As I read I’m gathering examples that disprove Austen’s general image as a sentimental or “pink” author – this is a conversation I’ve had countless times, usually after people know if my partiality for her. Anyone who doubts how savagely witty she can be, has only to read these S&S chapters.
There are enough psychological undercurrents to rival a Japanese thriller, and unforgiving satire to put her in the British Black Humor Hall of Fame (if it doesn’t exist, it should!).
These chapters open with another brilliant and passive-agressive conversation between Elinor and Lucy. It feels like you’re reading two dialogues at the same time: what’s said and what’s meant.
“Indeed you wrong me,” replied Lucy, with great solemnity; “I know nobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe, that if you was to say to me, ‘I advise you by all means to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars, it will be more for the happiness of both of you,’ I should resolve upon doing it immediately.”
Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward’s future wife, and replied, “This compliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high; the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferent person.”
Lucy is nasty. Interesting how Austen always seems to underline her lack of education, how she’s “ignorant and illiterate”, how Elinor pitied her for “the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable”. Lucy Steel is what happens when women aren’t encouraged to learn. Austen clearly took much pride it her own education and literary knowledge (she is Elinor is this book, right?) and saw it as an advantage. In P&P Mr. Darcy will also make this point with his famous “improvement of her mind by extensive reading” line.
Many of these sixteen chapters centered on Marianne and her seemingly endless plight, but my attention was all on the secondary characters.
Did you also fall in love with Mrs. Jennings? I know she a bit of a gossip, and would be an impossible house-mate, but she means well and I find her good humor and joie de vivre irresistible. She melted my heart with her reaction to the news about Vile Willoughby and her misguided-yet-sincere offers of help (finest old Constantia wine the perfect solution to gout and a broken heart, who knew?).
On the other hand, their brother John – for shame! At the beginning of the novel I thought he was just a weak and easily manipulated man, but after his conversation with Elinor about Captain Brandon, I see there’s a littleness about him that’s hard to pity.
Will you join us for the last Twitter Movie Night this Sunday? We’re watching Sense and Sensibility (1995), starting 7PM GMT.
Summary of the novel here.