Laurie Viera Rigler's been around these parts a time or ten. And she always brings something amazing to the table, like that time she helped us figure out if we'd be able to cut it during Austen's time (spoiler: probably not), or when she shared her absolute favorite moments from both the book and film versions of each of Austen's works. And of course, all of those silly, random, awesome Janeite Conversations we've had over the years...
Today, she's taking a look at some of the shadier elements of this year's Read Along, Sense & Sensibility. And you know a book that contains both Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele is bound to have some shade...
Sense and Sensibility: Throwing Shade Edition…and a giveaway
Can you imagine having to hold your tongue just about all the time? In the world of Austen, you’re never allowed to tell people off, not really. You can’t ever talk back to your parents, even if you’re an adult. You’re forced to socialize with all manner of disagreeable, narcissistic, or downright evil beings, and spend whole days or even months with them, with fake smiles plastered on your face. (Wait a minute, that sounds like how some of us feel about holiday visits with relatives, so maybe things haven’t changed all that much?)
Or maybe it sounds like Sense and Sensibility, which is this year’s Austen in August group read. [SPOILERS AHEAD.]
The Dashwood girls can’t say a real word of protest to Fanny Dashwood, the evil queen who takes over their house before the body of their father is cold. Nor can they confront their half-brother for not giving them a penny, despite his promising their late father to do so. Edward Ferrars is forced to maintain an engagement to the conniving girl he foolishly promised to marry when he was very young**. And Elinor has to pretend that said girl is a friend rather than a grinning sadist.
Even the boundary-pushing rebel that is Marianne feels compelled to observe a modicum of restraint. As she observes bitterly after being pressed to have yet another excruciating visit to Barton Park, "The rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the park whenever any one is staying either with them, or with us." Her solution is mostly to withdraw in silence or ignore others, leaving all the painful offices of civility to poor Elinor. Or, in the case of a close friend such as Edward, her idea of openness is to shame him for being reserved during his visit to Barton Cottage. Which makes us want Marianne to conform to politeness standards just a bit more. (Jane Austen sure is clever that way.) Nevertheless, Marianne does have a couple of bona fide public outbursts regarding that horrible dinner with Mrs. Ferrars, which we applaud her for.
I did a word search of all of Jane Austen’s works. The words “confrontation” and “confront” aren’t there. Nevertheless, confrontation is one of the most satisfying things about the Austen canon. Not confrontation of others, but rather confrontation of oneself. Austen’s protagonists may get a jumpstart from their nearest and dearest, as does Marianne from Elinor’s gentle confrontation, but ultimately they must confront themselves in order to achieve true happiness. Which is the best lesson we can ever hope to learn from this brilliant author.
And yet, being a twenty-first-century girl, I sometimes want to shout at the page or throw popcorn at the screen because my heroines are obliged to put up with the most heinous people and have to keep their mouths shut. But let’s face it, this level of emotional involvement is all part of the fun of being a reader and a viewer, because hey, this is Austen, and things are always going to work out in the end.
So…here are a few things that I wish my favorite characters could say.
You know the part where Lucy asks Elinor if Elinor knows Edward Ferrars’s mother? Just before Lucy drops the bomb?
Lucy says to Elinor, “I hope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to be impertinent."
To which Elinor, rather than making the “civil reply” the novel refers to, would say,
“My dear Miss Steele, I would rather eat glass.”
Then, Lucy does the big reveal. In the novel, Elinor hides her devastation with every ounce of self-command she possesses. She cannot at first even believe it is true: "Engaged to Mr. Edward Ferrars! …I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some mistake of person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars."
Wouldn’t it be nice if Elinor could then add:
How about the part where Colonel Brandon and Elinor talk about Willoughby’s crimes?
Elinor asks if Brandon has met with Willoughby, and he replies, “…we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."
Brandon’s words are so cryptic to our twenty-first-century ears that it’s easy to miss the fact that he actually challenged and fought Willoughby in a duel! (Which should ease the mind of anyone who fears that Marianne got shortchanged by marrying a flannel-waistcoat-wearing guy who’s “on the wrong side of five and thirty.”)
Anyhow, what if Brandon’s saying no one got injured was just to ease Elinor’s delicate female mind?
The is what the Brandon of my imagination says:
“That is just as it ought to be,” replies Elinor.
Then there’s that excruciating scene where Edward calls on Elinor, and finds the woman he has to marry sitting with the woman he wishes he could marry. Surely he’s thinking the following; if only he would just say it:
What do you wish your favorite Austen characters could say out loud? Do tell!
GIF images are from my favorite adaptation of the novel, directed by Ang Lee, with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson, and starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise, and the inimitable Alan Rickman.
Which brings us to the giveaway. One lucky winner will receive all of the following:
- Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries by Emma Thompson. If you love film, and you love Austen, and you’ve ever wondered what goes into adapting a beloved novel to the screen and what it’s like to actually make that film, this book will exceed all wishes. Emma Thompson’s diaries are hilarious, touching, and illuminating. The screenplay is a huge bonus. If you haven’t seen the film, do!
- Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict (both signed). Culture shock and romantic chaos ensue when two young women, one from Regency England and the other from 21st-century L.A.—each reeling from a break-up, and each devotees of Jane Austen—inexplicably switch bodies, time periods, and lives.
** re Edward’s maintaining his engagement: In this case, forced politeness has the law on its side, for in Jane Austen’s world, men could be sued for breach of promise. Not to mention that whole gentleman’s-code-of-honor thing. Even a gentleman who didn’t actually propose could find himself in trouble if he openly paid so much attention to a lady that all her friends and relatives assumed they were as good as engaged. See Persuasion, Vol. II, Chapter XI, when Captain Wentworth explains his realizing that he might have been stuck with a certain young woman for life. So why didn’t that apply to Willoughby, you might ask? The key word is “gentleman.”
One (1) lucky winner will receive copies of Sense and Sensibility: The Screenplay and Diaries, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (signed) and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict (signed), courtesy of Laurie Viera Rigler!
Ends September 10th at 11:59 pm EST
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