Friday, January 6, 2012

Sense and Sensibility Janeicillin: Part One

Back in July I wrote the first part of Mansfield Park Janeicillin, but then the realities of new motherhood took over, and I never continued it. I have every intention of doing so, but at the moment, having just finished rereading Sense and Sensibility, my mind is elsewhere. I never know quite where Janeicillin will take me when I commence it, and S & S poses the problem of spanning a much greater stretch of time (that between Eleanor and Marianne's marriages) than any of Austen's other novels.  I cannot promise that the lead up to the marriage between Marianne and Colonel Brandon will be attempted in this piece. Perhaps it will only be prepared. As for now, my focus is entirely on the highly dysfunctional Ferrars family. This is where our story begins.

As he knocked on the door to his mother's house, Edward Ferrars sorely wished himself back at Delaford, or, even better, at Barton.

It had always been his policy in life to try and do what was right and honorable, as far as he was able, and this was not the first time when the disagreeably of that course challenged his willingness to proceed upon it. Sometimes his will had abandoned him, as when he embarked on a secret engagement, and when he remained at Norland with the Dashwoods after falling in love with Elinor. She had charged him with failure upon this account, and though he readily repeated the rationalizations with which he accounted for this lapse in integrity, his assertion that he believed any harm done was only to himself sounded just as weak to his ears as it had undoubtedly to Elinor's. When he had upheld his engagement to Lucy Steele, despite stringent parental disapproval, it might seem to others that he had so adhered to the honorable path as to fall into folly, but to himself he could admit that it was only his belief that lack of fortune would surely lead to Lucy's breaking of the engagement that gave him the strength to hold his ground. The misery that he suffered when things did not transpire as he had hoped was surely deserved. Indeed, it was his belief in the justice of his fate that had allowed him to bear it with anything like equanimity. The role of the martyr had a great deal of appeal to Edward, and it was this crutch that he leaned upon as he entered his mother's vestibule and awaited her reception.

"For Elinor I would bear anything," he told himself, trying not to fidget in his uneasiness. It was with great bravado that he had asserted his intentions to confront his mother in person, rather than choosing the far easier method of communication by letter. In the throes of his successful suit, he would not admit to Elinor for all the world his weakness upon this point, but now, as the dreaded confrontation became imminent, he regretted his hasty pronouncements on the subject of submission. Yet even in his unease, he could smile at the realization of how much closer his betrothed had already brought him to being the kind of man he had always aspired to be, rather than the man nature had made him.   

His mother met him in her salon where she sat in state, ensconced in her grandest, high-backed arm chair, the closest approximation to a throne that the house contained. It was not Mrs. Ferrars custom to be accommodating, and the scowl with which she greeted her disinherited son betokened the difficulty of the task in front of him. A man unfamiliar with this formidable lady's behavior might give up his cause as lost immediately upon beholding her daunting countenance, but Edward, gifted with the familiarity of kinship, knew that his very admission was already a victory. Certainly his mother would now make him pay for her forgiveness by demanding a display of proper humility, but the end result was already ordained. He was once again her acknowledged son.

"Mother, how do you do."

"I am in excellent health, though my children seem bent upon destroying it."

"I am pleased to know you are well," he replied, ignoring her jab.

"You have heard of your brother's abominable behavior. That is what brings you hear, no doubt." 

"As his action had rather a profound effect upon myself, I could not long have remained in ignorance."

"He has preserved you from a most disastrous union. That much can be said for him."

"Yes. I believe we can agree on that point. Robert might indeed be called my savior."

"I see you have come to regard the matter as you ought to have all along. That horrid girl, whose name I cannot bear to pronounce, has caused an unimaginable degree of havoc upon our family. You, at least, are well rid of her."

"Indeed, I cannot say I mourn her loss."

"Very well. I suppose it behooves me to once again call you my son, though after such a display of ingratitude and disobedience as you recently indulged, I might be thought inordinately lenient to do so."

Edward bit his tongue rather than respond.

"Well, Edward? Have you nothing to say for yourself?"

"Only that to cause you pain is one of the great regrets of my life."

"As it should be. That being said, other than the loss of your brother to that conniving hussy, no great harm has been wrought. Miss Morton is still available and will surely be inclined to accept you offer, after you exert some effort to endear her to you. A few weeks of earnest courtship should suffice."

"I am afraid, Madame, that I cannot proceed as you would wish. It pains me to go against your wishes, but my hand is already the property of another."

"Surely you do not morn the loss of that woman, she who has made a fool of all the men in this family? Why, you just as much as told me so yourself!"

"It is not my brother's wife to which I refer, but to another lady of infinitely greater worth, for love of whom my engagement with the former Miss Steele had become a source of regret long before it was the cause of my estrangement from you, my dear Mother."

Mrs. Ferrars rose to her feet in rancor. "And of whom do you speak?"

"Miss Elinor Dashwood, Ma'am."

"Miss Dashwood, indeed! I guessed as much! A lady of little fortune and no prospects! At least she is of respectable family, unlike your last infatuation, but any connection with the Dashwoods is rendered redundant through Fanny's marriage. She offers nothing of merit to our family. It is a nonsensical attachment."

"Pardon me, Ma'am, if I disagree so soon upon our reconciliation, but Miss Dashwood is a lady of education and grace. She offers not only perfect gentility to our union, but also the promise of great happiness to myself."

"That is not why people marry."

"It is why I wish to marry."

"And if I forbid you to ask for her hand?"

"I am sorry to inform you, Ma'am, but her hand I have already secured. I ask only for your blessing."

"What can you mean by this, Edward? Do you come to my house, seeking forgiveness for one clandestine engagement, only to thrust yet another in my face?"

With the knowledge of Elinor's love bolstering his courage, Edward declared, "Again I beg your pardon, Mother, but your facts are not quite correct. I have not asked your forgiveness. I should not have contracted an engagement in secret, this I own, but to have broken my promise to Lucy would have made me a scoundrel, and not even for the lady I love most in this world was I willing to proceed thusly. Furthermore, there was nothing clandestine in my betrothal to Elinor Dashwood. I have her mother's permission, and at the time of my action, no acknowledged parent of my own to consult."

Mrs. Ferrars seethed. "You would reject Miss Morton, in possession of  30,000 pounds, daughter of Lord Morton, for the daughter of a country gentleman of little connection and a mere 3?"

"Without hesitation."

"Do not think I will supplement your income should you proceed with such foolishness. You will have this living you have somehow secured - yes, I do know that much of your recent actions - and the funds due to you upon your marriage, but no more than what Fanny received shall you enjoy!"

"You will give me 10,000 pounds upon my marriage?" Edward asked in disbelief.

"Yes, and how you will survive upon a daughter's share will be entirely your own concern. I wash my hands of the matter."

"But I have your blessing?"

"Certainly not! How you can contemplate such a union when Miss Morton is available and agreeable is unfathomable! Consider your position carefully, young man, and you will surely come to realize the folly of continuing your engagement. Come see me in two days, and we will see how that matter stands."

To her great astonishment, Edward stepped forward with a joyful expression and grasped her hand warmly. "Thank you, Mother. I will see you in two days time." And with a rather ecstatic adieu Edward took himself off to his lodgings, there to write to Elinor and share his thoughts on the unexpected generosity his mother had unwittingly betrayed, leaving behind him an utterly befuddled Mrs. Ferrars, who would spend the rest of the day attempting to fathom how her own son could be such an entirely incomprehensible creature.

The next day found John Dashwood at his brother's door, sent to both acknowledged the restored relations between Edward and his family, and to put forth those arguments, so unimpeachable in the minds of himself, his wife, and her mother, that were to persuade the younger gentleman of the error of his ways. In Mr. Dashwood's defense, so rarely taken up, the task before him required an enormous amount of verbal dexterity, as he could not be reasonably be expected to deprecate his own sister on behalf of Miss Morton. It was, therefore, his lot to praise the latter lady without sacrificing the virtues of the former, a task that would have been easier had Miss Morton anything but name and fortune of which to boast. Sill Mr. Dashwood entered upon his mission quite convinced of his eventual success. What man, after all, would behave in a manner so detrimental to his own interest? This confidence, however, failed to account for his brother's previously incomprehensible behavior, and was, of course, misplaced. All his best efforts to elevate Miss Morton in Edward's esteem failed, and he returned home to share his befuddlement with those that could best understand it. Neither Fanny nor her mother could comprehend Edward's insistence on a less advantageous marriage any more than he.

Nevertheless, when Edward reappeared upon his mother's doorstep, he was greeted once again as her son, however cold her motherly embrace might be. For after enduring such uncommon fluctuations in the state of her family, having for many years been in possession of two sons, then robbed of first one, and then both, she felt that the retention of at least the elder was an asset which she could not, in good conscience, deny herself.

So it was that Edward was able to write of his triumph to both Eleanor and Colonel Brandon, whom he charged with moving ahead on the discussed improvements to the parsonage at Delaford with all speed. Be assured that the recipients of his correspondence were just as inclined to exalt in the glory of reluctant blessings and a grudging 10,000 pounds as the giver was baffled by them. 

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