This week we have a varied and interesting group of illustrations to consider. The first, above, from Chapter 38, illustrates Nancy Steele’s conversation with Elinor Dashwood in Kensington Gardens after all has been discovered. And of course, all was discovered due to her attempt to tell Fanny Dashwood all about Lucy and Edward:
“I am monstrous glad of it. Good gracious! I have had such a time of it! I never saw Lucy in such a rage in my life. She vowed at first she would never trim me up a new bonnet, nor do anything else for me again, so long as she lived; but now she is quite come to, and we are as good friends as ever. Look, she made me this bow to my hat, and put in the feather last night. There now, you are going to laugh at me too. But why should not I wear pink ribbons? I do not care if it is the Doctor’s favourite colour. I am sure, for my part, I should never have known he did like it better than any other colour, if he had not happened to say so. My cousins have been so plaguing me! I declare sometimes I do not know which way to look before them.”
I confess that, to me, the choice of subject is odd: why, amongst all this drama -Lucy raging,Nancy being cowed, possibly, – did Thompson decide to show Lucy placidly trimming a bonnet for Nancy? It’s a pretty picture, but an odd choice, in my humble opinion.
The next is far more apt: it shows Nancy Steele’s prefered information gathering technique: listening at doors.
“No indeed! not us. La! Miss Dashwood, do you think people make love when anybody else is by? Oh! for shame? — To be sure you must know better than that.” (Laughing affectedly.) — “No, no; they were shut up in the drawing-room together, and all I heard was only by listening at the door.”
Upright Elinor is appalled by her behaviour, but we are amused. I think this illustration -again a comic incident in the plot- suits Mr Thompson’s style. He is far happier showing the comic and not the tragic,as ew have discovered. This week’s illustrations certianly reflect that discovery.
The next picture is perfect: it illustrates the moment when Mrs Jennings and Elinor finally begin to understand each other, at a point in their friendship where neither is ready to take offense. Mrs Jennings has assumed that all the comings and goings with Colonel Brandon are indications that he wants to marry Elinor, and is courting her, not that he is kindly giving the impoverished Edward Ferrars the living at Delaford. Elinor has to correct her. The result is “considerable amusement” .
“My dear ma’am,” said Elinor, “what can you be thinking of? — Why, Colonel Brandon’s only object is to be of use to Mr. Ferrars.”
“Lord bless you, my dear! — Sure you do not mean to persuade me that the Colonel only marries you for the sake of giving ten guineas to Mr. Ferrars!” The deception could not continue after this; and an explanation immediately took place, by which both gained considerable amusement for the moment, without any material loss of happiness to either, for Mrs. Jennings only exchanged one form of delight for another, and still without forfeiting her expectation of the first.
A darkly comic moment also succeeds: this illustrates the moment Elinor received a very backhanded compliment from John Dashwood. He imports to her the rather insulting news that Mrs Ferrars would have been far less vexed had Edward marry Elinor and not become engaged to Lucy. How charming are this section of the Ferrars family.
“Of one thing, my dear sister,” kindly taking her hand, and speaking in an awful whisper — “I may assure you: and I will do it, because I know it must gratify you. I have good reason to think — indeed I have it from the best authority, or I should not repeat it, for otherwise it would be very wrong to say anything about it — but I have it from the very best authority — not that I ever precisely heard Mrs. Ferrars say it herself but her daughter did , and I have it from her — That, in short, whatever objections there might be against a certain — a certain connection — you understand me — it would have been far preferable to her, it would not have given her half the vexation that this does. I was exceedingly pleased to hear that Mrs. Ferrars considered it in that light — a very gratifying circumstance, you know, to us all. ‘It would have been beyond comparison,’ she said, ‘the least evil of the two, and she would be glad to compound now for nothing worse.’ But, however, all that is quite out of the question — not to be thought of or mentioned; as to any attachment, you know — it never could be — all that is gone by. But I thought I would just tell you of this, because I knew how much it must please you. Not that you have any reason to regret, my dear Elinor. There is no doubt of your doing exceedingly well — quite as well, or better, perhaps, all things considered. Has Colonel Brandon been with you lately?
Elinor’s expression says it all…..and the sycophantic nature of John Dashwod is also revealed in his stance. The sting on the tail being that he and the Dashwoods are attempting to be pleasant to Elinor now they think that she might be on the point of marrying the well-to-do Colonel Bradnon. Disgusting toads.
The next illustration is again a puzzling one: in the midst of the passage from Chapter 42 about Marianne Dashwood torturing herself by walking about the grounds of Cleveland to catch a glimpse of Willoughby’s home, Thompson decided to ignore the drama and draw a sweet picture of Charlotte Palmer showing her baby to her housekeeper. All technically fine but ignoring the main drama at this point in the story is a baffling decision to me. I think it does show that Thompson was far more comfortable dealing with pleasant or comic scenes. And of course Jane Austen’s stories can be thought to contain only those,but , as we know, they offer far more to the careful reader than that. And in this case not even the careful reader, as the main part of the text is concerned very much with Marianne Dashwood and her sufferings, self inflicted or otherwise:
Marianne entered the house with an heart swelling with emotion from the consciousness of being only eighty miles from Barton, and not thirty from Combe Magna; and before she had been five minutes within its walls, while the others were busily helping Charlotte shew her child to the housekeeper, she quitted it again, stealing away through the winding shrubberies, now just beginning to be in beauty, to gain a distant eminence; where, from its Grecian temple, her eye, wandering over a wide tract of country to the south-east, could fondly rest on the farthest ridge of hills in the horizon, and fancy that from their summits Combe Magna might be seen.
The last picture is, I suppose, justified in the text. Charlotte Palmer is, of course, a hopeless mistress of her home, finding everything too amusing for rational thought, and on her return from London she listens to her gardener’s Lamentations Upon Blights – for we gardeners always have lamentations, but especially about blights-with much amusement and very little comprehension.
She returned just in time to join the others as they quitted the house, on an excursion through its more immediate premises; and the rest of the morning was easily whiled away, in lounging round the kitchen garden, examining the bloom upon its walls, and listening to the gardener’s lamentations upon blights, — in dawdling through the green-house, where the loss of her favourite plants, unwarily exposed, and nipped by the lingering frost, raised the laughter of Charlotte, — and in visiting her poultry-yard, where in the disappointed hopes of her dairy-maid, by hens forsaking their nests, or being stolen by a fox, or in the rapid decease of a promising young brood, she found fresh sources of merriment.
And that ends what I think will be the penultimate post in this series. Next week, the final tranche.