Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The lure of money and social position

No, I'm not contemplating a marriage of convenience or a chance to power up. I'm pretty set in my my single ways. I wouldn't say no to an affair or a fling, but not for a while. I'm too busy with writing. However, the topic remains the same: what some women will do to get money and social position. The book is Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen. Haven't heard of that? Well, take a seat and join in.

Many people think that Jane Austen really had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to make it possible for Elinor and Edward to marry. Lucy Steele had been engaged to Edward for years, a secret engagement (Look, your future bride. Sorry, wrong story.) that cost Edward his inheritance which his mother settled irrevocably on his younger brother Robert who was a fop and a dandy. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. When Edward's sister discovered the truth from Lucy Steele she threw a hissy fit, that's modern American slang for had an attack of hysteria and the vapors. She threw Lucy out of the house, told on Edward and ruined the rest of his life. It was Fanny's fault because she made Lucy believe that Lucy could have any man of prominent social position even without a dowry; she had other attributes that made her an excellent choice -- just not for Edward.

Lucy and Robert had been thrown together while Edward was away on business and Lucy and Robert recognized in each other a soul mate, two people who were interested in social position and lots of money. Lucy engaged Edward's affections when he was relatively young and very inexperienced, but she knew what she was about. Edward stood to inherit a sizable fortune and a prominent social standing. That's all Lucy was interested in. Edward was too kind and honorable to break it off when he realized he was in love with Elinor, but I believe he would have if Elinor had given him any inkling of her affection and attachment to him.

Did Austen pull a rabbit out of the hat to make things come out right at the end? No. She had already foreshadowed the outcome with the fortuitous meetings between Lucy and Robert and their obvious common interests, and she made it abundantly clear that for Lucy the lure was not Edward's love and decency, but his fortune in her sights. When Edward's mother disinherited him, in spite of Lucy's attempt to get Elinor to have Sir John Middleton give Edward the rectory living on his estate, all Lucy was interested in was finding a way to be near people with money and social standing. If she couldn't have them for herself, she would make sure she was in close contact so she would be wined and dined frequently in the style to which she had become accustomed. It was always on Lucy's mind to throw Edward over at the first hint that she could have Robert, and that is what she did. Austen knew Lucy Steele's character better than Edward obviously did. So, no, there was no rabbit pulling, just characters acting true to their natures.

What do you think? Did she plot it carefully or did she stick the right ending on the wrong circumstances?

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