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|Elinor Tormented by her Love for Edward. (Long)
Written by Rachel G
(10/16/2009 2:46 p.m.)
Amidst all the "Sturm und Drang" of Marianne and Willoughby's relationship, it is easy to overlook the drip, drip, drip of suffering which Elinor endures concerning her love for Edward through most of the novel. Here is a catalogue of Elinor's pain:-
Elinor falls in love with Edward at Norland in the Spring. Unsure of the extent of his regard, she is cautious and does not feed her passion. Marianne accuses E of being cold-hearted; she and Mrs D ignore what Elinor says and continue to regard it as certain that she and Ed will marry, making Elinor's uncertainty more painful.
Fanny gets wind of the attachment and is offensive. By September the Dashwoods driven away to Devonshire, forcing separation of E and Ed.
At Barton E has to endure teasing by Mrs J and Sir John about her suitor who's name begins with an F. She has to watch Marianne's season of happiness with Willoughby.
In November Ed visits soon after W. has left. E is mortified by his coldness and reserve, vexed and half angry. He relaxes a bit but his low spirits and inconsistent manners to her leave E doubting his affection. The episode of the hair ring shows Elinor clutching at straws and explaining Ed's coolness away, but when he has left she feels grief.
Lucy arrives and reveals she is engaged to Ed. Her repeated malicious needling of Elinor is very hurtful, and by getting her to promise secrecy effectively denies E the possibility of any emotional support.
Sensibly, E hopes to see Ed as little as possible, but contrary to her wishes she has to go to London with Marianne and Mrs Jennings.
Just as the waves made by Willoughby's rejection of Marianne begin to subside Lucy comes to Town. Her malicious digs at Elinor recommence immediately; this persecution continues throughout the time in London.
Elinor also frequently hears news or discussion of Ed from Mrs Jennings, John Dashwood, Sir John etc. None intend to cause her pain, but it means that she has no respite from her unhappiness.
Lucy makes Elinor her confidante. Ed is in Town; E is glad that he calls and leaves his card and glad to have missed seeing him.
Invited to dine with John and Fanny, E hardly knows how she will bear seeing Ed and Lucy together. Ed is absent from the dinner; Mrs Ferrars' dislike of E is almost enough to make her glad that she will never be part of that family. Though meant to be supportive, Marianne's intervention draws everyone's attention to the fact that they may be making E unhappy (more ammo for Lucy!)
Ed comes to call while Lucy is there - an excruciatingly awkward meeting in which E has to bear the burden of making civil conversation. Afterwards, E hopes that Ed won't call often and fears a repetition of the pain she has just endured.
Lucy and her sister invited to stay with John and Fanny, suggesting considerable goodwill towards Lucy. Reports by Sir John strengthens E's conviction that Lucy is becoming accepted by Ed's family.
Lucy and Ed's secret engagement is exposed, so E has to tell Marianne about it and then has to comfort M's distress(!). When M says that E's self-restraint shows that she can't have felt very strongly, E lets rip at her a bit - the only instance of her finding an outlet for her feelings.
News that Ed has been disinherited. Elinor's heart is wrung for him.
Marianne tells E that she believes Ed still loves her - this is not helpful to E though it is meant to be so.
News from Miss Steele that Ed offered to release Lucy from their engagement because he will be poor; Lucy hangs on to her man. E is now sure they will marry but not sure when.
Letter from Lucy asking Elinor to recommend Ed for a living.
Brandon asks E to tell Ed about the offer of the Delaford living, unaware of how painful this will be for her. Elinor tells Ed the news face to face - a conversation which is agonising for them both - E is breathing faster than normal as she speaks. She believes the living will enable Ed and Lucy to marry soon - "The next time I see him I shall see him as the husband of Lucy".
Lucy praises Elinor to Mrs J for helping Ed to get the living! John D tells Elinor they now think she would have been the lesser evil than Lucy (Thanks John!).
Just before Easter E and M are leaving Town. Both John D and Mrs J think Elinor will soon be living at Delaford as Brandon's wife, which amuses E. Lucy's parting shot is a warm invitation to visit her and Ed at Delaford, which Elinor does not find amusing!
At last E & M escape to Clevedon, where E bears the burden of M's near-fatal illness, Willoughby's confession and her promise to tell Marianne. Mrs D determines that M and Brandon will marry and plans to move to Delaford, presenting E with the real prospect of living in constant proximity to Ed married to Lucy.
Back at Barton, they hear that Lucy is married to Mr Ferrars, (whereupon Marianne has hysterics!)
Edward arrives unexpectedly - Elinor is so distressed she can barely speak.
The tedious length of this catalogue of woe is part of the point of this post. Elinor is forced by circumstances to endure the pains of love for over a year - almost the entire course of the novel.
She has no one she can look to for emotional support, but selflessly devotes herself to soothing and supporting her mother and Marianne. While this may have helped her by diverting her attention from her own unhappiness, it is also a constant drain on her emotional energy.
Elinor's pain goes on and on and on - endlessly revived and renewed. I see it as akin to a slow form of torture, her wounds constantly picked open and never allowed to heal.
The trials and tribulations of Elinor's love for Edward are not floridly expressed like Marianne's, and it is easy to lose sight of her unhappiness. To use a musical analogy, the torments that afflict her are like a bass line or drone that underpins the fireworks going on in the upper registers of the narrative.
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