Posted in Belles-Lettres, Literary Themes

I’ve Unearthed a Secret

I’m scheduled to be a guest on That’s How I Blog, which is hosted by Nicole at Linus’ Bluanket.  I chose Sense and Sensibility for the book club read, so I thought I should start thinking about this book critically.  I’m out of practice, so I must confess that I looked online for themes.  The one theme I saw that struck me was a quesiton about how the tension in this book is created through secrecy.

This was so obvious.  So obvious that I’m rather embarrassed that I missed it.  But yes, everything about this book is a result of secrecy. People hide their feelings and indeed their relationships from everyone else. So here are some of the secrets that I noted.

1.  Mr. Dashwood and John Dashwood.

Mr. Dashwood made his son promise to take care of the step-mother and half-sisters.  I believe that this was a gentleman’s agreement similar to the one in Lady Vernon and Her Daughter.  Unfortunately, this agreement did not have a single witness, not even a doctor.  This agreement caused a great deal of tension.  First it caused tension between John and Fanny.  John would have done the right thing had he married a better woman.  But Fanny is a proud creature- not to mention greedy.  She looks down on the Dashwood ladies anyway because they are not women of rank.  And now for them to be needy relations.  It didn’t help that Edward Ferrars appeared to have a preference for Elinor.  It led Fanny to say things that ought not to have been said.  Second, it created tension between John and his stepmother.  Mrs. Dashwood lived in constant expectation that her stepson would step in at some point to assist them.  It never happened.  Mrs. Dashwood was a gracious woman, and remained eternally hopeful; but even Mrs. Dashwood could not be unaware of how much her stepson casted off his relations.

2. Marianne and Willoughby

On one hand, the pair carried on their relationship in such an open way that it gave rise to impertinent remarks and a general expectation of marriage.  But in another way it was very secretive.  We see during the story that Willoughby and Marianne steal away one afternoon to visit Allenham where the pair would have eventually lived had they married.  When Mrs. Jenkins blurted this fact out during dinner, it created quite a bit of tension between the two sisters.  Elinor felt that Marianne’s actions were improper and inappropriate.  The other secret was their “engagement.”  During this time, women and men did not write each other unless they were either related or engaged.  Everyone, took Marianne’s writing Willoughby as confirmation that they were in fact engaged.  While Mrs. Dashwood, the Middletons, and Mrs. Jenkins invented all sorts of reasons for Willoughby’s behavior, Elinor was not convinced.  She could see no real purpose in a secret engagement; she thought something about Willoughby’s behavior was not right.  Of course, her viewpoints put her at odds with the rest of the family.  This secrecy took such a toll on Marianne that when the truth finally came out, it pushed her into such a despondency that she made herself ill almost to the point of death.

3.  Willoughby and Miss Williams

Willoughby was a libertine.  He seduced a young girl.  Obviously this was done in secret.  I’m not sure how he lured a young 16 year old girl away from her guardian at the time, but he did.  Then he left the girl pregnant with his child and unable to find him.  The secret of his seduction really did not create tension in the book; it was when what he did was revealed that provided the tension.  First, he lost his inheritance.  Lady Allenham insisted that he marry the girl he seduced.  Because he was in love with Marianne, he refused and was casted out of Allenham to find his own way in the world. Of couse this caused a problem with Col. Brandon who called him out.  Then of course he unceremoniously kicked Marianne to the curb to find and marry a woman of means.

4.  Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele

The pair entered into an engagement when they were very young.  For Edward this created tension with pretty much every relationship that he had.  First, his mother was trying to marry him off to Lord Morton’s daughter for her 30,000.  Then Edward met Elinor, a woman superior to Lucy in every way.  But his prior commitment preventing him from securing the affections of a woman that he truly loved.  He tried to suppress how he felt about Elinor, but he wasn’t successful.  It was plainly written in his face where Lucy could read it.  So to secure her interest, Lucy set out to meet Elinor by way of flattering herself into the Middleton family circle.  Then once she got in, she made Elinor miserable.  She took every pleasure of rubbing it in that Edward was hers.  Of course, Lucy’s behavior showed Elinor that Edward really did have feelings for her, which in my opinion would have made the whole thing worse.  Of course, once knowledge of the engagement came out, that created a whole new sort of tension.  Edward lost everything-fortune and family.  Lucy was a mercenary minx.  Don’t get me wrong, Edward was quite the gentleman, but Lucy had 1,000 reasons to like Edward and all of them were in the bank.  Lucy deluded herself into thinking that the Ferrars family would accept her.  They didn’t.  She brought a great deal of misery to the Ferrars family for a while.

1. Colonel Brandon

The Colonel’s past was shrouded in secrecy. Sir John was one of few people who knew the full story behind Beth William’s existence. Col. Brandon was carrying the torch for Eliza after all these years. It created tension because in Marianne he saw Eliza returned to life. Then of course there was the whole incident of Willoughby seducing his charge. Col. Brandon never spoke it, but could you imagine loving a woman who was in love with the man that ruined your second cousin’s life? I don’t understand why Col. Brandon did not crack sooner. Now when he choose to reveal the truth, I think that the tension in the story eased. I definitely think that his revelation aided Marianne in getting over Willoughby as well as changing her view towards him. Without that knowledge, I’m not sure Marianne would have ever married the Col. But that’s just my opinion.

1. Elinor

Last but not least, the eldest Miss Dashwood. What fortitude she showed! Her silence, no, concealment of her feelings for Edward created tension with everyone. Her sister saw her as being cold and unfeeling. Her mother completely overlooked that fact that she might be suffering. She was the constant butt of the Sir John’s and Mrs. Jennings jokes. She was also the unwilling confidante of Lucy’s hopes and dreams. Not to mention she undeservedly earned the wrath of Fannie and Mrs. Ferrars. I can’t imagine the strain that she was under. And the fact that she behaved so well to all those who really were mistreating her.

In general “secrecy” was a key concept. For the most part, everyone was trying to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, but there were some like Mrs. Jennings and Anne Steele who were quite determined to reveal everything.

These are the instances of secrecy that I noticed. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. Feel free to add to this list. If you feel so inspired, write your own post and link up. This wasn’t the greatest essay that I’ve written, but I hope to become better with practice.


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