S&S Saturday– Viper in My Bosom

You can view previous discussions about Sense and Sensibility here: https://rosefairbanks.com/category/s-s-saturday/

Last time I posted about Sense and Sensibility, I compared Marianne meeting Willoughby to the “Second Thoughts” moment in a Three-Act Structure. The next plot point in the diagram is the climax of Act One. Conveniently, Jane Austen’s novel is broken down into three volumes. Let’s see if her closing scene of Volume One would match with a contemporary plot diagram.

Willoughby has left Devonshire by Chapter 18. He’s gone and we’re not sure if ever proposed to Marianne. Edward surprises the Dashwood ladies with a visit. However, he’s gone by Chapter 20. By the close of Chapter 22 and the end of Volume One, we have learned that Edward has secretly been engaged to Lucy Steele, everyone’s favorite viper in their bosom.

Scene from the 1995 production. Mrs. John Dashwood calls Lucy a “viper in my bosom” when she learns of the engagement between her and Edward after Lucy has insinuated herself into Mrs. John’s circle. This doesn’t happen for many, many chapters in the book but I always think of Lucy as a viper in one’s bosom and this is one of my favorite moments in film ever.

How callous Edward must seem! He never discouraged Elinor’s affections. Even as she wisely put Marianne off from expecting an engagement between them, she acknowledged that she believed Edward returned her feelings. Edward should have done everything he could have to discourage Elinor but he didn’t. Then, he visits the Dashwoods after their many months of separation would have probably lessened her regard.

The book opens with the Dashwood girls at a disadvantage in life because of men. Their great-uncle left them out of the will. Their father didn’t think ahead to more securely see to them. He relied on his son. Their step-brother is a jerk. It was all his idea to kick them out of the house…and… Oh wait. No it wasn’t. John Dashwood has flaws but it was his wife that is the source of the evil. And like every proper villainess, she doesn’t show her hand so easily. She doesn’t dismiss the girls and their mother from the house of which she is now mistress. No, she just makes it so unbearable that they are happy to leave.

Now, enter Lucy Steele.

Edward has done. He sure has. But is he the villain here? What would have happened? He probably would not have returned to Barton again. He’s miserable the entire time he’s there and I think he would have learned his lesson. So, Elinor’s love would have continued for a bit longer. She would sigh over him and maybe wonder what might have been. She is at considerable distance from her sister-in-law now so she wouldn’t even need to hear of him often. Eventually, he would marry. Elinor had always suspected she could never be his bride.

Now, assuming he wasn’t free of Lucy somehow, it would still come out that he had been engaged to her all along. Presumably, they were waiting for Edward to either be entirely independent (of which it seems he never was desirious of putting forth the effort) or when his mother died. However, that would have only been a sin of omission.

His guilt is exactly the same either way and Elinor pretty quickly pardons him. What, we will see in future chapters, is unbearable for Elinor is Lucy and her arts. Lucy is the one who seeks to confide in Elinor. At one point, Elinor even says,

“I certainly did not seek your confidence,” said Elinor;

A proper climax of a scene, however, is not just that it looks hopeless for our hero or heroine. It’s that it shows us some of their mettle. This is only the first act, after all. Elinor rises to the occasion.

for a few moments she was almost overcome—her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

Here, we see that Elinor is made of stern stuff. While Marianne crumples at the mere lack of Willoughby’s presence, Elinor manages to stand strong while her slim hopes are dashed and done so spitefully on purpose by the woman who would usurp them.

Volume One ends with this

After sitting with them a few minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the park, and Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched.

We can guess, though, that Elinor will rally. There has always been a dualism between Marianne and Elinor. It’s displayed in the title and throughout the first act. Marianne despairs when her lover is gone. Elinor shows fortitude. We know the tension will continue to mount for these two sisters as they continue their journey into this new world with such false friends and absent lovers.

Additionally, while the beginning of the book gives obstacles to happiness in the form of the Patriarchy and catty women, we can glean from the end of the first act, that the real conflict is going to be internal for our characters. Life will happen. It’s not playing nice or fair. How will they endure it?

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