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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The liberation of Marianne Dashwood from 200 years of (misunderstood) solitude

Ellen Moody wrote the following in Janeites & Austen-L, in response to my last post about the 2015 JASNA AGM just completed:  “On Arnie's valuable email about the recent AGM…I much appreciated the salient and concrete details from the two talks that he offered.”

My pleasure, Ellen, I’m glad it was of interest, and I will have a few more to offer this week, including this post I am writing now, below.

Ellen also wrote: “…in the Days of Abandonment one could say Ferrante writes a novel out of a sensibility like Marianne's just after Willoughby has snubbed her in public and it's over; but unlike Austen, Ferrante does not frame her heroine with criticisms that teach her conventional lessons on controlling herself and distance us from her; nor does she give her heroine a conventional mate at the close of her book…. I should also have said that Marianne's agon is matched by Elinor's but the text urges us even to read Elinor's story as one which teaches us self-control and prudence. She wins out by chance or luck: Lucy decides to take Robert as the rich male, leaving to Elinor Edward but the rhetoric of the novel about Elinor's inward consciousness -- the dialogue of the book squashes Marianne ...

I must respectfully and fundamentally disagree. It has long been my view that what you describe, above, is only the apparent moral of the overt story of S&S, one which I am certain was NOT meant by JA to be taken literally, but ironically—and a very angry irony at that.  I.e., just as Jane Fairfax is the shadow heroine of Emma, the true center of the deeper story who is never understood by the clueless Emma, so too is Marianne Dashwood the shadow heroine of S&S, a young woman who is never understood by her clueless sister Elinor. In order to see Marianne as JA intended us to, we must first liberate ourselves from two hundred years of confinement within the stifling, moralizing, jealous, angry, repressed gaze of Elinor.

When she is viewed unimpeded by Elinor, we can see that Marianne is truly heroic, because she selflessly sacrifices herself and her fiercely felt sense of personal liberty, by agreeing to marry an ogre she detests (Brandon), and take on the role of mistress of a large estate (and presumably mother of many children), in order to allow Elinor to marry Edward, and also to take care of her mother and little sister. She chooses to emulate Jesus, and acts the role of the sacrificial lamb. And the completion of this selfless act, is that she never burdens Elinor by telling of her own sacrifice, but instead allows Elinor to believe that she (Marianne) is happy with a life with Brandon.

And so, I assert, JA always meant to make her readers very uncomfortable with that sudden, unearned patching together of a “happy ending” at the end of S&S, that she means us to realize is anything but happy. Marianne has been squashed, as you say, but it’s because she has allowed herself to be squashed, for a higher purpose. She is actually the antithesis of the selfish narcissist that Elinor has always believed her to be.

Ellen also wrote, in her later post: “The cult of sensibility you suggested Ingrid Brodey talked about is very large topic and can be banal nowadays so you'd have to say more.”

Actually, Ellen, that comment of yours provides a perfect segue from my above discussion of Marianne Dashwood, to the point I want to make today about Brodey’s plenary, because it relates to Marianne. While I did not take any careful notes from her lecture (so I am afraid you’ll have to wait for her Persuasions article for details), what struck a chord with me in Brodey’s presentation was her providing a series of examples of how the cult of sensibility rippled through the arts, politics, and other societal realms during JA’s formative years, particularly during the French Revolution and thereafter. She presented several examples of widely disseminated cultural symbols of that powerful pan-European wave.

By lucky coincidence, that thread of discussion happened to resonate uncannily well with a tidbit I happened upon during the week before the AGM, right after I composed my post about Marianne’s concealed pregnancy, and Brandon’s big lie about the two Elizas, in the shadow story of S&S:

Specifically, when I Googled “Marianne freedom”, thinking I might find some interesting scholarly commentary about Marianne Dashwood and freedom, I was astonished to be led instead to the following Wikipedia page:

For those who do not wish to click on this link (which will show you some photos, including of Delacroix’s famous 1830 painting), the following are the portions of that article that explains what the name “Marianne” would have meant in 1811 to any reader of S&S who was politically and culturally up to snuff on the zeitgeist of the time:

“MARIANNE is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. Marianne is displayed in many places in France and holds a place of honour in town halls and law courts. She symbolizes the "Triumph of the Republic", a bronze sculpture overlooking the Place de la Nation in Paris. Her profile stands out on the official government logo of the country, is engraved on French euro coins and appears on French postage stamps; it also was featured on the former franc currency. Marianne is one of the most prominent symbols of the French Republic, and is officially used on most government documents. Marianne is a significant republican symbol, opposed to monarchy, and an icon of freedom and democracy against all forms of dictatorship….
The first illustration of a woman with a Phrygian cap, an allegory of Liberty and the Republic, appeared during the French Revolution. No one knows for certain the origin of the name Marianne. It was a very common forename in the 18th century, so Marie-Anne signified the people. But counter revolutionaries also referred to the Republic as Marie-Anne in scorn. Although the image of Marianne did not garner significant attention until 1792, the origins of this "goddess of Liberty" date back to 1775, when Jean-Michel Moreau painted her as a young woman dressed in Roman style clothing with a Phrygian cap atop a pike held in one hand that years later would become a national symbol across France. Marianne made her first major appearance in the French spotlight on a medal in July 1789, celebrating the storming of the Bastille and other early events of the Revolution….[but i]t was not until September 1792 when the new Republic sought a new image to represent the State that her popularity began to expand. Marianne, the female allegory of Liberty, was chosen to represent the new regime of the French Republic, while remaining to symbolise liberty at the same time.
The imagery of Marianne chosen as the seal of the First French Republic depicted her standing, young and determined. It was symbolic of the First Republic itself, a newly created state that had much to prove. Marianne is clad in a classical gown. In her right hand, she wields the pike of revolution with the Phrygian cap resting on it, which represents the liberation of France. Marianne is shown leaning on a fasces, a symbol of authority. Although she is standing and holding a pike, this depiction of Marianne is "not exactly aggressive", representing the ideology of the conservative Girondins in the National Convention as they tried to move away from the "frantic violence of the revolutionary days". Although the initial figure of Marianne from 1792 stood in a relatively conservative pose, the revolutionaries were quick to abandon that figure when it no longer suited them. By 1793, the conservative figure of Marianne had been replaced by a more violent image; that of a woman, bare-breasted and fierce of visage, often leading men into battle. The reason behind this switch stems from the shifting priorities of the Republic. Although the Marianne symbol was initially neutral in tone, the shift to radical action was in response to the beginning of the Terror, which called for militant revolutionary action against foreigners and counter-revolutionaries. As part of the tactics the administration employed, the more radical Marianne was intended to rouse the French people to action. Even this change, however, was seen to be insufficiently radical by the republicans. After the arrest of the Girondin deputies in October 1793, the Convention sought to "recast the Republic in a more radical mold", eventually using the symbol of Hercules to represent the Republic. The use of increasingly radical images to symbolise the Republic was in direct parallel to the beginning of the violence that came to be known as the Reign of Terror. After the Reign of Terror, there was a need for another change in the imagery, to showcase the more civil and non-violent nature of the Directory. In the Official Vignette of the Executive Directory, 1798, Marianne made a return, still depicted wearing the Phrygian cap, but now surrounded by different symbols. In contrast to the Marianne of 1792, this Marianne "holds no pike or lance", and leans "languorously" on the tablet of the Constitution of Year III. Instead of looking straight at the observer, she casts her gaze towards the side, thus appearing less confrontational. Similar imagery was used in the poster of the Republic’s new calendar. The symbol of Marianne continued to evolve in response to the needs of the State long after the Directory was dissolved in 1799…”  END QUOTE FROM WIKIPEDIA

I really wanted to make that point to Brodey and the assembled multitude during the Q&A, but, alas, there was no Q&A after her talk, because the AGM introductory speeches had cut into Brodey’s allotted time.

And finally here are two winks from late in the text of S&S that confirm that JA had the French “Marianne” as a symbol of liberty and freedom firmly in mind when she created the character of Marianne Dashwood, keeping in mind, again, that you are seeing Marianne through the jaundiced eye of Elinor:

“The Miss Dashwoods had now been rather more than two months in town, and Marianne's impatience to be gone increased every day. She sighed for the air, THE LIBERTY, the quiet OF THE COUNTRY; and fancied that if any place could give her ease, Barton must do it…In such moments of precious, invaluable misery, she rejoiced in tears of agony to be at Cleveland; and as she returned by a different circuit to the house, feeling all THE HAPPY PRIVILEGE OF COUNTRY LIBERTY, of wandering from place to place in FREE and luxurious SOLITUDE, she resolved to spend almost every hour of every day while she remained with the Palmers, in the indulgence of such SOLITARY rambles.”

After two hundred years of misunderstood solitude, it’s time to set Marianne Dashwood free! As Prospero put it:

P.S. added Midnight PST the same day:

I did a little further checking in followup to my post, above, and found that I am not the first to see the connection. In 2004, the excellent Austen scholar Emily Auerbach, in Searching for Jane Austen, wrote the following at 104-5:

“Liberty seems central to Marianne’s character—and perhaps to her name. At the time Austen began Elinor and Marianne  in the mid-1790s, she would have been well aware that Marianne stood for France- in particular, revolutionary France—and was being captured in the iconography of the time as a half clothed, vibrant young woman whose youth and spirit conveyed the dawning of a new era. In Marianne into Battle, Maurice Agulhon traces the official link between the female symbol of liberty and the French republic to 1792, just a few years before Austen began ‘Elinor and Marianne”. Statues of Louis XV gave way to statues of Marianne; paintings depicted her as ‘young, active, with a short dress (that leaves her legs bare at least below the knee, and sometimes also a breast bared); rather a tomboy in short. As Lynn Hunt observes, by the end of the 1790s, ‘Liberty was indelibly associated with the memory of the Republic she had represented. In collective memory, La Republique was “Marianne”. Characters named Marianne figure prominently in French literature, often as young women of common origins who stand up to their so-called aristocratic betters.
Could Austen have chosen the name Marianne because she wanted readers to consider both the good and the bad side of French revolutionary ideals? Austen copied out the Marseillaise, dotted her letters and novels with French phrases and allusions, and was acutely aware through her brothers of military conflicts between France and England….[and more excellent analysis and examples]”

So, bravo to Emily Auerbach!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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