Saturday, December 15, 2018

AMELIA WEBSTER: Chapter 4 of a forthcoming novel

Here is the fourth installment of Amelia Webster—which, like my previous novel, Edgar and Emma, is based on a three-page story written by the juvenile Jane Austen.

Such was the meekness of Sally Hervey’s demeanor that no one gave serious consideration to her committing any impropriety; for surely, quiet and as demure as she was, any tendency towards the illicit was beyond her.
And yet Sally Hervey was on her way to meet her lover.
She was not entirely lost to respectability; she did not exult in the certain knowledge that those she passed on her way out of the village would never—in the unlikely event that they minded her at all—suspect her of such wildness. She did, however, thrill to her own guilt; for Sally Hervey was a romantic, and what she loved best were transports of feeling, and no matter whether those feelings caused her pain. 
It is difficult to account for this strange cast to Sally’s character; for she had passed her sixteen years without anything occurring to threaten the regularity and respectability of her upbringing. Yet perhaps it was exactly this; for where another girl—such as her sister Maud—might find solace in so sheltered an existence, Sally found it an abyss of boredom. She craved excitement and danger, and took exception to the quotidian rounds of Rovedon society, which offered her nothing but a dreary, chirping sameness. She took her revenge upon such banalities by withdrawing into herself, refusing to participate or even, to the extent possible, to bear witness to the communal life that played out all around her; hence, her reputation for stillness.
But within her breast there was fire and fury, and a longing for the kind of ecstasies earned only by the embrace of great risk. And so she had rejoiced to receive, from a small village child sworn to secrecy, a note from Mr. Bar, requiring her to meet him this morning at three-quarters past eleven, on the back road from the village that led to the Barrett farm, beneath the shelter of the willow just south of the mill stream. It was a place Sally knew well—it was a place everyone knew well—yet it was a road rarely traveled, and the willow would provide them cover. It was not safe—discovery was entirely possible—but that lent the prospect its exquisite flavor.
As Sally crossed over the stream, her breathing quickened and her heart sounded in her ears, for she could just see the outline of Mr. Bar’s form against the light filtering through the drooping branches. With each step he came into greater and clearer focus; and Sally was once again surprised by the phenomenon of Mr. Bar being in actuality so much less appealing to her taste than he was in her imagination—for he was very tall, very gaunt, and very respectable. He bowed when she parted the curtain of willow sprays to join him, and in bending seemed half likely to break; he was a stiff, brittle man, careful and circumspect. His love for Sally was, it seemed, the only daring thing about him.
And Sally’s love for Mr. Bar? Tellingly, she had found him wearisome company when he first had paid court to her. Yet when he persisted in his attentions, past the time when his uncle, Mr. Lewes, urged him instead to pay court to Miss Webster, Sally’s appreciation for him blossomed. He had, in defying his benefactor (albeit in secret), shown himself to have a nature sharply at odds with the dutiful, dignified character he put forth as his public face. Mr. Bejnamin Bar, to her sheer wonderment, was a creature of passion.
And yet today, behind the veil of willow, obscured from view and more isolated from society than they had ever been before, he did not seize the opportunity to pull her into his arms and steal a wanton kiss. He greeted her, in fact, no differently than he might were they to cross each other in the high street: a briskly doffed hat and an inquiry after her health, and those of her family.
When he was reassured of her relations’ continued salubriousness, he said, “I thank you for having agreed to this rendezvous, Miss Sally Hervey; for it shows that you are an excellent walker.”
“Why, Mr. Bar,” she asked, “should my proficiency at walking be gratifying to you?”
“Because,” he said, “a distressing alteration has been made to our previous arrangement. Young Lynch”—the apothecary’s boy who had been their trusted go-between—“has achieved sufficient age to comprehend his value to us; and so he has demanded that henceforth he be paid tuppence for each message he carries.”
“Ah,” said Sally, already weary at the mere mention of figures, which she detested. “And is that so mighty a sum?”
“Not remotely; all the same, I must not pay it—for it will inspire him to ask for yet more, and then more thereafter. I will have no hand in feeding his nascent avarice.”
“That is very commendable, Mr. Bar,” she said. “But I do not see what relation this has to my being a capable walker.”
He directed her attention to a knot in the trunk which had partially rotted out, so that a depression was at its center; a cavity, Sally saw at once, just capacious enough to enclose a note, if folded small enough.
“I mean for us, henceforth, to communicate through missives secreted in this willow,” Mr. Bar explained. “And such a scheme will only succeed if it is within your power to come to this spot, and retrieve my letters to you, and deposit yours to me.”
Sally could not but frown. “I am glad that such an excellent scheme need not be abandoned by any infirmity of mine; but I think, Mr. Bar, you might have evaded such a risk entirely by choosing a tree closer to Rovedon, which would not commit me to so lengthy a walk as this. For we are some two-and-a-half miles beyond my father’s house, and”—the thought now occurred to her—“but a quarter-mile from your own abode.” Indeed, she could see the topmost gable of his father’s house, just peering above the roof of the Barrett farm.
“A tree nearer to Rovedon would involve an increase in risk,” he said—rather drily, Sally thought; for the notion of increased risk was very thrilling to her. “Aside from which, my dear Miss Sally, I cannot but think your delicate constitution might benefit from regular exercise, and that your color and general brilliance will be improved by daily, or twice-daily excursions.”
“Twice-daily!” Sally exclaimed. “Mr. Bar, were I to come twice daily to this tree, I should not have time to read your letters, much less reply to them. I should be forever on the path, going one way or the other.”
He smiled. “How prettily you exaggerate! But come once a day, if that is the limit of your ability; we shall thus learn to endure expectation, and that cannot be a bad thing.”
Sally, who had thought at first that Mr. Bar’s tree might provide a destination for every second day, or third, permitted herself an unworthy thought of giving Mr. Bar a lesson in expectation that exceeded his most liberal notions; but then she banished it. For she had news to impart.
“I am glad you entreated me to meet you this morning, Mr. Bar,” she said, “for my sister Maud has just told me that Mr. Webster is to host a dance in Hadway, and that Miss Webster means to use the occasion to choose at last between her suitors.”
On the path to the willow, Sally had rehearsed this scene in her head; and each time she did so, Mr. Bar had responded to the intelligence by growing quite crimson in the face, and swearing that he would never demean himself by submitting to being selected from a lot, like a stallion, and then insisting that Sally run away with him that very night, to Gretna Green, where they would make Miss Webster’s impertinence a thing of the greatest possible irrelevancy.
Sally was in fact not certain wanted to run away with him; nor that, if petitioned to do so, she would be persuadable. But she was very, very certain that she wanted him to ask. So she was rather crestfallen when, instead of succumbing to a passionate lover’s choler, he merely smiled and waved away the news, as if it were a midge that offered no more than mere annoyance.
“That is a thing easily avoided,” he said. “I will simply send my regrets.”
“You mustn’t,” said Sally; “that will only postpone Miss Webster’s decision! And it may do worse yet, Mr. Bar; for you do not know young ladies’ minds. We are always certain to want that which we cannot have. With my brother George at hand, and you far away, Miss Webster will be certain to think longingly on you, and despise George for his availability.”
He frowned. “It may be as you say. I will come, then. But I have paid Miss Webster only the most perfunctory of suits. It is very vexing that she insists on ascribing to me more ardor than I have shown.”
Sally blushed; for it felt to her, at times, that she had seen not much ardor from him, herself. “You know her character,” she said. “She will see what she wishes to see. She always has done.”
“Well,” he said, reaching into his waistcoat pocket, “I will think on it. In the meantime, Miss Sally, I ask you to do me the favor of accepting a small token of my esteem.”
Sally hoped he might produce something warm and fragile, like a robin’s egg he had fetched from a nest by climbing a tree on his way here, or a small spray of wildflowers he had stooped low to pluck while thinking of her. But what he produced instead was a miniature, set in a locket; it was a portrait of himself, not very well done, alas. The set of his features made him appear to have just swallowed something not altogether agreeable.
“Look upon it when you wish me with you,” he said grandly, “and it may do something to ease the longing.”
Sally was beginning to realize that in fact, she most longed for Mr. Bar when he was right in front of her; for he rarely accommodated himself to the Mr. Bar she required him to be, and that she maintained him to be in her absence. But she thanked him all the same, and by the time she returned home, her youth and natural optimism, along with the feeling of the sun on her face and arms, had persuaded her that the interview had been a successful one, and that Mr. Bar’s reserve was actually a carefully tended barricade, erected for her safety, lest she be overwhelmed by the power of his feeling for her.

Friday, December 7, 2018

AMELIA WEBSTER: Chapter 3 of a forthcoming novel

Here is the third installment of Amelia Webster—which, like my previous novel, Edgar and Emma, is based on a three-page story written by the juvenile Jane Austen.
Later that day, Amelia called at Glenfayre to convey all her news to Maud; “only that I do not have time to do so,” she declared, “for there are such an hundred things to tell you, and I have but a few moments before I must run away again.” Despite which she managed to claim three-quarters of an hour of Maud’s day, consume four cups of tea and two small cakes, and between bites inform her friend that there was to be a dance in Hadway in four weeks’ time, and that Amelia would use the occasion to select which of her suitors was to be her husband.
“But you must promise me, Maud,” she said when at last she rose to her feet and pulled on her gloves, “that you will not breathe a word of this to your brother; for while I know you must hope for his success, I cannot allow that he should have any advantage over his rival. I am determined to see both gentlemen at their most natural and unaffected, so that I might best assess whose nature truly suits me. Do me the courtesy of assuring me of your confidence, Maud; I shall not quit you until you do,” she insisted, even as she bustled towards the door.
“Of course I shall say nothing to George,” Maud reassured her as she saw her out. But in fact Amelia had no sooner turned onto the lane than Maud went in search of her brother, with the intention of telling him all; for she was well enough acquainted with Amelia to know that that young lady’s admonitions to secrecy were in fact designed to promote its opposite—as witness a famous incident in which Amelia had forbidden Maud to tell anyone that her new hat had cost the shocking sum of two pounds seven, then been quite put out to discover some days later that Maud had taken her entirely at her word. 
Maud found her brother in the garden, in his shirtsleeves, brushing the coat of his greyhound, Fulmino. Before George had gone off to Oxford the dog had been known as Duke, and George had been rather indifferent to him; but since his return, George had decided—on what evidence, Maud was uncertain—that the animal was in fact an Italian greyhound, which both required a new name and inspired a new level of devotion in his master. Indeed, since his return, George had shown himself to have acquired a somewhat disconcerting enthusiasm for all things Italian.
Alas, Fulmino was not so capacious in intellect as to be able to grasp that he had been rechristened, nor so intuitive as to respond to a sudden shift in his training to commands issued in a foreign tongue. So when George set aside the brush and ordered the dog to “Non mouvere” while he spoke to Maud, the bewildered creature saw no reason why it should not amble off, and did so, pursued by a volley of angry invective in the Roman dialect.
“Never mind, he can’t go far,” said George, brushing his hands against his thighs to clear them of Fulmino’s loosened bristles. “What besets you, Maud? You look very nearly feverish.”
Rebuked, Maud took a moment to compose herself; then said, “I have just seen Miss Webster, and she has told me something that will be of material interest to you.”
George’s face took on a wary cast. “And what would that be?”
“Why, that her father is to host a dance in four weeks’ time; and she means to use the occasion to make her choice between yourself and Mr. Bar.”
When her brother did not immediately gratify her with the look of ecstatic comprehension she had anticipated, she felt obliged to elucidate the significance of the revelation. “Mr. Bar will have no foreknowledge of this; so you may easily outdo him by being all the more charming and attentive to Miss Webster, and in the process secure her affection. I have no doubt that if you are sufficiently diligent, she will reward you at the evening’s end with all the encouragement you require to propose yourself.”
George continued to bewilder her by saying nothing.
“Do you not consider this an estimable opportunity?” Maud added, prodding him.
“Indeed,” he said, “very much so; thank you for apprising me of it, Maud.” But as he said this, his gaze drifted in the direction of Fulmino’s departure, as if he were weighing whether what he had just heard were really worth the trouble of having let slip his dog in mid-grooming.
Maud was disappointed, but she felt no inclination to pursue the matter further. She had planted a seed, and might return to water it as required over the succeeding weeks; but for the moment she considered that she had done all she reasonably could.
And in fact her intelligence’s effect on George was more considerable than she knew; for it told him that the long daydream of his return from abroad was now to give way to a brusque awakening. It had been five months since he had come back to Rovedon and to Glenfayre, during which time his mother had doted on him and he had entertained his father with rude tales of the barbaric east and the luxurious continent. But of late the novelty of his being once more at home had somewhat paled for Mrs. Hervey, who complained of his being always underfoot, and Mr. Hervey had allowed himself several very pointed remarks on what George ought to do next—which was, in his opinion, to find a position at a respectable firm in town and build himself a reputation, and with it a fortune of his own. George had been able to forestall any serious discussion of such a future, largely by engaging in his charade of a courtship with Miss Webster; for his father considered that a well-connected wife would be a signal advantage to a young law clerk seeking employment, and that the time it took to win Miss Webster was therefore well spent.
But George did not want to win Miss Webster. Nor, for that matter, did he want to go to London and take his place at the bar. He was not entirely certain what it was he did want; but when he allowed himself to contemplate the matter, his mind inevitably returned to the six golden weeks he had spent in Venice, where he had been stirred by the prospect of so many scenic tableaux that he had turned his hand to painting—which he persuaded himself was an unobjectionable pastime for a gentleman, if a trifle romantic. The hours he had spent at the widow of his pensione, poised before an easel, palette in one hand and brush in the other, attempting to capture both the glory and the squalor of that most remarkable city, had been the happiest of his life; and also the most riveting, for at a window directly across the canal there occasionally appeared a dark-hued beauty, who would lean across the sill and begin languidly to brush her hair. Inevitably, after a dozen or so strokes, her arm would droop, and she would abandon her ablutions to gaze disconsolately out onto the lagoon. George had dubbed her “la signorina dolorosa” and invented for himself a series of histories for her that explained both her loneliness and her tragic beauty; she became for him a minor fixation, to the point that he had even attempted twice or thrice to paint her.
He was, however, easily distracted by the merry and obliging girls he encountered everywhere else in Venice—indeed everywhere else in Italy—and it was not in fact until he had come home and unpacked his trunks and found among his canvases his attempted portraits of la signorina dolorosa that he had been reminded of her. And subsequently, as the pretty laughter and sparkling gaiety of all the Elviras and Katerinas and Alessandras had begun to dim in his memory, la dolorosa signorina remained fixed. Possibly this was because it was she and she alone who George had attempted to capture in oils; although none of his attempts, he now saw to his dismay, did her justice. He found himself wondering whether he might take up his brush again, and—with the added advantage of perspective and ample hours of leisure—perfect and complete his imperfect first endeavors.
It was no more than a whim; the certainty of what his father would say, were he to come across George daubing at a canvas—and not only that, a canvas depicting a loosely-clad beauty with her hair unpinned—was enough to dissuade George from any serious inclination to pursue it.
But neither was he inclined to marry some spoiled English country girl and carry her off to a life of respectability in town, which would be purchased for her by his own dreary and tireless labors. And this news that Maud had brought him—that he might indeed be fast approaching such a fate—alarmed him.
His one hope at present was that Miss Webster might choose Mr. Bar over him; but this he did not seriously credit. Mr. Bar might be the imminent heir to a vast fortune (and tall, for that matter), but he was also a humorless bore. And even were those strikes against him negligible, there was the added stain of his having been previously attentive to George’s own sister, Sally. It was inconceivable that Miss Webster would choose for herself a man who was known to have been previously attached elsewhere.
What to do, then? George supposed he might behave badly at the dance, and in some series of small ways (or one large one) sufficiently offend Miss Webster so that at its end she would have none of him. But that would not do; for Maud would call him to account, and his parents as well. Beyond that lay the fact that George was a gentleman; it was simply beyond him to offer deliberate offense to a lady, no matter the stakes. Were it otherwise, he would not have come so far in his tiresome suit for Miss Webster’s hand, for every moment of the enterprise had been contrary to his liking.
All these thoughts crested and broke upon the beachhead of his consciousness while he searched the grounds for Fulmino, whom he now found worrying a piece of dead branch that had fallen from a nearby buckthorn. As Fulmino, maddeningly, would not respond to George’s entreaty to “Andiamo, andiamo,” George resorted instead to hurling the length of bark in the house’s direction, over and over again—Fulmino being only too happy to follow and retrieve it and thus draw nearer to the house by degrees—until at last they found themselves at the front door.
George doffed his hat and gave it to the valet, Horton, then loped up to his room and threw himself onto a divan, with one leg hooked over its armrest and another lightly grazing the floor. Fulmino crept up and slid his neck beneath George’s dangling hand, then curled into a position of repose.
It was in this attitude that George spent the next quarter-hour, casting again and again over the width and breadth of his native ingenuity for some answer to his dilemma, and finding none. With a sigh—and a scratch behind Fulmino’s ears that the canine welcomed with a luxurious groan—he sat up and resolved to return to the matter after he had first cleared his head by the undertaking of some unrelated endeavor.
And there on his desk he espied the letter he had just written to his great friend, Henry Beverley, which he had yet to seal and post. And even as he rose with the intention of doing so, he was struck by an idea of such unexpected genius that he fairly flung himself into his chair, and skimmed over what he had written. 

My dear Beverley,
Since last we met I have seen much of the world and tasted many of its delights, of which the sole criticism I am able to offer is that they did not include your society. Since March I have been at my father’s house, where I have occupied myself with little more than rising, dining, and retiring; which I account as my due after our long years of study and the rigors imposed by my subsequent travels. Yet I am shy of confessing as much to you, for fear that you have in the months since our parting been driven by ambition and become so great a success that my idleness will brand me in your eyes a ne’er-do-well no longer worthy of your good opinion.
But in the event that you have likewise found yourself paused on the precipice of a brilliant future, let me entreat you to come to Hertfordshire and spend some span of time with me. While not a large house, Glenfayre is most accommodating, and your presence here would allow me to regale you with an account of my travels that I would not wish to commit to foolscap. As an additional enticement, let me add that in the interval of my absence, my two sisters, young girls when I left them, have surprised me by becoming rather a pair of beauties, and it would give me pleasure to see their attractions reflected in your cultivated regard.
I encourage you to accept this invitation, my dear friend; and I look forward to welcoming you here, whenever it best suits you to arrive.

Yr faithful servant

Satisfied, he now dipped his quill in ink and provided a supplementary entreaty:

A codicil, appended in some haste: I have learned that there is to be a dance here the second week of September. If you are at all able, please time your visit to correspond. I cannot promise you pleasure in it, but I do require your particular talents to serve me in a matter of some urgency on the night in question. I will say no more, in the hope that this is sufficient to intrigue you and draw you forth. In the meanwhile, I remain yrs., etc.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

AMELIA WEBSTER: Chapter 2 of a forthcoming novel

Here is the second installment of Amelia Webster—which, like my previous novel, Edgar and Emma, is based on a three-page story written by the juvenile Jane Austen.

The choice between Mr. Hervey and Mr. Bar was a difficult one for Amelia, but not because she felt sincere affection for both; indeed she would be hard pressed to name an endearing quality of either, so fully did she see them as mere appendages to herself. 
The difficulty lay in weighing the variant effects of such a choice. Amelia was inclined to reward Mr. Bar’s diligence with her hand, because he would very soon be in a position to adorn that hand with every variety of bauble. She had grown up very comfortably, and would have fifteen hundred pounds a year when she was wed; but she was shrewd enough to intuit that her ambitions were beyond the range of such a sum. Mr. Bar, once he came into the bequest of his ailing uncle, would be more than able to meet her expectations.
But there were advantages to Mr. Hervey, as well; the chief of which was that in choosing him she should gratify the wishes of Maud Hervey, who was her particular friend—whereas in choosing Mr. Bar she should offend Maud and perhaps lose her society for ever. Amelia had spent many hours weighing her friend’s value to her, and wondering whether she might do just as well without her; but she had an uncomfortable suspicion (very small, but very real) that she was not a flavor to please every palate, and that absent Maud, she might find herself with no confidante of any kind.
The additional argument in favor of choosing George Hervey was the gentleman himself. Amelia had always rather liked him, and had enjoyed affectionately teasing him when they were several years younger, and he quite small and boyish. She had meant for him to answer her girlish mockery with deep blushes and pleas for mercy; he surprised her by responding instead with dignity and disdain, and shunning her society. His recent return from abroad found him unchanged in this regard; for though he consented to call on her—as of course he must, as she alone in the village merited his attentions—he displayed no warmth or regard for her, and indeed often seemed resentful of her power over him. It would be very satisfying to humble such a man by tethering him to her for ever, and rendering him her servant in all things.
But she wondered whether, over the course of many years, such satisfaction might pall; whether the delight of reducing proud George Hervey to her plaything might diminish as its novelty faded—especially should she be obliged to encounter, as surely she must, another woman filling the role she had chosen against: a very rich and very happy Mrs. Benjamin Bar, riding by in a brand new barouche, dazzling in her finery. How was that to be borne?
Even worse, such a future Mrs. Benjamin Bar was very likely to be Sally Hervey, Amelia’s junior and in so many ways her inferior—lacking brilliance, wanting spirit, and woefully deficient in accomplishment. It was not forgotten, certainly not by Amelia, that Mr. Bar had once been seen to be very attentive to Sally, and had only “given her up,” as the village gossips put it, when Amelia’s family fortunes altered so fortuitously. Since then, Amelia alone had enjoyed Mr. Bar’s gentlemanly attention. But were she to relinquish him in favor of George Hervey, it seemed likely that he would go back to dour, timid Sally—and Amelia would suffer the embarrassment of seeming, despite all her finer qualities, to have been courted by him merely for her family connexion, and not for herself. 
In short, while she quite relished having two swains in active competition for her hand, the idea that her choice between them was a matter crucial to the happiness of neither, was deeply vexing; even worse was the possibility that it should appear so to anyone else. 
She sighed, and for a fleeting moment wished that there were a third gentleman in the mix, whose prospects for her own happiness offset the disadvantages incurred by dispatching the others; but of course there was none. Not unless she determined to pry elderly, fussy Mr. Pierce away from his equally ancient and eccentric friend, Mr. Fitzmark—or vice-versa; though many before her had tried and failed, and by now it seemed scarcely worth the effort. Conversely she might resolve to wait for young Will Manners to attain his majority; but given that, at fourteen, Will’s preoccupation was with laying elaborate traps for highwaymen—none of which had ever ensnared anyone but once, when the unfortunate Mrs. Foster had gone off the beaten path in search of her errant pug, Julie, in an episode that became instantly infamous in the village—Amelia could not but conclude that the time required for Will to reach the age of a creditable suitor was likely insufficient to render him a worthy one.
All things considered, it seemed to Amelia that the two birds she had in hand were better than the poor, twittering specimens yet lurking in the bush.
After she had dressed, she went down to breakfast—a repast which her parents, being early risers, had already taken, but at which they lingered, nursing cups of tea, so that Amelia need not sit at table alone.
“Good morning, my dear!” said her father, both in conventional greeting and in a hopeful attempt to prejudice his daughter that the morning indeed bore no fault.
But he need not have worried, for as noted, Amelia’s temper was already set. “Good morning, Papa,” she replied as she unfolded her napkin over her lap. “I have just been thinking how much I should enjoy a dance. You will not object,” she continued as she applied jam to her toast, “to making the necessary arrangements?”
Mr. Webster knew from past experience that when his daughter spoke the words, “You will not object,” it was less in inquiry than in commandment. He also knew the consequences of resistance, which would be very long, very noisy, and very much futile.
“A dance, my dear?” he said carefully. “Why…that is a fine idea. I wonder how it might be done.” He darted a desperate look at his wife, which she understood to be his entreaty for her aid.
“That will be a challenge indeed,” Mrs. Webster offered, “for regrettably there are no assembly rooms in Rovedon.”
Amelia attractively daubed a toast crumb from her lip and said, “That is nothing; for have you not told me more than once, Mama, how when you were a girl you delighted in dancing at the assembly rooms in Hadway? And that is but three miles distant. I am certain they must be as yet available and in excellent repair; for your girlhood was not so very long ago.”
“Ah, that may be so,” said her mother, who was equally mindful of not crossing her child. “And it is an ample room, as I recall; it would comfortably accommodate ten couples.” She sighed. “Alas, I cannot for that reason but think it much too large for our present needs—as between yourself, the Herveys, and Mr. Bar, we can manage but two-and-a-half couples.” She gave forth a sad little laugh, as if resigning herself to defeat.
But Amelia was not to be thwarted. “I have given that very matter some consideration,” she said. “Mr. and Mrs. Henning have been wed but a year; and I know Diana would love of all things to attend another dance, for she has told me she finds married life rather dull. So that will be an additional couple. And Papa, does not your friend Mr. Lillian reside not far from Hadway? And do I not recall that he has a son and daughter of an age to myself?” Mr. Webster had to admit that this was so. “Well, then; another couple yet. And as for the gentleman still missing to round out the numbers to five—surely there is a young man to be found somewhere who will do us the favor of attending.” She abruptly met their eyes and said, wielding an empty knife, “That was not the last of the marmalade?”
Mrs. Webster wasted not a moment in summoning the housekeeper, Mrs. Cavett, who with all speed set off for the kitchen, while Mr. and Mrs. Webster kept their daughter calm with reassurances of her imminent satisfaction, until Mrs. Cavett returned, quite breathless, with a new dish of preserves.
By this juncture, alas, the notion of the dance had had time to settle, becoming something more established than proposed; so that Mr. Webster had a difficult time in resuming a line of gentle argument—though he must try, for there remained the uncomfortable matter of its expense. He and his wife had from Amelia’s birth got into the habit of denying her nothing; but the cost of such affection had steepened as Amelia had grown older, and now her desires very often challenged their not inconsiderable means.
“I think the scheme an excellent one,” said Mr. Webster in gentle tones, “and only wish I were able to gratify you. Perhaps next year, in Spring?” When Amelia turned a cold eye on him, he hastened to add, “It is simply a matter of finances, child. I have suffered some reverses of late, as a result of which…”
His voice drained away as Amelia glared at him. “I have it in mind,” she said in a voice like cut glass, “to use the occasion of this dance to determine which of my suitors I will encourage to declare himself. But by all means, Papa, if a few pennies are of greater importance to you than the future happiness of your only child, I would not for anything discomfit you. In fact,” she said, decidedly pushing aside the dish of marmalade she had only just set the household into a tizzy to obtain for her, “I will do my own small part to encourage a greater economy by from this day forward taking no nourishment of any kind. I know that I do not consume much”—in fact Amelia’s appetite was that of her mother and father combined—“but I think the savings, over time, will be sufficient to afford you some relief.”
This was not Amelia’s first such threat; nor, as the memory of two alarming weeks in her fifteenth year confirmed, was the threat an idle one. Mr. and Mrs. Webster again exchanged a swift glance, and due to the mutual accord they had achieved over many years of wedded life, that single glance was able to convey a most complex sentiment. “Very well,” it said; “if our daughter means to choose a husband in this manner, then we may console ourselves with the knowledge that she will soon be gone from our household and into his—by which reasoning we might tighten our belts and provide her this dance, secure in the certainty that there will never be another.”
The concession was thus swiftly made; Amelia happily and heartily resumed her breakfast, and punctuated its ingestion with observations on which color gown would best suit her.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

AMELIA WEBSTER: Chapter 1 of a forthcoming novel

Here is the first installment of Amelia Webster—which, like my previous novel, Edgar and Emma, is based on a three-page story written by the juvenile Jane Austen.

The village of Rovedon, in Hertfordshire, was so small that there were limited means by which its residents might amuse themselves; the chief of which was devising who ought to marry whom. For many years, the young misses of the village were wagered to wed either Tom Pierce or Jack Fitzmark, until those gentlemen took up residence together at two-and-thirty, thus making it apparent that they would marry no one at all. At which interval the busybodies of Rovedon who had invested such interest in their nuptial fortunes, died off (though not all at once, and not all from disappointment), which left Tom and Jack themselves to take up the sport of anticipating the trajectory of Cupid’s arrows.
This endeavor was made the easier by there being at present only three marriageable daughters among the village elite (the others being as yet too young and green, or too old and overripe). This trio of ladies had initially been judged equally eligible by local consensus, but subsequently a distinct advantage was awarded to Miss Webster when her cousin-in-law’s son contracted to wed the grand-niece of a viscount. This gave her a family connexion to the nobility that must make her the village’s prize catch.
“It is Miss Webster’s good fortune indeed,” said Tom one morning as he polished off the last of his breakfast porridge, “for I fear without such exalted relations, her attractions must be considered no greater than those of the Hervey sisters.”
“If not their inferior,” rejoined Jack, as he tapped open the shell of his second boiled egg. For both gentlemen were highly partisan in the matter of the Hervey girls, and considered Amelia Webster excessively proud. (Tom had once famously quipped, “Were she to hold her nose any higher, a sudden rainfall might quite drown her.”) Both Tom and Jack attributed this to her having been an only child and shockingly spoilt by her parents, both of whom now appeared rather in awe of her.
The Hervey girls, by contrast, had grown up in a large family. Their eldest brother, Fred, had joined the Navy and risen swiftly through its ranks, and was now a lieutenant commander; their junior brother, George, had recently concluded his studies at Oxford, where he had read law with distinction, and been rewarded by his parents with a grand tour of Europe and the east from which he had but lately returned. With two such brilliant siblings, the Miss Herveys had learned humility; and its outward show suited them, as Tom now undertook to note.
“In matters of mere outward beauty,” he said, “I cannot but own that Miss Webster is as handsome as either of her rivals. But Miss Hervey embellishes her charming face and figure with an attractive earnestness of manner; how genuinely she takes an interest in all her fellow creatures, and devotes herself to their comfort and good cheer!”
“Ah, but in Miss Sally Hervey’s favor,” rejoined Jack, whose preference was for the younger of the sisters, “there is such an endearing demureness about her; she is the very soul of stillness and serenity. Were it not for the brilliance of her coloring, one might entirely overlook her in company, so quiet is her way.”
The two friends could not agree whether active or passive humility must take the prize; only that both were infinitely preferable to haughtiness and what Jack called “push”—by which he meant, Miss Webster’s insistence that her imminent connexion to the aristocracy be not merely acknowledged, but accommodated. At any assembly, she must be first in line to dinner, and lead every dance; and in shops, her custom must be given precedence over those who had come in before her. Amelia Webster was, as a result, much respected, but not at all admired.
This seemingly simple scenario—three eligible ladies; one of rank, two of merit—was complicated by there being but a pair of eligible gentlemen on hand. 
The first was the aforementioned George Hervey, whose eligibility was of no use to his sisters. He was thus encouraged by his parents to consider Miss Webster; but George was very much of a mind against that lady, on account of her having made some satirical remarks about his height some years prior, before he had departed for Oxford, at which time she towered above him by nearly five inches. (He had since enjoyed some gains in stature, despite which no one yet would think to call him tall.) In addition, George had been deeply impressed by the ladies of the Italian peninsula, whose comportment was of a more relaxed and companionable nature than he was accustomed to find at home—and who were the very antithesis of Miss Webster, who had yet to encounter a smile she could not account an affront. George did not openly rebel against his parents’ efforts to attach him to Miss Webster; but only because he harbored an intention someday to dishonor them more profoundly, by marrying abroad.
The other eligible gentleman was Mr. Benjamin Bar, who was an object of great curiosity and excitement to the villagers, in that he was the heir of a rich uncle who lived in nearby Carthworth, and who was reported to be in very ill health. Mr. Bar was thus in the thrilling expectation of being a person of no small consequence before the age of one-and-twenty. He was also the hero of the village’s romantic imagination, because he had previously been attentive to Miss Sally Hervey, so much so that an understanding between them was tacitly acknowledged; but alas, such an understanding could not be openly declared until Sally’s elder sister were betrothed. And before Maud Hervey could secure herself a match (in a village where, as noted, there was none to be had), Miss Webster’s cousin-in-law was accepted by the viscount’s grand-niece, and Mr. Bar’s uncle concluded that the best wife for his nephew was that newly socially superior lady. Mr. Bar could not disoblige his benefactor without the risk of being disinherited, and so he complied; though his heart remained wholly Sally Hervey’s.
Thus it was that Rovedon’s sole eligible bachelors were both in official competition for Amelia Webster, though neither pursued her with enthusiasm; and in the meantime, the two Hervey girls languished without beaux of any kind.
“What we are in need of,” said Tom after breakfast, as he donned his boots in anticipation of taking his morning walk up to the chapel and back again, to keep himself trim (he was very jealous of his slender frame), “is some new element that will alter the composition of this unhappy situation. But I do not know what that might be.” He appeared dejected for a moment, then rose briskly to his feet and summoned his spaniel, Blaze.
“You’ll think of something,” said Jack, who now donned his garden hat, whose wide brim would shield his brow while he pruned his cherished rosebushes—a duty he undertook with such diligent regularity that it was a rare bud that survived long enough to flower. “You always do.”
Bolstered by his friend’s confidence, Tom set forth on his walk—and commended himself on having chosen his thickest-soled boots, for the lane remained wet with mud even after two days’ respite from a drenching rain. Blaze, not at all minding the dirt, left him to seek some diversion in the woodland, and Tom made steady, if sticky, progress to the high street, where he encountered George Hervey as the latter descended the steps of the stationer’s shop, carrying a small parcel.
“I found myself in want of paper,” George explained, after greeting Tom with his usual open friendliness, “and just as I sat down to write my great friend Beverley—he with whom I shared rooms at Oxford, and who is as dear to me as a brother. I am sorry to say I have found no opportunity to correspond with him since I undertook my sojourn abroad.”
“In that case, I hope you have amply supplied yourself,” said Tom while nodding at his friend’s parcel, “for you will have much to tell him.” And as George expressed his agreement, Tom was struck by an idea of such unexampled cleverness that were it not for the grip of the mud upon his heels, he might actually jump up and down. “But tell me, Hervey,” he said, “if this fellow is so near to a brother to you, why not make him so in fact?”
George blinked, as though surprised by the question. “Why—because his parents are not my own,” he said with uncertain laughter. “Surely that is an end to the question!”
Tom shook his head. “You misunderstand me. I mean to say, you have two sisters at home, both in need of a husband. It would commend you to furnish at least one candidate for the post.”
George regarded him with a look of undiluted admiration. “How can that thought not have occurred to me? I daresay it is because the girls were so young when I departed for Oxford that I still think of them as children; but I must own that in the interval they have much grown up. How clever you are, Pierce; everyone says it of you, and now I know it to be so.” He raised his parcel in a gesture of resolve. “I shall include in my letter an invitation to Rovedon. Even if Beverley fails to engage my sisters’ hearts, it will do my own much good to see him.”
Tom thus continued his walk in high spirits (so much so that he was not even put out when Blaze rejoined him, at least two shades darker than she had been half an hour earlier). He was proud of having both gratified Jack’s faith in him and earned young George Hervey’s approbation. For he considered that the addition of a new bachelor in town might reorient the unhappy state of its current matrimonial outlook.
Though that outlook was far from unhappy for Amelia, who had risen this morning with a resolve of her own, and of a very different nature. The time had come, she decided, to choose between George Hervey and Benjamin Bar. Her cousin-in-law’s nuptials were approaching, and she had no wish to attend them without a fiancĂ© of her own on her arm.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Yes, it's finally here. The following is the flap copy, for your perusal and (I hope) approval: 

As a teenager, Jane Austen wrote “Edgar and Emma”—a withering satire on sentimental novels running four uproarious pages.

Now Robert Rodi has taken the brief text of this early story and expanded it into a full-length novel in the mature Austen style. Here you’ll find all the hallmarks of Austen’s immortal masterworks: a witty heroine, a hesitant hero, a romantic rival, a charismatic cad, several indefatigable talkers, a shattering crisis, shocking secrets revealed, and moments of the highest hilarity. 

You’ll also find some character types new to the extended Austensphere, including a firebrand preacher, a pair of ardent dog lovers, and a sardonic Oxford don. It’s a brilliantly witty homage to a beloved novelist’s oeuvre, by the acclaimed author of Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiff, the Simps, the Snobs and the Saps.

Edgar and Emma is now available through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or for download it for Kindle. Other sales channels and ebook formats are forthcoming.

If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on the Amazon or B&N page. I can’t overstate how much difference that makes.

Thank you for your kind attention. Now go—enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An Apology and an Announcement

I hadn't intended to take such a long break from my "Adapted Austen" survey of the various J.A. television and movie adaptation—and I promise I'll get back to it very soon, picking up where I left off, with Emma Thompson's lovely 1995 version of "Sense and Sensibility." I'm very sorry to have abandoned those of you who expressed interest in the project, and who gave me encouragement; I hope you haven't given up on me.

But I have, I think, a very good excuse. Longtime readers of this blog will recall that last summer I ran a Kickstarter campaign for an Austen-inspired novel, Edgar and Emma (you can scroll down several posts and see the proof, in fact). I was trying to crowd-source enough funds to allow me to set aside several months to sit down and write the thing; alas, I never met my funding goal, and Edgar and Emma got put on the back-burner.

A few months later, however, I started a freelance job, writing and producing segments for a daily documentary TV series; and it went well enough that the assignment stretched from weeks into months, and in Spring of this year they actually offered me a full-time gig. Since I enjoy the work, I figured what the hell; why not? But I gave them a proviso: I'd come on full-time, but only after a four-month hiatus. They were a little perplexed, but I explained: I wanted the summer off to write. A novel, in fact. In structured, hierarchical corporate America, those must be magic words; because they agreed.

And so I finished Edgar and Emma, and will be self-publishing it in the same manner I did the two volumes of Bitch In a Bonnet, which seems to work well for me. You can expect Edgar and Emma to be available as both an ebook and a trade paperback sometime in the next few months—certainly, I hope, before Christmas (in case you're stuck for a fine gift idea for someone you highly esteem). I'll certainly keep you apprised here, so no worries. But in the meantime, here's the cover/catalog copy:

As a teenager, Jane Austen wrote "Edgar and Emma"—a withering satire on sentimental novels running four uproarious pages. 
Now Robert Rodi has taken the brief text of this early story and expanded it into a full-length novel in the mature Austen style. Here you'll find all the hallmarks of Austen's immortal masterpieces: a witty heroine, a hesitant hero, a romantic rival, a charismatic cad, several indefatigable talkers, a shattering crisis, shocking secrets revealed, and moments of the highest hilarity.
You'll also find some character types new to the extended Austensphere, including a firebrand preacher, a pair of ardent dog lovers, and an unrepentantly fey Oxford don. It's a brilliantly witty homage to a beloved novelist's oeuvre, by the acclaimed author of Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps. 
Edgar and Emma: A Novel After Jane Austen, by Robert Rodi—coming soon.

And "Adapted Austen," after a long interruption, resumes even before that.

Meantime, thank you for your patience, and for your continued support. I hope to prove worthy of both, and oh, so very, very soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Adapted Austen: Sense and Sensibility, 1981

Ten years after its first attempt, the BBC took another stab at Sense and Sensibility. In some respects, it’s a step sideways, if not backwards; this 1981 production looks in many cases even cheaper than its predecessor, despite using actual houses of the period rather than wobbly stage sets. Lighting seems to be the culprit; videotape is entirely different from film, and what looks sharp and pristine on the latter can seem harsh and ugly on the former. In this regard, the new production at least benefits from an increased number of outdoor sequences, given that the BBC drama department had a perplexing policy of switching from video to film anytime the action shifted from interior to exterior scenes. (Anyone remember the hilarious Monty Python sketch mocking this practice?)

In some respects, the 1981 Sense and Sensibility can be called an improvement. Despite being almost half an hour shorter than the 1971 series, it seems to pack in more of the story without feeling bloated. And the leads are particularly well cast. Irene Richards is just about ideal as Elinor; she’s not conventionally pretty, but there’s something about her that makes it difficult to watch anyone else while she’s onscreen. She conveys a quiet dignity through not much more than the tilt of her head and the angle of her eyes. I found her enchanting. Tracey Childs is also very appealing as Marianne, though she tends to gush just a bit.

The script, by Alexander Baron, gives the two sisters more complexity than they had in the earlier adaptation—a challenge the actresses meet brilliantly. In the original novel, Austen begins with Elinor representing sense and Marianne sensibility, but soon comes to feel constricted by this choice (we can almost sense her rebelling against it as we read), and ultimately shows Elinor as being more susceptible to feeling, and Marianne to rationality, than either would want to admit. 

This was a failure of the 1971 adaptation that I should have noted; we never see Elinor’s stoicism crumble, or Marianne’s romanticism hobbled by momentary doubt. In this later production, we see both quite clearly. (It’s even reflected in the lovely opening titles, with the sisters seated on a teeter-totter, one going up as the other descends.) There is, for instance, the moment in which Willoughby, coming to rescue Marianne after she’s hurt her ankle, proposes to lift her up and carry her back to Barton Cottage; Marianne says, “Oh, sir, no, please. It would be immodest.” And there’s no sense of protesting for form’s sake, while being secretly excited at breaking such a taboo, as you’d expect from a true free spirit; no, Tracey Childs’s performance makes it clear that Marianne really is as shocked as a duchess by the idea.

Similarly, in a later scene, Elinor overhears Marianne and Willoughby make fun of Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Jennings, and confronts them, rebuking them for their ridicule. There’s a real sense of conflict—almost of menace—in Irene Richards’s tone, even though she barely raises her voice. “Perhaps the abuse of people like yourself and Marianne is a compensation,” she hisses, when the young couple try to defend their mockery by protesting that its only the truth. “If to be praised by them is bad, to be censured by you is praise.” These are pretty strong words for an Austen character, and it’s clear that “I-govern-my-emotions” Elinor is seriously, burn-the-house-down mad, here. Willoughby, in fact, is visibly unnerved by her slap-down; with a nervous laugh he calls her “saucy,” then says, “The battle grows too hot for me,” and basically makes a run for it. 

Speaking of Willoughby, Peter Woodward nails him cold. He has the requisite gallant manner and dazzling good looks, but he also conveys an odious oiliness … a kind of amoral, feline glee. In every scene, he behaves like he’s already lifted someone’s wallet but is sticking around just in case another really good idea occurs to him. He’s basically Martin Shkreli in a Regency wig.

And then there’s Bosco Hogan as Edward Ferrars. A slam-dunk. Like Irene Richards, he’s not conventionally attractive—he’s a slight man, with a large head, and the production has given him a head of flat blond hair, like he’s just lifted it out of a tub after dunking for apples—but there’s a sort of steely indomitability in him that grabs you early on. Elinor certainly feels it; it’s only shortly after meeting him at Norland Park, that he comes across her sketching on the lawn and looks momentarily uncertain as to how to react, and she tells him, “Do sit down. You will not intrude. We both appear to like silence.” In another setting, that line would be almost a warning: You’re free to join me, but keep your pie hole shut. But here, it really is one placid spirit recognizing its twin.

I also quite like Robert Swann as Colonel Brandon. Initially he comes off as a bit of a cipher; but as his scenes grow longer, and we get to know him better, he grows in interest and attractiveness—exactly the way he should, given his role in the story.

Some of the smaller roles are wonderfully cast, as well. As Fanny Dashwood, Amanda Boxer exudes gorgeous contempt for everyone and everything around her. She barely parts her lips to deliver her lines, as though whoever she’s talking to isn’t worth the effort of actually opening her mouth. There’s an early scene, at Norland Park, where Fanny is trapped in a drawing room with the not-yet-moved-out Dashwoods, and says, “And what shall we do now? Marianne, will you play us something?”—but with a sigh of defeat, as though Marianne’s playing is the only alternative to, say, everyone driving stakes through each others’ hearts.

Boxer’s finest moment comes during the scene in which Anne Steele reveals to Fanny that her sister Lucy has been engaged to Edward for several years. Fanny pauses for a moment—you can almost see the wheels turning in her head, as she weighs exactly how much ignominy this revelation calls for, before deciding, All of it—then she falls into convulsions, shrieking, “Trollops! Schemers!” It’s epic.

Alas, not everyone in the cast thrives. Julia Chambers, as Lucy Steele, is a mess; her first meeting with Elinor is all over the place. We can’t tell whether Lucy really does want Elinor’s friendship, or has come purely to warn her away from Edward. It is, of course, possible for an actress to convey both; but she’d need a better script, and far better direction. We never really do get a handle on who Lucy is in this production, and it’s a big mark against its ultimate success.

Even worse is Annie Leon as Mrs. Jennings, who sort of putters and sputters and coos and chuckles indiscriminately, like a windup toy; aim her at the white cliffs of Dover and she’d trundle right over the edge. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Mrs. Jennings is just about my favorite character in the novel, and I think she’s crucial to the story’s success (if only because, incessant talker that she is, she’s always reminding everyone where we all are in the narrative). But Annie Leon’s take on the character is all tics and mannerisms; there’s no heart to her—no weight. She’s like a housefly who keeps buzzing into the scenes, unwanted.

Donald Douglas, as Sir John Middleton, is also a bit of a trial. Like his 1971 predecessor, he seems to feel he can build a character just by dialing the volume up to eleven. His Sir John is always shouting happily at people who are standing literally inches away from him. A little louder and he might bring the roof down on his head, which by Episode 2 is exactly the fate we find ourselves wishing on him. (I did, however, enjoy hearing him blare at Marianne, while telling her what little he knows about Willoughby, “And he’s got the nicest little bitch of a pointer I ever saw.”) 

At least one role in the novel wasn’t cast at all: youngest sister Margaret Dashwood is no more on evidence here than she was in 1971. As if to make up for it, two characters are invented: actual servants at Barton Cottage. And in an even more sensational departure from Austen, they’re both given names (Tom and Sue) and honest-to-God lines. A triumph of democracy!

While the casting is largely, if not entirely, successful, the script is less so. For one thing, there’s the perpetual problem with language. While not as grievously so as in 1971, little here sounds authentically Austenian. There is, for example, once again that pesky reliance on gerunds—which is an utterly modern formulation, and rings totally false in period pieces. Elinor asks, “Is Mr. Edward Ferrars going to be married?” Remove that word, “going,” and what you have left is exactly right. But we keep getting the the same mistake, over and over again.

This is far from the only example of tone-deafness on offer. Some of my favorite lines are mangled—and needlessly so. For example, Charlotte Palmer (played with admirably unflagging idiocy by Hetty Baynes) says of her husband, who’s just directly ignored something she’s said to him, “Mr. Palmer doesn’t hear me; he never does.” Austen’s original, by comparison, is the entirely nonsensical, entirely genius, “Mr. Palmer does not hear me; he never does sometimes.” 

Problems with language might be overlooked with only an occasional cringe or grimace. But this production commits far worse offenses. The bones of the story are tinkered with, in ways that are damaging to the narrative flow—and in some cases outright ruinous.

For example, when Sir John tells the Dashwoods about the Steele sisters coming to stay at Barton Park, Edward is there—which he isn’t in the novel—and it’s clear from Edward’s reaction that the news is not at all welcome to him. This tells us at once that we can expect some kind of revelation about his relationship to the Steele sisters—which doesn’t come for quite a while; in the meantime, we’re put in the awkward position of knowing more about Edward’s feelings than Elinor does. This adds nothing to the story except setting up a tension that isn’t relieved nearly soon enough. 

Even worse, when Willoughby arrives at Cleveland late at night, having ridden all the way from London, it is not—as it is in the novel—because he’s heard that Marianne is ill. Never mind that that makes perfect dramatic and emotional sense. No, in this version Willoughby shows up in darkness, banging on the door, and when Elinor lets him in and tells him Marianne can’t see him because she’s ill, he’s astonished. He had no idea. Which leaves Elinor nothing left to say, but the obvious, “Mr. Willoughby, why did you come here?”

His reply: “I could bear it no longer.” So, rather than have him hear of Marianne’s mortal illness and come flying to her in a fit of grief and guilt and panic, we’re to believe he just sat up in bed on that exact night and decided to get on a horse immediately and go and say “Sorry I was such a jerk.” I don’t understand the point of this—why an entirely credible and dramatic rationale for his appearance—the rationale used in the original novel—was rejected in favor of one that wouldn’t pass muster in a first draft.

There are also a few lamentable instances of changing the story to pump up the melodrama—what I call “Victorianizing,” but you’re welcoming to call vulgarizing. For example: at the party where Willoughby rejects Marianne, it’s Colonel Brandon who comes to her rescue—keeping her from crumpling to the floor and almost carrying her bodily from the premises. Because of course it is. I suppose they didn’t have the budget to have him ride in on a white horse.

Another example: after Edward’s engagement to Lucy is revealed, John Dashwood summons his sisters to his London house, to compel them to have nothing more to do with Edward. Elinor proudly defies him, with Marianne’s vocal encouragement, and then the sisters storm out with their chins in the air while John, chastened, dribbles apologetically after them. The whole scene is a complete fabrication; not only did Austen not write it, she’d rather have thrown herself off a roof than descend to anything this heavy-handed. (In the novel, she has Elinor go voluntarily to John’s house to inquire after Fanny, who she’s heard has been taken ill by the news; and the conversation between brother and sister is entirely more civil, and endlessly more hilarious.)

There’s more along the same lines…but I haven’t the heart to dwell on it. I will, however, excuse one small dose of Victorianizing, at the very end. Edward arrives at Barton Cottage and, after some awkward moments of misunderstanding, makes it clear that it’s his brother, not he, who’s married Lucy Steele—meaning he’s still single, and free to marry Elinor. And Elinor actually gets up and flees the cottage, sprinting prettily across a verdant landscape, including a picturesque bridge over a babbling stream. Edward, thinking he’s upset her, has to be persuaded by Marianne to follow her, which he does; and when he finds her, she turns to face him, and says the words no Austen heroine ever uttered in print: “I love you.” 

Well…call me an old softie. I bought it. Austen would snark at me for it. But there’s probably a lot Austen would snark at me for, and in this case I’ve decided to live with it.

But by all means, feel free to be more stringent on your own behalf.