will never have. This is a girl with strong romantic sensibilities; she will brook no dissent on matters of the heart about which she's certain Elinor has no understanding, much less Brandon or someone like Sir John or Mrs. Jennings. And now she is doomed to a loveless life!

Indeed, this novel is all about second chances being better than the first. Austen will play out this idea to its very last encore.

***

Update -- The final chapters of volume II are perhaps the most boring of the book. They focus on John and Fanny Dashwood who have just come to London, and on Lucy Steele and her ingratiating relationship with Fanny and Edward's mother, Mrs. Ferrars. Marianne fades into the background. Elinor attempts to tolerate Lucy. The sisters do not depart London immediately because of Marianne's collapse in health from Willoughby's betrayal. No, they remain for weeks at their mother's request. Marianne continues to go out socially although with disinterest. The central social character in all this is Lady Middleton, Sir John's wife. She and Fanny become friends, and thus the entire group is united. Lucy finds herself with the Ferrars and is elated. Mrs. Ferrars, aware of Edward's attachment to Elinor, shuns her and treats her rudely, but is sadly unaware of Lucy's hold on her son.

In contrast to the movie, this section of the book is not about Marianne. She is sad but not ill. Everyone thinks it's better she remain in London to keep her involved in life. She alone wants to be home. Austen's focus is clearly on all the deep-as-a-wet-napkin relationships among the Dashwoods, Ferrars, Steeles, and Middletons. Robert Ferrars is introduced, and a more simpering, vain man does not exist in literature. Austen is doggedly drawing a contrast between this cloud of people, and Edward and Elinor. They alone are genuine, kind, thinking, wise. Of course the difficulty is this: how did such a good man find himself involved with a vapid twit like Lucy Steele? Elinor must wonder how he could love Lucy and herself. The movie never answers that question, but I hope Austen will.

2 comments:

  1. That seems to be the problem with most "romances". We never can figure out how that wonderful man got involved with the vapid twit. And if he did...could he really be so wonderful? Ha ha! Thanks, from one of your two readers. :D

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  2. I am reading Northanger Abbey! You talked me back into Austen recently ----and I do like the book and am determined to finish this one and read more!

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