The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



November 13, 2011

Elinor and Marianne in love, George Eliot in love




When the weather is settled, and I have recovered my strength,' said she, 'we will take long walks together every day. ... I know we shall be happy. I know the summer will pass happily away. I mean never to be later in rising than six, and from that time till dinner I shall divide every moment between music and reading. I have formed my plan, and am determined to enter on a course of serious study. Our own library is too well known to me, to be resorted to for anything beyond mere amusement. But there are many works well worth reading, at the Park, and there are others of more modern production which I know I can borrow of Colonel Brandon. By reading only six hours a day, I shall gain in the course of a twelvemonth a great deal of instruction which I now feel myself to want.'
      Elinor honored her for a plan which originated so nobly as this; though smiling to see the same eager fancy which had been leading her to the extreme of languid indolence and selfish repining, now at work in introducing excess into a scheme of such rational employment and virtuous self-control.

After two weeks of things being off-kilter (nothing serious, won't bore you or myself with the details), I promised myself that I wouldn't do anything else today until I had spent an hour reading. Accomplishing that was especially rewarding, because that hour was enough time for me to (finally) finish my 200th-anniversary re-reading of Sense and Sensibility

I don't think I have any lofty thoughts to share about it, other than this one:  I'm amazed and mortified by how much more I noticed in this second {third? fourth?} reading that I missed in earlier ones. I should mention that I did like reading David Shapard's annotated editions of this novel and Persuasion, and I know that some of 'my' new perceptions came from his interesting footnotes. {One of those notes left me shaking my head, though. It comes after the wonderful early scene when John and Fanny Dashwood discuss how they should honor Mr. Dashwood's request that John take care of his stepmother and stepsisters. David Shapard tells us that this passage 'has always...been celebrated for its brilliant picture of decency giving way to greed,' then immediately says that 'it could be objected' {does he?} 'that the author, in pursuit of a brilliant effect, has sacrificed realism a little.' (The argument is that John Dashwood would not not changed his mind so completely in one conversation, and that later, 'when Jane Austen worked in a slightly more subtle and realistic manner,' she would have given him more time to think things through.) Oh, no, no, no...aren't you glad she didn't?}

 Some of these things I expected to find lines or phrases that would stay with me, such as this one...

You tell me that she has forgiven me already. Let me be able to fancy that a better knowledge of my heart, and of my present feelings, will draw from her a more spontaneous, more natural, more gentle, less dignified forgiveness.
I think that when you read that, you immediately see the difference between what Willoughby wishes for and what forgiveness so often looks like, and it reminds me of how psychologically astute Jane Austen was. I think that accounts for a large part of why she is still so readable today.  {If I had to quibble with her, it's just surprising that she would give an insight like that to Willoughby. He's redeemed in Elinor's eyes, and Marianne's, and Mrs. Dashwood's, but I'm happier to wish Miss Gray on the creep.}

Then, Elinor is so much more interesting, and emotional, than I remembered, and the interactions and game of wits between Elinor and Lucy are so much funnier, and more delicious, and more important to the overall story than I remembered. There are other things that I had completely missed; for example, the general expectation (or on the part of Mrs. Jennings and John Dashwood, at least) that Elinor would marry Colonel Brandon. I wonder what I'll find the next time I read it? :)



The things that I missed say something about how I read that I'm not especially happy about, but that I would rather keep in the back of my mind, and work on, than worry about. I'm off on a biography binge next! Two books that I had on reserve at the library came in together, and I picked them up yesterday, so I'd be ready for this afternoon: George Eliot in Love, by Brenda Maddox, and the new Claire Tomalin biography of Charles Dickens. Fortunately, the first one isn't that long, and I can keep the second one for a month, so I may {will!} be able to get to both of them in time.

I hope your Sunday reading, and the next book(s) you have piled up, are as nice as mine will be. :)

7 comments:

Frances said...

The Dashwood woman are among my favorite Austen characters. There is a depth there and a playfulness that is so appealing to me. Hope all is well on your end, and that whatever ails you is behind you. Happy reading!

Jillian said...

Such fun reads! I've read the first and really, really want to read the second two. Have fun!!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I'm adding the George Eliot and Claire Toumalin bio of Charles Dickens to my WishList...so hoping for some relaxed reading time over the holidays :)

lyn said...

I've just finished the Tomalin biography & loved it. Could barely put it down, she's such a good writer. I reread S&S this year too & I always find different things in it. I've always loved Elinor but every time I read the book I love her more. Her duel with Lucy is wonderful.

JoAnn said...

I think one of the beauties of rereading is just that - all the things we pick up on a second, or third, time around. At least for me, I get so wrapped up in plot initially that I miss many of the subtleties. When I reread S&S, it will definitely be the annotated version. Hope you're having a good week :-)

Cozy in Texas said...

Good post. I find that I miss things in movies too that I pick up on the second viewing.
Ann

Vintage Reading said...

Very much enjoyed your S&S post and yes, the dialogue between Elinor and Lucy is extremely good. I want to re-read it again, now!