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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
I am a frequent pharmacy shopper. Mr. Woodhouse would be so proud of me! Do I win a prize?
We’re not quite to the middle of the month and so far I’ve spent $447 in 8 trips at Walgreens. That doesn’t include the trips in which my medicine was not ready yet. Truthfully, not all of that was medicine. It is all sickness related, though. We need cleaning supplies, more fluids when sick, husband wanted some soup, after the fourth day in a row at the place I was NOT going to Walmart for office supplies. I practically live there and could easily be a walking advertisement for the place.
Toward the last week, I was ill with sinus congestion resulting in dizziness. I didn’t even realize I was congested because it wasn’t in my nose! Once I decided to attack the dizziness with allergy medicine, it lowered from my forehead to my nose and started to drain. I perked up just in time for my husband to wake up sick on Tuesday morning. He insisted that it was no big deal and a good sleep and Day Quill would take care of his raging fever and other aches which he wouldn’t even mention. On Wednesday, both of my kids woke up with stuffy noses and sore throats. As they had no fevers, I sent them to school and said we’d watch it but it was probably just allergies. Around noon, I insisted in taking my husband to urgent care as the doctor had no openings. I expected it was the flu until I got him to actually answer some questions en route. He said his throat hurt but he didn’t have muscle aches. That screamed strep throat to me.
Doctor mom was right.
We get him home and the pharmacy is backed up. By the time the kids get home from school, my husband’s prescriptions were ready. My son also came off the bus with glassy eyes and looking like he felt miserable. A touch to his forehead told me fever and the thermometer confirmed what I instinctively knew–102. My daughter also had a fever but upon hearing her father had strep throat began to insist her throat felt fine. She hates the swab test. I decided to not deal with her fighting at the moment and took my son into urgent care. He was positive for strep as well. By this point, I was pretty sure my daughter also had it. I could not convince her to come to the doctor that night but she did agree to take ibuprofen after I bought three different kinds so she could decide on a flavor and between chewable tablets and liquid. Le sigh.
Teddy slept through the night but it didn’t surprise me in the least that my daughter woke up around 4 am burning up, shivering, and in pain. I gave her some more ibuprofen and when she was due for another dose, I finally convinced her to go to the doctor. I’ll be honest. I LIED. I swore up and down she wouldn’t need to do a strep culture. By utter luck, the doctor agreed just by looking at her throat and knowing that two others in the house had strep that she didn’t have to do the the culture. I tried EVERYTHING to get her into the room before I lied but hey…desperate times. The doctor gave her a firm talking about next time she’ll have to do it. We’ll see if she will agree after being told by the doctor. It was given with a nice side dose of judgment. What’s with that? I’m doing the best I can! I can’t convince her to just handle it. I can’t make her just *not feel* something. She’s not spoiled rotten. We’re actually waiting for results on an autism evaluation for her. If she does have ASD, then she feels pain differently. Something which should not be so distressing can be acutely painful to an ASD child with sensory processing issues. More sighs.
I dropped her off at the house with my husband and son then headed back into Walgreens…again.
So, how am I doing? Well, I think I’m genetically superior for once! I got my tonsils out when I was 12. I have actually had strep a few times since then, but not often. At this point, my husband is feeling better and if I do come down with strep, at least one parent will be capable of running the show. The worst time I think we ever had was when we both had the flu the same week our son learned to walk! It was also over Christmas and none of our relatives could help. Miserable we were but survive we did.
As much as I complain, I know how fortunate we are. I’m thankful for antibiotics and modern medicine. I’m thankful for the convenience of local pharmarcies and wellness goods. I’m exceedingly grateful for the income to go to the doctor and buy supplies. I can never take my readers for granted when they allow me to keep my family healthy!
Illness also makes me think about Marianne Dashwood and Lydia Bennet. I think of Marianne because of her illness in Sense and Sensibility (clipped for brevity).
He came, examined his patient, and though encouraging Miss Dashwood to expect that a very few days would restore her sister to health, yet, by pronouncing her disorder to have a putrid tendency, and allowing the word “infection” to pass his lips, gave instant alarm.
Towards the evening Marianne became ill again, growing more heavy, restless…
Marianne, suddenly awakened by some accidental noise in the house, started hastily up, and, with feverish wildness, cried out,— “Is mamma coming?”
“Not yet,” replied the other, concealing her terror, and assisting Marianne to lie down again, “but she will be here, I hope, before it is long. It is a great way, you know, from hence to Barton.”
“But she must not go round by London,” cried Marianne, in the same hurried manner. “I shall never see her, if she goes by London.”
Elinor perceived with alarm that she was not quite herself, and, while attempting to soothe her, eagerly felt her pulse. It was lower and quicker than ever. And Marianne, still talking wildly of mamma, her alarm increased so rapidly, as to determine her on sending instantly for Mr. Harris, and despatching a messenger to Barton for her mother.
It was a night of almost equal suffering to both. Hour after hour passed away in sleepless pain and delirium on Marianne’s side, and in the most cruel anxiety on Elinor’s, before Mr. Harris appeared.
His medicines had failed; the fever was unabated; and Marianne only more quiet—not more herself—remained in a heavy stupor.
he had still something more to try, some fresh application, of whose success he was almost as confident as the last; and his visit concluded with encouraging assurances which reached the ear but could not enter the heart of Miss Dashwood.
Hope had already entered; and feeling all its anxious flutter, she bent over her sister to watch—
Her breath, her skin, her lips, all flattered Elinor with signs of amendment; and Marianne fixed her eyes on her with a rational, though languid, gaze. Anxiety and hope now oppressed her in equal degrees, and left her no moment of tranquillity till the arrival of Mr. Harris at four o’clock, when his assurances, his felicitations on a recovery in her sister even surpassing his expectation, gave her confidence, comfort, and tears of joy.
I think of Lydia because she suddenly grew sick in Letters from the Heart:
“Lydia fainted, only she will not wake,” Jane said.
By this time the commotion of the house was so great that Mary and Kitty entered the room as well.
“Thomas! What are we to do?” Mrs. Bennet was growing alarmed.
Darcy approached, “Excuse me, sir, but I think it best to send for the apothecary immediately, and I will send for my physician from Town.”
Mr. Bennet looked at him for a long moment. He was too reserved of a man to say much, but Darcy saw the usual laughing glint in his eye disappear and be replaced with concern. “You think this serious; have you seen this before?”
Darcy slowly nodded and spoke quietly. Only Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth could hear. “My mother. She had an acute sickness strike her. See how Miss Lydia perspires and her breathing is so shallow? My concerns may be for naught, but I think she ought to be moved to a sick bed.”
“I will ready things,” Elizabeth offered.
Darcy managed a very small smile when he saw Elizabeth rise to the occasion. How did he ever think she would be incapable of managing manage his homes? Georgiana was still distressed and Miss Kitty facilitated between believing Lydia was getting too much attention and wailing her best friend’s unknown condition. Jane and Miss Mary went after Elizabeth to help and despite the noise of Kitty, Darcy recognized it was quieter than he expected.
Scanning the room again, he recognized Mrs. Bennet standing over Lydia, who still lay on the sofa. She gently stroked her daughter’s hair. She was entirely silent but tears streamed freely down her face. Mr. Bennet wrapped one arm around his wife and was murmuring something in her ear. The tenderness surprised Darcy and he turned away from intruding on their private moment. He turned his attention to Bingley and they considered the best way to transport Lydia upstairs to the chamber when it was ready.
An hour later, Mr. Jones arrived and examined Lydia.
“It is as Mr. Darcy feared. I have bled her, but I believe this illness is beyond my experience. It is good a physician has been sent for. In the meantime, I must ask that those who are not family leave immediately,” he told the assembled group.
Jane began to cry, and Bingley was at her side instantly. “I will not leave you again, Jane.”
“No! I could not bear it if you became ill, too.”
Darcy interjected, “My friend and I assisted in moving Miss Lydia several times now, and my sister was alone with her when she fainted. I doubt the wisdom of us now leaving.”
“It is all my fault!” Georgiana wailed. “She would not believe me about Mr. Wickham, and I was too forceful!”
Everyone hastened to tell her that could not be the case, and Elizabeth attempted to console her. When the apothecary amended his statements that everyone should stay confined to Longbourn, Elizabeth took the sobbing Georgiana to her room.
A storm began, delaying the physician until morning. The house was still and sombre, the various ladies of the house were reduced to mostly silent tears. They all retired early and the situation was grave enough Darcy managed to give little thought to the fact that he was once again only a few doors down from a sleeping Elizabeth.
The next morning arrived with dark clouds in the sky, though the roads proved passable for the physician. He scarcely had more information to give but he did have additional medications to try. They had little effect. Lydia lay abed insensible to everything, with a high fever and symptoms of delirium.
Elizabeth, Jane and Mrs. Bennet took turns remaining at Lydia’s side. The gentlemen consoled the ladies as best they could. Mary and Kitty took to keeping Georgiana occupied. Elizabeth had scarcely been able to comfort her. Georgiana still blamed herself entirely.
On the second night of Lydia’s illness even Elizabeth’s spirits began to slip. Darcy sat with her hand in hand next to Lydia’s bedside. The door was open for propriety although it was unnecessary. Elizabeth wiped her sister’s brow and in what Darcy believed was a fit of exhaustion began to weep uncontrollably. He pulled her to his chest and pressed kisses in to her hair until she calmed. Then she looked up to him with reddened eyes.
“I never gave her enough attention. I was content to merely scold or laugh at her. And now…”
“No, Elizabeth. I will not allow you to despair. I have seen the deathbed. Look, her cheeks are still rosy.”
She looked more hopeful but still did not quite believe him. “But you said your mother…”
“Lydia is stout and young. My mother was always frail. Nor does Lydia cough. The physician tells us not to fear yet.”
She laid her head against his shoulder again and said, “I will try.”
“Dearest, you are a very affectionate sister. Would you still have come to Netherfield if it was Lydia who was sick instead of Jane?”
“Of course!” She wrapped her arms around his waist. “I am so thankful you are here with me.”
For Lydia and Marianne, their illnesses served as the jolt of awareness they needed to re-examine their lives. The same could be said for Tom Bertram in Mansfield Park. I don’t think my family will be given to such deep reflection as we recover but it is interesting to consider how a serious illness can change a person’s outlook–whether it be fiction or reality. What is the sickest you have ever been? Did you ever have near death experience which allowed you to see life clearer?
Continuing 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.
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?
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.”