Saturday, March 27, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 21 & 22

In which Lucy Steele waltzes into our lives and drops her bomb.

Also, I feel like this cover is pretty much the most perfect match for how I felt the first time I encountered this story.  Anyone else here pop-eyed from shock?

But, you know, at least we know now why Edward has never declared his feelings for Elinor or asked her to marry him.  It's because he's been secretly engaged to this chick for four years!  The nerve of some people!

Okay, so, I had to explain this to my husband, because he started singing that bit from The Phantom of the Opera where Raoul wonders, "Why is it secret?  What have we to hide?"  (It's been stuck in my head ever since, so it might as well be stuck in yours too.)  I figured maybe I ought to explain it here too, in case anyone else is wondering.  This is kind of a huge part of the plot, so I'm just going to dig into it.  If you know all this already, well, skim ahead to the discussion questions.

The reason people would get secretly engaged at this point in history is if one or both of them had parents who would object.  Which is totally the case here.  Mrs. Ferrars, Edward's mom, is a very ambitious woman.  We've already heard Edward talk about how she wants him to have some kind of fashionable, high-profile profession, and all he wants is to be a minister living quietly in the country somewhere.  And Fanny Dashwood, Edward's sister, warned Mrs. Dashwood that her mother has high hopes for Edward to marry someone with a good fortune of high social standing.  Elinor doesn't have either of those, and neither does Lucy Steele.  

So if, four years ago when Lucy was 19 (which is how old Elinor is now) and Edward was presumably only 18 or 19 himself, Edward and Lucy fancied themselves in love, they would get engaged secretly and not reveal their engagement until both sets of parents were more amenable to the idea, at which time they could ask their parents for permission and make the engagement public.

And why would Edward not want to do that right away?  Because his mother has the power to disinherit him and leave the family fortune to his younger brother Robert.  Which would leave Edward penniless.  And Edward, the dear boy, is just a little bit fond of living well at his mother's expense and not having to choose a profession yet.  Not only that, but Lucy is pretty obviously attached to the idea of marrying a rich husband, so she doesn't want to make the engagement public until she's sure Edward won't lose his inheritance.

Now, the trouble with secret engagements is that either party can just disavow them, or break them with little real ramification.  A public engagement is a kind of safeguard against either party backing out without the other party's consent -- the more people who know about an engagement, the more people will hold you to it.  This is why Elinor and her mom were so shocked that Marianne and Willoughby were behaving as if they were engaged, but not announcing an engagement -- neither of them really had any reason to keep it secret.

Also, by the rules of the day, since the man was the one who asked the woman to marry him, then the woman was the only one with the real power to break the engagement.  A man could ask a woman to end their engagement, but if she wanted to hold him to it, he was stuck.  Or he could break it and be considered dishonorable and disgraced.  This was a safeguard for women, who had very little real power over their own lives except in the choice of whether or not to accept a proposal and whether or not to allow an engagement to lead to marriage.  

So.  Somehow or other, Lucy got Edward to propose to her, four years ago.  She's holding onto that engagement because it's her ticket to the big-time.  She's obviously from a lower class than the Dashwoods, who are the wife and daughters of a gentleman, and undoubtedly poorer than the Ferrars, who are rich and landed gentry.  If she can marry that much higher up the social ladder, not only is she going to have a really nice life, but she can probably pass some of financial assistance on to her family, and maybe even help her old maid of a sister live a comfortable life too.  Lucy has hitched her wagon to a star, and she knows it.  

BUT.  Obviously, Lucy has heard about Elinor.  Her secret fiance has been noticeably attentive to a woman much closer to himself in class, intelligence, personality, and so on.  Elinor is competition, and Lucy won't stand for that.  So she pretends to need a confidante and an advisor in order to inform Elinor of Edward's secret engagement so Elinor will back off.  She hasn't been educated very well, but she is clever, and she is very, very devious, isn't she?  By swearing Elinor to secrecy, she's keeping Elinor from making this engagement public or telling Mrs. Ferrars about it somehow.  But she's also making her own position more secure because now, if Edward tries to break the engagement or disavow it, she can call on Elinor to witness that she knew about it.

Poor Edward is stuck with this conniving viper for a fiancee, and poor Elinor is stuck with this secret knowledge that the man she loves (and who, she is convinced, loves her) is not free to be with her.  Ugh!  And we thought Marianne's love life was a mess!

Discussion Questions:

1.  Marianne refuses to tell polite lies, and would rather be rudely silent than have to say things she doesn't mean.  Which do you prefer doing?

2.  What do you think of Edward at this point?  Was he leading Elinor on?  

21 comments:

  1. Fanny is a wretch. :P

    I try not to be rude, but I also cannot say things I don't mean without it feeling inconsistent with who I am, so... in that way, I am a bit like Marianne. I'll be quiet rather than lie.

    Edward wasn't leading on Elinor particularly, he's just highly prone to being influenced by whomever he is around. He merges into them and is influenced by their needs, and cannot find his own way out to his true feelings. He was young and foolish and Lucy was probably flattering and saw him as her meal ticket to a better life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Charity, yeah, she is.

      I think I tend to try to get creative with nice things to say. Like, find the positive thing I can sincerely say. I did realize a while back, though, that I have that Midwestern vocal habit of saying, "Yeah..." at the beginning of sentences in which I go on to disagree with what someone says, and some people don't hear that as a vocal pause, but as an agreement, so I try not to do that around people I don't know well.

      I agree with your assessment of Edward.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, well. ;)

      Must be that Fe diplomacy I do not have. *COUGH*

      I try to find nice things to say IF I'm given the chance to come up with them -- but if you catch me off guard, you often get the brutal and sometimes not very nice truth. Which I feel bad about, but I just can't THINK of anything nice or not-true to say that fast, and a long awkward pause is almost as bad. xD

      Delete
    3. Charity, heh, could be? Maybe it takes practice?

      Delete
  2. 1. Marianne refuses to tell polite lies, and would rather be rudely silent than have to say things she doesn't mean. Which do you prefer doing?

    Uh, yes, I'm quite Marianne here. I'm actually quite frustrated with circumstances in real life right now that have to do with "keeping up appearances" and "being nice" and such. My problem is, I should learn to be silent more, I don't have to lie and should not pretend a lie, but I don't need to volunteer information as much as I do. I understand that Marianne and I have some of it wrong, but I GREATLY disagree with the morality of all the "polite" lies upon lies upon lies that happen here and in real life. Elinor despises Lucy's insincerity, but she herself tells polite lies, not the same extent and not at first glance selfishly, but she ultimately upholds a false appearances sort of social situation.

    2. What do you think of Edward at this point? Was he leading Elinor on?

    I don't think Edward is being super lazy, other people have to get him into professions, he needs the patronage of somebody to get him into any profession, and his mother is refusing. Someone has to offer him a living, from what I understand and his mother doesn't want him to be offered one because "the church isn't smart enough for her." I think if he was less diffident maybe something could have happened before now, but I don't know as I would outright call him fond of living off his mother.

    I also don't think he was intentionally leading Elinor on, I think he was lying to himself at Norland, and then kept away from visiting after they moved and was moody because he realized what predicament he was in.

    Men could break engagements, but to do so without reason was dishonorable among the finer feeling people. Edward didn't realize how awful Lucy was until the very end, he thought he merely didn't love her and that was his fault so he felt it would be dishonorable to break the engagement, I'd say it's dishonorable to marry someone when you love another, but these were also economic transactions as well and he'd leave her high and dry and break his word.

    I don't think Edward ever intends any trouble, it's his inability to intend anything period that gets him into trouble. Although, I think he does strive to fix things after he realizes what his passivity gets him into.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Livia, I think Elinor tends more to feign interest than to tell actual lies. She'll sit and listen to Mrs. Jennings when she's not interested in her gossip, and she'll listen to Marianne extol the virtues of some Romantic ideal she's not interested in, but that's not really lying so much as being kind to others. I think there's a big difference between saying, "Yes, that's so interesting" when you're actually not interested, versus saying, "I think she's a nice person" when you actually think she's horrid.

      I think Edward feels very trapped by his life at this point.

      Delete
    2. The feigning interest plus "white lies," that is where I and I imagine Marianne would point out the dishonesty lies. I dislike more subtle shades of dishonesty more than the overt kinds because they are not recognized as such. Here, in this novel, Elinor means well although I think she contributes to a falsely nice society, in reality, I think it's more damaging.

      Delete
    3. Maybe it's having lived in the South for a decade, but I really don't mind people saying something nice to a person and not expressing their non-complimentary opinions. Like saying someone's dress is a pretty color, even if you think it's a bad color on that person or it's an ugly design for a dress. You can find something nice to say that's true, even if it's insignificant, in almost any situation. If someone asks you, "Did you like the song I sang in church this morning?" I'm fine with saying, in all honesty, "Yes, the melody was so catchy" and NOT saying, "Well, you were flat the entire time, so not really."

      That's different than being two-faced and pretending to like someone you dislike, and then going and saying mean things behind their back. Which is kind of what Marianne does -- she refuses to say polite things to people to their faces and then goes around bad-mouthing them to her sister and mother in private. That's it's own brand of rudeness.

      Delete
  3. I don't feel comfortable being 'rudely silent', but I hate telling lies (even polite ones :P) so I would probably try to find something at least diplomatic to say if I didn't have anything truly, truthfully nice that I could add to the conversation. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eva, yes, I definitely spend a lot of time finding nice things or polite things to say that I can say truthfully, but that might not show my actual feelings about something. For instance, if I read a story written by an acquaintance and it's just the dullest thing I've read in ages, I will still find something in it to praise, like tell them it has good descriptions or I liked the dialog. (Obviously, if I'm beta-ing or critiquing a book for someone, then I have to point out flaws, but that's different.)

      Delete
  4. Thanks for all the explanation. It was helpful. Some of the stuff I knew, but your explanation was thorough and filled in the gaps. The whole "can't marry until Edward won't lose his inheritance".... as in, after Mrs. Ferrars is dead? Lucy could be waiting a really long time. And speaking of really long time, Lucy has to be about 23 now, right? Isn't she beginning to border on "old maid" (for that time)? Wouldn't a girl begin to be considered an old maid in her mid-twenties?

    I was with you until the paragraph about Lucy revealing her secret to Elinor to destroy her competition. I didn't get any of that from this chapter. Then I read the next chapter and Austen herself gives all that to us. Okay then. Devious evil Lucy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roxann, I'm glad it was helpful! It's very complex, all the rules for how that all works.

      So, Mrs. Ferrars can choose to settle a certain amount of money on them at any time, either as an annuity (get a little money every year) or in one lump sum. Or she can wait until she dies and leave a will that divides it all. From what I understand, she's kind of been holding this over Edward's head -- if he enters a profession she approves of and/or marries well, she'll settle a lot of money on him right away, and he'll inherit the bulk of the estate later when she dies. But if he doesn't do what she wants, she'll write him out of her will and stop giving him his allowance and so on.

      Lucy is probably aging out of the 'marriage market,' yes. Sixteen to twenty-two was kind of the peak marrying time at that point. Her older sister is definitely viewed as doomed to be a spinster by now.

      I think Lucy's desperate attempts to keep introducing the topic of her secret engagement into the conversation (when Elinor is obviously not going to ask her about her leading remarks and questions about Mrs. Ferrars) is what makes me think she's very purposefully pushing the knowledge on Elinor. She goes on and on about how she doesn't want Elinor to think she was improper for asking if Elinor knows Mrs. Ferrars, which wasn't an improper thing to ask at all, only a little weird since Elinor would't know why she asked. And then she goes on to very improperly divulge this extremely important secret (which she has sworn TO EDWARD never to tell) to a woman she has just met and has no idea if she can trust or not. Either she's a total ninny (which, in some ways, she is) or she has a very, very particular reason for telling Elinor this (which she does).

      Delete
    2. I should have said, sixteen to twenty-two was peak marrying age for women. Men tended to marry between twenty and forty. They needed to be able to provide a home and income so they could support a wife, so they would quite often wait until they had an estate or a profession, depending on their rank in society and their family wealth, etc. Obviously, for lower classes it was very different, but Austen writes almost exclusively of the upper class -- not the aristocracy, but gentlefolk. (Only in Persuasion are her main characters titled aristocrats, though there are many side characters with titles in her books, like Sir John Middleton here and Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice.)

      Delete
  5. I also really appreciate the extra info concerning marriage customs, etc. It was really interesting!

    2. What do you think of Edward at this point? Was he leading Elinor on?
    - I don't think Edward was really leading Elinor on, I think he realizes that he's stuck with Lucy unless she changes her mind, which he wishes she would do so he could go on with Elinor. I do think he was kind of duplicitous because I'm sure he could tell that she was getting attached to him, but he was in a quandary as far as his earlier agreement with Lucy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mom, you're welcome! Glad it was helpful.

      I don't think he meant to lead her on -- I think her natural reserve meant that he thought she wasn't as interested in her as he was in him. And when he realized she WAS interested, he left.

      Delete
  6. Oh sneaky Lucy but we do need someone or some reason to keep the couple apart, I guess. Lucy is clever and knows exactly what she is doing by confessing to Elinor.

    Poor Edward. Perhaps he should get himself some employment so he wouldn't have to depend on his mother for his income but maybe he didn't have the confidence for that or much of anything. He's like Willoughby in that aspect - his life depends on his mother while Willoughby, it's his aunt. I think if Edward had been brought up a little more independent, maybe he would have already married Lucy but then we wouldn't have this story. It's just sad to be in a situation where damm if you do and damm if you don't.

    Have a lovely day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lissa, yes, she's very sneaky and clever indeed.

      I think both Edward and Willoughby would have benefited by needing to do some actual work long before now, absolutely.

      Delete
  7.  1. Marianne refuses to tell polite lies, and would rather be rudely silent than have to say things she doesn't mean.  Which do you prefer doing?

    I'm somewhat caught between the two. I abhor rudeness, but I also want to be honest as well. I guess it all narrows down to the saying, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

    2.  What do you think of Edward at this point?  Was he leading Elinor on?  

    - He's still a vague and somewhat boring character. We still haven't really gotten to know him or who he is, therefore we have nothing of his own character to judge him on. We have only really known him from people's interactions with him. So, I can't really know if he's leading Elinor on or not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ivy Miranda, yes! I tell my kids that a lot. Thumper's dad in Bambi was very wise.

      Delete
  8. Your husband sounds hilarious!

    I feel so bad for Elinor, I can't imagine having that kind of thing dropped in my lap.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Skye, well, *I* find him amusing :-D We both do sing random bits of songs to each other when something seems appropriate....

      And yes, poor Elinor! Ouch.

      Delete

What do you think?

Comments on old posts are always welcome!

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)