A Horse By Any Other Name
Chapter 12 Sense and Sensibility
In Austen News Today
Fire Island is making waves on streaming services. The rom-com follows Noah, Howie and their ridiculous friends on their annual excursion to the gay vacation spot off the southern coast of Long Island, New York. There, they Charlie and Will.
This hilarious show is a loving tribute to Pride and Prejudice, but more than that, as I’ve begun learning more about queer cultures, it rips apart some of the myths about the type the island has catered to: that is rich white cis males.
Noah, Howie and the gang are neither rich, nor white. And their so-called house mom Erin, played by Margaret Cho is the lesbian Mrs. Bennet we all wished the character was, but never thought to ask.
Charlie is the floppy-haired cinnamon roll we all want in a Bingley, and Will is as standoffish as the best on-screen Darcys. I loved this movie and laughed my ass off during some of the scenes.
While I think in some ways, retellings of Austen’s stories can be limiting to storytellers, I hope that the popularity of stories like Fire Island will encourage production companies to create new unique queer stories about friendship and romance.
Happy Pride Month to all my LGBQ+ folks out there.
Netflix Persuasion is unconvincing
Speaking of retellings. Netflix dropped the first trailer for Persuasion in mid-June. I am here for all the smoldering looks from Cosmo Jarvis’ Captain Wentworth. We see a lot of loose flowing hair, and wine-drunk bathtub cries by Dakota Fanning, as an emotional Anne Eliot. But I think the scene stealer is going to be Richard E. Grant as Sir Walter Eliot. If you follow Bookhoarding on social media, you’ll have seen the amazing image of Sir Walter surrounded by about a dozen images of himself. It’s ridiculous and I can’t wait to see it.
Before we get started on today’s chapter I have a small correction to make. Last time I said Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their mother moved to Chawton when their brother Edward invited them to live at the cottage near Godmersham Park. Well, Chawton is not anywhere near Godmersham. The cottage was near one of Edward’s other manor houses, because he had a few, namely Chawton House.
Last episode we read Chapter 11 of Sense and Sensibility. Marianne and Willoughby are practically joined at the hip, and Elinor gets to know Colonel Brandon better. Today we join Elinor and Marianne as they take a morning walk.
As Elinor and Marianne were walking together the next morning the latter communicated a piece of news to her sister, which in spite of all that she knew before of Marianne’s imprudence and want of thought, surprised her by its extravagant testimony of both. Marianne told her, with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman.
And skipping a bit.
“He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it,” she added, “and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the delight of a gallop on some of these downs.”
As a horsemad kid, I would have been over the moon if someone gave me a horse, and not even Elinor could have convinced me to not keep it.
But Elinor is flabbergasted that Marianne accepted a horse as a gift without any thought about what it’s cost would do to her mother, and Elinor knows their mother would let Marianne keep it.
We’ve discussed Mrs. D’s financial straits before. She’s not poor, but compared to what she’d enjoyed before her husband died, she’s not well off.
Referencing back to The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams. An adult male male groom would earn between 22 and 25 pounds a year. And if he’s–it was always a man–is caring for two or more horses, they may have a boy to help them. So that’s a servant to care for the horses and ride one with Marianne, plus possibly a boy to help, plus a stable for both horses. Plus food and any potential care bills for both horses.
Mrs. D already has two maids and a man servant, and is definitely at her budget’s breaking point.
Elinor points out all of these financial issues to Marianne, but her sister brushes it all off.
As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for him; he might always get one at the park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. Elinor then ventured to doubt the propriety of her receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so lately known to her. This was too much.
It all seems so simple to Marianne, except a horse bred to carry a lady will definitely outpace “any horse,” not to mention they now live in Devonshire, the rainiest county in England, so the horses would need a warm stable to keep out the rain.
So Elinor tries another tack: suggesting that it’s not an appropriate gift from a man she’s only known for a few weeks.
This was too much.
“You are mistaken, Elinor,” said she warmly, “in supposing I know very little of Willoughby. I have not known him long indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and mama. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy; it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from my brother, than from Willoughby. Of John I know very little, though we have lived together for years; but of Willoughby my judgment has long been formed.”
Well, Marianne’s got a point. You can know someone for years and never know them well, while you can have an immediate connection with someone and begin a lifelong relationship. And it’s also a trope of sentimental novels that characters become instant best friends or fall in love at first sight.
There are examples of this in Jane’s own writing. In her epistolary story Love and Freindship the narrator Laura falls in love at first sight and marries Edward on the same day (by her father who was “bred for the church” but had never been ordained).
Two chapters later she becomes instant best friends with Sophia, the wife of Edward’s best friend. Laura describes Sophia thusly
“She was all Sensibility and Feeling. We flew into each others arms and after having exchanged vows of mutual Freindship for the rest of our Lives, instantly unfolded to each other the most inward Secrets of our Hearts–. We were interrupted in this Delightfull Employment by the entrance of Augustus, (Edward’s friend) who was just returned from a solitary ramble.
Never did I see such an affecting Scene as was the meeting of Edward and Augustus.
“My Life! my Soul! (exclaimed the former). “My Adorable Angel! (replied the latter) as they flew into each other’s arms.–It was too pathetic for the feelings of Sophia and myself–we fainted Alternately on a Sofa.
Elinor of course is so very sensible that she believes that only long acquaintance, like years, or at least months in Edward’s case, could lead to knowing another person. But she’s smart enough not to touch this nerve.
She knew her sister’s temper. Opposition on so tender a subject would only attach her the more to her own opinion. But by an appeal to her affection for her mother, by representing the inconveniences which that indulgent mother must draw on herself, if (as would probably be the case) she consented to this increase of establishment,
When logic won’t work, use guilt. Like every mother ever has done.
Think of how this financial burden would strain mama, think of how inconvenient it would be. She has so many things she’d like to do to the house, but mama won’t be able to refurbish the drawing room or add those rooms like she wanted to because she has to pay to pay for the servant and build a stable.
Option C works.
Marianne was shortly subdued; and she promised not to tempt her mother to such imprudent kindness by mentioning the offer, and to tell Willoughby when she saw him next, that it must be declined.
One positive trait about Marianne is she’s truthful.
She was faithful to her word; and when Willoughby called at the cottage, the same day, Elinor heard her express her disappointment to him in a low voice, on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side impossible. His concern however was very apparent; and after expressing it with earnestness, he added, in the same low voice, “But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you.”
There is a lot in this one paragraph so let’s take some time to unpack it all.
First of all, Willoughby uses Marianne’s first name. That’s a big deal. It really denotes an intimacy and usually a man wouldn’t use a lady’s first name until after he proposed.
Second, Willoughby says the horse is still Marianne’s even though she can’t keep it now. He says it will be hers once she establishes her own home. Basically, when she gets married and moves into her husband’s home she can take the horse. Hint hint.
This is not a subtle hint that if they’re not engaged yet, they intend to become so.
OK before we go on, humor me because this grown up horse girl needs to look at the horse’s name. This is a reference to Romeo and Juliet. Queen Mab was the name of the fairies’ midwife in Romeo and Juliet.
In Act 1, Scene 4, Romeo and Mercutio are gatecrashing a masquerade hosted by the Capulets–that’s Juliet’s parents. Romeo is mooning over Rosaline, a woman he’s only seen from afar, whom he’s never spoken to and who does not know he exists, and he and his friends are going to this party because they know she’ll be there. As they approach Romeo says he had a dream the night before telling him that going to the dance was a bad idea. But Mercutio says he’s being tricked by Queen Mab, the “fairies’ midwife.”
[S]he gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
On courtiers’ knees, that dream on cur’sies straight;
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit.
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail,
Tickling a parson’s nose as he lies asleep;
Then he dreams of another benefice.
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom deep, and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes
And, being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
So Queen Mab is a fairy who rides her chariot across lovers’ brains to create magical dreams when she’s in a good mood, and if she’s in a bad mood she’ll give you a venereal disease. But Mercutio says these dreams are “begot of nothing but fantasy” and are “more inconstant than the wind,” just as Marianne’s dream of owning the horse can never come true and her Willoughby will prove a mercurial and inconstant lover.
In the play, Queen Mab underlines Romeo’s immaturity in relationships, which is typical for teenage boys, and in the play we see him face experiences that force him to grow up quickly before you know, he kills himself.
So naming a horse after a vindictive fairy that gives you fantasies or venereal diseases and enforces the idea of immaturity is definitely something a man of sensibilities would do to please a young lady.
I think Queen Mab’s name is foreshadowing a lot of the action we see later in the novel about this dream of Willoughby Marianne is having. She’s a dream horse that becomes a nightmare. Ha, pun!
OK, back to the story!
Elinor overhears Marianne and Willoughby’s intimate conversation and decides that they really are serious.
[S]he instantly saw an intimacy so decided, a meaning so direct, as marked a perfect agreement between them. From that moment she doubted not of their being engaged to each other; and the belief of it created no other surprise than that she, or any of their friends, should be left by tempers so frank, to discover it by accident.
Unusually for Elinor, she decides this “instantly,” Miss Sensible very suddenly changes her mind with this circumstantial evidence.
What really got Elinor believing was Willoughby calling Marianne by her first name. That wasn’t done in Georgian society! Even in marriage, the two people sometimes called each other Mr. and Mrs. like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. This is some serious intimacy.
Also, is she snooping? Or is it just that the house is so small that she can overhear everything? Or do Marianne and Willoughby simply not care if they’re overheard?
I’m thinking it might be the latter, because later that night, Margaret discovers more evidence and shares it with Elinor the next day.
“Oh, Elinor!” she cried, “I have such a secret to tell you about Marianne. I am sure she will be married to Mr. Willoughby very soon.”
“You have said so,” replied Elinor, “almost every day since they first met on High-church Down; and they had not known each other a week, I believe, before you were certain that Marianne wore his picture round her neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature of our great uncle.”
“But indeed this is quite another thing. I am sure they will be married very soon, for he has got a lock of her hair.”
“Take care, Margaret. It may be only the hair of some great uncle of his.”
“But, indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne’s. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and mama went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissors and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book.”
So Margaret says she believes Marianne and Willoughby are engaged, but Elinor kind of dismisses it at first. She says Margaret has been saying this the day Marianne met Willoughby. High-Church Down is the name of the hill Marianne fell down in the rain a few episodes back.
But Margaret says she’s got proof. Then she tells a story about Willoughby asking Marianne for a lock of hair, and Marianne consenting to him actually cutting off one of her locks. This story lines up with Elinor’s deductions.
Why? Because a lock of hair was a memento of love. It could represent romantic or familiar love, which is why Elinor thinks it might be from Willoughby’s uncle.
There are two forms of mementos mentioned here, the miniature portrait of the Dashwoods’ uncle with whom they lived for so many years, and then chose to give their brother all of his inheritance, leaving them with nothing.
But at least Marianne isn’t bitter.
In the scene Margaret describes, Marianne is wearing her hair loose, which is another symbol Austen uses for Marianne’s sensibilities. Women in the Georgian period were moving away from powdered hair and beginning to wear it in styles inspired by Greek art. In ringlets or braids, and while it was much simpler than the enormous powdered dos of older women, it was still held up, usually off the neck. Women wore their hair up and controlled, in order to quell male lust. A woman wouldn’t generally take down her hair until she was getting ready for bed. To wear her hair long in front of a single man has sexual undertones.
So these gifts, the horse and the hair, are both symbols of sexual desire. Willoughby dreams of Marianne riding Queen Mab while he begs her for a lock of hair. He cuts her hair, kisses it, implying sexual desire and folds it into his pocketbook, which in addition to being a small book for memoranda, could also hold money, connecting marriage and courtship with financial gain. This isn’t just a romantic courtship, Marianne and Willoughby are in a relationship with heavy sexual undertones.
Elinor may or may not understand these undertones, but she does understand the intimate meaning of both gifts.
For such particulars, stated on such authority, Elinor could not withhold her credit; nor was she disposed to it, for the circumstance was in perfect unison with what she had heard and seen herself.
Elinor now believes as Mrs. D and Margaret, that Marianne and Willoughby must be engaged to speak to each other and give gifts that are so intimate.
But young Margaret isn’t done talking about relationships. The very next night.
Margaret’s sagacity was not always displayed in a way so satisfactory to her sister. When Mrs. Jennings attacked her one evening at the park, to give the name of the young man who was Elinor’s particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great curiosity to her, Margaret answered by looking at her sister, and saying, “I must not tell, may I, Elinor?”
This of course made every body laugh; and Elinor tried to laugh too. But the effort was painful. She was convinced that Margaret had fixed on a person whose name she could not bear with composure to become a standing joke with Mrs. Jennings.
Marianne felt for her most sincerely; but she did more harm than good to the cause, by turning very red and saying in an angry manner to Margaret—
“Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right to repeat them.”
“I never had any conjectures about it,” replied Margaret; “it was you who told me of it yourself.”
This increased the mirth of the company, and Margaret was eagerly pressed to say something more.
“Oh! pray, Miss Margaret, let us know all about it,” said Mrs. Jennings. “What is the gentleman’s name?”
“I must not tell, ma’am. But I know very well what it is; and I know where he is too.”
“Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Norland to be sure. He is the curate of the parish I dare say.”
“No, that he is not. He is of no profession at all.”
“Margaret,” said Marianne with great warmth, “you know that all this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence.”
“Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his name begins with an F.”
Most grateful did Elinor feel to Lady Middleton for observing, at this moment, “that it rained very hard,” though she believed the interruption to proceed less from any attention to her, than from her ladyship’s great dislike of all such inelegant subjects of raillery as delighted her husband and mother. The idea however started by her, was immediately pursued by Colonel Brandon, who was on every occasion mindful of the feelings of others; and much was said on the subject of rain by both of them. Willoughby opened the piano-forte, and asked Marianne to sit down to it; and thus amidst the various endeavours of different people to quit the topic, it fell to the ground. But not so easily did Elinor recover from the alarm into which it had thrown her.
Poor Elinor, she is mortified by her sisters’ behavior. She’s not one to ever talk about a love interest, but now her sisters’ have done it for her. First, Margaret for blabbing, and then Marianne for trying to protect Elinor but just making it worse.
Thankfully, reliably dull Lady Middleton changes the subject. And Colonel Brandon, being the gentleman he is, actually engages Lady M in the topic in order to shake Mrs. Jennings from pestering Elinor.
So now, everyone thinks both Marianne and Elinor are both engaged. We the reader know Elinor isn’t. She and “F” that’s Edward Ferrars, never made any plans beyond friendship. As we saw back in Episode 4, Elinor denied everything beyond simply “esteeming” Edward when her mother and Marianne were practically planning her wedding.
“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him—that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”–Chapter 4
But Elinor hasn’t even heard from Edward, or at least we the reader haven’t been privy to any letters from him, since they moved to Devonshire.
While Elinor is recovering from the shock of exposure, the others are busy planning a day trip.
A party was formed this evening for going on the following day to see a very fine place about twelve miles from Barton, belonging to a brother-in-law of Colonel Brandon, without whose interest it could not be seen, as the proprietor, who was then abroad, had left strict orders on that head. The grounds were declared to be highly beautiful, and Sir John, who was particularly warm in their praise, might be allowed to be a tolerable judge, for he had formed parties to visit them, at least, twice every summer for the last ten years. They contained a noble piece of water—a sail on which was to a form a great part of the morning’s amusement; cold provisions were to be taken, open carriages only to be employed, and every thing conducted in the usual style of a complete party of pleasure.
To some few of the company it appeared rather a bold undertaking, considering the time of year, and that it had rained every day for the last fortnight; and Mrs. Dashwood, who had already a cold, was persuaded by Elinor to stay at home.
So this looks like a plan hatched between Brandon and Sir John, the author doesn’t say who came up with the idea, but the place belongs to Brandon’s brother-in-law, but Sir John visits pretty regularly, so maybe it was a shared idea. Now remember, it’s October and has been raining every day for two weeks, so of course they decide–by they I mean Marianne, Willoughby and Lady Middleton, and maybe Sir John–to travel there in open carriages in order to be stylish. And if it rains, Marianne will call it romantic and Willoughby will have a reason to drive faster.
Was Mrs. D there when Margaret blabbed? Would she have stopped it? She’s got a cold after all, so maybe she wasn’t there? If she wasn’t there, was that why Margaret felt free to talk about Elinor’s love life?
Regardless, next episode we’re heading to Witwell! Maybe…
Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. Today’s episode was written and edited by me, Casey Meserve.
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