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|Dashwood Sisters (chapters 17 to 25) Long
Written by Robbin
(10/7/2006 8:06 a.m.)
"Marianne can never keep long from that instrument you know, ma'am," said Elinor, endeavouring to smooth away the offence; "and I do not much wonder at it, for it is the very best-toned pianoforte I ever heard." (Chapter 23)
The arrival of Edward snapped Marianne out of her paralyzing melancholy which arose from Willoughby’s departure and she is back to being inattentive and rude to others—leaving Elinor to make nice in her wake. Elinor is still playing the mother hen to Marianne, chastising her or covering-up her rudeness in some cases such as when Marianne refuses to play cards in Chapter 23. These chapters threw some new light on Marianne’s sensibilities for me and on the differences between how she and Elinor see people finding a greater disparity of understanding than I had previously thought existed between them. Contrarily, despite what I see as greater differences in understanding they both continue to support and feel for each other in little ways. Elinor by her guidance and Marianne does what she can to encourage Edward which is sweet but ineffective. I think Elinor and Marianne continue to have a strong emotional bond between them but they seem to be more at odds with each other than ever; despite the amount of time spent on Elinor and Edward’s relationship there was no confession by Elinor of her feelings for Edward to Marianne as there was in Chapter 4.
Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. (Chapter 21)
In the past I have attributed Marianne’s inattention to others to two reasons—first, to a feeling of superiority and second, to her overwhelming feelings which leave her unable to control herself. One thing I noticed about Marianne in these chapters is that she is not completely unaware of her affect on people; she notices that her unthinking remark about Edward’s ring with the plait of hair she assumes is Elinor’s pains him in Chapter 18. I think Marianne notices the affect on Edward because she respects him more than most people of her acquaintance. Marianne appears to portion her civility according to how deserving she feels the object is, the most obvious example is when she was unable to treat John and Fanny with the respect a sister should at Norland. John and Fanny by their character and talents deserve little respect and that is what Marianne gives them but Elinor realizes they deserve respect just because they are brother and sister—in the military this is called respecting the rank if you cannot respect the individual—and IMO this is why Elinor is able to show them proper attention in Chapter 1.
"But I thought it was right, Elinor," said Marianne, "to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbours. This has always been your doctrine, I am sure."
"No, Marianne, never. My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning. I am guilty, I confess, of having often wished you to treat our acquaintance in general with greater attention; but when have I advised you to adopt their sentiments or conform to their judgment in serious matters?" (Chapter 17)
The disparity (above) in what Marianne understands Elinor to mean and what she actually means is disturbing to me—it is so unjust to Elinor IMO, how can she think it? Marianne’s interpretation transforms Elinor into some kind of blind follower of even the silliest persons; it equates Elinor’s kind civility to her neighbors as subjecting her will to theirs. The idea that Marianne misunderstands the difference between the proper treatment of people and agreeing with people is new to me, for some reason this has never quite crystallized in this exact form to me before. I apologize if I explain it badly; I think it is as if Marianne believes giving, say—Mrs. Jennings—the benefit of her ear for a half hour is paramount to encouraging, agreeing with or approving of Mrs. Jennings rather than seeing it as a kindness to an older lady who likes to talk and has been kind to them inturn. If Marianne operates under such misapprehension then how must Marianne view Elinor’s constant advice to be more attentive to their neighbors when she feels they deserve no such distinction? Does Marianne feel Elinor is not true to herself when she is attentive to their boring and silly neighbors? Is it a wonder then that she does not heed Elinor’s advice?
"If Elinor is frightened away by her dislike of Mrs. Jennings," said Marianne, "at least it need not prevent my accepting her invitation. I have no such scruples, and I am sure I could put up with every unpleasantness of that kind with very little effort."
Elinor could not help smiling at this display of indifference towards the manners of a person, to whom she had often had difficulty in persuading Marianne to behave with tolerable politeness, and resolved within herself, that if her sister persisted in going, she would go likewise, as she did not think it proper that Marianne should be left to the sole guidance of her own judgment, or that Mrs. Jennings should be abandoned to the mercy of Marianne for all the comfort of her domestic hours. (Chapter 25)
Marianne I think is uncharitable again to Elinor when she accuses her of refusing Mrs. Jennings invitation for what would normally be Marianne’s reasons for refusal. I think this is the beginning of the erosion of Marianne’s “firm opinions” because she is so determined to be with Willoughby. It is funny that her “toleration for anything like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference of taste from herself”—(Chapter 22) is so easily forgotten given the chance to see him again. Elinor, I think, is surprised as well as amused at Marianne’s willingness to tolerate Mrs. Jennings vices. I also think Marianne’s sudden tolerance and even her warm gratefulness to Mrs. Jennings for the invitation is tainted by the selfishness with motivates her. I have to say these chapters are the first on this read where I have thought of Marianne as selfish; it is certainly selfish to use Mrs. Jennings as a means to see Willoughby while Elinor only thinks of avoiding Edward, monitoring Marianne’s behavior, and even thinking of what Mrs. Jennings deserves in companionship from her guests.
From their counsel or their conversation she knew she could receive no assistance; their tenderness and sorrow must add to her distress, while her self-command would neither receive encouragement from their example nor from their praise. She was stronger alone, and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be. (Chapter 23)
I think the most telling example of how Elinor and Marianne’s relationship has been damaged by Elinor’s role as a surrogate mother is that she cannot confide her disappointed hopes in Edward after Lucy’s reveal of their secret engagement. I still think Mrs. Dashwood is primarily responsible for this situation by encouraging Marianne in her over-the-top sensibilities which makes her unfit to be a confidant and by her lack of supervision of Marianne forcing Elinor to tackle the problem and especially by making herself a poor confidant as well as a ineffective mother because of her own extreme sensibilities. ;D
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