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One of the governing themes of these chapters is the value of privacy, but also the confusions that result from secrecy and concealment. Since Marianne conceals any sort of understanding that may exist between herself and Willoughby about their status as a couple, Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor can only speculate about their status based on her misery and her remark to Mrs. Jennings about his expected return in a few weeks. Likewise, Elinor does not greet Edward with the warm and open regard of a lover but instead awaits his reactio; but as he is not forthcoming with his own emotions, this tactic leaves her to wonder if his feelings have changed. Marianne finds Edward's reserve puzzling as well.
In a further instance of willful concealment, Edward clearly dissembles when he claims that the lock of hair in his ring once belonged to his sister, an echo of Margaret's eager whisper to Elinor that she saw Willoughby remove a lock of Marianne's hair. This preoccupation with secrets is evident also in the behavior of the Palmers: Mrs. Jennings leans towards Elinor and speaks in a low voice to inform her that Mrs. Palmer is pregnant, and Mr. Palmer hides his face behind a newspaper for the duration of their visit. Everyone in these chapters seems bent on concealing their own situation from the eyes of others; the ensuing misunderstandings and ambiguities fuel the plot the novel.
The earlier Shakespearean reference to Queen Mab receives a second mention when the Dashwood sisters see a man approaching on horseback during their walk, and Marianne is convinced that it must be her beloved Willoughby. "Queen Mab" was the name of the horse that Willoughby was to give her, yet the horse was never more than a dream, for the Dashwoods could not afford such a gift. In this chapter, Marianne's identification of the horse's rider proves to be yet another vain fantasy like Queen Mab's dreams, for it is not Willoughby but Edward Ferrars who rides up to greet them.
When Edward first rides up to the Dashwood sisters, he comments on the dirty lanes he had to traverse to reach Barton Cottage. Roads are essential to the action of the novel because they facilitate the connections among characters. Austen structures the novel according to journeys, including the Dashwoods' journey from Norland to Barton, Willoughby's and Edward's journeys to Barton, and Elinor and Marianne's journey to London with Mrs. Jennings. Although Mrs. Dashwood sells their carriage when they leave Norland, the Dashwood sisters are still able to maintain a lively social life because of the journeys that Brandon, Willoughby, Edward, the Palmers, and the Steeles undertake to visit Barton. This prevalence of journeys is significant: in Austen's day, improved roads linked parishes and towns to one another and to the nexus of all connections, London. Austen was thus highly aware of the changes roads could bring to people's lives. In a novel built around attachments and connections, dirty lanes are a feature of the landscape as well as a plot device.
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