S&S Saturday– Leaving Norland

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It’s not until Chapter Six that the Dashwood ladies leave Norland, their home of about ten years, and make their way in the world without the benefit of a husband and father. In terms of story structuring, this is the inciting moment. The women leave and nothing will ever be the same again. Every story needs such a moment.

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This is a little later than most modern-day writers structure their stories. In the first five chapters of Sense and Sensibility, we meet the two protagonists, their mother, younger sister, half-brother, and sister-in-law. Oh, and Elinor falls in love. That’s not a small thing or anything.

However, it is not the loss of their father that makes the girls lose their innocence. Neither is it Elinor falling in love. No, it is this permanent estrangement from the home which symbolizes the last time they were happy, content, and care-free. Every thought must be different now and not because their father is dead or they’re in love. I don’t mean to say these things didn’t affect them–how could they not? I only mean to point out that it is the severing from this relationship to a house that is the turning point.

It’s worth noting that the move to Barton Park comes through Mrs. Dashwood’s family. They are now to be like sojourners in a land where Dashwood means nothing. For the very first sentence we read is that the Dashwoods had long been settled in Sussex and they are now to live in Essex. In a world where having the right name could open doors for you, it means something that these women have no protector in truth and their name offers none in his stead. This should shame John Dashwood more than anything.

While all the departing women felt the loss of Norland, it is Marianne who displays her emotions the most clearly.

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“Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you!—when learn to feel a home elsewhere!—Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence, perhaps, I may view you no more!—And you, ye well-known trees!—but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?”

In addition to being the inciting moment, this passage shows very clearly Marianne’s issue. She is not crying that she will miss memories of family. She is not saying she will miss the comforts of a large house and all the securities and luxuries that went with it. She is not complaining about the difficulty in going so far or expressing anxiety or fear of the unknown. No, she will miss trees! She knows she ought to miss Norland and its grounds are worthy of praise but somewhere along the way has gotten it in her head that it is merely the leaves and branches she will miss. All the while she congratulates herself on openly displaying her emotions and ardently feeling them at some spiritual plane in which Elinor cannot comprehend.

Let me translate that for you. She is faking it. The sorts of things she is trying to espouse were popular in the era. Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of the Romantic Era (characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.) William Wordsworth might have written about wandering as lonely as a cloud or rejoicing at a field of daffodils but I do not think he missed all genuine human emotion at the loss of connection with people in preference to nature.

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Trust me, I’ve moved a lot. I’ve hardly ever missed a house or a tree as much as I missed the people or memories in the house. Now, I’m aware as anybody that some people just feel different than others. The irony, however, is that Marianne holds herself as an authority on feelings. If others don’t feel as she does they must be heartless. Keep telling yourself that, Mar. Does it make sense to ask others to feel about trees the way you do? Does it not make more sense that they would miss their father, their home for ten years, good memories? Something tangible about human interaction?

Now, I don’t hate Marianne. I am merely pointing out what her fatal flaw is. It is as though she takes a page from Mr. Darcy’s book. She was given good principles–the Romantic works are not wrong in and of themselves. She borrows from Emma–better to be without wits than to misapply them! Like Catherine Morland, she has allowed literature to over-influence her. It gets even worse under the direction of Willoughby much like Catherine’s understand suffers at the hand of Isabella.

Why all this focus on Marianne at the story’s inciting moment? Well, Elinor doesn’t really evolve as a character. She moves just an inch or two but it is Marianne that has the real transformation. Elinor’s romantic conflict is presented earlier in the story and seems to resolve last but it is Marianne who is in real danger of become a victim to sensationalism. In future posts, I will delve more into the story structure but if you know the story, I bet you can guess what each highlight from the three-act structure above is.

S&S Saturday– Mrs. Dashwood’s imagination

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In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy says a lady’s imagination is very rapid. It goes from admiration to love to matrimony. It seems Mrs. Dashwood might fit this mold.

 

The contempt which she had, very early in their acquaintance, felt for her daughter-in-law, was very much increased by the farther knowledge of her character, which half a year’s residence in her family afforded; and, perhaps, in spite of every consideration of politeness or maternal affection on the side of the former, the two ladies might have found it impossible to have lived together so long, had not a particular circumstance occurred to give still greater eligibility, according to the opinions of Mrs. Dashwood, to her daughters’ continuance at Norland. This circumstance was a growing attachment between her eldest girl and the brother of Mrs. John Dashwood, a gentlemanlike and pleasing young man, who was introduced to their acquaintance soon after his sister’s establishment at Norland, and who had since spent the greatest part of his time there.

Some mothers might have encouraged the intimacy from motives of interest, for Edward Ferrars was the eldest son of a man who had died very rich; and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence, for, except a trifling sum, the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother. But Mrs. Dashwood was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her daughter, and that Elinor returned the partiality. It was contrary to every doctrine of hers that difference of fortune should keep any couple asunder who were attracted by resemblance of disposition; and that Elinor’s merit should not be acknowledged by every one who knew her was to her comprehension impossible.

Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address. He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement. But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished—as—they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Mrs. John Dashwood wished it likewise; but in the mean while, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambition to see him driving a barouche. But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life. Fortunately he had a younger brother who was more promising.

Edward had been staying several weeks in the house before he engaged much of Mrs. Dashwood’s attention; for she was, at that time, in such affliction as rendered her careless of surrounding objects. She saw only that he was quiet and unobtrusive, and she liked him for it. He did not disturb the wretchedness of her mind by ill-timed conversation. She was first called to observe and approve him farther, by a reflection which Elinor chanced one day to make on the difference between him and his sister. It was a contrast which recommended him most forcibly to her mother.

“It is enough,” said she; “to say that he is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already.”

“I think you will like him,” said Elinor, “when you know more of him.”

“Like him!” replied her mother with a smile. “I can feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love.”

“You may esteem him.”

“I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love.”