Monday, February 3, 2014

S&S - Vol II

Reading progress. At chapter seven -- after Willoughby has snubbed Marianne at the party, when she gets his awful letter. I don't know what Young Moi was thinking (well no, I know just what she was thinking; she was thinking of Jane Eyre) -- this is great stuff. Poor Marianne! Austen sees her so sympathetically, too -- she's not just a "silly girl," her swooning infatuation isn't even the problem, but it's more a moral and psychological one -- she's gone to such emotional extremes she has no reserves for herself, she's given herself away, and to someone who preys on just that kind of innocent excitable young girl (it always shocks me Willoughby is twenty-five, and seducing sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds). Elinor is very sympathetic too, like when she just sits down and takes Marianne's hand and cries with her after The Letter. Harrowing. Would any other author treat a sixteen-year-old girl's first romantic disappointment so seriously and thoroughly?

Mrs Jennings, so unbearable at first, becomes nearly something out of Shakespeare -- she's presented as comic but with great largeness of spirit, like Mistress Q's reporting the death of Falstaff (which always makes me laugh and then cry). Felt this particularly with her complete irrelevance about the mulberry tree, so utterly inappropriate and silly given the conversation, but really a celebration of life's triviality, and human appetites. Austen sees her terribly clearly, but all the more sympathetically for that -- no wonder Woolf was always calling her Shakespearean, it's the same kind of near-tender regard he has for almost all his characters (Shakespeare's "Olympian detachment" is almost as big a pile of bullshit as Hamlet's rep for being indecisive). Her husband Sir John isn't quite as fully drawn, but he gets some wonderful comic moments ("It was only the last time they met that he had offered him one of Folly's puppies!"). Colonel Brandon also comes fully into his own as a character, of which more below, and we get the full horrible picture of the Steeles, and even further elaboration on the selfish materialism of the dreadful John Dashwood (more below ditto).

COL BRANDON BEGINS HIS TALE. //swoon Yeah, yeah, it's the Alan Rickman effect, whatever. Pemberley has an interesting comparison between the ages of all the characters and the actors who played them -- Rickman was actually forty-nine, not thirty-five, but he seems so much more youthful to me than my first mental picture of Brandon. Who pointed out Col B is a Byronic hero, but all his action (falling in love, searching for his ward, duelling W) happens offstage? (More evidence this was an epistolary novel to begin with, if you ask me.) -- Also, you can tell Marianne will be happy with Brandon (she will!) because he's so much like Elinor, who loves her.....altho wait, his dead love's daughter whom he loves as his own is a year older than Marianne?.....Ick. And I think Mrs Dashwood is only five years older than he is? ....ick squared. I think that also means, if she has nineteen- and sixteen-year-old daughters, that she wasn't that much older than Elinor when she married.

 But along with the warm comedy, and the deep appreciation for Brandon, we get an absolutely chilling scene -- this is some of the best writing in the novel. Margaret Drabble points it up in the introduction, where she calls it "shocking," and it is: Elinor's half-brother appraises Marianne as if she were one of Willoughby's hunters, pricing her to the nearest hundred, in the horribly appropriate setting of a jeweller's: women are bought and sold, like seals and toothpick cases. He is even more insulting when he 'congratulates' Elinor for capturing Brandon for his wealth, and his awfulness is rounded out by his own false insistence on poverty and supposing that the Dashwood girls are sucking up to Mrs Jennings for money. And yet nothing is forced or drawn heavily -- it's just a buffoon rattling on to his half-sister in a smart shop about his property and her marriage prospects, but there is deep contempt for the mercenary society which produced such a specimen in every line.

This is relieved, somewhat, by the near-Shakespearean light comedy of Lucy and Edward and Elinor all being suddenly stuck in the same room together, which was done to very good effect in the movie. It's all very sparkling and witty, without much real damage being done (on the surface at least), but this leads up to the crescendo of Fanny Dashwood essentially replacing Elinor and Marianne with Lucy and her sister -- indeed this whole part, set in the corrupt town rather than the pastoral comfort of the first volume, might be called Lucy Victrix -- she's like a pocket Becky Sharp.

In fine, this part FLIES by -- it's payoff for the laborious setup of Vol I, like a really good third act in a play. I don't remember much about Vol III, except Marianne's dreadful illness, and am a little apprehensive, but much more appreciative than I was after Vol I.

-- ETA -- and on opening Vol III, Austen's fine sense for absurdity immediately has Lucy's fortunes reversed in the most hilarious and humiliating way.  VIPER IN MY BOSOM, I think Fanny Dashwood shrieks in the movie.