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Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 15

Let me say that what I perceive as Willoughby's sarcasm pisses me off. Confused by that? Allow me to 'splain.

Mrs Dashwood allows Marianne to stay home alone while Mrs D., Elinor and Margaret head to Barton Park to visit (the insipid) Lady Middleton. Mrs D figures that Marianne is going to spend time alone with Willoughby, and she's employing the Regency version of "don't ask, don't tell" - she's turning a blind eye to the impropriety, figuring that they are either already engaged or about to become engaged.

Turns out that Mrs D was right about the Willoughby visit, but wrong about the reason. Willoughby has shown up to announce that he's taking off for London. He (somewhat crassly) mentions the financial situation between himself and his aunt, Mrs Smith, and basically says that he's being sent away. Stat. And Mr "that Brandon sure is a killjoy, I'll bet he doesn't have a good reason since he won't tell us why he's going away" Willoughby doesn't really give any good explanation either. Just says he's headed to London, adding "and by way of exhilaration I am now come to take my farewell of you."

I was terribly curious as to whether the word exhileration meant something different in Austen's time than it does in ours, since that sometimes happens (think, for instance, of the word "nice", which now means things like "good" and "kind" but used to mean "particular"). Here's what Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (the go-to dictionary in Austen's day) says:

EXHILERA'TION [from exhilerate]
1. The act of giving gaiety.
2. The state of being enlivened.

That's right. Willoughby claims he's there to provide them with gaiety, after Marianne has just bolted from the room in tears. Dear Sir: You are not funny. As Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo once observed, "Sarcasm is the refuge of a shallow mind." Sincerely, Kelly Fineman However, you've got to hand it to Austen here, because she is a bit funny here. You've got the overly dramatic Marianne in tears, and Willoughby apparently trying to paste a smile on while being a bit of a jerk, really. You can bet there's little she likes more than messing with her characters, and all these characters are messed around and good here.

Sometimes characters mean exactly what they say

Willoughby basically allows that he has been thrown out of Allenham, makes clear that he is not coming back anytime soon, rejects Mrs Dashwood's attempt at inviting him for a visit, and shifts from maintaining his attempt at a happy face/good manners to this extremely blunt statement:

"It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy."

I will now observe that sometimes, it pays to take the statements of men at face value. I urge those of you reading this book for the first time to assume that he's telling the truth; I urge those of you who've read this before to look hard at these sentences and take them at face value.

Summary of the conversation between Mrs Dashwood and Elinor

Willoughby bolts, and Mrs D leaves the room in order to compose herself - after all, emotional outbursts were not something to be encouraged (part of that "keeping a stiff upper lip" mentality, and interesting, I think, to see it at work within an extremely intimate family circle). She returns with an explanation of Willoughby's conduct that makes perfect sense - Mrs Smith learned of his affection for Marianne and disapproves, so he's being sent off in order to separate him from Marianne. Mrs D goes ahead and proactively attacks Elinor for imputing any fault at all to Willoughby for his conduct.


Elinor: But . . .

Mrs D: Keep your but to yourself Elinor!


Mrs D: You can't claim he's secretive now when you wanted him to act with more discretion. NO TAKEBACKS!

Elinor: I just want proof of their engagement. Neither of them has said a syllable about it.

Mrs D: Like Marianne before me, I sense his feelings and therefore need no syllables. He loves her, ergo they are engaged. Ipso facto. Quod erat demonstrandum. Et cetera, et cetera.

Elinor: This walking the walk thing is not enough - I insist that they talk the talk. Also, I'm pretty certain that you do not know Latin.

Mrs D: You are an evil thinker of evil thoughts.

Elinor: A little healthy skepticism never hurt anyone.

Mrs D: I will now ask the $20,000 question: "Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side to create alarm? can he be deceitful?"

Elinor: I'd love to be able to say for certain that he's on the up & up, but I can't.

Mrs D: I hereby declare them engaged in secret with their marriage now delayed due to new circumstances until someone says otherwise.

Marianne: *sobs uncontrollably* (ON PURPOSE) (ALL NIGHT)

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 15th, 2010 10:42 am (UTC)
Oh, the cad! Lovely explication of this chapter, Kelly.
Oct. 15th, 2010 01:35 pm (UTC)
He really is a cad, isn't he? The thing I've noticed in real life applies to Willoughby's parting words here - sometimes you have to take these sorts of comments at exact, literal face value, rather than excusing them or trying to explain them away. When he says it is now impossible for him to enjoy their company, he means it - and on multiple levels. Brilliant writing on Austen's part, and a further demonstration of what a terrific observer of real life she is.
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:06 pm (UTC)
I remember this well from being a teenager: "that violent sorrow which Marianne was in
all probability not merely giving way to as a relief, but feeding
and encouraging as a duty."

I'm glad Margaret turned up at the end - I was worried she'd turned in to wallpaper!
Oct. 15th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Many Austen scholars theorize that Margaret played a far more essential role in the earlier manuscript known as Elinor and Marianne, which is known to have been an epistolary novel. She would have been one of the correspondents used by Marianne and/or Elinor, and she probably didn't do much beyond receiving letters. When Austen rewrote the novel, she kept Margaret around, but didn't give her a much more active role - part of that is because Margaret is only 13 or so, and so is not "out" in society. She's probably not actually "necessary" to the book, but since she's in it, I agree that I enjoy seeing her. The recent (1995 & 2008) adaptations for the movies and TV seem to do a better job of making Margaret real.
Oct. 15th, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
The thing that boggles me is that neither Elinor nor Mrs. Dashwood is willing to just WALK UP TO MARIANNE AND ASK IF SHE'S ENGAGED TO WILLOUGHBY! That hardly seems excessively intrusive to me. Maybe they don't want to do it because a secret engagement is improper and they don't want to put her on the spot and ask her a question to which she might not want to give a truthful answer. But given Marianne's general attitude toward the proprieties, you'd think she'd be willing to answer a straightforward question like that.
Oct. 15th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
I rather suspect that this is Austen "cheating" - she doesn't want us to know whether they are or are not engaged for sure, so she can't have one of them ask, because - as you've noted - Marianne would undoubtedly tell them the answer!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 16th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
I guess that's a fine point. Also, Elinor was annoyed about Marianne's prying about Edward, so I guess she doesn't want to open that can of worms.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 16th, 2010 04:23 am (UTC)
Exactly this.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 16th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I am sorry I didn't know about it sooner!

I hope you enjoy the chapter!
Oct. 28th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
OK, Kelly. This is you at your best. I swear, if you'd been my lit prof in college I would've liked class a Loooooottttt more than I did....
Oct. 28th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
You say the nicest things!
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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