Friday, March 5, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 3 & 4

Side note: I had a lot of fun finding pictures of book covers for all these posts.  Some of them are funny, some are weird, some are boring, and some are just plain puzzling.  Like this one.  I mean, wow, there's a lot going on here, and I'm not at all sure who's supposed to be who.  Like, why are there three girls on the cover when it's mostly about two sisters?  Is one of them Lucy Steele?  And why only one guy when there are three guys involved?  I give them props for kind of getting the Regency clothing right for the chick in purple, and turbans were a Thing at the time, so that's cool too.  Don't know what's going on with the saloon-girl-in-a-'50s-western look for the girl in pink, or the wedding dress on the the other girl.  And why is the dude holding onto his hat?  I have so many questions.  And why the Tudor-style houses down below?  That makes me think Shakespeare, not Austen.

Ahem.  Annnyway.  Chapters three and four.   Poor Mrs. Dashwood, putting so much trust in her step-son John and then discovering he's not the man his father was.  I always assume John was probably fairly grown before his father remarried, and living on his own or off at some kind of school or something, and so he and his stepmother really don't know each other much.  Saw each other at Christmas and so on, I expect. 

Now, Mrs. Dashwood does have the good sense to see right through Fanny, right from "very early in their acquaintance," or at least to feel contempt for her.  So it's not like Mrs. Dashwood isn't capable of seeing others are trying to act nicer than they really are.  But of course, she'd want to think well of her husband's son.  Until she just can't anymore.

However, it's really neat how she decided to put up with them as long as she can, for Elinor's sake.  Of course, Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne are viewing Elinor through their own feelings-heightened lenses and assume she and Edward Ferrars must be attached to each other and contemplating marriage because they themselves would be doing the same if they'd spent that much time with one particular eligible man.  I'm kind of annoyed how Marianne just pooh-poohs Elinor's insistence that there is no strong attachment.  Can she not simply believe her sister?  It reminds me a little of Mr. Collins' proposal in Pride and Prejudice where he insists that he's being refused just because Elizabeth is an elegant female who never says what she means, when the opposite is true.  I don't get willfully misunderstanding someone that way.  I'm usually the opposite extreme, and I take people at their word and then am surprised later to learn that they didn't mean what they were saying.

EDIT: We have a couple people with us now who haven't read the book OR seen a movie version, so I WILL be marking spoilers a bit.  Then it can be up to the individual whether or not to read the paragraphs with the spoilers in them.

(This paragraph contains SPOILERS.)  Anyway, so, those of us who have either read this book before or seen a movie version know why Edward is displaying a "dejection of mind" (p. 40) around her at times:  he's stuck with this secret engagement to Lucy Steele.  Being a reasonably honorable man, he's trying not to lead Elinor on unduly, or give anyone else the idea that he's trying to woo her.  But I really think he should have divulged his ineligibility to Elinor.  He wouldn't have had to give her particulars and break his promise to Lucy to keep it a secret, he would have just said, "Look, I'm not free, due to a youthful infatuation with another girl.  Until I find out if she's still interested in me, I can't get involved with anyone else."  BUT, of course, that would ruin a lot of the suspense of the story, so we can't have that.

We end with the happy prospect of moving away and making a new home in a cottage, which the Romantics thought were the Best Houses of All Time because they were Picturesque and Quaint.  How happy Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood must be at the idea, in the midst of their continued grief!

Discussion Questions:

1.  Some people roll their eyes at this story because, basically, the Dashwoods are so upset because they're not rich anymore, and they have to move into a smaller house.  They say this story is too fakey because that's not a real crisis, and they can't believe how much importance everyone is putting on their "poverty" when they aren't homeless or forced to go begging.  What do you say to such critics?

2.  "All [Edward Ferrars'] wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life" (p. 28).  Do you think this is a personality thing, or is he sort of rebelling against his mother, sister, and brother, who are all obsessed with station and importance and public display?

(SPOILERS)  3.  Do you think Edward is doing the right thing by concealing his secret engagement?  Is there any right option for him in this very confusing situation?  What should/could he have done instead?

23 comments:

  1. 1. Some people roll their eyes at this story because, basically, the Dashwoods are so upset because they're not rich anymore, and they have to move into a smaller house. They say this story is too fakey because that's not a real crisis, and they can't believe how much importance everyone is putting on their "poverty" when they aren't homeless or forced to go begging. What do you say to such critics?

    - To go from a beautiful manor home that you spent your whole life in to suddenly a small cottage where no one has any room to turn around is a massive change for anyone. However, this goes beyond the size of a house. The Dashwood woman have now been reduced in status as well. No longer respectable gentry, but now simple country women. That would be a change that would be very hard to get use to. Everything in their lives, who and what they are is being taken away and they have no idea who they're going to become.

    2. "All [Edward Ferrars'] wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life" (p. 28). Do you think this is a personality thing, or is he sort of rebelling against his mother, sister, and brother, who are all obsessed with station and importance and public display?

    - I always thought it was more of a personality thing. Edward doesn't seem by nature to be a rebellious sort. And to want a quiet life of domesticity would hardly fit into the 'rebelling' catagory.

    3. Do you think Edward is doing the right thing by concealing his secret engagement? Is there any right option for him in this very confusing situation? What should/could he have done instead?

    - He could have at least told Elinor in confidence, but he was very conflicted for his feelings for the both of them. Edward just simply doesn't know his mind most of the time and tends to go with what's the easiest and under the radar.

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    1. Ivy Miranda, yes! It's hard FOR THEM. Nowhere does Austen say "this is the worst thing that has ever happened" or "this is the worst thing that could happen to them." She's showing how truly difficult this could be for people in that situation.

      Your assessment of Edward strikes me as very accurate.

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  2. 1.  Some people roll their eyes at this story because, basically, the Dashwoods are so upset because they're not rich anymore, and they have to move into a smaller house.  They say this story is too fakey because that's not a real crisis, and they can't believe how much importance everyone is putting on their "poverty" when they aren't homeless or forced to go begging.  What do you say to such critics?
    It's not merely a matter of riches in those times, its a matter of the girls' whole future and marriage prospects, without money their chances to marry happily are lowered as the pool of eligible and interested men would shrink as some of the men depended on money from marriage. In the gentry class, only certain careers or non careers were acceptable for both sexes (mostly the latter for women) and they weren't necessarily salaried enough to live on, some of them you did as a career and lived on your family's money.

    2.  "All [Edward Ferrars'] wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life" (p. 28).  Do you think this is a personality thing, or is he sort of rebelling against his mother, sister, and brother, who are all obsessed with station and importance and public display?
    He doesn't strike me as being rebellious or he would have 1) stood up to his mother truly and 2) broken off with Lucy.

    3.  Do you think Edward is doing the right thing by concealing his secret engagement?  Is there any right option for him in this very confusing situation?  What should/could he have done instead?
    I think for the time period and for his sense of honor (as he believe Lucy to be worthy and was concealing it becauase of his awful family). I think the fault lies with leading Elinor on and staying where he should have left (as she points out later). He could have spent time with Lucy and discovered how awful she was and broken off the engagement (although that too was far more dishonorable then I think).

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    1. Livia, good point! The only actual job the girls would really be able to do and still keep their good name would be governess, and that would be a life of putting up with spoiled brats. Yuck.

      Yeah, breaking engagements was a very tricky thing if both parties weren't agreeable because it could put you at risk of being sued for breach of contract, I believe.

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  3. 1. In the era in which this novel was set, social status was extremely important. Although the Dashwoods have enough money to provide for their basic needs, they have dropped considerably in social status, which truly would be very important to them.

    2. Ah, nature vs. nurture. Hard to untwist the two. I could see it being a quiet personality, but I also could see it as a sort of rebellion, although not an open rebellion. More of a "I see how important public perception is to you, and I do not like what happens to you in consequence. Therefore, I choose to be quiet and private."

    3. Ah! Now I know the secret!
    Concealing the secret engagement is okay (although questionable... I assume the reasons for it remaining secret get explained at some point?) But leading Elinor on in any fashion is completely inappropriate. And guys often are fairly clueless about these things, so I can understand how it might happen, but it is still a rotten thing to do.

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    1. AnnMarie, definitely true about social status being so important in that society. Was that importance artificial? In a way. Did it truly affect people's lives? Undoubtedly.

      I kind of agree with you, that maybe Edward's preferences are a reaction, if not a rebellion.

      And yeah, you'll definitely learn a LOT more about that engagement.

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  4. 1. In that time period, when your daughters' futures depended on your wealth and status, I think it is understandable that it was upsetting. Even in today's world, it would be upsetting. Yes, I know we should all be thankful if we have food, clothing, shelter, but it would still be hard, for different reasons. I think we all become accustomed to our lifestyle, whether it's modest or extravagant, and it would be hard to make changes.

    2. I suspect it's his personality. Austen's description of him in Chapter 3 makes him sound shy enough that he truly would not want a life of public display. It's been a while since I've read this and so I don't remember if he is shy/quiet throughout the book, but I feel like when I watched the movie (also a while ago) he was painfully shy.

    3. I think Edward should not have spent so much time with Elinor until he had things figured out with Lucy.

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    1. Becky, I think it's understandable too. It would be hard to go from my life of comfort on one salary to having to live paycheck to paycheck with both my husband and I working, for instance. The worst thing ever? No. Truly hard? Totally.

      Edward definitely is quiet, and I think of him as shy. That's definitely how Hugh Grant portrayed him in the 1995 film, shy and socially awkward. In the 2008 miniseries, Dan Stevens is more just quiet, I think?

      I suspect Edward did not realize he was getting attached to Elinor, or that she might be getting attached to him. Not knowing her mother and sister, really, he can't be blamed for not realizing they would be making some big assumptions about him.

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  5. 1. It is difficult to understand, by today's standards and the emancipation of women, how all these things are so important. I am happy to live in a three-roomed apartment, have a roof over my head and enough food on the table. Living in a cottage in the country sounds highly desirable to me! I'm glad that I didn't live in the 18th century when the only goal in a young woman's life seemed to get married to the richest person available.

    2. I think that Edward, in his quiet way, is rebelling to his family's ideas on what is important in their eyes. I also think that his quiet personality favours his attraction to a simpler, quieter life which suits his personality.

    3. Edward is obviously attracted to Elinor, but I feel he should have sorted out his feelings for Lucy earlier and just pursued one lady.

    I just wanted to mention that I saw an excellent documentary on Jane Austen's life on BBC Two (if anyone can get this programme) last Saturday 27th February. You can still watch it today if you can get this programme. It's called "Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors".

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    1. Sandra, yes! Women had so few options in that society. Their only hope to live in any kind of safety and security was to have a man to care for and defend them, really, be it a father or brother or husband. Marrying as well as you could ensured that you would, one hoped, not die in poverty, at least.

      That BBC2 program sounds interesting! It looks to me like it's only available on their website to people in the UK, but maybe there will be a version on PBS here in the states at some point?

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    2. I hope that the BBC Two programme on Jane Austen will become available to others. I live in Switzerland, but I can get so many other channels from all over the world, so that's nice for me as I am English!

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    3. Sandra, I hope so too! How cool that you have access to so many things from all over :-) Lucky!

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  6. 1. Some people roll their eyes at this story because, basically, the Dashwoods are so upset because they're not rich anymore, and they have to move into a smaller house. They say this story is too fakey because that's not a real crisis, and they can't believe how much importance everyone is putting on their "poverty" when they aren't homeless or forced to go begging. What do you say to such critics?
    - I don't think it's "fakey" at all! Mrs. Dashwood has just lost her husband and everything is up in the air for them. This is the 21st century, when she or one of the girls could get a job and find an apartment to rent!

    2. "All [Edward Ferrars'] wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life" (p. 28). Do you think this is a personality thing, or is he sort of rebelling against his mother, sister, and brother, who are all obsessed with station and importance and public display?
    - I think Edward is just that kind of guy - not affected by the fakeness of the society living at that time.

    (SPOILERS) 3. Do you think Edward is doing the right thing by concealing his secret engagement? Is there any right option for him in this very confusing situation? What should/could he have done instead?
    - I think Edward definitely should not have led Elinor on as much as he did at this juncture. BUT, I do think he was falling in love with her and was in a difficult position. He should have told her the truth, especially knowing now what kind of a girl Lucy Steele is!

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    1. Beverly -- me either. They are bereaved, disoriented, being thrown out of their home. The fact that they get to live in a cottage that we would now consider a good-sized house doesn't negate their emotional pain and financial struggles.

      Edward really has a no-win thing going on, for sure.

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  7. Everyone has such good points that I don't have much to add. Great thoughts all around! I don't think that Edward was meaning to lead Elinor on. He's just a little oblivious sometimes, lol!

    I noticed that Marianne's line, "Mamma, the more I know of the world the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love.", has the same format as a line of Lizzy Bennet's from P&P. Was "the more I know/see if the world" a common phrase back then? That is a line of dramatic irony in a romance!

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    1. MC, yes! Edward can be a bit oblivious. That's an excellent way to put it.

      I hadn't noticed how Marianne's line is later echoed by Elizabeth Bennet in P&P! Good observation. I don't know if it's common, or just a phrase Austen was fond of!

      And yes, Marianne, who falls in love extremely easily (and repeatedly so) certainly does despair awfully quickly here, which is pretty funny when you know the later parts of her story.

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  8. 1. I think anyone would be upset, it's quite an adjustment to make.

    2. I really liked that bit and found myself relating to Edward a bit honestly. I want a pretty simplistic life too. I think his reasons are probably a bit of snubbing his mother's lifestyle and it seems to suit him and his preferences.

    3. I don't think he's right, but it is an awkward situation and he definitely made it worse. Miscommunication makes a good story though.

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    1. Skye, yes. It's the adjustment that's hard, not the exact circumstances.

      I very much like a simple, quiet life! Complete sympathy for Edward on that one.

      Yeah, he probably could have done something better... but it's hard to really tell what. Awkward situation indeed.

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  9. It seems issues of class (which is determined pretty much by how much money one has)are an underlying theme in all of Austen's novels. Even if the Dashwoods aren't destitute, their lives have been significantly changed. If that wasn't the case, I don't think the novel would be as effective.

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    1. Dale, both class and money are big themes in Austen, for sure. And how the two were connected, but separate too.

      I agree that the drastic change in their circumstances plays a huge part in the novel. Even though they're not in desperate straits, we still feel a lot of sympathy for them, right from the first.

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  10. I don't think the crisis of their situation is over exaggerated. Yes, they still have two servants, but in the day, short of going out as governesses, as someone else pointed out, they wouldn't really have had any way of making money. I never thought of it before, but practically speaking, there's an interesting comparison there to Jane Fairfax and the Bates's situation later in Emma.

    *spoilers* I guess the only really honorable thing (short of giving Elinor a heads up about his entanglement -- which might not have been appropriate either in the era), is what Edward says himself later, i.e. to just stay away from Norland entirely.

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    1. Sorry, that was three servants. I was going off the movies there -- unpardonable mistake! Ha. Not really I guess. xD

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    2. Heidi, there definitely can be comparisons drawn here between Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates and the Dashwood girls. And think of Anne Elliot's friend, the widow, who's making little purses and things to try to earn enough money to live on. So. Few. Options.

      And yeah, Edward is good and upright for keeping his word to Lucy about not revealing their engagement. But I think maybe he could have at least hinted that he was not free? Hmm.

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What do you think?

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