JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Great Coxcomb

Sense and Sensibility
"Outrageously Out of Canon Characters"/"The Others"
Miss Elinor Dashwood finds sympathy for her plight in an unexpected place.

"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all—I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother—silly and a great coxcomb."
– Chapter 24, Sense and Sensibility

What a long day it had been for Miss Elinor Dashwood, and the evening was not proving any shorter. How relieved she would be to return to her room in Berkeley Street!

With Mrs. Palmer recently delivered of a son, Mrs. Jennings, the happy grandmother, had taken to spending the bulk of her time with her dear Charlotte and the child. As one daughter had deprived the Dashwood sisters of their London companion, the other sought to supply the lack by requesting their daily presence in Conduit Street. Therefore Elinor and Marianne called on Lady Middleton every morning to suffer through her well-mannered insipidity. Their tedium was augmented, and silences were kept to a minimum, by the efforts of Miss Steele and Miss Lucy Steele, who were currently staying with the Middletons. The elder Miss Steele rattled off a constant stream of inanities that drew sharp, graceless reprimands from her sister—that is, when Lucy was not directing the occasional barb at Elinor.

From that scene of irritation and noise Elinor had come directly to the home of Mrs. Dennison, one of Fanny's acquaintances, only to be immersed in noise of another sort, more melodic but no more interesting to her ears. Unlike Marianne, Elinor had never been able to lose herself in music when fatigued or troubled. Still, she preferred the strains of the violoncello to what passed for entertaining conversation in the mind of the young man stood next to her. He seemed to have an excess of silly opinions and an eagerness to impart them. Despite her initial curiosity upon perceiving him across the room, she was beginning to regret that John had introduced them.

Was it too much to ask that a day filled with so many wasted hours at least end rationally?

Elinor supposed it must be.

At last Mr. Robert Ferrars, for that was the gentleman's name, ceased holding forth on the virtues of the humble cottage, and Elinor had leisure to take note of something other than the length of his speeches. He was no handsomer than his brother, though he was as finely dressed as when she had first seen him in Sackville Street.

His silence did not last long. He noticed her consideration of him and asked, “Is something amiss?”

“No,” she said. “I was recalling the day I saw you in Gray's. You were giving very particular instructions as to the arrangement of a—”

“A toothpick-case. Yes! I can be quite regardless of time when it comes to toothpick-cases. It has been thus since I purchased my very first one.”

“You seemed completely preoccupied with the task.”

“Oh, I was. But I do recall diverting my attention long enough to get a glimpse of you and the lady with you. Your sister, I presume?”


“You two presented such a study in contrasts, I could not help staring.”

She was surprised not that she and Marianne had appeared widely different, but that he had noticed and remembered it. All his talk to this point had persuaded her he paid little notice to any subject other than himself. “Do you mean your stares were in support of a character study?”

“Why not? Or did you think I looked at you merely to draw your attention rather than to bestow my own?”

That was exactly what Elinor had thought at the time.

“If you did think so, Miss Dashwood, I can hardly be offended. I was rather pleased with myself that day.” He laughed and added, “If I am vain, and I am, at least I am well aware of it.”

Elinor was astonished and delighted by his laugh. It was genuine and disarming.

“I can see why he likes you,” he said.

“Who?” she asked after the tiniest hesitation.

“Miss Dashwood, let us not pretend. There need be no secrets between us,” the gentleman said, whispering as if he were sharing one himself. “For if matters proceed the way I assume, we will be brother and sister, will we not? The last several minutes have shown your patience and politeness cannot be faulted. By the by, I did not literally cast Bonomi's plans into the fire, though I may have swept a sheet or two to the floor in my eagerness to make my point. Accidentally, of course.” He flashed a grin. “But, as I was saying, you know very well of whom I speak. You are perfect for him, not least because he adores you and Fanny does not.”

“Sir, please.” Elinor felt her composure failing at such an unexpected assault on it.

“Ah.” He kept his voice low. “You understand me.” He looked at her sympathetically. “If you believe my mother will not approve, you are correct. Both Mother and Fanny are determined to prevent the match, but they will not succeed.”

That is hardly—Oh!” Elinor, shocked and disappointed by her lack of command over the expression of her feelings, was grateful she had managed to prevent her cry from rivaling those of the soloist. It took all her powers to keep tears from forming. Never in a public setting had she wished to toss propriety to the wind and weep until her eyes were a hideous red more than at this moment. Not since Lucy had revealed her engagement to Edward had she felt so desperate and desolate at once.

Mr. Robert Ferrars shifted to the left. That this slight movement must shield her from curious onlookers was fortunate. Whether it also was intentional she had not considered until he looked into her eyes. “So there is more,” he said so tenderly Elinor thought her heart would break all over again and wondered that she was not openly sobbing. “By the time you and I had exchanged a dozen words, I found myself wondering at his hesitation. I should have realised Mother's disapproval would not have made him so melancholy. He has been used to resisting her demands since he came of age. Her opposition would pain him, of course, and cause unwanted delays, but it would not make him despondent.”

Elinor felt something being pressed into her hand. She looked down at the crisp square of cloth. Feeling a few tears escape despite her efforts to stop them, she quickly put the handkerchief to use.

I know!” Mr. Robert Ferrars said with a sudden air of purpose. “I will discover what the true obstacle is. Surely it can be overcome. I shall make him tell me.” He smiled. “And if he does not, I shall resort to tricks and stratagems to find it out.*”

The twinkle in his eye did much to transform Elinor's frown into what she hoped was an expression of complacency. She was not capable of more just yet. Nor was she ready to support Mr. Robert Ferrars in his quest or confirm the existence of any particular obstacles. “Please do not trouble your— I would not have you trouble him over this,” she urged.

“Do not worry, Miss Dashwood,” he said in reply, his bright grin telling Elinor her efforts to guard Edward's private concerns were futile. “It is the lot of the younger brother—nay, his positive duty!—to plague the elder.

“Now,” he said in a louder voice, one Elinor could almost believe calculated to draw the two or three censorious glances the nearest music devotees cast at his back, “if you will walk with me a few steps to this table, where the light is sufficient, I will show you that very toothpick case.” She did so, and he pulled the item from his pocket and laid it down for them both to admire. “There!”

As they lowered their heads to examine the intricate construction of the piece, he whispered, “Good girl. Your countenance is much improved. You shall be fully recovered in a moment.”

Elinor had barely seen his mouth move.

“Is it not a marvel?” he continued in normal tones and with a face that shone with more than feigned interest. Any person watching them could not doubt Mr. Robert Ferrars's passion for the little luxuries of the well-to-do. “I declare I should not be ashamed to recommend Gray's to any one!”


*from Chapter 51, Pride and Prejudice


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