This is a short section, but so much happens in these chapters! Here are the videos of the readings, if you want to listen first, or after.
Two mysteries are resolved in one, as the clever Miss Austen weaves her tangled web. Mr. Willoughby's character is revealed through the sad history of the friend whom he so egregiously slandered in previous scenes. "Colonel Brandon is someone whom everybody thinks well of and nobody remembers to talk to." Oh, bitter twist of fate! Nobody will think well of YOU hereafter.
"There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure." What a thing to say of the hero who is off to succor the maiden whose distress you have caused by your little party of pleasure! And the Brontës thought Austen wasn't dark enough. Ha!
Just because it's readable doesn't mean it's fluff. And Eliza? I mean Brandon's cousin. Any thoughts on her story? Anyone still think Austen didn't have anything to say on the plight of women? I have considered writing a prequel to this book that told her story. But it would be too sad and not very Austenian, ironically. My prequel will focus on Edward and Lucy, since I know you are all dying to know. Though I am sure the story of Eliza seems more serious and legitimate, like Wide Sargasso Sea, except there isn't any race issue in Eliza's story, so maybe not quite. Unless I made one up. But that seems contrived.
But in all of this, I keep being struck by the thought that I know so many Mrs. Jennings. Does anyone not? Excessively officious older ladies who completely misapprehend the wish of others to be left alone? I half suspect I am Mrs. Jennings, in fact.
And how awful is Marianne? I really think she is. Clearly, I am on Austen's side on this point. Obviously, she is behind Elinor and the arguments in favour of prudence. But I don't know if it's necessary to go that far. It is possible to be unrestrained and yet still kind, and polite. To consider other people's feelings and to question one's own superiority is not inconsistent with sincerity. But if you read this book in the light of the Wollstonecraft passage I quoted last week, perhaps that is the point. Women are praised for their "sensibility" but really, it makes them awful people. Isn't it better to be rational? Marianne's sensibility, and Eliza's, leave them susceptible to the whims of men like Willoughby and Colonel Brandon's brother.
Some would say this is a criticism of a world which is so brutal to women, and maybe it is. But I hear the pragmatic Austen saying, what are you going to do about it? This is the world. It sucks. She was no activist, unless all artists are activists, for holding a mirror up to the world in all its harshness.
But back to the book itself. Does anyone else just want Elinor to yell at everyone to just F@$& OFF? Or is that just me? Maybe that is the point as well. She can't. She is dependent on Mrs. Jennings, and while a man in her situation could be his own master, she could not. Men can be as disagreeable as they like. Just look at Mr. Palmer. He's running for Parliament!
And, did everyone understand that Brandon was saying he challenged Willoughby to a duel, but they were both unharmed, so it didn't make the news? That's what that little exchange is about, and which contemporary readers would have instantly understood. It was technically illegal, though it happened all the time. Some of you may recall the duels and threats of duels in Cecilia. Bloody men, can't settle anything without guns! Lucy and Elinor did just as well with some papers and a filligree basket.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Keep sharing videos and opinions.