Thursday, March 25, 2010

DP 3/25 - Miss Woodhouse Regrets

Gee, now that I think of it, there's the title for the page. Oh, well. It has occurred to me to wonder whether I explain too much on occasion. Perhaps I should assume familiarity with the subject more often than I do. But, with all due apologies, we move on to *Emma*, and the heroine whom Miss Austen expected nobody but herself to like much.

L1: I feel at a terrible disadvantage here, as this is really quite an unAustenian situation. There are but two natural children, and neither is thought to be other than she is. But I shall take up Emma's protegee, Harriet Smith - pretty, naive, charming - and the natural daughter of somebody. The decision to go with *Emma* was also based on LW1's rather dotty grandmother, who at least in being a bit unique has at least a little in common with Mr Woodhouse, that vicarious hypochondriac extraordinaire.

LW1 is interestingly placed. We have a wild hint out of the blue that Daddy is Grandpappa's son, which, if anything, might be mildly good news from a medical standpoint. However, barring extreme changes in chances of something severely life-altering, I incline to disregard medical concerns. At least anything that might be pertinent can easily be established in cross-examination. Now it might be most interesting to see if Grandmamma makes a credible witness at all, but it seems a side issue.

I am much inclined to tell LW1 to take a page from Emma's handling of Harriet's situation. Emma soon learns that Harriet may not know her own parentage. This proves promising to Emma rather than anything else, as she is soon able to conjure for her own delight a picture of gentility and wealth behind Harriet's beginnings, if not respectability. Even a lord is not entirely out of the picture. Certainly such a history is suitable for Miss Woodhouse's own choice of a particular friend, and Emma feels entirely justified in liberating Harriet from the yeoman farmer she likes, Robert Martin, in order to attempt to match her with Mr Elton, the vicar.

Emma's friendship with Harriet raises disagreement from Mr Knightley. He regards Harriet as the worst sort of flatterer because unintentional, and thinks that if anything a sensible and intelligent gentleman farmer a good catch for a girl of illegitimacy and ignorance. Emma puts up a spirited defence of the extent and breadth of Harriet's good-nature, and later, when she intends Frank Churchill to transfer his supposed affection from herself to Harriet, has one of her finest moments as she appreciates Harriet's tenderness of heart. "I have it not, but I know how to prize and respect it." Yet for all that, it is Mr Knightley who overcomes his prejudices against Harriet (at the ball calling her unpretending, single-minded and artless, vastly superiour to Mrs Elton and more conversable than he'd expected) while Emma never does. She may befriend Harriet and try to marry her off to superiour men, but she always remains Miss Woodhouse and her first reaction to Harriet's revelation that she hopes to marry Mr Knightley rather than Mr Churchill is, even before Emma realizes at last that she has been in love with Mr Knightley herself, full of all the snobbery she has expected others to shed while retaining it herself.

But I advise LW1 to take Emma as an example, for here it can do no harm. Your father now has Mysterious Origins. His father could be practically anyone of 70-odd years of age or older. Consider the possibilities! What a Grand Romance you can make of this. If it were my own grandfather in question in this situation, I should perhaps select Ken Rosewall or someone else who is bound to make a much more glamourous story than whatever happens to be the prosaic truth. Surely you can do better than the facts.

The moral is perhaps that Truth is only Stranger than Fiction if one has insufficient imagination.

L2: Quite a promising situation here. I envision a most happy time cross-examining both spouses about the events and progress of the marriage, and anticipate the ex-wife breaking down and ranting incoherently on the stand after a particularly good attack. The girlfriend would be rather less fun.

But here we have a social menace blackening a reputation after an attempted relationship falls flat. The Highbury parallel is clear enough - Mrs Elton. She breezes in from Bristol on the strength of a brother-in-law with his own barouche-landau, intending to be quite the queen of Highbury. Unfortnately, there is Miss Woodhouse already occupying such a position, with her family's long standing in the neighbourhood and her thirty thousand pounds, while Mrs E herself has only "as near ten thousand pounds as makes no difference". What to do? At first, Mrs Elton is all in favour of allying herself with Emma in such matters as suggesting the formation of a musical club to meet at Hartfield or the vicarage on a weekly basis. When Emma does not respond as one kindred superiour spirit to another, Mrs Elton gets huffy, takes up Jane Fairfax as a protegee (though one rather superiour to her patroness in all but fortune), and treats Miss Woodhouse with as much marked coolness as she dares, mixed occasionally with her own style of gracious condescension when they are forced into each other's company, often through the indiscriminate friendliness of Mr Weston. Emma is occasionally angered, but never lets herself be pushed farther than her shocking rudeness to Miss Bates on Box Hill, an occurrence only partially due to the disagreeable presence of the Eltons.

I should advise LW2 that his ex-wife has done him rather a favour. He could always leave the area with his girlfriend and start afresh elsewhere, but my instinct would be to run. The girlfriend lacks the internal fortitude of Emma to cope with such a situation, or perhaps thinks that she is entitled to compensatory capitulations in exchange for her having to put up with the disgraceful conduct of the ex-wife. We do know that LW2's Spouse Chooser was not in the highest working order the first time he used it, and here is evidence that it has not done a great deal better the second time out. Buy her a nice consolation prize and start afresh. As the moral is that, as in the case of "Rumpole and the Boat People," one keeps marrying the same person (literally in Jackie Bateman's case), he should perhaps try an arranged marriage next. It's not as if he'd do much worse.

L3: Now what is going on with these three sisters? They are as confusing as the Bradbury Scotts in *Nemesis*. This is the sort of case that one might cheerfully predict to last two weeks, with refreshers of five hundred a day - provision for one's old age!

As we are dealing with a visit from relations including a baby, a little look at Hartfield is entirely in order here. Emma actually is at her best as an aunt. She and Mr Knightley make up their quarrel over Robert Martin's declined proposal when he watches her telling baby Emma to grow up to be a better woman than her aunt. And she copes with the differing parental styles of her sister and brother-in-law well, even if she is teased about her increasing social engagements.

It is actually Mr Woodhouse who is perhaps more interesting to examine in these situations. A house full of active and noisy children ought to be anathema to him, yet he insists that it would be dreadful for Isabella and her family ever to stay with Mr Knightley instead. The noise and activity does not bother him at all. If he suffers during the visit, it is only from seeing how healthy his grandchildren are, but he and his daughter Isabella can happily compare their imaginary complaints and those of the children, and debate their versions of the opinions of their two doctors, Mr Perry and Mr Wingfield, even if this does lead to such danger as John Knightley's losing his temper over Mr Woodhouse ascribing to Perry a preference for Cromer over Southend as a desirable holiday locale for sea-bathing (even if it did do the weakness in little Bella's throat the world of good).

I really don't know what to tell LW3 as we have insufficient evidence to decide whether the putuative Visiting Sister is just trying to use the baby in an attempt to cadge free lodging or not. I should not ordinarily think so, except that the host sister seems (barring facts not in evidence) so extreme with little other plausible explanation. Personally, though I get on extremely well with children (far better than with adults), perhaps due to having done my stint and then some of baby-sitting for real babies, though I would never object to meeting a newborn, five minutes or ten in company with one is quite sufficient, but certainly I'd put sister, spouse and child up for the night in such a situation. I feel about babies a sort of sideways way as Emma does about tenderness of heart, almost. Babies are not my thing, though I know people whose thing they are, and can respect what they get out of it.

I suppose the moral might be something Biblical about however one treats the least of these, etc. But this is making me sad. Time to move on.

L4: Oh, dear - this is a problem? I suppose it's disagreeable to LW4, but it's very much on a level with having to put up with the conversation of Miss Bates, that inveterate talker, who always says anything and everything, and often inadvertently lets something slip out that might be irritating to Emma, such as her accidentally wandering a little too near Mr Elton's previous hopes when she announces that Mrs Cole has had a letter from him announcing his engagement. I shall advise LW4 to appreciate all the genuinely good qualities of the co-workers in question. Think of how much they may, like Miss Bates, have come down in the world. Once upon a time their notice of you might have been an honour, and now it is you who are charitable to them.

If something along the line is not achieved, we may have Box Hill all over again, when Frank Churchill requires everyone in the company first to tell Emma what they are all thinking, which goes over poorly, and then either one thing extremely clever, two things only moderately clever or three things very dull indeed. Miss Bates is delighted. She need not be uneasy. Three things very dull indeed. "That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as I open my mouth. Do not you all think I shall?" Emma then loses it. "Ah, ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number - only three at once."

The moral is not to let resentment build, lest it explode in such a manner.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3/18 DP - on to Northanger Abbey

Greetings all. As we look into a week full of deep, dark secrets and things that ought to be deep, dark secrets, where better to go than Northanger Abbey?

L1: Now, LW1 resembles Catherine Morland in a number of the situations she encounters. Unluckily, however, she has a sad cause in her own past, whereas Catherine lives vicariously through the Gothic novels she devours. The two most pertinent to the case are Catherine's pursuit of facts concerming the death of Mrs Tilney and the awkward situation at Northanger after James' letter informs Catherine that his engagement to Isabella is broken off. It is also interesting to see how circumstances turn the LW's potential Henry Tilney into a John Thorpe.

The importance to young people of choosing the right friends is demonstrated early. Catherine visits Bath with her rich neighbours, the Allens, only to find that public assemblies are much less amusing when one has no acquaintance in the place. But she soon finds all the company she desires when Mrs Allen meets an old school friend, Mrs Thorpe, whose daughter Isabella and Catherine quickly become forerunners of today's BFFs. The arrival of their brothers, James Morland and John Thorpe, makes life charming for some time. When Catherine meets again with Henry Tilney, now in Bath with his father and sister, she finds John Thorpe more of an encumbrance than anything else. Even Isabella occasionally strikes a sour note as Catherine befriends Henry and Eleanor Tilney. But all seems well enough as Isabella and James become engaged (Isabella's acceptance of the attentions of Henry's older brother being the fly in the ointment there) and General Tilney (misled by John Thorpe as to Catherine's prospects of fortune) invites Catherine to return with the Tilneys to Northanger - a real Abbey!

Sadly, Catherine is led astray by her imagination. On a few very flimsy facts and suppositions - the General not liking his wife's portrait or favourite walk, Mrs Tilney's supposed melancholia and Eleanor's absence from home when her mother died, Catherine soon convinces herself that General Tilney murdered his wife or imprisoned her alive. Worse, she cannot keep her suspicions from Henry. He is able to assure her that there was no foul play involved in his mother's death, but somehow, though Henry's affection for Catherine never matches the Austenian heights of attachment between other heroes and heroines, this does not divide them forever.

Catherine is happily blameless when she is placed in the awkward situation of James' broken engagement. Inferring from James' letter that Isabella is now engaged to Henry's and Eleanor's brother, Catherine informs them that she cannot remain at Northanger when Captain Tilney returns. Henry and Eleanor are torn between their knowledge that their brother would be unlikely to enter an engagement that would be so financially imprudent (and unpleasant to their father) and Henry's calculation on Isabella's shrewdness that she would not have jilted one fiance if she were not already secured of the next.

As for LW1's situation, it is rather a sad one. My Sympathy Metre was likely to give LW1 a rather high score until the awful closing. LW1's first instinct is, "Should I confront him?" Oh dear, oh dear - Jerry Springer has much for which to answer. this unfortunately is going to keep my Sympathy Metre stuck on Moderate.

The closest to entertaining would be to cross-examine LW1 on her exact grounds for the proposed confrontation. It conjures up images of the Rumpolean reference to the epidemic of twelve-year-old girls making indecent advances to elderly men in cinemas. Confront the abuser, why not, if she's so inclined? Confront the enabling grandmother in denial - again, it would be an active participant using free will in whatever happened. I'd just as soon take the facts submitted in as painless a way as possible without cross-examining anyone not among the guilty.

I find myself at a bit of a loss for anything to tell the LW to do, but one curious thing is that she has written to a stranger instead of or perhaps before taking the matter to her parents. What is that about? She was not disbelieved, or at least she was believed enough at the end for some legal action to be taken. There is no evidence provided in the letter that the abuse damaged the LW's relationships with members of her own family. What, then, do her parents have to say?

I suppose there are some positive things that could come out of a frank discussion with the grandson, but LW1's confrontational mood doesn't seem the right spirit in which to approach it. Neither of the younger generation has done anything wrong, so far as we know; let's keep it like that.

If there is anything LW1 might learn from Catherine Morland, the moral might be how dangerous it is to paint even an already black scenario blacker than it seems. I think I shall pass quickly to L2 before I get a vision of the year 2040 and LW1 telling daughters how she and their daddy fell in love comparing stories about Great-Grandpapa give me major icks...

L2: Here we have how parent handle an Unfortunate Situation that has befallen their child. The Northangrian parallel will come when Catherine suddenly arrives home in Fullerton, unheralded, having been evicted by General Tilney within hours of his learning that she is not the heiress to Mr Allen's fortune, at the end of a journey of seventy miles. The incident really could make yet another parallel for L1, but we shall let that pass. That which I'd wish to make into an example is the way in which the Morlands handle the event. Quite naturally it is shocking that a supposed gentleman should treat their daughter so ill after welcoming her to his home as a guest. But Mrs Morland stresses for the outraged Mrs Allen that it was a good thing for Catherine to have proved to have had the wherewithal to cope with such an emergency, and to Catherine that, if Henry and Eleanor Tilney are worth knowing, they will likely meet again. So, oddly, I begin with the moral, wondering when such a style of parenting happened to drop out of fashion (and, in the habit of making chains, mentioning that this instance might apply equally well to L3 as well as to L1).

To deal with LW2, I must admit that my Sympathy Metre is going to give her a rather higher reading than she deserves, if only because she has the best instincts of any of the LWs - her first thought is to leave it alone, which, assuming no questions or comments from the peanut gallery, must be considered sound procedure. It is rather odd in light of this that the mother who really springs to mind right away is Dr Spencer Reed's, in part because the boy seems reminiscent at least in part of little Spencer and in part because her second instinct seems nearly certifiable. But it makes it easy to give her practical advice. She should reward her four-year-old for copying down and memorizing Bob Dylan songs, read Proust to him for entertainment, and get him started on chess, although not in the park with strange adults.

L3: As I do so often, I am going to question the timing. They have lived together for two years - why complain now? It does seem that she's more interested in cutting out the competition than in "fixing" the situation, as it were. Her first instinct is directed at mamma, not sonny. My Sympathy Metre is registering very low indeed. There might be decent sport in cross-examining the son, but whether he's totally creepy or somewhat reasonable doesn't seem to make that much difference.

One need go no farther than General Tilney for an Austenian overbearing parent. Fortunately in Austenian times it was not the custom to perform domestic chores, but the General's standards require Henry, graced with the prospect of a parental visit for dinner on a Wednesday, to hurry from Northanger to Woodston on the Saturday to make sure everything is up to standard. In one way, General Tilney even outdoes LW3's possible mother-in-law, in going so far as to dictate the romantic inclinations of his children to suit his own plans for his family's alliances. Henry and Eleanor give in to their father as a matter of habit and course time after time, which is the sort of thing which inclines me to think it might be possible to think reasonably well of the overbearing woman's son.

As for practical advice, I regret the general lack of familiarity with the classics. This seems like a clear case for a reference to *Othello* or even *Curtain*. LW3 simply wants to cut out her MIL. What she needs to do is to convince her FIL that MIL is cheating on him and work him up into such a state that he murders her. That will be a win all around. The family as a whole will do better without her, and LW3 will be able to take over the care and feeding of her husband in just the same way. (Actually, come to think of it, Mrs Boynton in *Appointment with Death* seems to be closest in daily details to the overbearing mamma - then again, she dies as well, though not the same way in the play as in the novel.)

I suppose the moral is that she has just the man she likes. This is just the unexpected baggage. "Take what you like and pay for it, says God" is apparently an old Spanish proverb. LW3 might be grateful that at least the son was not disallowed some degree of choice in the matter. And if Catherine Morland can get through suspecting her father-in-law of murder, LW3 might be able to manage her own situation.

L4: The physician reminds me of a direct marketer. Send out mass invitations, and if only 3% or so of those who receive an invitation feel obliged to send a gift, bingo - a nice profit! My Sympathy Metre for LW4 is almost off the low end of the scale for being so nearly susceptible to such extortion. Still, as apparently there may be some sort of cultural reason for such an invitational stretch, a round or two of questions to that effect might not come amiss.

LW4's situation seems to fall in between a couple of parallels to Catherine's. When she and the Allens are just arrived in Bath, Catherine and Mrs Allen find their social opportunities sadly limited on their appearances in the Upper Rooms. They know nobody, find it hard to squeeze through the crowd, and feel in the way when they manage to find seats in the supper room. Only overhearing two strangers calling her a pretty girl renders the evening agreeable to Catherine. In the way of unwanted invitations, we have her being asked to join James, John and Isabella on a proposed drive to Blaize Castle. The prospect pleases, but Catherine has made an engagement to walk with the Tilneys, and declines. But the weather is doubtful and the Tilneys are already late. When John Thorpe declares that he saw Henry Tilney driving out in a carriage and shouting to someone that he'd be gone until the night, Catherine goes, only to see Henry and Eleanor on their way to call on her. But she is prevented from alighting. The drive is aborted when the party discover they left rather too late. The next evening, Catherine is able to explain the situation to the offended Tilneys at the theatre. The engagement is renewed while her brother and the Thorpes are planning a second attempt at the Castle. When Catherine declines, Isabella feels jilted, even James is put out, and John actually goes to the Tilneys and tells them Catherine has just recollected a prior engagment. It costs her a good deal to be able to stick to her original plan and achieve her country walk.

The moral is probably to respond to invitations with due care.

I shall conclude by recalling one of my favourite passages from the novel that occurs during the country walk. Eleanor and Catherine misunderstand each other at one point. Catherine refers to "something horrid" about to come out of London, meaning only a new Gothic novel, while Eleanor's mind immediately leaps to some uprising resulting in danger for her brother Captain Tilney. Henry laughs at them, explains their meanings, and says that Eleanor is usually more intelligent. This draws a mild remonstrance from Eleanor that Catherine will think he thinks meanly of the understanding of women, to which Henry replies that he thinks very highly of the understanding of, "...all the women in the world, especially those, whoever they may be, with whom I happen to be in company." Chided to be serious, he goes on, "Miss Morland, nobody thinks more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, Nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

3/11 DP - Sense or Sensibility?

Ten bonus points to anyone who predicted S&S.

Well, things seem to be looking up. We have four situations of reasonable interest.

L1: Scientific evidence is always tricky. LW1 has at least attempted to educate himself on the possibilities in the case, which is always commendable to some extent. It might also be possible to commend him for taking such a Western approach to the situation; one can imagine the alternatives. There is much we do not know, and it's not entirely clear how important the unknown facts might prove to be. Perhaps LW1 has definitive certainty that he could not have been responsible; perhaps his wife could have contracted the virus through conduct that might not have been strictly prohibited. It does not feel entirely seemly to inquire deeply. The wife's reasoning reminds me a bit of the way some crime victims who provide eyewitness testimony that is eventually refuted grasp at straws to insist they were correct, but they have at least not made any deliberate mistake.

Curiously, in seeking an Austenian parallel, there are not a great many arranged marriages from which to select, although there are a good many close calls. Elizabeth Bennet, Edward Ferrars and Henry Tilney are all ordered by a parent to woo or accept someone regardless of inclination, and Fanny Price is nearly thrown off by her uncle for refusing a proposal he thinks quite favourable. Lady Susan Vernon considers forcing her daughter Frederica to accept Sir James Martin, but resolves instead to make her daughter's life so miserable that Frederica will choose to marry him voluntarily. And of course, Mr Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is quick to declare that Darcy is engaged to her daughter, although there is no fondness on either side, simply because the marriage was planned by their mothers over the infants' cradles. But the one true arranged marriage that has actually come off with no inclination on either side is that of Colonel Brandon's older brother, the heir to the family estate, who was married to the Colonel's first love, a rich ward of his father.

We never see either party to the marriage, and have only Brandon's account of the calamity. The mutual attachment between Brandon and his sister-in-law sustains her for a time, but his brother's vicious conduct makes her desperate. She misconducts herself, leaves her husband, sells her allowance and dies in poverty, leaving behind an illegitmate daughter whom some wrongly believe to be Brandon's own.

The moral for LW1 is that he has an arranged marriage that seems on balance to be quite a credit to the institution. Even giving his wife only a moderate helping of a rather large quantity of doubt would seem to promise well for the continuance of the same. While one can probably understand that cultural concerns might render it necessary not to let this end with reasonable doubt, it seems that it would be pleasant if it could be left there.

L2: Ah, the magic ring! Still, it seems mild compared to the occasion 10-15 years ago when I heard a woman I knew slightly telling her bridge partner how her daughter and her daughter's fiance were arranging a trip to Hawaii and planning for the proposal to occur during that trip. Now that was flabbergasting.

I was a little disappointed with DP that she was so dismissive of one of the potentially more interesting points amond LW2's concerns. One might have quite an interesting discussion about which gender-based traditions are retained when others are discarded and why. At least it appears interesting to me as an outsider to such intersex dealings. There might be some legitimate trade-off to make the presentation of a ring seem fair - childbirth, perhaps? Half of a couple predetermined to remain Childless by Choice might reasonably perhaps declare gender equity in all things - it might strike me as dreary, but again, this is not my metier, as Hercule Poirot might say.

S&S provides us with two examples of Engagements with Problems (or at least Situations that Resemble Them). Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele have actually been engaged for four years (a very apt time for the LW), although they cannot make the engagement public or afford to marry, and indeed Edward has already lost the inclination that drove him to contract the engagement in the first place. LW2 might see their situation as a bit of a warning; his girlfriend might even be in the Edward role, trying to put off as long as possible the evil day of having to finalize the match for some reason or other. The happier couple, Willoughby and Marianne Dashwood, appear and act engaged, leaving little doubt to their friends and acquaintances except that neither of them has breathed a word of their attachment having been formalized. They even reach the brink of a formal proposal before Willoughby's past catches up with him. This seems a bit more apt a comparison to my mind, as the points LW2 raises for his reluctance to buy a ring seem as insubstantial as Willoughby's enjoying the present so much and being just that unwilling to commit himself until he finally is sufficiently swept up in attachment.

I should want considerable cross-examination before being able to convince myself that LW2 is sufficiently attached to make marriage a good idea. While it takes all kinds, I for one would find it rather sad for someone contemplating marriage not to be full of joy and excitement about being able to make a unilateral public declaration of affection when the time comes. It seems rather late in the day to be coping with concerns about reciprocity.

I suppose the moral is that love doesn't really conquer all that much after all.

L3: While I usually incline to sympathy for anyone trapped in the worng career, the magnitude of the desired change is so great and the timing so insurpassably bad that I really must wonder. There may actually be some practical course of action for LW3, a way to wade into a more congenial profession to some extent, but I'm not at all sure she'd be satisfied. If I were writing this as a story, LW3 would chuck her career and toil all the way through medical school and the rigours of beginning to practise only to discover medicine to be even less congenial a profession than the law - a bit French, perhaps, but that's my first instinct.

The S&S paprallel is the strongest one of the lot, though. LW3 was pushed out of the profession she wanted to pursue and into doing something quite different by her family, though at present she has at least the support of the man she loves - LW3 is a female Edward Ferrars. When he is about to leave Barton Cottage after a week's visit, Edward explains his circumstances. He has always harboured a preference for the church, but the church is not smart enough for his mother and sister. The army is a good deal too smart for him. He has no inclination for the law. The navy might be fashionable, but he'd have had to have started much younger. As a young man of eighteen is generally not so determined to be busy as to resist the suggestion of his connections to do nothing, he has been enrolled at Oxford and properly idle ever since.

In LW3's favour is the support of her husband, much as Edward has the support of Elinor even before the fortunate end of his engagement to Lucy. Is this enough? I really can't say, certainly not before LW3 comes to a more thorough understanding of Why Now. Perhaps the moral is that a stitch in time saves nine?

L4: I have often run bridge parties at which prizes have been on offer, and the host has generally declined any prize won, passing it down to the next person in the standings. I am inclined to place L4 between this sort of bridge party (which appears to be the opinion of DP) and a full-on gambling gathering such as a poker game. Now here I am going to surpass myself and offer the Oscar Party hosts a practical solution that does not kill the spirit of the Pool. Set up one of them (or a combined effort from both) as the House. Get in a supply of inexpensive Beat the House prizes if desired, as this can allow those who don't want to compete in the pool to have some little something to play for if they like. The House gets a take from all the pool entries that make a lower score (I'd suggest 25% of the entry, perhaps with a minimum take equal to the entry fee), and after the House's take is paid out the remainder is divided up in the prize pool. This way, should the hosts happen to win, they would receive a quarter of the entries and divide up the remaining three quarters as the cash prizes. There are possible extras, such as considering whether to make one year's winner the House in the following year, or stipulating that only one half of a couple will win if there are only two prizes.

For my S&S parallel, I shall go to a brilliant image from the Emma Thompson film, which ends at Colonel Brandon's wedding to Marianne. As they emerge from the church, Brandon makes the traditional toss into the air of a bag of coins for the children to gather up. And what do we see but John Dashwood, the richest person in attendance, eagerly guided by his wife, grabbing up more coins than anybody else. Brilliant.

I suppose the moral is that hosts who do not have a satisfactory sense of the mood of this sort of gathering run the risk of appearing to be like John and Fanny Dashwood.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

3/4 DP - A Little Persuasion

Well, as I nearly predicted, nothing today is quite in the same class as the question on Monday from the man whose situation made me think of Frank Churchill from *Emma*. But, in continuation of my recent trend of keeping all my comparisons confined to a single novel, today I turn to Miss Austen's *Persuasion* for inspiration, a work to which I referred last week when some threads turned into stereotypical remarks on the question of whether men or women are kinkier. I still hold that Anne Elliot's conversation with Captain Harville on the subject of gender-based constancy ought to be required reading for all posters if not the topic for a mandatory qualifying essay before posting at all.

L1: LW1 is doing a number of things right, and certainly is making a rather better widower than Sir Walter Elliot. Sir Walter, though in his mid-fifties, has retained the good looks to which, in conjunction with his baronetcy, he owes his acquisition of a wife of character, a woman whose judgment, if she might be pardoned the youtful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence since. As it was only the prudence and economy of Lady Elliot that kept Sir Walter from exceeding his income, it is unsurprising that, thirteen years after her death, he finds in expedient to let Kellynch Hall and remove to live in Bath, even though he has only lived up to the standards of a handsome baronet. But it is in the parental field where Sir Walter shines. After making one or two unreasonable applications shortly into his widowhood, he has prided himself on remaining single for the sake of his daughters. His oldest daughter, who most resembles him in both beauty and brains, is a great favourite, and for her sake he might well give up almost anything that he was not very much tempted to do.

But as *Persuasion* opens and Sir Walter plans his relocation, a little threat appears on the horizon in the form of Elizabeth Elliot's intimacy with Mrs Clay, the daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer/agent, Mr Shepherd. Lady Russell, the neighbour of the Elliots who has been the closest thing Anne in particular has had to a mother since Lady Elliot's death, even convinces Anne to warn Elizabeth of unpleasant possibilities. Elizabeth is certain Mrs Clay has no designs on Sir Walter; Anne is less convinced, but the possibility ranks high among the reasons that Mr William Elliot, Sir Walter's heir, reinstates himself in Sir Walter's good opinion. Mr Elliot's initial intention is to marry Anne and keep a son-in-law's eye on Sir Walter in order to restrain the baronet from an imprudent second marriage (which might lead to that most dreadful thing, a male heir). When Anne's reunion with her former fiance Captain Wentworth makes this impossible, Mr Elliot consoles himself by convincing Mrs Clay to surrender her chance of marrying Sir Walter in exchange for the possibility of wheedling her way into marrying Sir William.

Now, LW1 has done a good many things right. He has been, we can reasonably assume, a devoted husband, supported his wife through her final illness without requiring to be propped up by an outside affair (see: recent letters to Mr Savage), and dedicated himself in his widowhood to his career and raising his son. There is very little requiring stern corss-examination. One might question his making a point of his mother-in-law's age, and his use of the word AWESOME almost entirely undoes the favourable impression he makes, but the two most interesting points are his relatively good opinion of the boyfriend amd why he feels creepy. If we compare this letter to the letter from the old flame of Mrs Alzheimers, this LW mentions the woman being attractive once, whereas the other LW cannot go two sentences without bringing up Mrs A's strong sex drive. This LW seems more intrigued by the unexpected possibility of resuming a long-dormant sex life than consumed by lust for the source of the possibility.

I fear I cannot say so many nice things about the conduct of the babysitter. In her favour, she does have the ability to make herself agreeable to children. But she has brought up sex between them in the conversation, apparently multiple times, despite being hired recently. And now she escalates the situation by bringing up her crush and her restlessness. Well, it's certainly enough to provide for a fun time on the witness stand. On the whole, I think it would be better for the boy if she's just calculating rather than sincere. She'll be nicer to him while the situation lasts and the ending will be cleaner.

My best guess as to what's really going on is that this is a sort of variation on *Death on the Nile* or *Endless Night* and that the boyfriend is in on it. She has spread out a lure in conversation, and detected a flicker of interest. Now she is upping the ante, planning to marry LW1, clean out his savings and the boy's college fund, and then return to her true love. But it's just a guess.

L2: Dear me - what a piece of work! I almost feel like expressing deep sympathy to LW2 that the only thing she feels that she can do to stand out and merit being the centre of attention is to become pregnant. I might advise her mother-in-law not to be alone with LW2 or eat or drink anything prepared by LW2 until both babies have safely put in an appearance. The most interesting point of speculation may well be whether her husband ought to have seen that something of this nature would arise.

But if LW2 wants to witness the possible effects of a late pregnancy that would really be a blow to the younger generation, she might consider the plight of Mr Elliot. Having married for money, acquired his fortune, and had the good luck to bury the wife who provided him with little other than his healthy income, he is prepared to go to great lengths to keep Sir Walter single, though not to quite such an extremity as to marry Elizabeth. He might perhaps have been considering such a course before his fortunate meeting with Anne in Lyme (though ostensibly he never discovered her identity until long afterwards) and the realization that marrying the other Miss Elliot would be considerably less of an ordeal, but he cannot bring himself to it at the last, contenting himself with eloping with Mrs Clay, thus saving Sir Walter from the clutches of one designing female, at least.

I have seen it predicted by those who have enjoyed looking into the future of Miss Austen's characters that Mrs Clay does not succeed in getting Mr Elliot to marry her, but that she has the resourcefulness to return to Sir Walter and marry him at last, so that seven years after the end of *Persuasion* we greet the birth of a little heir to Kellynch, and enjoy seeing Mr Elliot seethe in the background.

L3: It is really rather a pity that advice columnists must of necessity provide questioners with answers that are in the questioners' best interest. If ever there were a time to consider what would be better for the poor friend in question (barring true moral repugnancy, but it is hard to imagine it being there and LW3 failing to nail it chapter and verse to the cross), it would be now. Who would not love to tell LW3 that of course she must absolutely drop the terrible horrible awful very bad friend right this instant? After all, surely that must be in the best interest of the friend.

I get double duty out of Sir Walter Elliot, who provides me with a parallel for this letter as well as for L1. It does not take long after he agrees to let his estate to consider who might make the most desirable sort of tenant. Mr Shepherd rather shrewdly advances a naval officer just returned to shore as just the sort of tenant Sir Walter might want.

But Sir Walter has strong objections to the navy, a profession which he would not want to see adopted by any friend of his. His objections are twofold. A naval career often brings men into an undue distinction and confers upon him honours of which his father never dreamed. Also, life at sea cuts up a man's youth and vigour to such an extent that a sailor grows old faster than any other man. He instances Lord St Ives and Admiral Baldwin, men with whom he had been in company and to whom he'd had to give place, despite Lord St Ives having been the son of a country curate and Admiral Baldwin appearing to be 60 or 62 when his true age was no more than 40.

It is left to Mrs Clay to soothe things over. She does so with some skill, beginning with the line that, "We are not all born to be handsome." She goes on to instance the various travails and risks attached to the profession of the lawyer, the physician and even the clergyman. But she comes to the happy conclusion that, while each profession is noble and honourable in its turn, it is only those who are not obliged to take up any profession at all who can maintain the health, vigour and beauty of youth well into their middle years.

L4: I fear I have almost nothing to say about when LW4 should disclose his physical peculiarity. But it might cheer him up to take Mrs Clay as an example. Sir Walter prizes beauty as highly as he does birth or fortune, perhaps higher than fortune. At the end of the novel, he is reconciled to Anne's marriage by considering that Captain Wentworth's superiourity of appearance offsets Anne's superiourity of rank. Early on in the novel, we discover that Mrs Clay has a variety of drawbacks to overcome if she wishes to become Lady Elliot - freckles, a projecting tooth and a clumsy wrist. Sir Walter has made severe comments upon these defects. Elizabeth, a beauty herself, cannot conceive of her father's being attracted by someone so far from pretty. Anne, however, fears that Mrs Clay's abilities of insinuation may prove more dangerous than attractions merely personal might do, and she is proved at least partially right. When Anne joins Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay in Bath, Sir Walter fancies Anne in better than usual looks, compliments her on her appearance, and asks what she's been using for her complexion. Anne replies that she has used nothing, not even (repsonding to a follow-up) Gowland's (I have read that Gowland's doubled as a treatment for various social diseases, which lends considerable substance to the novel's theme of the changing social order given the worth of the navy and the decrepitude of the gentry). This surprises Sir Walter. Anne cannot do better than she has done, cannot be better than well, but otherwise he would recommend the constant use of Gowland's, adding that Mrs Clay has been using it at his recommendation, and that it has completely carried away her freckles. As it does not appear to Anne that Mrs Clay's freckles have at all decreased, she takes this as an alarming sign of Mrs Clay's having made a good deal of progress towards her assumed goal. The moral for LW4 is that the art of pleasing should carry him a good deal farther than a minor peculiarity can set him back.