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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The “accidental” meeting of Edward Ferrars and the Dashwood sisters on the road near Barton Cottage

This post is my followup to the part of my post yesterday…
…in which I explained that Edward Ferrars’s surprisingly and suspiciously (to Marianne Dashwood) early decamping from a tete a tete with his supposed beloved Elinor Dashwood at Barton Cottage, to take a nature walk, was actually Edward’s cover story for his slipping out to a tryst with his actual lover, Lucy Steele.

After completing that post, I started thinking some more about the sexual innuendoes in Edward’s description of the “fine country” he supposedly took his walk in during that Chapter 18 episode. That’s when I quickly realized that I had actually been down that road before, several years ago, when I first wrote about the sexual innuendoes only two chapters earlier, in Chapter 16 of S&S…
…during which Edward and Marianne have a similar coded conversation about the countryside, and we read Edward’s crude and cruel sexual punning:

"Now, Edward," said [Marianne], calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Barton valley. Look up to it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."
"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must be dirty in winter."
"How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"
"Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."
"How strange!" said Marianne to herself as she walked on. …”

I say it’s crude and cruel, because, in code, Marianne is saying to Edward that Elinor (represented by the picturesque beauty of Barton Cottage) is right there for the taking by him if he wants her—but he disdains and denigrates Elinor, seeing her instead as a dirty bottom and a very dirty lane----much the same way, as I have long suggested, that Wentworth, in startlingly parallel fashion, crudely jokes to Louisa about the Asp (i.e, Anne) going to the bottom.

But it’s even worse than that, if possible. When I revisited Chapter 16, this time I kept firmly in mind the disturbing idea that Edward is really not that into Elinor. And that raised a new question for me—if he wasn’t that into Elinor, why in the world did he choose to visit Barton Cottage in the first place, when he could just as easily have seen Lucy on the sly, without having to make any lame excuses about walks in the countyside? As soon as I asked myself that question, I knew the answer—it will shock you, both for what it says about Edward, and also because it fits so perfectly with the circumstances of Edward’s arrival at Barton Cottage that JA has slyly hidden in plain sight in Chapter 16.

Without further ado, here is the scene in which Edward first arrives at Barton Cottage:

“One morning, about a week after [Willoughby’s] leaving the country, Marianne was prevailed on to join her sisters in their usual walk, instead of wandering away by herself. Hitherto she had carefully avoided every companion in her rambles. If her sisters intended to walk on the downs, she directly stole away towards the lanes; if they talked of the valley, she was as speedy in climbing the hills, and could never be found when the others set off. But at length she was secured by the exertions of Elinor, who greatly disapproved such continual seclusion.”

So far, nothing of especial note. But then…

“They walked along the road through the valley, and chiefly in silence, for Marianne's mind could not be controlled, and Elinor, satisfied with gaining one point, would not then attempt more. Beyond the entrance of the valley, where the country, though still rich, was less wild and more open, a long stretch of the road which they had travelled on first coming to Barton, lay before them; and on reaching that point, they stopped to look around them, and examine a prospect which formed the distance of their view from the cottage, from a spot which they had never happened to reach in any of their walks before.”

So, it seems that Marianne is mysteriously directing the three Dashwood sisters to a new spot, where they have never previously gone. It seems to Elinor (whose point of view controls this scene) that this is just Marianne’s aimless, undisciplined mind sending them all off into the middle of nowhere, but is it as random as it seems? After all, I first argued 13 years ago that Marianne and Willoughby do not meet by accident, but Willoughby has been stalking Marianne—and then, several years later, I realized that Marianne has actually placed herself in that precise location, and had “accidentally” twisted her ankle at precisely the right time, so as to be seen by Willoughby—therefore a kind of reciprocal stalker-stalkee relationship!

What if Marianne was at it again, but this time with Edward instead of Willoughby? Let’s read on:

“Amongst the objects in the scene, they soon discovered an animated one; it was a man on horseback riding towards them. In a few minutes they could distinguish him to be a gentleman; and in a moment afterwards Marianne rapturously exclaimed,
"It is he; it is indeed;—I know it is!"—and was hastening to meet him, when Elinor cried out,
"Indeed, Marianne, I think you are mistaken. It is not Willoughby. The person is not tall enough for him, and has not his air."
"He has, he has," cried Marianne, "I am sure he has. His air, his coat, his horse. I knew how soon he would come."
She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne from particularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby, quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk within her; and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when the voices of both her sisters were raised to detain her; a third, almost as well known as Willoughby's, joined them in begging her to stop, and she turned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars. “

Now, we read that Marianne’s heart sinking, but this narration is from Elinor’s perspective, not Marianne’s. What, then, if Marianne (who, we are told only a few paragraphs earlier in Chapter 16, was a participant in the middle of a Dashwood family groupread of Hamlet) has been inspired by Hamlet’s staging of The Mousetrap in order to trap Claudius into showing his guilt, and has chosen to stage a revelatory pastoral “scene” of her own devising? And, carrying this one logical step further, what if Marianne  became aware previously (during one of those many prior solitary rambles that worried Elinor so much) that Edward Ferrars was in the habit of using that particular road at that general time of day, as he rode along from Plymouth to….frequent trysts with Lucy?

Read on, read on….

“He was the only person in the world who could at that moment be forgiven for not being Willoughby; the only one who could have gained a smile from her; but she dispersed her tears to smile on HIM, and in her sister's happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment.
He dismounted, and giving his horse to his servant, walked back with them to Barton, whither he was purposely coming to visit them.”

Now here’s the crux of my argument today. Edward tells the three Dashwood sisters that “he was purposely coming to visit them”—but what if he wasn’t? What if Marianne stalked Edward, and had in effect trapped him en route to Lucy, such that he had no choice but to make up the hasty excuse that he had intended to visit Barton Cottage?

Read on some more…

“He was welcomed by them all with great cordiality, but especially by Marianne, who showed more warmth of regard in her reception of him than even Elinor herself. To Marianne, indeed, the meeting between Edward and her sister was but a continuation of that unaccountable coldness which she had often observed at Norland in their mutual behaviour. On Edward's side, more particularly, there was a deficiency of all that a lover ought to look and say on such an occasion. He was confused, seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neither rapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him by questions, and distinguished Elinor by no mark of affection. Marianne saw and listened with increasing surprise. She began almost to feel a dislike of Edward; and it ended, as every feeling must end with her, by carrying back her thoughts to Willoughby, whose manners formed a contrast sufficiently striking to those of his brother elect.”

Now, use Occam’s Razor here---we can either treat Edward as inexplicably being very very muted in his expression of pleasure to suddenly meet them there in the middle of nowhere, or…we can powerfully explain his reaction as his awareness that he has been caught in a trap, and the last thing in the world he wanted was to meet Elinor while he was on his way to Lucy!

“After a short silence which succeeded the first surprise and enquiries of meeting, Marianne asked Edward if he came directly from London. No, he had been in Devonshire a fortnight.
"A fortnight!" she repeated, surprised at his being so long in the same county with Elinor without seeing her before.
He looked rather distressed as he added, that he had been staying with some friends near Plymouth. “

I don’t think I need to add any further explanation for Edward’s having been “so long in the same county with Elinor without seeing her before”—this makes perfect sense if he has intended never to see Elinor again!

And..his getting Shanghai’d into a visit at Barton Cottage, which forces him to make excuses about nature sightseeing, also provides a shocking new explanation for why Lucy and her sister suddenly first appear at Barton Park, as guests of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, in Chapter 21 –we can see now that Lucy has shown up, because now she knows—either from Edward or by her own devious means---that Elinor is in the vicinity, and is a rival for Edward’s affections, and so must be neutralized—at least, until Lucy can set in motion her domino-falling plot that ends up with her marrying the weak-minded Robert Ferrars and then taking control of the Ferrars family and its considerable fortune and power!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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