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.


  1. Greetings hrumpole! Wonderful take, as always. :-)

    As for your observation that "One might have quite an interesting discussion about which gender-based traditions are retained when others are discarded and why", I whole-heartedly agree. That discussion is worth an entire post or three, on its own, actually, regardless of the orientation from which we observe the ritual (I would imagine, anyway) since it is, after all, just human traditions playing out in human ways. ;-)

    Regarding LW#2, you said that "It seems rather late in the day to be coping with concerns about reciprocity." I completely ignored that aspect of the letter, and as I see it now from your pen, I realize that I should not have done so! It seemed to me as I read the letter that that part of his argument was more afterthought than a significant part of his concern, but, it's one that, regardless of motivation, should have been addressed and squashed immediately because, you're absolutely correct, hrumpole, those whom we love, we should love.

    I enjoyed your ending morals, too, by the way. :-) Thank you for a wonderful and insightful read.

    Finally, I'm not sure if you saw it in your comment section last week, but, Schuyler would like to add your posts, etc., to the front page of "The Fly" if you would allow that. His contact information in the comment section of your last week's entry. Cheers! :-)

  2. Thank you, SB1, I did miss that. I don't check in as often as I might.

    I'm glad I wasn't too badly off on LW2. As Mr Shaitana says in *Cards on the Table* (when half the guests at his dinner party are associated with detection and the other half he thinks are murderers, "But who am I to pronounce with so many experts present?"