Monday, 27 April 2015

Willoughby - the Snake!

In Chapter 18 of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Palmer unwittingly plants the idea in Colonel Brandon's head that Marianne is going to marry Willoughby. For all the reasons he later explains in Chapter 31, Brandon did not expose Willoughby. In Chapter 25, it is winter and Mrs. Jennings takes the Miss Dashwoods to London. Willoughby has not counted on this, and he also does not know whether Brandon has told the Miss Dashwoods the truth, but he is hoping he has not (and he is right). Eventually Willloughby's engagement to Miss King causes Brandon to reveal the sordid story to Elinor.

Jane Austen makes very little of this explicit; but it seems a reasonable interpretation of events.

Willoughby is snake-like even when he makes his final explanation to Elinor during Marianne’s illness. He tries to exonerate himself over the seduction of Eliza: 

…because she was injured she was irreproachable, and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint...the violence of her passions...the weakness of her understanding -- I do not mean, however, to defend myself. 

He stops at a critical point: if she had a weak understanding, then he did take advantage of her. He had a full understanding. 

He says Mrs. Smith offered to forgive the past, if I would marry Eliza. That could not be.

Why could it not be? Because she was poor? Probably not as poor as Marianne! Marianne has £1000, but Colonel Brandon surely had at least the same or more put aside for Eliza.

This does not seem to occur to Elinor, however.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Opening of 'Northanger Abbey' - what skills!

The structure of the opening four chapters of Northanger Abbey illustrates what makes this novel so enjoyable on two levels. Chapters 1 and 2 detail how woefully our heroine's childhood contrasts with that of the gothic fictional heroines. There is such sureness of touch: Catherine's mother 'had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as any body might expect, she still lived on – lived to have six children more ...'. 'No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.' Her father, a clergyman, was perfectly respectable, 'though his name was Richard and he had never been handsome'. Catherine as a child liked 'nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house'. She had 'a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark, lank hair, and strong features'. She was a slow scholar and lacked 'accomplishments': 'The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life'. She does not mind books, 'provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection'.

As usual with Jane Austen, we have to admire the economy and crispness. In seventy words, Catherine's home village of Fullerton in Wiltshire and the family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, are clearly introduced, Catherine is invited to Bath, and 'Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness'. 

In Chapter 2, farewells from the family are tamely practical; there are no tempests, robberies or kidnaps en route; and the Upper Rooms in Bath afford no better entertainment than the loneliness of being in a crowd with nobody to talk to. Bath threatens to be a disappointment to Catherine, with a lack of young male companions or any companions at all apart from her weak-minded chaperone.

The comedy of tedium is sustained just long enough. The mood changes in Chapter 3. Within a few words of the start, James King introduces Catherine to Henry Tilney. (James King was a real person - he was the Master of the Ceremonies in the Lower Room from 1785 to 1805. He maintained the strict régime imposed fifty years earlier by Beau Nash.) 

It is a sparkling 'boy meets girl' first encounter, unlike those in the other Jane Austen novels. Tilney dazzles Catherine with his wit, his jokes, his ideas and his teasing. He even charms her chaperone, Mrs. Allen, with his opinions on dress material. Jane hints that Catherine has fallen in love at first sight. She has 'a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance'. The author is unable to comment on whether thoughts of Tilney affected Catherine's dreams. After all, Richardson has taught her that as 'no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her'! But it is easy enough to display the symptoms. Catherine ingenuously questions the twenty-two-year-old Eleanor Tilney so keenly about Henry that Eleanor has 'some knowledge of her new acquaintance's feelings', without Catherine's 'smallest consciousness of having betrayed them'.

As Catherine's relationship with Henry continues, her obvious pleasure in his company evokes a corresponding response: dancing, she 'enjoyed her usual happiness with Henry Tilney, listening with sparkling eyes to every thing he said; and, in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself’. 

Having created the love interest, Jane Austen deliberately keeps Tilney out of Chapter 4 in order to set Catherine up in another productive acquaintanceship, this time female: Isabella Thorpe is introduced.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Language of Jane Austen: 'did not reply' or 'made no answer'

Here's a curious footnote to Pride and Prejudice.

The expression 'made no answer' is used seventeen times in the novel, with reference to several different (non)-speakers: Catherine Bennet, Bingley, and Miss Bingley once each, Mr. Bennet twice, Darcy five times, and Elizabeth seven.

Jane Austen uses the expression five times in Sense and Sensibility. You may not be surprised to hear it is usually Edward who chooses not to answer! 

Given their contexts, the three appearances of the expression in Emma seem especially deliberate rather than formulaic.

Jane Austen does not use the expression at all in Mansfield Park or Persuasion or Sanditon.

I conclude it was an expression she was fond of in her early years as a novelist but for which she found alternatives in later writing.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Highway Robberies; and Jane Austen's Highway Journeys

Highway robbery still occurred during Jane Austen's lifetime, though she seems never to have been a victim. (In 1793, there was a series of highway robberies not far from Steventon.)

However, travel was always a problem for her. As a respectable woman, Jane could not travel alone by stagecoach. In her genteel poverty, she was dependent on others for lifts. But her father had a carriage only for a few months of his life. 

She gives some indication of the state of roads and transport: There has been a great deal of rain here for this last fortnight, much more than in Kent; & indeed we found the roads all the way from Staines most disgracefully dirty. – Steventon lane has its full share of it, & I do not know when I shall be able to get to Deane (Letter 10); We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipt off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed (Letter 10).

Travelling from Chawton to London in May 1813, Jane reported: Three hours & a qr took us to Guildford, where we staid barely two hours, & had only just time enough for all we had to do there, that is, eating a long comfortable Breakfast, watching the Carriages, paying Mr Herington & taking a little stroll afterwards. From some veiws which that stroll gave us, I think most highly of the situation of Guildford (Letter 84). Luggage went astray: it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies. No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l.,... Mr Nottley immediately despatched a man and horse after the chaise, and in half an hour's time I had the pleasure of being as rich as ever (Letter 9).

The family's removal to Bath gives us the following: Our Journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed Horses at the end of every stage, & paid at almost every Turnpike; – we had charming weather, hardly any Dust, & were exceedingly agreable, as we did not speak above once in three miles. – Between Luggershall and Everley we made our grand Meal, and then with admiring astonishment perceived in what a magnificent manner our support had been provided for –; – We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the beef (Letter 35). From Devizes, they had a very neat chaise ... it looked almost as well as a Gentleman's, at least as a very shabby Gentleman's. They took three hours from Devizes to Bath (twenty miles).

A letter to Cassandra dated 24 August 1814 makes us aware how much one's progress was slowed down if there were a large number of passengers in the coach being pulled: We were late in London, from being a great Load (Letter 105).

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Jane Austen's Control of Crowd Scenes

Jane Austen amazes me with her control of crowd scenes.

Several people can be involved in an incident, each with his or her own interests and motivations, and somehow the reader is made aware of all the nuances of feeling.

Consider how in Sense and Sensibility Jane contrives a remarkable gathering of conflicting characters at the Dashwoods' party in Harley Street. Elinor finds herself in the company of the rich, formidable and autocratic Mrs. Ferrars (another in the mould of Lady Catherine de Bourgh), as well as her rival Lucy Steele, her own greedy brother John and various others whom she has good reason to dislike.

Mrs. Ferrars, knowing Edward's attraction to Elinor, belittles her throughout. Elinor smiles to see how Mrs. Ferrars, in order to snub her, deliberately makes a fuss of Lucy Steele, for she knows Mrs. Ferrars would suffer an even greater shock if she knew Lucy was planning to marry Edward. It is a potentially explosive gathering and an explosion almost takes place when Marianne, unable to endure the slighting of her sister, says to her 'Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make you unhappy' and bursts into tears. 


Jane Austen puts together another explosive mix for the next scene. She has Edward arriving to visit Elinor (seeing her for the first time in several months) just when Lucy is present, boasting of the warmth with which she believes herself to have been received by Edward's mother. 

It was a very awkward moment; and the countenance of each showed that it was so. They all looked exceedingly foolish.

Elinor has valiantly to sustain conversation.

However, my favourite example of a 'crowd scene' occurs at the shock occasioned by Sir Thomas's return from Antigua in Mansfield Park and his response to the proposed theatricals. We are so skilfully made aware of contrasting reactions of the numerous individuals affected.


Some consider Mansfield Park Jane's greatest novel. It contains much of her best writing and invention. With extraordinary skill, she handles simultaneously the reactions to events of a large number of characters, all behaving more or less selfishly, but in subtly different ways. Jane may have learned something here from her hard-working predecessor Charlotte Smith, whose novel The Old Manor House (1793) handles big scenes (for example, the tenants' feast) in which many characters have private schemes afoot.

In Mansfield Park, we have the marvellous moment when Sir Thomas returns. The young people, led by Tom, his heir, have caused upheaval with rehearsals for the amateur theatricals. But – on Sir Thomas’s return – not everyone understands the situation. While others cringe, Yates prattles cheerfully to Sir Thomas about the scheme. So brilliant here is the way Jane Austen conveys the feelings not just of Yates but of no fewer than ten other people – Tom, Edmund, Maria, Julia, Mary and Henry Crawford, Fanny, Mr. Rushworth, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram – each motivated differently by embarrassment or selfishness or self-gratification or even (in Rushworth's case) relief.

Edmund was the most difficult to portray, he having reluctantly agreed to participate. The struggle to rationalize his change of attitude had been too much for him.

Masterly is Jane Austen's depiction of the way Sir Thomas resumes control. He is never less than courteous. He even brings himself to praise the ‘neat job’ done by his ‘friend Christopher Jackson’ – the carpenter who has constructed the scenery. Yet order is restored within just a few hours and he stifles all further prospects with a few words and a diplomatic change of subject.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Cobb at Lyme

In a letter written to Cassandra from Lyme on 14 September 1804 Jane Austen mentions a walk she had on the Cobb at Lyme Regis: 'I called yesterday morning – (ought it not in strict propriety be termed Yester-Morning?) on Miss Armstrong, & was introduced to her father & Mother. Like other young Ladies she is considerably genteeler than her Parents; Mrs. Armstrong sat darning a pr of Stockings the whole of my visit –. But I do not mention this at home, lest a warning should act as an example. – We afterwards walked together for an hour on the Cobb; she is very conversable in a common way; I do not perceive Wit or Genius – but she has Sense and some degree of Taste, & her manners are very engaging'.

So Jane knew the Cobb well.

Now think of the famous chapter in 'Persuasion' in which Louisa falls from the steps of the Cobb. How many readers could recall how it begins? It starts quietly with one of those incidental, delightfully-ironic conversations in which Jane's novels are so rich. Anne and Henrietta are taking an early stroll by the sea. Henrietta talks about Dr. Shirley, the vicar, and wishes he would move permanently to the seaside: she argues that it would be good for his health at his time of life. Her motive is not entirely altruistic - the removal of Dr. Shirley would create the need for a curate to replace him; the post would suit Charles Hayter well; she could then marry Charles.

Anne discerns all this but answers sympathetically. Thus more light is subtly cast on the characters of both ladies.

Then there is additional irony: Henrietta wishes Lady Russell could somehow be induced to persuade Dr. Shirley to retire. She is sure Lady Russell has remarkable powers of persuasion - powers Anne knows only too well.

Such is the artistry with which Jane Austen writes so many episodes.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Relationship between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth

Persuasion is often considered autumnal in mood and setting. The Bath scenes take place in the Winter, leading to the prospect of joy with the coming of Spring. However, this novel is also different in that the story centres on the thoughts and feelings of Anne Elliot, who has already gone through her Spring and Summer of experiences before the novel starts. Unlike other heroines, she knows her mind before Page 1. She has arrived at full maturity. Also, the autumnal feeling comes from the sense that now is the time of harvest - the product of work done in the Spring and Summer.

Anne's error lay in a wrong estimate of Wentworth. She did not realise that his moral and mental qualities were such that it would have been prudent to marry him, even at the age of nineteen. Jane implies that right feeling is an integral part of good sense. Perhaps Jane's head had matured sooner than her heart. Though she could still regard love with a touch of irony, this was softened by a new mood of pensive sympathy. In this novel the tender autumnal weather reflects the tender autumnal mood. There is rich illustration - quite apart from Anne - of love versus prudence in the novel. So it has a dramatic and spiritual unity.

What makes Anne fear Captain Wentworth will marry Louisa? Much of the damage is done by the well-meant but painful speculation of her friends and relatives. 'Anne had to listen to the opinions of her brother and sister': Charles and Mary discuss which of Henrietta and Louisa is likely to be preferred by Captain Wentworth. Then, shortly after Captain Wentworth has handed her into their gig, Anne has to hear the Admiral tell his wife: 'He certainly means to have one or other of those two girls, Sophy..'. Nobody ever says: 'Frederic needs a wife. Anne would be ideal.' Wentworth himself has fuelled the flames by telling his sister: 'Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match...'. But this is light-hearted and not spoken in front of Anne.

It is clever of Jane Austen to make speculation do so much. It prevents her from having to show Wentworth becoming even more deeply involved with Louisa.

Captain Wentworth is angry when he learns that his plan to keep Anne in Lyme has been thwarted by Mary's selfishness. Wentworth's ostensible motive for keeping Anne close to himself is to employ her nursing skills on Louisa. However, in view of the Captain's recent attitude to Anne ('.. no one so proper, so capable, as Anne!') and what he says later (in Chapters 23 and 24) about his feelings for her, what Wentworth really wants is to keep Anne close to him not only in Lyme but for all time. As for Wentworth's supposed 'love' for Louisa, it turns out that he did not think her good enough even for Benwick!

If Captain Wentworth had succeeded in keeping Anne in Lyme, they could have renewed their engagement in Chapter 13, married in Chapter 14 and we would all have got to bed a lot earlier! However, we would have missed all those wonderful moments in Bath.

Alternatively, Anne might have married Captain Benwick. They get on well, having much in common - personal sorrows, a tendency to introversion and a fine taste in literature. In Lyme they almost become 'a pair'. He is 'considerately attentive to her' and she hopes with pleasure that their 'acquaintance' may continue. Later, at Uppercross, Charles Musgrove gives Anne strong hints that Benwick has fallen for her: Benwick would have accepted an invitation to Uppercross if Anne had been living there; instead, on a pretext of admiring local church architecture, he is likely to visit her at Kellynch, according to Charles. Anne does not seem averse to the prospect.

Now, if only Wentworth had stayed in Lyme and married Louisa, and if only Benwick had turned up at Kellynch, Anne could have become Mrs. Captain Benwick in Chapter 15. She would have married into the profession she loved and she would have had a perfect soul-mate.

The subtle unfolding of the relationship between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth shows Jane Austen's craftsmanship at its most mature. There can be few better realised moments in English literature than that in which Captain Wentworth, in a crowded room, overhears Anne discussing with Captain Harville the comparative constancy of men and women in love, and is moved by what he hears into writing to her to declare his love. C.V. Wedgwood [Annual Report of The Jane Austen Society, 1966] wrote: 'Under the surface calm of this scene the controlled passion of the two protagonists seems to electrify the atmosphere, so that the absurd intrusion of Charles Musgrove is a welcome relief of tension'.

In that famous discussion of the relative constancy of men and women, the comments made by Anne are uncannily similar to lines in Washington Irving's The Broken Heart (from 'The Sketch Book', which was published almost immediately after Persuasion.) He wrote: 'To a man, the disappointment of love may occasion some bitter pangs; it wounds some feelings of tenderness, it blasts some prospects of felicity; but he is an active being - he may dissipate his thoughts in the whirl of varied occupation, or may plunge into the tide of pleasure; or if the scene of disappointment be too full of painful association, he can shift his abode at will, taking, as it were, the wings of the morning, can fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, and be at rest. But woman's is comparatively a fixed, a secluded and meditative life. She is more the companion of her own thoughts and feelings; and, if, they are turned to ministers of sorrow, where shall she look for consolation? Her lot is to be wooed and won; and if unhappy in her love, her heart is like some fortress that has been captured and sacked and abandoned and left desolate’. 

Captain Wentworth normally speaks articulately and clearly. Yet in the final paragraph of Chapter 9 Anne hears him simply making 'noises'. Two-year-old Walter Musgrove has clambered on to his Aunt Anne's back, while she is kneeling by her patient. Little Walter ignores rebukes. Then - quite a shock for his infant system - he is suddenly picked up by a strange man (Captain Wentworth) who does not even speak any calming words to him. Obviously he screams. But Jane Austen edits that out. This is when Captain Wentworth makes the 'noises'. Anne thinks he is trying to blot out any thanks she might express. Possibly he is actually saying under his breath to the little boy words which had better not be repeated. By the way, what was little Walter screaming? 'I want my Mummy!'? No.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Little Gems of 'Northanger Abbey'

There are in Northanger Abbey enjoyable throw-away comments satirizing the foibles of human nature.

James Morland allows his younger sister to flatter him by expressing her joy that he has come to Bath to see her, when in fact he has not, and is soon surprising his sister by taking sides against her in favour of Isabella.

When, in Bath, Mrs. Allen chances to meet her former school acquaintance Mrs. Thorpe, their joy is great, 'since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years'.

When Mr. Allen opposes on grounds of propriety the idea of young people driving round the countryside unchaperoned in open carriages, Mrs. Allen supports him only with 'Open carriages are nasty things. A clean gown is not five minutes wear in them.'

There are in light touches astonishing insights. Mrs. Allen advises Catherine, who is planning to visit Miss Eleanor Tilney: 'put on a white gown; Miss Tilney always wears white'. These few words imply so much – that Miss Tilney is from a wealthy family (laundry is no problem), that she has taste, and also that Mrs. Allen, however silly she may be, knows how Catherine can make herself attractive to the Tilneys.

In Chapter 25, when it is expected that Captain Tilney will marry Isabella, Henry tells his sister, with heavy irony: 'Prepare for your sister-in-law, Eleanor, and such a sister-in-law as you must delight in! – Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.' This is typical of his Jane Austen-like wit and charm. Eleanor's reply, however, is equally delightful, since it carries (for the reader) the double irony of a compliment to Catherine: 'Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in'. Such a sister-in-law she eventually has.

The novel ends with a characteristic Jane Austen-ism: 'I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience'.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Sundry Thoughts on 'Sanditon'

Jane Austen also enjoys poking fun at fashionable clichés when writing of visitors to Sanditon: 'the Miss Beauforts were soon satisfied with the circle in which they moved in Sanditon to use a proper phrase, for everybody must now move in a circle, – to the prevalence of which rotatory motion, is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many.’

The minor characters include the three girls in Mrs. Griffiths' seminary. The first two, the Miss Beauforts, are 'very accomplished and very ignorant', eager to show off and to allure. They spend their money on finery and set themselves up respectively with a harp and sketching materials. They like to attract all eyes to the balcony window at which they exhibit themselves. The third girl is a potentially interesting heiress from the West Indies, Miss Lambe, 'about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, with a maid of her own'. Lady Denham marks her out as a possible wife for Sir Edward. 

What might Miss Lambe's family background have been? And why was she 'half' mulatto rather than just 'mulatto'? Possibly Jane Austen did not understand the terms for persons of mixed ancestry. A mulatto is someone who has a black parent and a white parent. So, a half mulatto is actually a quadroon - a person who has one-quarter black ancestry. A child of a white father and Negro mother was a mulatto; a child of a white father and mulatto mother was a quadroon; a child of a white father and quadroon mother was a quintero; a child of a white father and quintero mother was considered white. A white parent and a quadroon parent produced an octoroon. [In the early days of New Orleans, mixed-blood women comprised most of the residents of upscale brothels; quadroons and octoroons were often highly-paid courtesans, because they were exotic-looking, but did not look very obviously as if they had black ancestry.]

There are some interesting cultural assumptions evident in the lack of a term for the child of a white mother and black father, a white mother and mulatto father and so on. The term 'mulatto' itself has a particularly unpleasant genesis. It is a 1595 English word from Spanish and Portuguese - a diminutive of 'mulo' (mule). Mules are sterile 'halfbreeds,' the offspring of a male ass and a female horse. Received wisdom of the time suggested that mulattos were similarly 'halfbreeds' and that they were correspondingly likely to be less fertile than 'pure-breeds,' as well as being decidedly frail and sickly.

Perhaps Miss Lambe would have become the belle of the season, had Sanditon been completed. Probably the intended heroine, however, is Charlotte, ‘a very pleasant young woman of two and twenty'.

Incidentally, in October 1813, Jane had written from Godmersham, 'I admire the Sagacity and Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well. – I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her' [Letter 91]. Charlotte was the daughter of a former Canon of Canterbury.

Unfortunately, in the twelve chapters of Sanditon, she does not develop much. Her function thus far is to observe, scrutinize and judge the people and ideas presented to her. She has little to do other than think the obvious: 'It was not a week, since Miss Diana Parker had been told by her feelings, that the sea air would probably in her present state, be the death of her, and now she was at Sanditon, intending to make some stay, and without appearing to have the slightest recollection of having written or felt any such thing. – It was impossible for Charlotte not to suspect a good deal of fancy in such an extraordinary state of health.’ 

Charlotte is told the private thoughts and aspirations of the Sanditon characters. Lady Denham, for example, reveals her ungenerous attitude to her nephew and niece. A compelling reason for not inviting them to stay with her is that her two housemaids would have more work and might ask for higher wages! 

It is easy enough for Charlotte to pass judgement on Lady Denham's meanness: 'Charlotte's feelings were divided between amusement and indignation – but indignation had the larger and increasing share'. On the environmental changes, it is not so easy for Charlotte (and Jane Austen) to take a stance. They are as ambivalent about the changes as people in the 1990s when the life of English town centre shops was drained away by out-of-town supermarkets. Jane Austen realises there is something to be said for vigorous work and progress, even if means that in some respects the old must give way. 

Charlotte can see through falseness and hypocrisy where it exists. Sometimes, she seems priggishly censorious. After her first meeting with the prattling Diana, we read 'The words "Unaccountable officiousness! – Activity run mad!" – had just passed through Charlotte's mind'. 

Lady Denham is too mean to encourage doctors. She opposes having a medical man in Sanditon because 'It would be only encouraging our servants and the poor to fancy themselves ill, if there was a doctor at hand. – Oh! pray, let us have none of the tribe at Sanditon. ... Here have I lived seventy good years in the world and never took physic above twice'. 

It is always fascinating to analyze the ways in which Jane Austen conveys to the reader such vivid pictures of the characters she has invented. She uses dialogue extensively: characters reveal their intelligence, stupidity, kindness or insincerity in all they say. This is reinforced by what other characters think about them. These thoughts are often in the head of the heroine, who is (usually) perceptive, with a keen sense of values and an understanding of what constitutes proper conduct. Finally, there are direct evaluations in the voice of the third-person narrator. In Sanditon, although there is a good deal of dialogue, a high proportion of the character revelation is through analysis by the author and, as we have seen, by Charlotte Heywood, who, in these twelve chapters, has hardly any other function. At the end of the fragment, Charlotte happens to spot Sir Edward Denham and Clara alone together in a sheltered spot in the grounds of Sanditon House, presumably seeking privacy. Charlotte interprets this as a lovers' secret meeting. Although the situation 'could not but strike her rather unfavourably with regard to Charlotte', she withdraws unseen and feels they were unlucky to have been seen even by her.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Elizabeth Bennet and her Father


Father-daughter relationships are sometimes important in Jane Austen’s novels. Think of Emma and Pride and Prejudice and – in an indirect way – of Sense and Sensibility: Mr. Dashwood is dead before the novel begins but his will has such an impact on his daughters. Mr. Morland is remarkable for being unremarkable. Mr. Woodhouse's devotion fails to conceal his selfishness.

The teasing, ironic Mr. Bennet, with his perceptiveness, values and sense of the absurd finds his perfect partner not in his wife but in his daughter Elizabeth. In total contrast is Sir Walter Elliot: his daughter Anne emerges as the most lovely and selfless of heroines, despite having to be loyal to this vain and foolish man. Jane Austen's ideal father would appear to be self-respecting, restrained, genuinely kind and affectionate to all his children, and well-informed. Her own father was such a man. The bleakest paternal relationship is provided by Mr. Price, the Lieutenant of Marines. Burdened by poverty and a large family, he takes no interest in his daughter Fanny. When she returns to her parents in Portsmouth after several years being brought up in the family of his sister-in-law at Mansfield Park, Price can scarcely be bothered to notice or welcome her. He is dirty and gross. He swears and drinks. But Elizabeth's relation with her father is the backbone of Pride and Prejudice. It sets the tone, combining realism, morality and laughter. They perfectly understand each other. Elizabeth is the child who most resembles her father in taste, sense and wit.

Mr. Bennet has relentless clear-sighted realism – a quality shared by Elizabeth and by Jane Austen. His forte is not action; it is commentary. It is he who holds the story together. He has the best lines. The intelligence and sense of humour shared by father and daughter is well seen in their response to Mr. Collins. Having heard his first letter read by her father, she asks, 'Can he be a sensible man, sir?' Mr. Bennet replies, 'No, my dear, I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse.' We can see where Elizabeth's relishing of the foibles of mankind comes from.

In agreeing to visit Charlotte in Kent, the only pain Elizabeth feels is 'leaving her father'. She knows he will miss her. He urges her to keep in touch by letter and 'almost' promises to reply.

There is a wonderfully comic scene in which Bennet tries to share with Lizzy his amusement at the apparently misguided letter Collins has sent him, warning against a marriage between Darcy and Elizabeth. Bennet chuckles at such a thought relating to Darcy 'who never looks at a woman but to see a blemish, and who, probably, never looked at you in his life!' Elizabeth, who struggles to appear amused, is astonished at her father's 'want of penetration'. To be fair to him, however, she has scarcely publicized her altered feelings.

Occasionally, Bennet stirs himself to attend a social event: he is present at the Netherfield Ball. There is a telling moment of unspoken communication between father and favourite daughter. Elizabeth gives her father a look to entreat his interference during Mary's interminable, embarrassing singing. He takes the hint and asks Mary to let someone else have a turn.

To counteract the effects of the entail on the family property, some fathers would eagerly have married off a daughter (perhaps Mary?) to Mr. Collins. Not so Mr. Bennet. During the commotion following Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Collins, he sits quietly in his library. When his help is sought by the frantic Mrs. Bennet, he shows 'calm unconcern' but agrees to give Elizabeth his opinion. He tells her: 'An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.' We are told that Elizabeth 'could not but smile’.

When Elizabeth accepts Darcy, her father seriously tries to make her reconsider. It matters more that his daughter should be happy than that she should be married to one of the richest men in England. 'Are you out of your senses to be accepting this man?' he asks. 'Have you not always hated him?' In Bennet we have a heroine's father who, despite his flippancy, loves his daughter deeply. His fondness for Elizabeth (and Jane) is clear whenever he is deprived of their company. Bennet warns his daughter that she would be unhappy if she did not truly esteem her husband, for her 'lively talents' would cause her misery. His advice is poignant, revealing his love for her and the tragedy of his own marriage. The chapter ends with the high comedy of Mrs. Bennet's raptures over Elizabeth's engagement to Darcy, but its kernel is the serious interview between father and daughter. (Typically, at the end of the interview, he tells Elizabeth: 'If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure'!) At the end of the novel, we hear of Bennet that he delights in visits to Elizabeth at Pemberley, 'especially when he was least expected'. He misses her 'exceedingly’.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Novels about 'Women Waiting'

Chapter Eight of 'Persuasion' concerns a dinner and dance at the Musgroves'. There is plenty of lively conversation. Yet Anne Elliot - the heroine and central character of the novel - does not say a word (at least, in direct speech).

Jane Austen gives the readers (but not the heroines) plenty of information on the intentions and thoughts of such men as Darcy and Wentworth. So the suspense arises from the heroines' pondering what the heroes' intentions and thoughts are. The point is sometimes made that Jane Austen's novels are about women waiting. That certainly is what Anne Elliot spends her time doing.

The heroine needs only to interpret body language, actions and conversations, assigning method and motive, to make a novel 'action-packed'. Certainly Chapter Eight is action-packed. Despite her total silence, we are made to respond to every nuance through the perceptions and feelings of Anne. At one point, she is at the piano and 'her eyes would sometimes fill with tears'.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

'Sense and Sensibility': The Scheming Willoughby

What follows is mere speculation. But maybe you will find it plausible.


It is possible to theorise that Willoughby's encounter with Marianne might not have been the haphazard knightly rescue that it seems, and that there is a carefully constructed 'back-story'. The following chronology is not at all apparent when you read the novel straight through.

Brandon in Chapter 31 recounts how Eliza as a child would frequently visit him at Delaford. There was local gossip that Eliza was Brandon's love child. So it is entirely possible that Willoughby, who had been visiting Allenham every year, had been aware of Eliza, and her connection to Brandon, for a very long time, maybe even years. It is even possible they encountered each other, at least forming a talking acquaintance, and maybe Willoughby marked her as a future conquest if the right circumstances were to arise. It is even possible that Brandon and Willoughby crossed paths during that time, and Willoughby developed an antipathy for Brandon based on Brandon's reputation as an impeccable gentleman.

Skip ahead. Eliza disappears in February while staying with her friend's father in Bath (is that the opportunity Willoughby has been awaiting?) and is missing for eight months. During that eight months, it is clear that it is Willoughby who takes Eliza with him to some place and leaves her pregnant, then deserts her (perhaps as soon as she advises him that she is pregnant), without ever having told her his address (so Brandon reports in Chapter 31). If that is in fact true, and is not a fib told by Eliza to forestall a confrontation between Brandon and Willoughby, then this means that Willoughby had always kept the door open to doing exactly what he did, which was to abandon Eliza if she became pregnant. This is a damning bit of evidence of his mind-set, because it would otherwise have been the most natural thing in the world for him to tell her where he was from, and to learn that she in fact had visited her uncle there many times during her youth. If he did not do that, it means he has been up to no good from the first moment.

In Chapter 6, the Dashwoods arrive at Barton Park in early September, while Eliza is still missing. Within a day or two after their arrival, Sir John makes their acquaintance. We then read ‘and as he attended them to the drawing room [he] repeated to the young ladies the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any smart young men to meet them’. They would see, he said, only one gentleman there beside himself, a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay. He hoped they would all excuse the smallness of the party and could assure them it should never happen so again. He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their engagements.

Probably Allenham was included in Sir John's local canvass that day. If so, may we speculate that Willoughby, who has just arrived back in the country for his annual visit (coinciding, it seems, with his abandonment of the pregnant Eliza), has heard Sir John talking up the Dashwood girls, and is ready for his next conquest?

Possibly he craftily watches; he waits for an opportunity to make a grand entrance. In Chapter 9, the Dashwoods are well settled at Barton (presumably about September). The girls in one of their earliest walks had discovered an ancient respectable-looking mansion. The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. So it was not the first time Marianne and Margaret had walked where Willoughby found her when they met, and he may have had occasions to observe her from a distance while out riding. He was only a few yards from her when the accident happened.

That could be interpreted as suspicious, given that only a short time before, Willoughby has abandoned Eliza and returned to Allenham. He is moving fast, and then fate gives him his opening when Marianne falls in the rain. When the Dashwoods quiz Sir John about Willoughby the next day, he says ‘Willoughby! What, is he in the country?’ This tells us that Sir John knows that Willoughby has been away and came back without warning (of course, he left Eliza in a big rush). ‘Know him? To be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year.’ He then continues his teasing of the girls about catching Willoughby, and adds, ‘Brandon will be jealous if she does not take care.’

He remembers that ‘last Christmas’ Willoughby danced at a little hop in the park. This suggests that Willoughby's annual visits to the country are during the autumn and winter. 

Willoughby is abusive about Brandon from early on: ‘Brandon is just the kind of man whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about.’ (He says this, knowing Brandon is the uncle of the girl he has just seduced and abandoned.)

In Chapter 13, just before the party to Whitwell, Brandon gets the letter from Eliza which was sent by her in October. Mrs. Jennings correctly guesses that the letter that causes Brandon to leave suddenly is from Eliza. But the letter does not name Willoughby as the villain, and so Brandon has no idea (yet) of Willoughby’s guilt.

However, Willoughby is not stupid: he realizes the letter is probably from Eliza, and so he tries to dissuade Brandon from leaving for six hours, and then he makes a snide joke that Brandon has written the letter himself! 

Is he worried that his planned seduction of Marianne, which he perhaps believes is just about to bear fruit, is to be spoilt? He must be annoyed that Brandon is not wasting a moment. That is why Willoughby increases the pressure the next day and takes Marianne to Allenham to show off the house: could it be his desperate attempt to get to her before the game is up. A week later we learn in Chapter 14 that Willoughby was in Allenham a year previously (i.e., the previous October), and we are also told that he learned from his elderly relative as soon as he arrived this year that Barton Cottage was occupied. He says: I felt an immediate satisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience from it can account for. Must it not have been so, Marianne?

The next day, Willoughby suddenly leaves, with the excuse that Mrs. Smith has sent him off to town. What has probably happened is that Brandon has written to Willoughby from town telling him that he knows what happened with Eliza and has demanded satisfaction in a duel. Willoughby knows the game is up with Marianne. (The duel between Brandon and Willoughby does take place, by Brandon's own report, when Willoughby returns to town.)

(One wonders, incidentally, whether Mrs. Marianne Brandon would ever receive at Delaford the unfortunate unmarried mother Eliza, and her child fathered by Willoughby. Most probably, Colonel Brandon would not expect her to do so.)