In my last post, I addressed the Dashwood girls leaving of Norland. I referenced the three-act story structure and said it was this leaving which is the inciting moment. What follows next, according to the structure, is second thoughts. What could possibly move Marianne from feeling as though leaving Norland was an abomination to thinking it wasn’t so bad?
Well, she spends chapters six through eight essentially like this:
Everything and everyone annoys her. I’ve been there, girl. It ain’t pretty. Moving is rough. Grief is hard. Combine the two and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Especially when you’re faking it. Even though she expressed her annoyance, she didn’t really confront the reasons for her feelings. Was she upset because things weren’t Norland? Because Barton didn’t have the same trees? Um…not really. That’s not how the mind works. Thankfully, Elinor is a great empath and gets that there’s deeper stuff going on with Marianne. However, she can’t translate for her sister forever.
I get it. Mrs. Jennings is intrusive and uncouth. Sir John Middleton and his wife are an odd couple that doesn’t ever really balance each other out. There’s definitely the aura of “I can’t believe these are the only friends we have” about the Barton Park crew. However, the Dashwoods can’t be very choosy. They don’t have the ability to meet many people and owe Sir John quite a bit of gratitude for the cheap rent on their cottage. Besides, it’s like when you go on “vacation” but it’s where your extended family also lives and then instead of getting to enjoy anything on your own, you’re left having to do everything with the family and they, of course, have strong opinoins about everything which you must defer to because they’re your host and live local so they have the aura of credibility about knowing what they’re talking about. Ok, so that was maybe a bit of a mini-rant about all vacations to the beach I took as a child but it applies in this scenario. How could the Dashwoods make better friends without offending their family who are essentially housing and partially feeding them?
To make matters worse, there’s a friend they all want to match Marianne up with. And he’s, like, old. Like really, really. Ok, so the age difference is very creepy to the average twenty-first century reader. However, in the era the book was written, Marianne was considered a full adult completely able for legal consent to marry (with parental approval). Men were not encouraged to marry until they had independent money and had experienced things in the world. This is an important theme in the story! Colonel Brandon is nearly thirty-five, which hopefully anyone can see is not that old (ahem, I’m two years away from that and while I wouldn’t go around dating fifteen-year-olds, I’ve got decades of life ahead and am only just feeling like I’m figuring things out and am a real grown-up). He’s really only been in the dating pool for a few years. But he sure acts old. It’s like the geeky guy at work who might be hot if he got contacts and quit wearing cardigans. Regardless of his age and sweater collection, Marianne’s not into it and constant hints at setting them up are grating on her nerves. Of course, there’s the hope that eventually Mrs. Jennings and Sir John will get the hint and move on. Elinor also “needs” a man after all! Surely they have other friends besides Colonel Brandon!
Then, the rain ceases, the clouds part, sun shines, and angel sings. Or, in other words, Marianne meets Mr. Willoughby amidst a rainy day of poor decisions.
Suddenly, Marianne finds life at Barton very bearable, after all. Hmmm…I wonder what could go wrong?