S&S Saturday– Willoughby, Willoughby, Willoughby

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?

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.

Theme Thursday– Opening lines

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I bet you know a few of Jane Austen’s opening lines. Critics will tell you the first sentence of a novel is crucial, even in a world where readers are browsing in the book stores and picking up books at random less and less. Today’s online buyer will typically select the genre and category before they start browsing. Then the cover and the blurb will entice. Some buy without reading a sample, but many others do. Experts say that the purpose of the first sentence is to convince a reader to read the second and then the third and so on.

I would argue that reading the first sentence is important to begin the emotional journey the reader has with the characters. In the 21st century, characters is what sells a book, not the setting or theme.

How does Jane Austen hold up to that demand?

Sense and Sensibility: The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.


Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.


Mansfield Park: About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.


Emma: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.


Persuasion: Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.


Northanger Abbey: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.


Lady Susan: MY DEAR BROTHER,—I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted of spending some weeks with you at Churchhill, and, therefore, if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with.

Well, if you can see that very few of Austen’s books begin with anything that connects to a character, let alone the protagonist, what is the purpose of her opening lines?

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Sense and Sensibility rapidly opens with the death of the patriarch and the history of wills which leaves the females in such dire straits. We know they will soon have to leave Norland–unless their brother asks them to stay. Elinor then meets and falls in love with Edward and there’s a shred of hope that the distress of losing their father will lead to an unexpected blessing. The real turning point in the story happens when they leave Norland. There’s no going back. Life is going to be nothing like it was before. In this case, the opening sentence sets up the old world and lets us know that it is likely to forever change. Austen suggests the conflict of the story (how do Elinor and Marianne make their way in the world once they are no longer privileged and sheltered at Norland?) from the very beginning.

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Again, in Pride and Prejudice, we get the crux of the conflict immediately. Whoever thinks any wealthy unmarried man must be interested in marriage is full of both pride and prejudice. Suggesting it is a universal truth tells us that our characters will be working in a world where this is the basic assumption. We can only expect that any sensible character we would bother liking would reject such a ludicrous idea. However, what will be the ramifications for rejecting such a societal truth? In the end, the interesting fact is that while Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t exactly husband hunting, did she ever consider that a man might be tired of the game? Did Mr. Darcy ever consider that not every lady was playing it as well? Both of them claim to reject the “truth” presented at the beginning and yet they unintentionally prove it.

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Mansfield Park gets trickier. Is there a conflict introduced in the first line? No. Is a character introduced? Yes, but she ends up being no one of consequence to the story. In fact, she’s arguably the character with the least impact. The thought of that never ceases to delight me. What is Jane Austen attempting to tell the reader with this beginning sentence? One, it was unlikely that this Maria Ward would obtain the status she did. Very few people live as an island. No, they have relations. These lower relations are now thrust into a baronet’s orbit. We must read the second sentence to gain more information.

She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.

Ah. Yes, the relations we previously guessed at are sisters. Sisters that are just as beautiful as the first. Did they marry well? If they did not what was it about Maria Ward that gave her advantage? What became of these sisters? We are told this whole thing happened about thirty years ago so what does all of this mean about the present? It is not exactly a gripping opening but does the job in making the reader ask questions and need to read to find the answers.

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Jane Austen has famously claimed in a letter that no one will like Emma Woodhouse as a heroine except herself. Here we do meet a character. However, we are told she has nothing to vex her. She seems to have every blessing in life. Let us recall that the typical heroine of the era was more like Fanny Price–innocent but at a disadvantage in some way. The Dashwood sisters and Elizabeth Bennet both suffered financially compared to those that would judge and demean them. Now, we have a woman with every reason for joy and contentment. We can expect she will either have all of that taken away or should be a paragon of virtue with an endlessly charitable heart so we won’t hate her. However, that’s not the Emma Woodhouse we get. Instead, we are told in the fifth sentence that Emma has real evils. She gets her own way and thinks well of herself. The reader can see these are unlikable traits and the added description of pretending as though they are great flaws prejudices the reader even more, in my opinion. What will make the reader continue? Curiosity and a desire for the lady to get her just desserts? Kind hopefulness that even a rich lady can learn to have a more charitable view of the world? We are told what to think about Emma…and yet we are not so certain. The uncertainty impels us to continue. This fits all the more as some literary critics consider Emma the precursor to a mystery novel. The central question in that framework is “Who can Emma marry?” whereas the opening sentence makes us wonder “Who is Emma really?” People are always more than the sum of their appearances to others.

vlcsnap-00067.pngIn Persuasion, we meet Sir Walter Elliot and how well he thinks of his family legacy. Personally, reading the sarcasm about the baronetage hooked me as a reader. I love a book that begins by poking fun of someone or something. I dearly love a laugh! As the chapter continues, we learn that Sir Walter’s family lacks a crucial thing: an heir of his body. We also learn the youngest daughter has married but the two elder ones have not. We then learn that the family is in debt and will need to leave this ancestral home and pride of place. While we do not understand what the conflict of the story is yet, we know the cause of it is this misplaced pride. Ah, but the family is going through a change. Surely they will amend their views and whatever it has cost the heroine will be reversed! Do you see where Austen sneaks in the fact that it won’t be as simple as that? Cleverly, by exposing Sir Walter as so ridiculous in caring about his position in the world, Austen tells the reader that merely reversing the family’s position will not fix the problem for any sensible person doesn’t care about that. It won’t be enough for someone to see that the heroine’s family must no longer have their pride–even if they were capable of letting it go–for that was not the root of the problem on the other side. She slyly tells us there is a dual conflict. Once we get to know Captain Wentworth, it’s easy to see how that’s the case.

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I would not be the first to point out that the traditional heroine of a gothic novel looks more like Eleanor Tilney than Catherine Morland. Austen laughingly points this out right away. Well, if Catherine is not the traditional heroine then who is she? Like Emma, we are introduced to the heroine right away and told what to think about her. It is no wonder that Austen’s working title for this story was Susan and then Catherine. Unlike Emma, we are given a sympathetic view of Catherine. We can’t help but want her to do well in life, even if she doesn’t so desperately deserve it as other heroines do. I think in this way, Northanger Abbey fits as the most modern story. Today’s books quickly introduce the protagonist and convinces us why we should care about him or her. As the story continues, we can see how Mr. Tilney has what Catherine lacks in life and how she can lift his spirits and encourage his sense of humor while preventing him from falling into cynicism.

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Lady Susan‘s opening line immediately exposes her selfish and manipulative way. The reader instantly wonders how this family will survive her visit and what this woman will continue to attempt to gain from it.

I have postulated that present-day readers prefer to learn about one of the protagonists . Experts have claimed that the opening line makes the reader continue reading. In some cases, Austen’s lines expose the conflict (S&S, P&P, P). In others, she introduces a character (Emma, NA, P, LS). Another possibility is exposing the setting or theme of the book (S&S, P, LS). Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s least popular book and by examining the opening line, we might see why. Although it compels the reader to continue to make sense of the importance of the first line it does not introduce a character we can have an emotional reaction to. It does not present a conflict or theme. It’s worth noting that many critics think Mansfield Park is Austen’s greatest work but I would argue that it is also her most subtle. The indifferent beginning continues throughout the work and the true meaning of Austen’s themes, the conflict, the very reason why Fanny is the heroine and not one of her cousins or Mary Crawford all remain mostly hidden in the same way someone may miss the importance of the book’s opening line.

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In conclusion, opening lines are pretty crucial for a book. However, a book may be well-written without having a strong opening–if that serves the author’s intent. I like to think that Jane Austen was not surprised when fewer people enjoyed MP than they did her other works. I imagine she knew not many people would see all her deeper meanings and she wanted them to remain hidden as she opened the story in such a way. On the other hand, to become a popular book, you must have a memorable opening. Critics may think Mansfield Park is the superior story but more readers will know Pride and Prejudice‘s opening line.

Friday Feeling–Frequent Pharmacy Shopper

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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).

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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.

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A Woman in Bed in a Sick Room, R. Pistoni, 1872

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?

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.”

Tea Time Tattle–Edward’s love for Elinor

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

I have previously defended why Elinor is best suited to marry Edward, and not Colonel Brandon. In this post, I want to explore the nature of Edward’s feelings for Elinor as they began while he was engaged to another woman.

At the end of the book, we are finally given an accounting for how he accidentally strung Elinor along and made all of their acquaintance believe he was in love with her and if not capable of marrying her, at least in danger of it.

Elinor scolded him, harshly as ladies always scold the imprudence which compliments themselves, for having spent so much time with them at Norland, when he must have felt his own inconstancy.

“Your behaviour was certainly very wrong,” said she, “because, to say nothing of my own conviction, our relations were all led away by it to fancy and expect what, as you were then situated, could never be.”

He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistaken confidence in the force of his engagement.

“I was simple enough to think, that because my faith was plighted to another, there could be no danger in my being with you; and that the consciousness of my engagement was to keep my heart as safe and sacred as my honour. I felt that I admired you, but I told myself it was only friendship; and till I began to make comparisons between yourself and Lucy, I did not know how far I was got. After that, I suppose, I was wrong in remaining so much in Sussex; and the arguments with which I reconciled myself to the expediency of it were no better than these:—The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody but myself.”

How could Edward possibly think spending time with a young lady would not engage her heart? Well, in his defense, Elinor is hardly the young, romantic thing that Marianne is. Additionally, Willoughby represents a foil to Edward. For Willoughby did intend to make Marianne attached with no intention of returning the feelings.

I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection.”

We see from Edward’s quote that he did not set out to manipulate Elinor’s feelings and provide amusement for himself—although he had long been miserable with his engagement to Lucy.

He did attach Elinor but had no idea of his really doing so. How could that be? Alas, Miss Austen’s Edward Ferrars is not the hunky hero we see in Dan Stevens or Hugh Grant.

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.

Here, we see further reasoning for his thinking little of himself. He knows his deficiencies and his family prefers his younger brother. He knows it about himself as well:

“Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy.”

Indeed, he is hardly what young men were expected to be in the era:

Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly. But yet—he is not the kind of young man—there is a something wanting—his figure is not striking; it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. And besides all this, I am afraid, mamma, he has no real taste.

When Marianne further abuses Edward to Elinor, she defends him thusly:

He distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much, that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture;

Elinor has spent enough time to know that Edward’s reticence is due to his humility and even knowledge of his awkwardness. The subtext of this is that he must prefer other things but find people disagree with him and mock his preferences. If Edward were to tell Marianne he preferred a sermon to a sonnet, she would never forgive him. However, if he could rationalize it as a way that did justice to her own views, she might tolerate it. If he could say that he prefers to be out of doors to witness all of its grandeurs rather than read about it, she would likely praise him. However, Edward is simply too awkward to get that far.

Elinor continues to praise him, however.

“Of his sense and his goodness,” continued Elinor, “no one can, I think, be in doubt, who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent. You know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities, as you call them, you have, from peculiar circumstances, been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have been at times thrown a good deal together, while you have been wholly engrossed on the most affectionate principle by my mother. I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. His abilities in every respect improve as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and his person can hardly be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived. At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome; or, at least, almost so.

We see little of Elinor and Edward’s interactions at Norland. Instead, the chapters are full of complications from both Mrs. Dashwoods seeing an interest between the two. It’s written so vaguely that half way through the book, Elinor is able to question if Edward had ever really loved her. The reader is left in the dark just as much as she is for we never saw it either. The above quote, however, proves Elinor has “love goggles” on. Not only is he more attractive to her now but she has turned all his flaws into strengths.

Elinor is not so blind as to admire what is not there. Everyone can see the potential in Edward. Praise from Elinor means something. It is not the blind flattery of Lucy Steele. Perhaps this is one of the things on which Edward compared the two.

Elinor continues to be the more sensible between the two ladies. She does not see enough from Edward to be entirely certain of his loving her and is cognizant of the fact that even if he does, it may come to nothing.

I am by no means assured of his regard for me. There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful; and till his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality, by believing or calling it more than it is. In my heart I feel little—scarcely any doubt of his preference. But there are other points to be considered besides his inclination. He is very far from being independent. What his mother really is we cannot know; but, from Fanny’s occasional mention of her conduct and opinions, we have never been disposed to think her amiable; and I am very much mistaken if Edward is not himself aware that there would be many difficulties in his way, if he were to wish to marry a woman who had not either a great fortune or high rank.”

While Elinor reproaches Edward for his behavior at Norland, she had always felt there was something missing in his treatment of her:

There was, at times, a want of spirits about him which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke a something almost as unpromising. A doubt of her regard, supposing him to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude. It would not be likely to produce that dejection of mind which frequently attended him. A more reasonable cause might be found in the dependent situation which forbad the indulgence of his affection. She knew that his mother neither behaved to him so as to make his home comfortable at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views for his aggrandisement. With such a knowledge as this, it was impossible for Elinor to feel easy on the subject. She was far from depending on that result of his preference of her, which her mother and sister still considered as certain. Nay, the longer they were together the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard; and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more than friendship.

When he visits the Dashwoods at Barton, there is also no sign of him intending to attach Elinor.

He was not in spirits, however; he praised their house, admired its prospect, was attentive and kind; but still he was not in spirits. The whole family perceived it;

Edward made no answer. His gravity and thoughtfulness returned on him in their fullest extent—and he sat for some time silent and dull.

Elinor saw, with great uneasiness, the low spirits of her friend. His visit afforded her but a very partial satisfaction, while his own enjoyment in it appeared so imperfect. It was evident that he was unhappy; she wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished her by the same affection which once she had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of his preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner towards her contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one.

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After Marianne comments on his ring, which we later learn is made of Lucy’s hair, he is describe as this:

Edward’s embarrassment lasted some time, and it ended in an absence of mind still more settled. He was particularly grave the whole morning.

Indeed, he even successfully relies on his honor when at Barton:

Edward remained a week at the cottage; he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Dashwood to stay longer; but, as if he were bent only on self-mortification, he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height. His spirits, during the last two or three days, though still very unequal, were greatly improved—he grew more and more partial to the house and environs—never spoke of going away without a sigh—declared his time to be wholly disengaged—even doubted to what place he should go when he left them—but still, go he must.

Were Elinor’s expectations raised from this visit? She could see how something afflicted him and he did not treat her as he had at Norland.

Disappointed, however, and vexed as she was, and sometimes displeased with his uncertain behaviour to herself, she was very well disposed on the whole to regard his actions with all the candid allowances and generous qualifications, which had been rather more painfully extorted from her, for Willoughby’s service, by her mother. His want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Ferrars’s disposition and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporising with his mother. The old, well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all.

But from such vain wishes she was forced to turn for comfort to the renewal of her confidence in Edward’s affection, to the remembrance of every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him while at Barton, and above all, to that flattering proof of it which he constantly wore round his finger.

Ah, so Elinor’s reasons to believe Edward continued to love her were mostly based on looks and rare words and the blasted ring. Of course, once we meet Lucy and the truth comes out, things are clearer. Or are they?

“To be sure,” continued Lucy, after a few minutes’ silence on both sides, “his mother must provide for him sometime or other; but poor Edward is so cast down about it! Did you not think him dreadful low-spirited when he was at Barton? He was so miserable when he left us at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think him quite ill.”

“Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?” repeated Lucy.

“We did, indeed, particularly so when he first arrived.”

Elinor had thought Edward unusually out of spirits but blamed his mother, and possibly continued affection toward Elinor. Lucy takes the blame for herself. We learn from Edward, finally, it was because he had realized how much he loved Elinor and could never have her.

When Elinor learns about the engagement from Lucy, what are her feelings?

Her resentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas, other considerations soon arose. Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blameable, highly blameable, in remaining at Norland after he first felt her influence over him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he had injured her, how much more had he injured himself; if her case were pitiable, his was hopeless. His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She might in time regain tranquillity; but he, what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her—illiterate, artful, and selfish?

As these considerations occurred to her in painful succession, she wept for him more than for herself. Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem, she thought she could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow, command herself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from her mother and sisters.

It is not that Elinor does not feel the pain of knowing she now has no hope of ever marrying Edward, even if it seemed nearly hopeless before, it is that she does not let herself wallow. She is greater command of her emotions and has enough sense to see that she has not been an intentional victim.

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What amazes me the most about Elinor’s philosophy, and it is reinforced with her feelings about Marianne and Willoughby’s attachment, is that she fully understands that the heart can’t be controlled. It wants what it wants. For Edward, it wanted Elinor even though he was bound to Lucy. He always tried to act honorably but sank deeper and deeper into true melancholy. Can you imagine the way such feelings would weigh on him? Without any sort of employment or any friends, he must have felt entirely consumed with his problems. Instead of a quick burn from the fire of passion, he was slowly being choked as a ring of fire circled around him.

Regarding his reasons for not breaking the engagement, he was misled about Lucy’s real nature.

he had always believed her to be a well-disposed, good-hearted girl, and thoroughly attached to himself. Nothing but such a persuasion could have prevented his putting an end to an engagement, which, long before the discovery of it laid him open to his mother’s anger, had been a continual source of disquiet and regret to him.

“I thought it my duty,” said he, “independent of my feelings, to give her the option of continuing the engagement or not, when I was renounced by my mother, and stood to all appearance without a friend in the world to assist me.”

When at last he is free of Lucy, he goes straight to Barton. He can barely contain his desire to ask for Elinor’s hand, even as he wondered if she would accept him. He was so eager to end the misery he had been living in for months. Like a man who takes a deep breath of air after being rescued from a fire, Edward needed to lay is heart at Elinor’s feet.

In the end, Austen rewards Edward’s loyal heart and unbroken honor. Why should we not allow his happiness?

 

His situation indeed was more than commonly joyful. He had more than the ordinary triumph of accepted love to swell his heart, and raise his spirits. He was released, without any reproach to himself, from an entanglement which had long formed his misery, from a woman whom he had long ceased to love, and elevated at once to that security with another, which he must have thought of almost with despair, as soon as he had learned to consider it with desire. He was brought, not from doubt or suspense, but from misery to happiness; and the change was openly spoken in such a genuine, flowing, grateful cheerfulness, as his friends had never witnessed in him before.

“I am grown neither humble nor penitent by what has passed. I am grown very happy…”

 

 

Austen’s Brides- Overachievers

Oh they say when you marry in June
You’re a bride all your life,
And the bridegroom who marries in June
Has a sweetheart for a wife,
Winter weddings can be gay
Like a Christmas holiday,
But the June bride hears a song
Of a spring that lasts all summer long,
By the light of the silvery moon,
Home you ride, side by side,
With the echo of Mandelson’s tune
In your hearts as you ride,
For they say when you marry in June
You will always be a bride.

-“June Bride” from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

Young bride in forest

Wedding season has begun! I have a friend who is a wedding planner, and she’s booked through the summer. I thought it would be a good time to consider Jane Austen’s brides. To the general public, they think of Austen’s books as romances detailing the courtship between a couple; the epitome of will-they-or-won’t-they literature.

More observant readers will notice that while courtships are central to the plot, that is not the primary theme. However, Austen’s heroes and heroines have a myriad of feelings regarding marriage. Obviously, there are married couples who influenced the characters as they grew up- usually parents but not always. There is also the presence of new marriages. The main characters have a chance to examine these marriages of their peers through different eyes than one has as a child.

Through examining the newly-wed in Austen’s six novels, I see two main categories. There are those who married for social or financial advantage. Others settled after years of having no suitors, compromising their aspirations, or had interests in another direction. We’ll consider the happiness these different categories achieve.

kinopoisk.ruIn Sense and Sensibility, we meet many married couples. Henry Dashwood seemed affectionate toward his wife and children. His son, John, is described as being very fond of his wife. In reality, he is entirely ruled by her. Next, we meet Sir John Middleton and his wife. He is very affable and delights in company. Lady Middleton is happiest when playing the host. One can see what they might have in common. However, these three couples have been married for several years.

We are eventually introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. She is Lady Middleton’s sister, and he is a member of parliament and rather a sour-puss. Mrs. Palmer points out how ironic it is that now he must be agreeable to everyone. They have recently married and are expecting their first child. The reader cannot conceive what brought them together other than a desire to wed and seeing that their financial and social statuses were compatible. For all Mrs. Jennings match-making, she never discusses love very much.

Another couple that wed for their social and financial compatibilities is Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma. Much is made of class in this novel. Mr. Elton had previously refused the idea of courting Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith, due to her illegitimacy and the unknown status of her parents. Additionally, Mr. Knightley says that Elton would never marry cheap. He first set his sights on Emma with her twenty thousand pounds and once rejected, married Augusta Hawkins of Bath who had ten thousand pounds. She came from a merchant family and while Elton probably did not have much more than the average clergyman’s pay (about one hundred pounds a year), he had a gentleman’s rank, and her dowry would enable a very comfortable living. Upon meeting the new Mrs. Elton, it’s immediately clear that her personality is very equal to Mr. Elton’s. As they never seem unhappy with each other and are not well-bred enough to hide it if they had been, we must conclude they admire one another.

Finally, let us consider Mary Elliot Musgrove. Anne Elliot’s younger sister, Mary, staunchly believed in marrying only where it was agreeable to her family and taking social and financial status into account. At the heart of Persuasion is the class distance between the daughter of an impoverished baronet and a newly wealthy Naval captain. While Anne was obliged to break off her engagement with Wentworth, she refused to settle for Charles Musgrove when he proposed to her. Instead, Musgrove married Anne’s sister who frequently feigns illness for attention, easily feels slighted and victimized, and at her heart is very, very selfish. Charles, by contrast, is kind-hearted and if he fails in being attentive to Mary, it must only be out of fatigue. They have two young children, and one imagines the household will only grow unhappier as the years progress.

One of Jane Austen’s most well-known quotes is “Happiness in marriage is a matter of chance,” and looking at these statistics, it might be entirely accurate. The Palmers both seem kind enough when separated. Next, to her husband, she appears ditzier. Dealing with her, he is more sarcastic. The Eltons both had unkind qualities underneath polite veneers. Certainly, Musgrove’s patience and kindness could balance out Mary’s moods. And yet, once married it seems that the couple with the greatest possibility of marital happiness are the Eltons. I dare not think that in the world as a whole two unhappy people can make a content marriage, and so I rather believe they are just a fluke. Chance indeed!

As none of Austen’s heroines ever consider marrying without affection and simply for material gain, I think they learned from their peers’ mistakes. Next week, we’ll look into the marriages of Charlotte Lucas and Maria Bertram, as well as the failed engagement of Isabella Thorpe.