Sunday, February 2, 2014

'first' impressions (Elinor and Marianne)

Stupidbowl roar outside making it hard to think, but some thoughts --

Boy, chapter 2 is a real perfect gem of nastiness, a deadly portrait of people deciding to screw those in need over while convincing themselves they're doing the right thing. What does this remind me of? OH WAIT One of Austen's most famous poison-pen portraits, justly so. And it's nearly all done in dialogue, with great economy and skill. What a playwright she would have made.

I forgot Austen dislikes baby-fussing as much as I do:

The whole was tied up for the benefit of this child, who, in occasional visits with his father and mother at Norland, had so far gained on the affections of his uncle, by such attractions as are by no means unusual in children of two or three years old; an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise, as to outweigh all the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters. 

....Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse.

Marianne going on about how Elinor would like Edward so much better if only he could really draw is fucking adorable. I think Marianne, like Falstaff, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, and other figures who are more tragic than their authors perhaps meant them to be, is one of those characters who got away from the writer, for whatever personal reasons it's hard to say. But the effect is definitely there.

God knows, Edward needs drawing, or Cowper-reciting, or scrapbooking, or some damn thing to make him stand out from the wallpaper. He is a total simp.

I also forgot how much Marianne is like her mother, and how they egg each other on to Elinor's anxious displeasure. Boy, Elinor is one little anxious codependent big sister, having to mother both of them and keep a constant check on their extravagance -- romantic, emotional, and financial.

The prose style keeps sort of lulling me and then I wind up gliding over passages and have to go back and reread them to make sure I understood the sense. It's almost a little too well-balanced.

Just noticed Austen does one of her favourite tricks, putting an actual observation in the mouth of a ridiculous character (Mrs Jennings declaring Col Brandon has fallen for Marianne). This novel gets criticized so often as unsatisfactory that we overlook how much of her mature self is really in it -- what an amazing debut it was for a thirty-six year old author, and how clearly it heralded what was to come. She had six more years left to write in.