Episode 16: The Return of the Shy Guy

a most agreeable murder book cover
Author Julia Seales first novel “A Most Agreeable Murder” was published in the summer of 2023.

Hello friends, welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for everyone who loves bold witty women, awkward handsome men and dragons. I’m your host Casey Meserve.

Together we’re exploring Jane Austen’s novels one chapter at a time, doing close readings, looking at sources, talking about Jane’s life and influences, and new remixes of these classic novels–especially those with a fantasy or sci-fi flair. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Today I have a fun episode for you, so let’s get right into it!

Today I’m talking with author Julia Seales about her new Regency mystery novel which came out this summer! (Help me transcribe my interviews!)

I had so much fun talking with Julia, it was hard to finish that interview. We could have kept going! If you enjoy regency novels or mystery novels I highly recommend A Most Agreeable Murder, I’ll include a link to purchase it in the show notes if you’d like to read it.

Chapter 16: Marianne Continues to Mope

When we left the Dashwoods, Willoughby had left the family with a hasty goodbye and no promises to ever return. Marianne, of course, was devastated. And cried most of the day and night. We rejoin the family the next morning.

Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Willoughby. She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left her in no danger of incurring it. She was awake the whole night, and she wept the greatest part of it. She got up with a headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. Her sensibility was potent enough!

There’s that word again! “Her sensibility was potent enough”

Remember that sensibility in this context refers to Marianne’s acute perception and responsiveness to something, especially art, literature, landscapts, a cute house, etc. Marianne believes morality is grounded in this ability to feel these strong emotions. That’s why back in Episode 13, she felt she’d done nothing wrong by going off alone with Willoughby to his aunt’s estate. Because it felt good and if it feels good, it must be good!

Here Marianne’s sensibility is at its max.

When breakfast was over she walked out by herself, and wandered about the village of Allenham, indulging the recollection of past enjoyment and crying over the present reverse for the chief of the morning.
The evening passed off in the equal indulgence of feeling. She played over every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out for her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had been used to read together.
Such violence of affliction indeed could not be supported for ever; it sunk within a few days into a calmer melancholy; but these employments, to which she daily recurred, her solitary walks and silent meditations, still produced occasional effusions of sorrow as lively as ever.

She walks to Allenham, remembering their time together and cries,
She plays the piano and sings the songs they sang together, and cries.
She reads books they read together and cries.

Marianne is wallowing. She’s doing all the things she did with Willoughby and crying the whole time. To the point where she can’t even sing because she’s crying too hard. I feel ya Marianne.

But the narrator seems to think that heartbreak heals quickly. And maybe it should after such a short amount of time, but it doesn’t always work that way, and definitely not in Marianne’s case.

But even Marianne can’t keep up the wallowing for long and she sinks into a calmer melancholy. Still sad, but not as dramatic. But that’s OK for an adherent to sentiment like Marianne. Melancholy is a feeling of depression and deep thought and for the Romantics, and the Sentimentalists before them, melancholy was another experience to feel. Melancholy specifically involves reflection so on her solitary walks and silent meditations, Marianne thinks about Willoughby. What she thinks about him, we’ll find out.

No letter from Willoughby came; and none seemed expected by Marianne. Her mother was surprised, and Elinor again became uneasy. But Mrs. Dashwood could find explanations whenever she wanted them, which at least satisfied herself.

“Remember, Elinor,” said she, “how very often Sir John fetches our letters himself from the post, and carries them to it. We have already agreed that secrecy may be necessary, and we must acknowledge that it could not be maintained if their correspondence were to pass through Sir John’s hands.”
Elinor could not deny the truth of this, and she tried to find in it a motive sufficient for their silence. But there was one method so direct, so simple, and in her opinion so eligible of knowing the real state of the affair, and of instantly removing all mystery, that she could not help suggesting it to her mother.
“Why do you not ask Marianne at once,” said she, “whether she is or she is not engaged to Willoughby? From you, her mother, and so kind, so indulgent a mother, the question could not give offence. It would be the natural result of your affection for her. She used to be all unreserve, and to you more especially.”
“I would not ask such a question for the world. Supposing it possible that they are not engaged, what distress would not such an enquiry inflict! At any rate it would be most ungenerous. I should never deserve her confidence again, after forcing from her a confession of what is meant at present to be unacknowledged to any one. I know Marianne’s heart: I know that she dearly loves me, and that I shall not be the last to whom the affair is made known, when circumstances make the revealment of it eligible. I would not attempt to force the confidence of any one; of a child much less; because a sense of duty would prevent the denial which her wishes might direct.”
Elinor thought this generosity overstrained, considering her sister’s youth, and urged the matter farther, but in vain; common sense, common care, common prudence, were all sunk in Mrs. Dashwood’s romantic delicacy.

The days pass and Willoughby doesn’t write to Marianne, but while she doesn’t seem surprised about it, Elinor is mystified. It adds even more to the ambiguity of their relationship. In Chapter 15 Elinor and her mother were arguing about the nature of their relationship. Mrs. D was confident that they were engaged but Elinor wasn’t so sure and wanted some sort of proof. She told her mother that if they discover Marianne and Willoughby are writing to each other they’ll take that as proof of an engagement. But there are no letters.

Still Mrs. D says that’s not proof that there isn’t an engagement. Lack of proof isn’t proof in itself. After all, she argues, Sir John picks up their letters and would definitely see the directions and handwriting on any letters to the cottage. And we know he and his mother in law would laugh and tease Marianne to death about Willoughby even more than they already do. Secrecy is vital for Willoughby because he is reliant on inheriting from his aunt, Mrs. Smith, who Mrs. D believes might not approve of a girl with no dowry like Marianne.

But Elinor begs her mother again to ask Marianne about an engagement. And Mrs. D again says she will not do it. But this time her reason is because if they’re not engaged, asking would hurt Marianne’s feelings and distress her. She also says Marianne would never trust her again, which might be overstating it, but this is a 16 year old girl we’re talking about, so maybe not. And she would never force a child to tell her things, which is still a thing parents struggle with now. Mrs. D has trouble being a mother to her girls when they need one. She prefers to be a friend who can be confided in. Elinor thinks her mother is worrying too much about things. Especially considering Marianne’s youth.

Mrs. D needs to talk to her daughter about this. It’s common sense to Elinor! She needs to be a mother, not a friend.
But Elinor also realizes her mother doesn’t have much common sense.

But remember how sure Mrs. D was of an engagement in Chapter 15? Now she’s kind of backtracking on that. Does Mrs. D have doubts? I think she does. Despite her protests and reasoning, even she can’t ignore the evidence of her eyes over her sensibilities. But I think she’s in denial about it, as Elinor sees and the narrator notes “common sense, common care, common prudence, were all sunk in Mrs. Dashwood’s romantic delicacy.”

It was several days before Willoughby’s name was mentioned before Marianne by any of her family; Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, indeed, were not so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour; but one evening, Mrs. Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed—
“We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comes again—; But it may be months, perhaps, before that happens.”
“Months!” cried Marianne, with strong surprise. “No—nor many weeks.”
Mrs. Dashwood was sorry for what she had said; but it gave Elinor pleasure, as it produced a reply from Marianne so expressive of confidence in Willoughby and knowledge of his intentions.

OK! We’ve got some new information! And Elinor is thrilled about her mother’s so-called mistake because the way Marianne states this is so assured. It won’t be months, or even many weeks, before Willoughby returns.

This is at odds with what he had told Mrs. D and Elinor as he was leaving. He said he never visits Mrs. Smith twice in a year. So maybe he told Marianne something else before he left? Or she somehow got some communication with him? But however she has this information, Elinor is glad to hear Marianne’s confidence, but Mrs. D is sorry she brought the subject up when she’s been so careful to avoid it..

I really like that we get the mention of a book here, Marianne and Willoughby were reading Hamlet, which is perfectly fitting for a couple of romantics like them. Not romance in the sexy way, but romantic in the dramatic, terrible way. Considering Hamlet goes mad and everyone in the play dies. That would definitely appeal to Marianne.

I think the two of them have a thing for Shakespeare. Remember back in Episode 12 that the horse he gave Marianne was named Queen Mab, after the wicked fairy in Romeo and Juliet who gives magical dreams to lovers when she’s in a good mood, and if she’s in a bad mood she’ll give you a venereal disease. Hamlet was highly influential during the Romantic period, which began roughly around 1780 and continued in England until the 1830s. The Romantics identified with Hamlet’s melancholy, his brooding reflection and his isolation. Keep all of these things in mind over the next few chapters.

OK, back to the text, and we pick up with the Dashwood sisters a week after Willoughby left.

One morning, about a week after his leaving the country, Marianne was prevailed on to join her sisters in their usual walk, instead of wandering away by herself. Hitherto she had carefully avoided every companion in her rambles. If her sisters intended to walk on the downs, she directly stole away towards the lanes; if they talked of the valley, she was as speedy in climbing the hills, and could never be found when the others set off. But at length she was secured by the exertions of Elinor, who greatly disapproved such continual seclusion. They walked along the road through the valley, and chiefly in silence, for Marianne’s mind could not be controlled, and Elinor, satisfied with gaining one point, would not then attempt more. Beyond the entrance of the valley, where the country, though still rich, was less wild and more open, a long stretch of the road which they had travelled on first coming to Barton, lay before them; and on reaching that point, they stopped to look around them, and examine a prospect which formed the distance of their view from the cottage, from a spot which they had never happened to reach in any of their walks before.
Amongst the objects in the scene, they soon discovered an animated one; it was a man on horseback riding towards them. In a few minutes they could distinguish him to be a gentleman; and in a moment afterwards Marianne rapturously exclaimed—
“It is he; it is indeed—I know it is!” and was hastening to meet him, when Elinor cried out—
“Indeed, Marianne, I think you are mistaken. It is not Willoughby. The person is not tall enough for him, and has not his air.”
“He has, he has,” cried Marianne, “I am sure he has. His air, his coat, his horse. I knew how soon he would come.”
She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne from particularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby, quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk within her; and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when the voices of both her sisters were raised to detain her; a third, almost as well known as Willoughby’s, joined them in begging her to stop, and she turned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars.

The Wrong Man Appears

edward ferrars visits the dashwoods
Edward Ferrars meets the Dashwood sisters on the road to Barton. We don’t konw if his servant had a horse, too, or if he had to walk.

Well, a man showed up, but not the one Marianne was expecting. So Edward Ferrars returns to the story at last. Making the visit that he had promised Mrs. D before the family left Norland for their new home at Barton.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the reading. It’s been a week since Willoughby left and Marianne’s wallowing has changed to wandering alone over the hills or the lanes. Wherever her sisters are not. But today, Elinor has reasoned or bullied her into staying with her and Margaret because she thinks it’s not good for Marianne to be walking alone. It’s bad enough she’s alone in her own head, being all Hamlet and stuff, but going on solitary walks over the downs isn’t a good thing–although it’s exactly in Marianne’s idiom. And perhaps this is on Elinor’s mind too. She’s a no-nonsense type, but also has common sense. You never know what or who is on the downs after all.

So she’s walking with her sisters in the road on a part of the road they haven’t traveled since they moved to Barton. Far in the distance, probably over the fields, the three of them see a man on horseback. From his dress, a top hat and a tailcoat most likely, they can tell he’s a gentleman and not a worker. Of course, with her thoughts on Willoughby Marianne ’s going to think it’s him. She doesn’t say his name, but Elinor knows who she means, Margaret knows, the narrator knows and they all make sure we know. They also know it’s not him.

Even on horseback, the figure is too short and doesn’t have Willoughby’s “air,” meaning his outward character or his demeanor.

But Marianne is sure it’s him. She claims the figure has his air, his coat and even his horse. How could she be so wrong? I think it’s her romantic sensibilities making her believe she’s seeing what she wants to see. She’s practically running toward the rider and Elinor has to hurry to keep up all the while convinced that it is definitely not Willoughby. They get within 30 yards, about 27 meters, when Marianne suddenly turns around abruptly. She realizes it’s not her man, and she actually seems to be running away! Her sisters pass her and meet the man who they finally recognize as their friend, Edward. And all three of them have to call her back to them because she’s so embarrassed she’s heading off, probably home to her piano where she can sing sad songs about Willoughby.

At least she does stop. I tell ya, they all have really good eyes because I wouldn’t recognize my partner from a football field away and he’s 6’2” with blond hair nearly to his waist–kind of distinctive.

OK, let’s find out how Marianne reacts to Mr. Ferrars.

He was the only person in the world who could at that moment be forgiven for not being Willoughby; the only one who could have gained a smile from her; but she dispersed her tears to smile on him, and in her sister’s happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment.
He dismounted, and giving his horse to his servant, walked back with them to Barton, whither he was purposely coming to visit them.
He was welcomed by them all with great cordiality, but especially by Marianne, who showed more warmth of regard in her reception of him than even Elinor herself. To Marianne, indeed, the meeting between Edward and her sister was but a continuation of that unaccountable coldness which she had often observed at Norland in their mutual behaviour. On Edward’s side, more particularly, there was a deficiency of all that a lover ought to look and say on such an occasion. He was confused, seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neither rapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him by questions, and distinguished Elinor by no mark of affection. Marianne saw and listened with increasing surprise. She began almost to feel a dislike of Edward; and it ended, as every feeling must end with her, by carrying back her thoughts to Willoughby, whose manners formed a contrast sufficiently striking to those of his brother elect.

So was the servant also riding? Or was he stuck walking next to a horse all the way from wherever they came from? We haven’t found out where he was yet, but hopefully it wasn’t that far. Because the text says a rider, just one.

But he’s the one person Marianne can forgive for not being Willoughby, because if you recall from Chapter 3 and 4, Marianne is convinced that Eilinor is in love with him and that he loves Elinor.

But Marianne is shocked by their civility towards each other. They don’t throw themselves into each other’s arms and weep like she probably would have to Willoughby. They act so calmly toward each other that Marianne finds it “unaccountably cold.” Especially because Edward is acting more awkward than ever. He’s confused and silent, only speaking to answer questions and barely even looking at Elinor.

And Marianne is like “What’s his problem?” It gets to the point where she decides she actually dislikes him, and goes back to thinking about Willoughby. Looks like she took back her forgiveness. Oh and brother elect refers to the possibility of the two of them marrying the Dashwood girls and becoming brothers in law.

OK, back to the story.

After a short silence which succeeded the first surprise and enquiries of meeting, Marianne asked Edward if he came directly from London. No, he had been in Devonshire a fortnight.
“A fortnight!” she repeated, surprised at his being so long in the same county with Elinor without seeing her before.
He looked rather distressed as he added, that he had been staying with some friends near Plymouth.
“Have you been lately in Sussex?” said Elinor.
“I was at Norland about a month ago.”
“And how does dear, dear Norland look?” cried Marianne.
“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year—the woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”
“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

I get it, I’m from New England land o’ maple syrup and the most vibrant trees you’ve ever seen in the fall. People come from all over the world to see leaves.

But for Marianne, this is a great example of how the “cult of sensibility” experiences nature. Even the most common natural occurrence, like dead leaves in the lanes in the autumn–I’ll call it autumn since the setting is England, even though autumn is a French word, it’s fine. The beauty of nature causes great emotional responses, a “transporting sensations” of seeing leaves fall.

While Marianne and leaf-peepers extol over the beauty of wind-driven leaves blowing across the road and lying thickly over the lawn

“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”
“No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are.”

Some people understand her feelings–like that guy–what’s his name? Oh right, Willoughby.

As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing herself again, “Now, Edward,” said she, calling his attention to the prospect, “here is Barton valley. Look up to it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage.”
“It is a beautiful country,” he replied; “but these bottoms must be dirty in winter.”
“How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?”
“Because,” replied he, smiling, “among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane.”
“How strange!” said Marianne to herself as she walked on.
“Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasant people?”
“No, not all,” answered Marianne; “we could not be more unfortunately situated.”
“Marianne,” cried her sister, “how can you say so? How can you be so unjust? They are a very respectable family, Mr. Ferrars; and towards us have behaved in the friendliest manner. Have you forgot, Marianne, how many pleasant days we have owed to them?”
“No,” said Marianne, in a low voice, “nor how many painful moments.”
Elinor took no notice of this; and directing her attention to their visitor, endeavoured to support something like discourse with him, by talking of their present residence, its conveniences, &c. extorting from him occasional questions and remarks. His coldness and reserve mortified her severely; she was vexed and half angry; but resolving to regulate her behaviour to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure, and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection.

Going back to the beginning of this section, Marianne is trying her best to get Edward to say nice things about the countryside. I intentionally didn’t discuss Edward in the section before, so I could discuss his entire demeanor here.

Edward has always been a serious seeming guy, he’s not fun loving like his brother who was described back in Chapter 3 and not obsessed with money like his sister, the young Mrs. Dashwood who kicked the family out of Norland while they were mourning her father-in-law. But now Edward is cold, awkward, nervous and doesn’t seem to want to be there.

We learn that he had visited his sister at Norland about a month before, but for the past two weeks he’s been here in Devonshire, where he has friends near Plymouth. Plymouth is a port city in the southwest of England on the border of Cornwall and southwest of Exeter, where Barton is located. Nowadays it would take about an hour to drive between the cities, but on horseback it probably took half a day, maybe longer. If it had been too much longer however, riding horseback would not have been feasible. So the fact that he was riding was a hint that he hadn’t come far.

Finally, at the end of the chapter, we get Elinor’s point of view. She’s mortified by Marianne’s free opinion on the Middleton family, but also by Edward’s attitude. It’s not too surprising to us for Marianne to think he’s acting cold, but for Elinor to think that, it’s interesting.

But he’s answering Marianne’s questions, although he’s rather negative. He says the country is beautiful, but the lanes and valley bottoms must get dirty, or muddy. Besides that, he’s kind of taciturn, he tells where he’s been, but not who he visited or why he was visiting. For the length of this section, we don’t get a lot of Edward or why the girls think he’s acting coldly. But he does ask about their neighbors and landlords, the Middletons. Marianne of course has to be rude about them, and hint, again, about Willoughby.

Because Marianne has to bring everything back to him. I wonder if she’s thinking about painful moments of being embarrassed by Sir John and Mrs. Jennings about Willoughby.

But while Marianne is half ignoring him and half bringing everything back around to Willoughby, Elinor is angry at Edward’s attitude. He’s here, but he’s not acting like he wants to be here.

But Elinor knows her duty, unlike Marianne, and she brings him home to the Cottage where he’s welcome and treated like a family member, which he is.

And that’s where we will leave Elinor, Marianne and Edward for today.

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