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|I have a piece of news for you
Written by Robbin
(10/22/2011 9:44 a.m.)
Anne’s first evening in Camden Place (15) is passed in a state of agreeableness she had not imagined possible due to Mr. Elliot’s presence. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are “settled there, much to their satisfaction” (15) at least party for the same reason. They are eager to speak of their new friends and Sir Walter is true to form with the skinny on everybody’s looks:
Sir Walter…did justice to his very gentlemanlike appearance, his air of elegance and fashion, his good shaped face, his sensible eye; but, at the same time, "must lament his being very much under-hung, a defect which time seemed to have increased; nor could he pretend to say that ten years had not altered almost every feature for the worse.
It struck me funny that Sir Walter is embarrassed he cannot bring himself to return an equal compliment. Like Marianne Dashwood (S&S, 21) it is impossible for him to say what he does not feel? I did not know he had such delicate feelings:
Mr. Elliot appeared to think that he (Sir Walter) was looking exactly as he had done when they last parted"; but Sir Walter had "not been able to return the compliment entirely, which had embarrassed him. He did not mean to complain, however. Mr. Elliot was better to look at than most men, and he had no objection to being seen with him any where." (15)
He had never walked any where arm-in-arm with Colonel Wallis (who was a fine military figure, though sandy-haired) without observing that every woman's eye was upon him; every woman's eye was sure to be upon Colonel Wallis. (15)
…there was a Mrs. Wallis, at present only known to them by description...but Mr. Elliot spoke of her as "a most charming woman, quite worthy of being known in Camden Place," …Sir Walter thought much of Mrs. Wallis; she was said to be an excessively pretty woman, beautiful. "He longed to see her.” (15)
Mrs. Wallis escapes the inevitable “but” because she has yet to be seen by Sir Walter. Mr. Elliot says she is “quite worthy of being known in Camden Place” (15). I hope she lives up to her run-up because Sir Walter hopes her beauty will “make some amends” (15) for the parade of plain female faces he must endure on the streets of Bath:
He did not mean to say that there were no pretty women, but the number of the plain was out of all proportion. He had frequently observed, as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five-and-thirty, frights; and once, as he had stood in the shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them. (15)
Aside from the constant flattery both men use to lull Sir Walter into agreeableness, I think one reason he is so pleased with Mr. Elliot and Colonel Wallis is there is no shame in being seen with them unlike so many others:
…as for the men [in Bath]! they were infinitely worse. Such scarecrows as the streets were full of! It was evident how little the women were used to the sight of any thing tolerable, by the effect which a man of decent appearance produced. (15)
"How is Mary looking?" said Sir Walter, in the height of his good humour. "The last time I saw her she had a red nose, but I hope that may not happen every day."
"Oh! no, that must have been quite accidental. In general she has been in very good health and very good looks since Michaelmas."
"If I thought it would not tempt her to go out in sharp winds, and grow coarse, I would send her a new hat and pelisse." (15)
Sir Walter asks after Mary’s looks rather than herself. It is sad commentary. In high good humor he declares he would send her a new hat and pelisse but can’t because it will lead to her growing coarser. Very convenient, I can hardly believe it was ever a real offer but that Anne considers suggesting “a gown, or a cap, would not be liable to any such misuse” (15). Does she really think he will send Mary something or is it just an amusement to see what new excuse he comes up with? It is a good thing it is really the thought and not the actual gift that counts.
If Mr. Elliot had not appeared it seems the greater part of the evening would have been dedicated to their superficial concerns. The delights of Camden Place which saddens Anne as neither father nor sister appear to regret what they have left behind in the country. How happy they are to be courted by strangers and in their new admiring, well looking friends. I can see why Anne finds Mr. Elliot is a breath of air. Sir Walter gives Anne his view on her and Mrs. Clay’s looks the next day:
In the course of the same morning, Anne and her father chancing to be alone together, he began to compliment her on her improved looks: he thought her "less thin in her person, in her cheeks; her skin, her complexion, greatly improved: clearer, fresher…Certainly you cannot do better than continue as you are; you cannot be better than well; or I should recommend Gowland… (15)
Sir Walter praises Anne’s improved looks but seems to say she cannot look any better; she has reached the peak of her good looks! Am I reading this correctly? I have never noticed this bit before.
Gowland, the constant use of Gowland, during the spring months. Mrs. Clay has been using it at my recommendation, and you see what it has done for her. You see how it has carried away her freckles. (16)
Anne can discern no difference in Mrs. Clay’s freckles. Elizabeth’s choice to dismiss her warning “There is hardly any personal defect…which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to” (5) seems to have been the wrong one. I think Mrs. Clay’s disappearing freckles can be attributed to this phenomenon and Elizabeth is still blind to the danger. What will disappear from Sir Walter’s observation next—the tooth or the clumsy wrist? With such evil looming it is relieving to know Anne may always find a home with Lady Russell.
Miss Carteret and Admiral Croft:
Rank really does have it privileges because although Miss Carteret is “so plain and so awkward” (16) she appears to have special dispensation from Sir Walter’s quizzical eye. It is Anne’s observation that the lady is plain. Is he blinded by her nobility? Anne was too busy reading her letter to hear how Admiral Croft’s “complexion escaped” (18) appraisal but “escaped” suggests it did. The admiral “will be best known in Bath as the renter of Kellynch Hall” (18) and as the renter of Kellynch Hall he must be a well looking man. I think that is how the logic works.
In the four chapters set in Bath this week Sir Walter was on the job, appraising the faces and figures of all those around him in each one. I did not expect anything less. Thanks for reading! (:D)
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