latest post is a further elaboration on the train of inquiry I began while
exploring the parallels in 3 of JA’s novels (S&S, P&P, and Persuasion) having to do with the
breaking of bad news.
now so which Austen novels am I thinking of now?:
is a military man with a melancholy disposition in part caused by his persistent
mourning of the tragic death of his beloved.
military man strongly connects—and we aren’t sure for a while if it this
connection will remain merely Platonic---with
the heroine of the novel, who winds up marrying her first choice instead.
is also a young woman full of Romantic passion and energy, who sustains an
injury during a fall.
the young woman’s life appears to be in danger, the news is carefully relayed
to her parents.
melancholy military men spends a great deal of time with the young woman while
young woman’s exuberance is tempered by her life-threatening experience, and by
her time with the military man, and they get married.
course, I am thinking of two Austen
novels: S&S (Brandon and Marianne) and Persuasion
(Benwick and Louisa). Have you ever noticed all these strong parallels between
these two secondary love stories? I can’t recall that I ever did, nor can I find
any indication in the group archives or elsewhere online that any other Janeite
has done so either. And yet, a contemporary reader in 1818 (who had already
read S&S, and therefore knew that Marianne and Brandon wind up together) who
then read Persuasion, might have guessed,
from these parallels alone, that Louisa would end up with Benwick.
course there are certain key differences---Marianne seems to be superior in
intellectual and artistic accomplishment to Louisa, while Louisa brings a
substantial dowry to her husband which Marianne does not. Conversely, Brandon
is a rich man, while Benwick is not. But
the outcome is strikingly similar.
let’s look more closely at one of those apparent differences. We see and hear much
more of Marianne in S&S than we do of Louisa in Persuasion. That is how we know that Marianne is gifted, brilliant,
and cultured—it is shown to us, not merely told to us.
what about Louisa? I suggest that JA has given us a key clue, at the moment we
first hear about Louisa, that Louisa may have much more on the ball than Anne
gives her credit for:
and Louisa, young ladies of nineteen and twenty, who had brought from school at
Exeter all the usual stock of accomplishments, and were now like thousands of
other young ladies, living to be fashionable, happy, and merry. Their dress had
every advantage, their faces were rather pretty, their spirits extremely good,
their manner unembarrassed and pleasant; they were of consequence at home, and
favourites abroad. Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest
creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as we all are, by some
comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of
exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind
for all their enjoyments; and envied them nothing but that seemingly perfect
good understanding and agreement together, that good-humoured mutual affection,
of which she had known so little herself with either of her sisters.”
this narration, we don’t have to be too suspicious, in order to realize that it
reflects Anne’s subjective unconscious judgments on the Musgrove girls---and
these judgments do not reflect well on Anne. We read not only a casual, catty dismissal of “the usual stock of accomplishments” and “like
thousands of other young ladies”, but even more so Anne’s self-deluding fantasy
of her own objectivity and immunity from snobbery (“Anne always contemplated
them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as
we all are, by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the
possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and
cultivated mind for all their enjoyments; and envied them nothing but…”). Anne,
in her internal self-talk, is protesting way too much, it seems clear to me
that she feels very threatened by, and envious of the Musgrove girls, particularly
Louisa. And so we must be extremely careful in looking for extrinsic evidence to
free us from the prison of Anne’s jealous thoughts, and to see Louisa more as
she actually is.
all we know, Louisa may well be much more like Marianne, in terms of intellect
and culture, than we ever get to see. And here’s some key additional evidence
in that very regard. I have noted previously my own shadow story interpretations…
(1) Louisa and Wentworth carry on a coded conversation, ostensibly about
Wentworth’s naval exploits but covertly about Anne’s attractiveness, that
passes right over Anne’s head, exactly as (2) Marianne and Edward carry on a
coded conversation, ostensibly about the beauty of wild landscapes but covertly
about Edward’s leading Elinor on, that passes right over Elinor’s head. So,
while Louisa gulls Anne into seeing Louisa as a mindless coquette flattering
Wentworth’s ego, Louisa is actually using her wits and savvy to talk past Anne
to Wentworth about their own romantic potential. And similarly, Marianne allows
herself to be seen by Elinor as going off on another of her Romantic rants, so
as to be able to safely communicate with Edward about Elinor.
back to my main point--- now I see that Jane Austen successfully hid in plain
sight these numerous significant echoes of Brandon-Marianne in Benwick-Louisa,
and in part, I believe this was an exercise for her own benefit---she tested
her own ability to misdirect readers’ attention from a great deal of similarity
between characters and relationships in two of her novels, just by varying one
or two key elements. And in this, Jane Austen (who was an accomplished
musician) was like a great classical music composer, writing a theme and
variations thereon, which amazes the sophisticated listener with the ease with
which enormous variation can be
developed without every straying from the same theme.
when you think about it, life itself is nothing but theme and variation.