Monday, March 1, 2021

Austen and Contractions

This post was originally written while I was finishing Darcy in Wonderland, an odd little volume that is part Pride and Prejudice sequel, set twenty some years after the Darcy’s marriage, and part pure mashup with Alice in Wonderland. It was a marvellous opportunity to work with my incredibly talented little sister, Katy Wiedemann, who created beautiful illustrations for the book. For the cover image she used David Rintoul as her model, who played Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series, with a little James Dean thrown in. Isn’t she incredible? Colin Firth's features weren't chiselled enough for her liking. The pigeon with which he is conversing is Mrs. Bennet.

One of the great challenges I encountered writing this story was trying to combining the styles of two very different writers. This proved a particular problem when it comes to the thorny issue of contractions. Over the years, I’ve been told by more than one person that Jane Austen never used contractions. This is not exactly true, though her use of contractions is very limited. Lewis Carroll, on the other hand, uses contractions nonstop. I compromised between the two by limiting the characters from Austen’s world to her contractions, letting Carroll’s characters pretty much run wild (it would have been impossible to fight this, as that is just what Carroll’s characters do), and I split the difference on Alice. As a result of this process, I produced a rather handy list of contractions Austen did use in her six major novels and those she did not (several do appear more frequently in her earlier works). Let’s start with those she definitely never uses:

aren’t, couldn’t, could’ve, didn’t, doesn’t, hadn’t, hasn’t, haven’t, he’d, he’ll, he’s, how’d, isn’t, it’d, it’ll, it’s, let’s, mightn’t, might’ve, mustn’t, must’ve, needn’t, oughtn’t, she’d, she’ll, she’s, shouldn’t, should’ve, that’d, that’ll, there’s, they’ll, they’re, wasn’t, we’ll, we’re, weren’t, we’ve, what’s, where’s, who’d, who’ll, who’s, wouldn’t, would’ve, you’d, you’ll, you’re, you’ve

Now let’s discuss what is far more interesting: those contractions Austen does utilize and why.

There are only three she uses fairly regularly: don’t, ’tis, and won’t (note that ’tis never occurs in Persuasion, while making a regular appearance in all five of the other novels).

There are three more that appear a handful of times in the novels: can’t, I’ll, and shan’t/sha’nt (note that the latter is only ever used by Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Bennet, and Miss Bates).

Then there are those that appear very infrequently. Word geek that I am, I find this highly compelling. Usually, these contractions reflect a character’s lack of education or refinement. Let’s take a look at them in context.


Amanda Bozer as Fanny Dashwood, 1981.
This archaic contraction occurs a bit more frequently than the others on this list, but really only in Sense and Sensibility, in which it is used five times.

Anne Steele (she uses it twice – also see notes below on “I’m”):

“Lord! my dear, you are very modest. I an’t the least astonished at it in the world, for I have often thought of late, there was nothing more likely to happen.”

Mrs. Jennings:

“Mind me, now, if they an’t married by Mid-summer.”

“The Colonel is a ninny, my dear; because he has two thousand a-year himself, he thinks that nobody else can marry on less. Take my word for it, that, if I am alive, I shall be paying a visit at Delaford Parsonage before Michaelmas; and I am sure I sha’nt go if Lucy an’t there.”

And, curiously, Fanny Dashwood:

Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough,–for, colouring a little, she immediately said, 
“They are very pretty, ma’am–an’t they?” But then again, the dread of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came over her, for she presently added, “Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton’s style of painting, Ma’am?–She does paint most delightfully!–How beautifully her last landscape is done!”

Fanny is a far more socially elevated character than the other two, and I think Austen very deliberately puts this contraction into her speech in order to display Fanny’s internal coarseness, despite her fashionable trappings.

The only other time “an’t” occurs is in Emma, where it is used by Mrs. Elton when speaking to Jane Fairfax. She is a character rather like Fanny, when you stop to consider their personalities. Both are petty and self-absorbed. It is also possible that both ladies saying ‘an’t’ is some kind of affectation, perhaps a modish slang. If so, I think it is clear Austen does not approve of such verbal laziness.

“Now I say, my dear, in our case, for lady, read—-mum! a word to the wise.–I am in a fine flow of spirits, an’t I? But I want to set your heart at ease as to Mrs. S.–My representation, you see, has quite appeased her.”

Edit: A careful reader pointed out that it also appears in Persuasion. I missed it because it is spelled "a'n't." Wow Jane! We have Charles Musgrove to thank for this utterance, and he uses it when adopting a childish demeanour to interact with his mother:

"Well, mother, I have done something for you that you will like. I have been to the theatre, and secured a box for to-morrow night. A'n't I a good boy? I know you love a play; and there is room for us all. It holds nine. I have engaged Captain Wentworth. Anne will not be sorry to join us, I am sure. We all like a play. Have not I done well, mother?"

Beautiful! Many thanks to Valborg Anderson for catching this one. 


Toni Collette as Harriet Smith, 1996.
Used four times, and in a rather broad set of circumstances. Anne Steele, who uses more contractions than any other character in Austen, says it once:

“Good gracious! (giggling as she spoke) I’d lay my life I know what my cousins will say, when they hear of it. They will tell me I should write to the Doctor, to get Edward the curacy of his new living. I know they will; but I am sure I would not do such a thing for all the world.–‘La!’ I shall say directly, ‘I wonder how you could think of such a thing? I write to the Doctor, indeed!'”

It occurs twice in Mansfield Park, always spoken by the Portsmouth Prices. First by William:

“I should like to see you dance, and I’d dance with you if you would, for nobody would know who I was here, and I should like to be your partner once more.”

And then later in the story by his father, who uses courser language than any other character in Austen:

“But, by G–! if she belonged to me, I’d give her the rope’s end as long as I could stand over her. A little flogging for man and woman too would be the best way of preventing such things.”

It is also used once in Emma, by Harriet Smith:

“Will you read the letter?” cried Harriet. “Pray do. I’d rather you would.”


Austen only uses it three times, and just in her first two novels. Anne Steele says it in Sense and Sensibility, twice in the same sentence! Anne’s frequent use of contractions is definitely a reflection of her lack of education and low status, and this paragraph is loaded with them:

“Nay, my dear, I’m sure I don’t pretend to say that there an’t. I’m sure there’s a vast many smart beaux in Exeter; but you know, how could I tell what smart beaux there might be about Norland; and I was only afraid the Miss Dashwoods might find it dull at Barton, if they had not so many as they used to have. But perhaps you young ladies may not care about the beaux, and had as lief be without them as with them. For my part, I think they are vastly agreeable, provided they dress smart and behave civil. But I can’t bear to see them dirty and nasty. Now there’s Mr. Rose at Exeter, a prodigious smart young man, quite a beau, clerk to Mr. Simpson, you know, and yet if you do but meet him of a morning, he is not fit to be seen.–I suppose your brother was quite a beau, Miss Dashwood, before he married, as he was so rich?”

Lydia Bennet is the other character to utilize “I’m”:

“Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”


Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings, 1995.
Only used once by Mrs. Jennings, another great peddler of contractions:

“Oh, Lord! I am sure your mother can spare you very well, and I do beg you will favour me with your company, for I’ve quite set my heart upon it. Don’t fancy that you will be any inconvenience to me, for I shan’t put myself at all out of my way for you.

How d’ye

Bit of a weird one, and akin to our modern “how’d you.” I definitely think she is representing colloquial speech with this contraction. It is always used in greeting. John Thorpe says it in Northanger Abbey:

“Make haste! make haste!” as he threw open the door– “put on your hat this moment — there is no time to be lost — we are going to Bristol. –How d’ye do, Mrs. Allen?”

It is how John Knightley greets his brother in Emma (love this quote, by the way):

This had just taken place and with great cordiality, when John Knightley made his appearance, and “How d’ye do, George?” and “John, how are you?” succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other.

Miss Bates also uses it:

“How d’ ye do?–how d’ye do?–Very well, I thank you. So obliged to you for the carriage last night. We were just in time; my mother just ready for us. Pray come in; do come in. You will find some friends here.”

And Admiral Croft says it in Persuasion, when he is walking with Anne:

“But here comes a friend, Captain Brigden; I shall only say, `How d’ye do?’ as we pass, however. I shall not stop. ‘How d’ye do?’ Brigden stares to see anybody with me but my wife.”


Romola Garai & Johnny Lee Miller as Emma
Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, 2009.
This one is very interesting. It only occurs twice in Austen. Both times are in Emma, and both occur in the same chapter (12). I have to wonder if this wasn’t an editing oversight on Austen’s part, because instead of the “that’s” being dropped by side characters of questionable educational background, here it is used by our hero and heroine. The other theory I have is that both characters are flustered when they use the contraction. Perhaps it reflects their state of minds? Another thought is that it indicates ease with their companions, resulting in a relaxation of formality. It is used first by Emma ...

“That’s true,” she cried—”very true. Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited.

... and then later by Mr. Knightley, when he is trying to redirect the dinner conversation away from the subject of Mr. Perry’s medical opinions:

“True, true,” cried Mr. Knightley, with most ready interposition— “very true. That’s a consideration indeed.—But John, as to what I was telling you of my idea of moving the path to Langham, of turning it more to the right that it may not cut through the home meadows, I cannot conceive any difficulty.”


Only appears once in Austen, in Sense and Sensibility. Servants don’t usually have much of a voice in Austen, but the Dashwood’s Thomas has quite a speech at the end of the novel. It is there he drops the “they’d”:

“I happened to look up as I went by the chaise, and so I see directly it was the youngest Miss Steele; so I took off my hat, and she knew me and called to me, and inquired after you, ma’am, and the young ladies, especially Miss Marianne, and bid me I should give her compliments and Mr. Ferrars’s, their best compliments and service, and how sorry they was they had not time to come on and see you, but they was in a great hurry to go forwards, for they was going further down for a little while, but howsever, when they come back, they’d make sure to come and see you.”


Daisy Haggard as Miss Steele, 2008.
We wrap up where we began, with Anne Steele:

“Dr. Davies was coming to town, and so we thought we’d join him in a post-chaise; and he behaved very genteelly, and paid ten or twelve shillings more than we did.”

So what have we learned from all this? While some contractions are broadly used by all manner of characters in Austen, her use of them is highly selective, usually chosen to highlight lack of education, some other character fault, or informality. I hope this exercise is useful to my fellow writers, and that it provides a heightened awareness in readers of Austen’s careful choice of language.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration into some of the less obvious aspects of Austen’s writing style.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Work in Progress Reading Sunday

Oh! This year is winding down so fast. One thing that can certainly be said for 2020, at least from my perspective, is that it sped by. There is still too much to do. I'm totally overwhelmed, but here's a quick summary of my recent activities.

The Ladies of Norland already has some strong reviews! That probably makes it my most successful Twisted Austen book to date, and it's not even P&P based. Usually, I beg for reviews of these stories. Feels like a little miracle.

This year was my sixth time attempting NaNoWriMo and the first time I didn't meet the 50,000 word goal. Nowhere even close. I did, however, manage to do some good work editing Tales of Less Pride & Prejudice. I'm reading from one of the new scenes on Sunday as part of the first Work in Progress reading organised by the JAFF Writer-Reader Get Together folks. Registration is free and still open if you would like to participate. As well as myself, Newton Priors, Elizabeth Ann Schilling-West, Nicole Clarkston, Sarah Courtney, and Shannon Winslow will be reading, followed by an hour of open chat. Should be a blast.

My attempts at blog revival really stalled in November. I will try to get some proper posts up this month, but December is always total chaos. My good intentions might be subverted to the season. Just in case, I'll grab this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and happy New Year. My best wishes to all.

Note: This post has been updated to correct the day of the reading.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Räbeliechtli, Jane Austen Style

As you may have gathered, Halloween is important to me. I love any excuse to dress up, so this is a holiday has always suited me perfectly. Unfortunately, the celebrations were very curtailed this year. We were able to participate in some very limited, socially distanced trick-or-treating, a feat rendered easier by the fact that most people do not celebrate Halloween in Switzerland, although it's catching on.

Even though Halloween is my own, much beloved way to celebrate the autumn, I think I was actually far more disappointed to miss out on our new tradition, adopted only since we relocated, and much more akin to the harvest festivals of millennia ago than the candy-fueled masquerade the English speaking world indulges in today. In a normal year, all the school children would have gathered at the top of the town last night (like so much of Switzerland, we’re built on a hill). All the lights would be turned off, revealing windows filled with the Swiss-German equivalent of jack-o-lanterns: Räbeliechtli (ra-ba-leekt-li). In English, this roughly translates "little turnip light." In my town, the school children build parade floats covered in the things, and each one carves a Räbeliechtli to carry, suspended from a string or mounted on a stick like a torch. They parade through the town (this is called the Räbeliechtliumzug), more children and adults joining in along the way, until we all descend en masse upon the main town square, where there is an award for the best float and free sausages for all the kids. It’s really hard to explain the experience, but take my word for it, it is absolutely magical, perhaps particularly because no one ever catches on fire or burns down the town. The atmosphere is perfectly fairytale. It's a tradition I have come to adore in the past five years. I'm really rather devastated it has been cancelled. I had high hopes, before the latest surge in the virus, that we would would still get to do it.

The videos embedded in this post will have to hold me over until next year (please, oh please may life be more normal by then!). Though they are not from my town’s celebration, I chose them because they begin to capture the experience (for images from the biggest Räbeliechtliumzug in Switzerland, check out these from Richterswil’s Räbeliechtlichilbi, not far from where I live). Enjoy them! Most of the songs you will hear are specific to this celebration and in Swiss German, like Räbelichtli, wo gahsch hii?, with a notable high German exception, Ich gehe mit meiner Lanterne, coopted from the St. Martin's celebrations that take place in Germany on November 11th. Hopefully, the clips work in all countries.

And does this have anything to do with Miss Austen? That picture of the top of the post suggests it does. Admittedly, I’m reaching more than a bit, but I look to the good people at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath for precedence. A few years ago, they published a fun article with instruction for carving your own “Jane-o-lantern,” including some history of Halloween. After providing the common origin story of the holiday, derived from the Celtic harvest festival Samhain, the author explains how these traditions were celebrated in Austen’s time:

During the night of spooks and ghosts, homes would be lit by rustic lanterns carved from turnips (known early on as neeps) beets and rutabagas. Pumpkins would be used later, as they were brought to Europe from the New World in the 17th century. These flickering lights were set out in hopes of welcoming home friendly souls and chasing away the evil spirits who wandered that night.

Jane Austen would have been aware of these celebrations and divination rites; however, as the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, it is doubtful that she would have partaken in such goings on…. She mentions neither these holidays or her feelings towards them. 

There, at least, is the turnip connection. Often the last vegetable of the harvest, turnip lanterns were a natural choice for carving but more labor intensive than pumpkins (trust me on this: they are much less forgiving, you need a lot more of them, and they rot faster). The internet is alive with images of creepy turnips, carved by people harkening back to the past, often in the style of jack-o-lanterns. This is not what the Swiss do. They carve beautiful turnips, often decorated with Christmas images. The Christmas season has already begun here, though it needs a few more weeks to get into full gear (Samichlaus, the Swiss equivalent to Santa, has his big day December 6th, while the Christkind visits on the 24th).

If you’ve never carved a giant turnip before, the inside is solid and takes a bit of work to hollow. The smell is somewhat similar to horseradish, though not as intense. I imagine that if I had been doing this all my life, it would reek of childhood nostalgia. As it is, I need a pumpkin to conjure such sensations. There’s something about the texture of the pulpy seeds slipping between my fingers and that sweet, fresh scent. It’s kind of hard for a humble turnip to compete, but it is going to try, parade or no parade. I have two turnips waiting, one for each child, and we'll carve them tonight to display on the balcony. 

Last year I carved my own Räbeliechtli, instead of just helping my kids with theirs, inspired by the Jane-o-lantern concept. Not sure what to call it (Janeliechtli doesn’t really work), but of the thousands of turnips decorated in my town that week, I feel pretty confidant that I was the only one who opted for an Austen motif. I was pleased enough with the result to write this entire post about it, and it's been an exceedingly nostalgic and bitter sweet experience. My hopes are all for next year. It's such a beautiful tradition. Thanks for reminiscing with me.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Twisted Austen Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who joined me to read The Ladies of Norland! I am so pleased that I was able to pull it off this year and quite relieved there isn't a lynch mob outside my door. If you enjoyed the story, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I should greatly appreciate it.

My apologies to the delay in approving/replying to comments. I apparently turned off some notification somewhere, and most of the comments flew beneath my radar. All are now published. So sorry about that. I'm out of practice with this whole blogging thing.

With no further ado, the winner of the giveaway is ...

Mrs. GypsyPirate!

Congratulations! And what has she won? Choice of paperback or ebook copy of Being Mrs. Bennet, an ebook copy of The Ladies of Norland, two beautiful tea towels, purchased locally, and a wax stamping set to give her correspondence a 19th century flair. I've tried to post a picture, but blogger seems broken. It won't except any new image uploads. Schade. 

Once again, my deepest thanks to the readers who joined me for this event, especially those of you who have come back through the years. It am deeply honored.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Eight

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six / Part Seven

None but Mrs. Ferrars and her sons could know what words were exchanged that evening once they were alone, but the result of their conversation was clear to all concerned before the dawn broke. Mrs. Ferrars disavowed her eldest and sent missives to all his familial connections insisting they do the same. They were to do nothing for Edward: provide no assistance, nor offer him any comfort. It was to be as if he had no connections at all in this life, as if he never existed.

The feelings of the Misses Dashwood upon this occasion were complex, requiring several hours of discussion and ponderance, a need which conveniently served to isolate them, for the most part, from the rest of the household’s frenzied conflict. As much as Elinor was hurt and Marianne indignant, neither could feel anything but disgust for the acrimoniousness of Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny, and even their brother John, whom they were sorry to learn could be so severe. Yet though they could sympathize with Edward’s plight, and even honor him for the strength of character it took to stand firm against his family, his misrepresentation to themselves, by introducing himself as a single man, was unforgiveable.

Elinor’s distress was acute. Marianne saw her sister struggle and fail to contain her feelings and provided a sorely needed shoulder upon which to weep. Though she suffered as well, Marianne struggled to be strong for Elinor. It was a rather novel service for her to perform for her usually steady sister, but the shock of Elinor’s emotion rendered any other course untenable.

Marianne’s first urging, once Elinor had exhausted her tears, was that they return to Norland at once. She knew what she sacrificed in suggesting such a course of action, knew that a hasty departure would likely bring an end to the very delightful acquaintance she had so recently begun, yet she hesitated not at all in so martyring herself. The moment, she reasoned, warranted sacrifice and tribulation. Elinor, however, even in her affliction, thought more was due to the hospitality of their hostess and brother than so unceremonious a desertion. Yes, she longed for the comfort of her mother’s embrace, but words on paper would suffice. Further, her pride demanded more than a retreat to Sussex. Though she was unlikely to meet Edward now that he was ruptured from his family, the ever reliable gossip mill would surely keep him informed regarding the actions of the estranged, and she would not have him know how deeply he wounded her heart. She would have her season and would hold her head high throughout, as befit a Dashwood of Norland.

Marianne found her sister’s bravery inspiring and praised her nobility to Mr. Willoughby when next he called. He had heard of the family’s falling out, though he was not previously privy to Miss Dashwood’s unique role in the drama. Marianne would not tell him all, for she could never so forget herself as to betray sisterly confidences, but she revealed enough in her enthusiasm for Elinor’s virtue for him to largely surmise the truth. Elinor, had she been privy to the exchange, would not have approved, but she was riding in the park with John, who was on a determined campaign to make sure his sister’s spirits and looks suffered no harm due to what he termed “Edward’s foolishness.”

The following weeks saw Mr. Willoughby as constantly in attendance of the Dashwood party as decorum and Fanny could sanction. Whenever possible, it was seen that he was invited to the same parties and gatherings. When such requests were untenable, he somehow managed to find himself included nonetheless. Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown, but Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve. Had not Elinor now learned all too well the folly of such diffidence? To aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same, and their behavior at all times was an illustration of their opinions.

When he was present, she had no eyes for anyone else. Everything he did was right. Everything he said was clever. If their evenings were concluded with cards, he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get her a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement of the night, they taxed the bounds of politeness by the frequency with which they partnered and their neglect of everybody else. Such conduct made them most exceedingly laughed at, but ridicule could not shame and seemed hardly to provoke them. Their behavior rendered their engagement a foregone conclusion. Only Mrs. Dashwood’s absence from London delayed it.

This was the season of happiness to Marianne, her joy only checked by her sister’s less fruitful romance. Elinor's happiness could not be so great, but her disillusionment in Edward’s character and conduct went far to heal her wound. Also efficacious was her continued exposure to his disagreeable relations. She could not lament the loss of a future comprising a considerable amount of time spent in such unappealing company. She was fortunate enough to be spared any attempt on her sister-in-law’s part to attach her to the despicable Robert following the desertion of Miss Grey, much to Fanny’s chagrin, by the introduction to their circle of one Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton and possessor of thirty thousand pounds.

It was soon learned that Mr. Ferrars had married Miss Steele, an act made possible by the generosity of an acquaintance procured in Devonshire, one Colonel Brandon, who, despite having no interest in the couple beyond pity for the treatment they had endured, had given Edward the living attached to his estate of Delaford in Dorsetshire. His alienated relations congratulated themselves on the likelihood of never seeing him again, his income not permitting trips to the capital, and wondered that anyone so unconnected to him should be so generous when they, who most properly should have provided him assistance, were so determined against anything of the kind.

Elinor bore the news of Edward’s marriage with equanimity. She had made good use of the intervening months and had gone a long way to feeling perfectly herself once more. The attentions of two competing suitors, both worthy, intelligent, and admirable, even if they had not engaged her feelings to the same degree as Edward once had, did much to elevate her spirits, even as she was forced to reason that first love might always be more dizzying than the more mature emotions that followed. Both Mr. Mathers and Sir William had much to offer towards the establishment of her future happiness. She would certainly choose between them before long, and she refused to harbor any regrets for what might have been.

When the Misses Dashwood returned to Norland that spring, they were accompanied by Mr. Mathers and Mr. Willoughby, both having been successful in petitioning Mrs. Dashwood for the hands of her daughters and now bound to meet the great lady herself for the first time. The warmth of their reception was guaranteed. Mrs. Dashwood could never love by halves, and any gentleman who so recognized the worth of her precious girls was the instant possessor of her truest affection.

The End      


That's a wrap on this year's Twisted Austen. If you enjoyed the story, please show your support by purchasing a copy here. Happy Halloween everyone! Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Seven

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six

Edward appeared flustered when bowing to Elinor and failed to look her in the eyes before making only such remarks as might be bestowed on any distant connection, inquiring after her mother and Miss Margaret. This coldness and reserve mortified Elinor severely. She was vexed and angry, but resolving to regulate her behavior to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection. “Have you been in London these many months?” she inquired.

“No. I have but recently returned from Plymouth.”

“Where you were educated? Do you maintain many connections in the area?”

“Yes. Several.” He then pointedly turned his attention to greeting Marianne, who was as mystified by his behavior as her sister and displayed that astonishment a great deal more.

His mother frowned on this performance, commenting curtly, “Edward spends more and more time in Devonshire. I should like to know what he finds so charming about it.”

He turned to his mother with something like relief. “The countryside is exquisite. Miss Marianne, who is very well-versed in matters of the picturesque, would understand my passion.”

Marianne could not but laugh in disbelief. “I never knew you to be an admirer of landscape scenery.”

“No. I know nothing of such matters, but I can enjoy a fine prospect as well as anyone else. I have been introduced to your relation, Sir John Middleton of Barton Park. He sends his greetings and hopes to reacquaint himself with his cousins in the not too distant future. He is a warm, hospitable man, a great lover of the hunt, and the sponsor of endless diversions and entertainments for the young people of the area.”

“Were you introduced on one such occasion?” asked Elinor.

“Indeed. He has some distant connection to Mr. Pratt, through his wife.”

“Well, Edward, while you have been so occupied with diversions, we have been deprived of your company, and I could have used your assistance at Norland,” Fanny admonished. “I shan’t forgive you for so neglecting me. Whether my sisters will be more lenient with you, we shall have to see.” She looked eagerly to Elinor, hoping she would seize the provided opportunity for flirtation.

“We must not tease Mr. Ferrars on the subject,” was Elinor’s disappointing advance, and with that, the subject closed, the business of eating taking precedence over all foolish matters of the heart.


When the gentlemen rejoined the ladies that evening, John prevailed upon Marianne to entertain them with some music. Her audience was not as attentive as she could wish, but the lack of appreciation troubled her little while she could indulge her own tastes upon the pianoforte and lose herself in agreeable recollections from the morning, without the disruption of the far less agreeable evening she was presently enduring.

The rest of the party engaged in stilted conversation until it was time for tea, when Marianne withdrew from the instrument, remarking on how quickly the time had passed. Fanny undertook the distribution of the refreshment, a task in which Elinor, who had not found the time to pass so swiftly as her sister, readily volunteered to assist. Mrs. Ferrars nodded her commendation. She had found the eldest Miss Dashwood to be what she had hoped, but she had not found Edward to be as smitten as her daughter had implied. She studied her son’s features as he reached to take his tea from Elinor, looking for signs of affection, when his hand passed so directly before her as to make a ring, with a plait of hair in the center, very conspicuous on one of his fingers.

"I never saw you wear a ring before, Edward," she cried, rather unthinkingly. "Surely, that is not Fanny's hair, which is darker."

The room grew silent and turned as one towards Edward, who colored very deeply, in expectation of his reply. When none surfaced, Fanny went halfway towards clarifying the situation by confirming that she had never bestowed a lock upon Edward, and no one in the room was so foolish as to think a brother would stealthily procure such a trophy from his sister. Many looked to Elinor now, and then back at the ring. It was her turn to redden. Neither had she ever presented a lock of hair to Edward, but that did not negate the possibility that it was hers. The color, in the candlelight, looked to be exactly the shade of her own, but she could not conceive how he contrived to obtain it. She was not in a humor, however, to regard it as an affront, and the first stirrings of hope she had allowed herself all evening began to bubble and brew.

Edward's embarrassment lasted some time, and it ended only when John, whose own ruminations had led him to conclude that he really ought, perhaps, be affronted on his sister’s behalf, rose to a haughty posture and said in icy, challenging tones, “Have you an announcement you wish to make, Edward? As most of your closest connections are here assembled, as well as those of whom it may be said hold the greatest interest in the matter, I think we are deserving of an explanation.” He paused, looking to both his wife and Mrs. Ferrars for their approbation before continuing. “I myself have never been approached by you on the subject of your intentions towards my sister, nor has my mother indicated that you have so petitioned her, though we have, amongst ourselves, long suspected there was a growing attachment. The time has come for transparency. Well, sir? What have you to say for yourself?”

Elinor’s complexion blazed, but it went unperceived. All eyes were upon Edward. Hers as well.

“It is not Miss Dashwood’s hair, if that is what you are suggesting, John. She is far too delicate to bestow such a token on any gentleman other than her rightfully intended.”

Elinor’s hopes sank, and John nearly shouted in frustration, “Then who does it belong to, man?”

Quietly, Edward replied, “It belongs to the niece of Mr. Pratt, to whom I have been secretly betrothed these past five years.”

For those who take pleasure in rather gruesome spectacles – for example, touring the wards of Bedlam – the scene that now unfolded might be cause for some amusement, but for those who endured it, please be assured, it was most horrid. Fanny screamed, then fainted, and her husband was too distracted to catch her. It was Marianne who came to her rescue, her quick mind an asset in such a crisis, though she really had not the strength for the task. Fortunately, John regained his senses and came to her assistance before she buckled under his wife’s dead weight, all while Mrs. Ferrars unleashed a torrent of abuse upon her son.

“Have I, with the truest affection, been planning a most eligible connection for you while all the time you have been secretly engaged to another person? Such a suspicion could never have entered my head! Have you lost all notion of your duty and honor? It is outrageous, Edward, and I insist you bring an end to the affair at once!”

“I cannot do that, ma’am. It pains me to have deceived you all this time. In that respect, know that I have long suffered what I ought. I was young and foolish to have proceeded in such a clandestine fashion,” he admitted, looking to Elinor and pleading with his eyes, “but I cannot now, in good conscience, break my troth to Miss Steele. She is innocent of wrongdoing, having been urged by me into secrecy, and it would be an even greater sin to so repay her faithfulness than ever was the deception of those dearest to me.”


“I will bestow the Norfolk property on you immediately,” his mother yelled, understanding little of what he said, “and better yet, add to its annual income an additional two hundred pounds, but you must end the engagement immediately! Do this at once, or mark me well, Edward: you shall have nothing but what is already your own! I shall not support a son who so betrays his family!”


“That is very generous,” John eagerly contributed as Fanny began to revive. “Do be reasonable, Edward. A man cannot live on the interest of two thousand pounds, let alone support a family.”

“You call it generous?” Marianne burst forth, unable to contain her indignation any longer. “Never had I imagined such odious happenings might plague those so closely connected to myself! How could you, Edward?” she demanded, turning on him with uncharacteristic ferocity.

“Please, Marianne,” Elinor interrupted firmly, though she was only able to do so by means of the greatest exertion. “Let us say nothing more of this. Mrs. Dashwood is unwell, and it grows late. I think we had best be leaving.”

“Quite right, Elinor. You are ever wise,” commended John with a mixture of pride and resentment, even as he looked loathe to depart a scene of such suspense. The Dashwood party made as rapid a retreat as they could, the two young ladies supporting their chaperone while her husband bid hasty parting counsel upon his obdurate brother.


Come back tomorrow for the conclusion!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Six

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

Mr. Willoughby was prompt in his attentions. He called the next morning to assure himself of the fair damsel’s well-being, and he remained much beyond his half hour, so great was his delight in his new acquaintance. Indeed, there was much to entrance a young man in Harley Street, for Elinor had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure, yet Marianne was still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister's, in having the advantage of height was more striking, and her face was so lovely that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her complexion was uncommonly brilliant, her features were all good, her smile was sweet and attractive, and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight. From Willoughby their expression was at first held back by the embarrassment which the remembrance of his assistance created, but when this passed away, when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.

It was only necessary to mention any favorite amusement to engage her to talk. She could not be silent when such points were introduced, and she had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books. Her favorite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight that any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible, indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Thereby, their taste proved strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each. If any difference appeared or any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm, and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

"Well, Marianne," said Elinor as soon as he had left them, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott, you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favorite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."

"Elinor," cried Marianne, "is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum. I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."

“I believe your sister speaks in jest,” Fanny placated her charge, of whose temper she was somewhat afraid. “No reproach was intended to youI ought to have sent him on his way sooner, but he is such a diverting young man, and the time passed so very quickly.”

Elinor was quick to dispel any suggestion that she should dare to chastise her hostess, and Fanny, pleased by this deference, changed the subject to what each lady would wear that evening, when they were engaged to dine with Mrs. Ferrars.

That lady was looking forward to finally meeting the famed Misses Dashwood, in whose fortunes she had invested so much interest, as she ever was making any new acquaintance. It was no easy feat for a woman of her nature to bestow a small fortune upon her child, let alone for marrying a lady whom she had never yet seen, but she trusted her daughter’s judgment (it had, of course, been molded by her own), and truth be told, she had begun to rather despair of Edward ever making anything of himself in the least. As Robert often noted, it was the private tuition that was to blame. Both her sons ought to have been sent to Westminster for their education, and then, perhaps, both would be equally presentable.

As it was, securing Edward a respectable maintenance and a secluded life where his backwardness could not embarrass herself began to seem a worthy goal. And she had once harbored such lofty ambitions for the boy, yet even such a moderate objective looked to prove beyond him. She had been informed by Fanny of his odd defection from Norland the previous summer, and though he professed that business in London had called him away, she knew full well that he instead fled to Plymouth to while away his time with the meaningless connections formed while living with Mr. Pratt, the private instructor of Edward’s formative education, in whom she had been so misled. There was simply no comprehending the boy: fleeing from the lady of his own choosing like a cowering dog. Thank goodness Robert showed greater promise. He would do something worthy with himself. Sometimes the spare proved preferable to the heir.

The Misses Dashwood were almost as eager for the evening as Mrs. Ferrars, but their excitement was entirely inspired by the knowledge that Edward resided with his mother, not in making her acquaintance. Certainly the lady, even one as disagreeable as they had been taught to find her, who might have such influence upon Elinor’s future happiness must be of interest, but she was a secondary concern and, unfortunately, proved to be just as they expected. She was a little, thin woman, upright even to formality in her figure, and serious even to sourness in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow and her features were small, without beauty, and naturally without expression, but a lucky contraction of the brow had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words, for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas, but of the few syllables that did escape her, the bulk fell to the share of Elinor, whom she eyed with a spirited determination to charm, a task as much beyond her as the acquirement of fame and fortune was to Edward. Not repulsing Miss Dashwood would have to suffice.


Mrs. Ferrars made great inroads towards that goal by simply being able to announce that the disappointing Edward was expected to join them shortly. He was, however, not prompt, and his brother Robert, also expected, preceded him. Never having before made his acquaintance, Elinor harbored hopes that he might prove more personable than Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars, but she was destined to be disappointed.


Happy had it been for Elinor, if her regard for Edward depended less on his own merit than on the merit of his nearest relations, for then his brother's bow must have given the finishing stroke to what the ill-humor of his mother would have begun. Here was strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion. And while she wondered at the difference between the two young men, she was sorry to discover that the emptiness and conceit of the one put her somewhat out of charity with the other, though not enough to deter her wish that he would hasten and present himself. That they were different, Robert eloquently evidenced himself upon learning of Edward’s tardiness by lamenting the gaucherie which he believed kept his brother from mixing in proper society. Beyond that display, he fortunately had no leisure to bestow any further attention on the two ladies than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares, and those politenesses his mother’s insistence procured before Mr. Ferrars was, to Elinor and Marianne’s infinite relief, finally announced.


Come back tomorrow for part seven!