Tea Time Tattle- In Defense of Edward

on a white wooden table red roses, cup of tea, heart made of lac

I’m rereading Sense and Sensibility, and it’s made me consider how many people do not like Edward Ferrars. Many a Janeite love Elinor because she seems to be everything a modern woman should be: serious, realistic, grounded, in control of her emotions, capable in a crisis, dependable, reliable. All the other adjectives. Elinor is #goals. I write that as a Marianne who grew up to be an Elizabeth. Yes, I was definitely Marianne at sixteen, and I spend a good deal of the book on each reread cringing at my similarities to Marianne. Someday, I’d like to be more like Elinor.

However, I think Austen ultimately makes it plain that you need both sense and sensibility in your life. Most consider Marianne and Elinor dual heroines of Sense and Sensibility. They each drive the plot, and we root for them both to overcome their obstacles and emerge victoriously. When you study it further, however, Elinor has very little character growth. Yes, she does gain some of Marianne’s sensibility. When danger is real, such as Marianne’s illness, Elinor feels it acutely. When it is revealed that Edward is not married to Lucy Steele and is therefore available, Elinor’s reaction is one of my favorite in all of Austen’s scenes:

Elinor could sit no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and, as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.

For Elinor, that’s an incredible display of emotion.  If Marianne needs Colonel Brandon to temper her more sensational ways, then perhaps Elinor needs someone to draw out her emotions better.

When most people discuss the romance between Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood, they dwell only on things that make them believe Elinor deserves more.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve read (or perhaps you never have), Elinor and the reader know all along that Edward is dependent upon pleasing his mother to gain his inheritance. There has been quite the dispute about his future, and at his current age (24) there is little rush for him to decide. He prefers the quiet, country life and thinks leading a parish would be best for him. His family wants him to enter politics or have a great military career. Edward certainly knows his temperament better than his family does—he is shy and diffident, not the stuff needed to become famous. Although Elinor cannot help but fall in love with her sister-in-law’s brother, she cautions her heart from believing they could ever be together. Nor does she try to press any advantage she has when she believes Edward loves her in return. She would never ask him to defy his mother or give up a fortune for her.

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And the award of the most hated woman in Austendom goes to…Lucy Steele!

Eventually, we learn that more than the familial expectations separate Edward and Elinor. He has secretly been engaged for five years! Elinor hears it from the woman herself, who certainly is revealing it to assert her claim on Edward. For months, Elinor bears the secret alone until it all comes out. Edward does the honorable thing and stands by Lucy, even when he is disinherited.

Elinor is upset to hear all of this, but she had always thought they could never be possible. We can examine Elinor more in another post.

Recently on Facebook, I made a connection between Edward and Marianne. Edward proposed to Lucy after a few weeks of infatuation and fascination. He was young and imprudent. He cared more for his own emotions than any logical arguments about marrying such a poor girl and one he had only (and secretly) courted for a few weeks—although it sounds as though he had met Lucy a few other times over the years. The sort of sensibility this would require does not appear to be very much like the Edward we have known over the course of the book. I suggest that this mistake—for he very soon realized it was—tempered him. Likewise, Marianne soon learns her mistake.

Edward, however, is not given the relief Marianne receives about understanding Willoughby better. Instead, he has dejected spirits for much of the book because he is not free from Lucy. Until the end of the book, he knows unless she calls the engagement off—which he doesn’t believe she shall because he can see how cunning she is—he will be stuck with her for life. All the while, he has since met other ladies worthy of greater respect and admiration, finally falling in love with Elinor.

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Good…good. Let the hate flow through you.

As Elinor has no extreme moment offering her sensibility as Marianne’s illness shows her the use of sense and restraint, I posit that Elinor needs Edward. The sensibility he has in his character evident from his proposal to Lucy can be reanimated once he is free of her.

A secondary argument which readers often give is that Elinor should be matched with Colonel Brandon. While I argue that Edward will throw aside his melancholy after uniting with Elinor, I do not believe Colonel Brandon could be rejuvenated by her. When relating the story of his lost love to Elinor, he says this:

The shock which her marriage had given me,” he continued, in a voice of great agitation, “was of trifling weight—was nothing to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It was that which threw this gloom,—even now the recollection of what I suffered—”

Indeed, the events of twenty years ago affect Brandon so much that it would take more than Elinor’s cautious cheerfulness to return him to good humor. His true, abiding love and pain upon being separated from Eliza by unfeeling family cannot compare to the wounded pride and unease Edward felt upon realizing should not have not proposed to a Lucy. This does not even touch Eliza’s untimely and awful death which caused Brandon’s perpetual heartache and regret.

There are several couples in Sense and Sensibility we could see as an example of what the Steele-Ferrars marriage would be like. Mr. Palmer surely regrets his choice. Sir John and Lady Middleton are not well-suited. Edward even might succumb to Lucy’s influence, as his sister influenced her husband. There are many options for how Edward’s marriage to Lucy might have turned out and, while he might perhaps forever regret losing Elinor, it could be nothing to compared to the wretched pain that poor Colonel Brandon felt.

Colonel Brandon has not shaken off the melancholy sadness from losing his first love. Marianne adds a youthful quality and energy to Brandon, but Elinor is too staid to offer that. Instead, she needs someone who has not lived in depression for nearly twenty years. Elinor and Brandon have a wonderful friendship and a deep respect for one another but do not have the qualities either needs in a partner to live their happiest life.

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If you judge a well-matched couple by their perfections, then perhaps Elinor and Edward don’t appear to suit. However, if you believe that the best couples balance one another and bring out their best attributes, then Edward has everything Elinor needs.

 

Austen Writes Romance- One True Pairings

Roses and gift box with bead on wooden table. Valentines day concept. Copy spaceContinuing with our study of the romances in Austen’s works, it seemed fitting to discuss the idea of true love so close to Valentine’s Day. Among Fan Fiction readers of all genres, there is the idea of a “one true pairing” meaning an unbreakable romantic coupling that may or may not exist in the story proper.

Regarding the Austen fandom, there are some couples which nearly everyone agrees must always unite: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot are at the top of the list. I could add Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, but that’s more because there is a lack of viable alternatives presented in the story than out of overwhelming fan-love. Emma and Mr. Knightley are in a similar position. Fans would not have Emma with Mr. Elton or Frank Churchill. However, many do like Knightley but not Emma and would be content to see them both single forever. On the other hand, there is a philosophy of redeeming characters and giving them a second chance. This seems most notable in rakes like Henry Crawford and Willoughby.

I’ll be honest, it’s always seemed strange to me to disagree with the creator of the work and on a long finished project. However, I do want to examine the nature of these relationships and why so many feel some are inflexible and others in need of correction. I will review them by categories of obstacles, longevity, and relatability.

Without a doubt, the venerated favorite Austen work is Pride and Prejudice. Her main couple, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, have quite a share of obstacles to overcome. The title alone gives some indication of the conflicts afoot but there are also scheming rogues and wayward relatives. Originally published in three volumes, we see a moment of crisis in each volume. The first one ends with the departure of Darcy and Bingley from Netherfield. The reader has seen Darcy’s admiration grow, but Elizabeth remains ignorant of it. Instead, she believes Wickham and Darcy seems unworthy of her love. Whether she ends up with Wickham or not, no one sheds a tear about what might have been with the pompous Darcy. In the second volume, of course, we have Darcy’s disastrous first proposal. The third volume begins with Lydia’s elopement, and things seem darkest when Lady Catherine comes in all her haughty glory to berate Elizabeth for reportedly daring to think about accepting Darcy. Even after a proposal is accepted, there is the matter of convincing Elizabeth’s father and bearing with the displeasure of Darcy’s aunt. In the fan fiction world, we root for them over and over again while they are put in obstacles of every kind even including marriage to other partners and occasionally death! Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot are another couple who have overcome extreme odds. First, their engagement was broken. One can imagine the heartache attached to that was infinitely worse than merely separated by time and distance before their relationship bloomed. Secondly, it lasted many years and allowed feelings to harden. Lastly, both had rumored attachments to others. Comparatively, the only obstacle Marianne and Brandon have are her interest in another man. Willoughby is the one that must overcome greed, vanity, being a rake, and by the end of the book, marriage to another woman. Instead of feeling relieved that Marianne finds happiness with the steadfast Brandon, many readers are left rooting for a last minute change of scenario for Willoughby. Likewise, Fanny had loved Edmund most of her life, and she was his best friend and confidant. Their falling in love is nearly too natural. Whereas a marriage between Fanny and Henry or Edmund and Mary would require much more surmounting of obstacles.

Valentines Day - Wicker Hearts On Red Shiny Background

As Elizabeth Bennet informs her father, her attachment to Darcy is not the work of a moment but had withstood several months’ suspense. Many women have sighed over Darcy’s ardent love for Elizabeth which spans nearly the entire length of the novel. Wentworth’s letter detailing how he loved no one but Anne surely sends most female hearts pitter-pattering. While Elinor and Edward were attached for much of Sense and Sensibility and had a fair share of obstacles to overcome, one wonders at Edward’s steadfastness when he had been engaged to Lucy and seemingly so willing to follow through on it. Certainly, a case of cultural misunderstanding is to blame there as the modern reader cannot fully understand the importance of honor to a Georgian man. Readers lay a similar complaint at Edmund and Marianne’s doors. Put succinctly, we are wary of second attachments but not second chances.

Lastly, there is an issue of relatability. Darcy and Elizabeth’s tale of star-crossed lovers destined to misunderstand one another at every turn is as familiar to readers as Romeo and Juliet. If we haven’t lived it ourselves, we have read it and watched it before as it is a common romance trope. The allure of a second chance with the “one who got away” is obviously also a familiar theme, just ask lovers of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. However, the relationships between Brandon and Marianne, Edward and Elinor, and Fanny and Edmund require us to look too closely at ourselves. In each case, youth and foolishness play a part, as does vanity and insecurity. Marianne sought a man who was her mirror image to validate her own feelings on every subject. Surely, that’s very relatable but not necessarily likable. Edward attached himself off nothing more than idleness. He was in love with the idea of love. Again, something many have found themselves living but not something we enjoy living through vicariously. And how many of us have had a romantic interest in a close friend who just doesn’t see us that way? And how many of us are still holding a grudge even years later and mark it as nearly unforgivable to not see the good woman right in front of you?

Perhaps, then, reader notions of one true pairings have far more to do with their own prejudices and experiences than it does with the text and author intent. For my part, I believe Jane Austen enjoyed stirring the pot and rocking the boat. Why should only one or two types of relationships be the epitome of romantic love? Why not embrace the complexity that each one is unique?

Red Valentine Hearts Hanging in a Row

My relationship with my husband is us frequently watching something we only half pay attention to and texting each other silly memes we find online. I am typically also working while he is watching a brainless podcast of video games. We do enjoy eating out but merely for the food, not for the atmosphere. Valentine’s Day, to me, does not require roses and chocolates. For others, however, they feel most loved when the relationship is surrounded by romantic love or sizzling lust.

Just as each woman is different, so too, is each Austen heroine. Would a woman like Fanny have enjoyed a romantic relationship like Anne Elliot? I think Fanny would have rather been practically invisible to Edmund than a love he did not act on for almost a decade out of stubborn pride. I think she would find the latter harder to forgive. Obviously, that’s not the case for Anne but would she like Marianne’s relationship? She felt it hard to trust her judgment on not only Wentworth but on her cousin, Mr. Elliot. Imagine if she had been burned romantically once! She would likely never try again! On the other hand, while so many of us are willing to give Darcy a second chance to woo Elizabeth, Marianne would not have appreciated Willoughby doing the same. In short, “there are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”

Part 1- Austen Writes Romance?

Part 2- Broken Hearts