Headscratchers: Sense and Sensibility
Did Colonel Brandon and Willoughby actually fight or something when they met in London for the first time after Brandon learned what he'd done to Eliza?In Chapter 31, Brandon tells Elinor of how his ward Eliza (the daughter of his doomed sweetheart Eliza) disappeared and how he discovered upon finding her that she'd been seduced and abandoned by Willoughby (along with his child). When Elinor asks if he has seen Willoughby since this discovery, he replies yes, and this follows:
- Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying,"What? have you met him to—""I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.
- That is what that means. Willoughby has effectively unmanned the Colonel by impregnating his ward and besmirched his honor. Brandon, being a man of honor, can not let Willoughby get away with this without dueling with him on the field of honor and, ostensibly, teaching him a lesson. Even if Brandon were to die or to lose the duel his status as an honorable man, the protector of his household would be restored. Willoughby's actions betray him as a dishonorable man, for an honorable man would never have had sex with a woman he wasn't married or betrothed to to begin with. A duel in the Regency period would be done with pistols and generally they both aimed away. It was the act of the challenge and the meeting that made it valid rather than an actual contest for life. It's also interesting to note that the reason that Elinor is scared or startled by this is not just the implied violence which would worry a well bred lady. It's that dueling was illegal at the time. The Colonel would not have beaten up Willoughby because that's not how gentlemen settle matters of honor.
- Though it should also be recognised that, while duelling was illegal, it was still widely done by the gentry (even the Duke Of Wellington, several years later, while he was Prime Minister, had a very public duel over what he considered a slander by an opponent.) The last time a man was tried for murder after a duel was in 1823 (in times when duelling was legal, the case would not have come to court at all); the sentence was suspended, which goes to show that the code duello- at least for gentlemen- was tacitly acknowledged as valid even then. The end of duelling really came when increasing urbanisation caused men of consequence to stop carrying weapons, and the rise of the middle class- and more lawyers- turned people towards suing and associated litigation as a means of settling scores.
- Perhaps also worth noting that this was a point in the history of duelling where most duels were settled less "to the death" and more "to the showing up and maybe injuring the other guy a little bit". Honor would frequently be considered satisfied simply by both men showing up, putting on a decent display and either shooting the gun over the other person's head or considering the matter settled when the first person received a scratch on their arm. It was usually only the real hardcore fanatics (or the seriously pissed off) who insisted on making sure one party was dead at the end of it.
Why exactly did Elinor fall in love with Edward in the first place?Edward's good qualities feel like Informed Attributes. Austen really doesn't give us a whole lot of explanation for what happens between Edward and Elinor. Do they spend a lot of time alone together, talking (like Thompson and Grant in the Ang Lee film)? Somehow, without a whole lot of description, it comes to pass that Elinor's in love and everyone is aware that Edward is returning her affections. It's just sort of odd.
- After Edward moved into Norland with the John Dashwoods for a few months after Elinor's father died, they spent a lot of time together and are already in love by the time the main events of the novel (the Dashwood women moving to Barton) begin. Maybe we need a Hooked Up Before equivalent of Hooked Up Afterwards...
- He seems bland only to overly romantic Marianne who wants somebody more dashing for her beloved sister, but Elinor has simpler tastes. It isn't weird at all that a young man falls in love with intelligent, beautiful and intelligent woman, when he's in company with her. Who were his other companions? His mean and petty sister Fanny, her jerkish husband Henry Dashwood and their small kid. Marianne is as intelligent as Elinor, but their personalities are not compatible. It seems perfectly logical that he would fall for her, and she for him, if she felt that he preferred her.
What does Marianne's pianoforte look like?I have it in my head that "pianoforte" is the old term for the instrument we've shortened to "piano," although they were smaller back then than the big, black grand pianos you'd find in a wealthy home today. Is the instrument Marianne plays basically just a small, brown-colored version of the instrument we know as a "piano"?
- Marianne's pianoforte would have a wooden frame, instead of modern steel, and the hammer mechanism would lack a number of refinements, but yes, it would be essentially the same instrument.
Why did Robert want to convince Lucy to leave Edward (initially)?The third-person narrator states, "When Robert first sought her acquaintance, and privately visited her in Bartlett's Buildings, it was only with the view imputed to him by his brother. He merely meant to persuade her to give up the engagement; and as there could be nothing to overcome but the affection of both, he naturally expected that one or two interviews would settle the matter." This is no longer Edward's conjecture but the objective truth. Robert had no designs of his own on Lucy in the beginning — that came later. So why did he want "to persuade her to give up the engagement"? Mrs. Ferrars left Robert everything when she disowned Edward purely because of his engagement to Lucy; Edward's engagement was the greatest thing that had ever happened to Robert, so why would he try to stop it? He had nothing to gain and everything to lose from talking either of them out of it.
Just how taboo would Edward breaking his engagement to Lucy have been at the time?While not illegal, most of the cast (and other literature of the time) act like this was something you just did not do EVER except in very exceptional circumstances... yet, Edward's family all act like he should immediately break it off with Lucy and marry Miss Morton, as if there's no obstacle stopping him, no reason why he can't, no expectation that he's bound to go through with it. They all badly want him to marry Miss Morton, but they never act like that option's off the table now, that Edward's engagement to Lucy is anything that can't be automatically discarded if he wills it.
- To break off an engagement was to leave yourself open to being sued for Breach of Promise. However, to do this, the wronged woman had to be able to show that the engagement existed. While no-one else doubted that it did (as not only Lucy but Edward had confirmed this), Edward's family were probably pretty sure they could claim that the engagement wasn't legally binding, or did not exist, or that Lucy was of infirm mind ... they had the money and the position to be able to threaten this, even if they would most likely have lost the suit should it have gone as far as court.
- In addition, a promise was considered binding (so Edward's reputation rested on his keeping his word), and dastardly to the woman as it marked her as "not being good enough". If a young man did break off the betrothal, he was leaving her open to ridicule, censure, whispered rumours behind her back (did she perhaps have a history?) and pretty much likely to remain a spinster. In the day when marriage was the best a woman could hope for, this was pretty serious.
- So if Edward gave in to his family's pressure to break things off with Lucy, he would be considered a cad and a bounder at the very least. When Willoughby was writing to Marianne, everyone thought they must be engaged and thus his going off with another woman was considered a breach of promise, until Marianne confirmed that he had never actually asked the question. And thus Robert was sent to try and persuade Lucy to break the engagement, as a woman could be the instigator of the break without penalty. Of course, what happened as a result stuffed things up even worse...