The use of the word “frolic” in Belinda is introduced by Lady Delacour – one of the more dramatic characters in the novel. In one of the earlier scenes, Lady Delacour has a moment of vulnerability, in which she reveals her terminal illness to Belinda, after the masquerade. She utilizes the term ‘frolic’ to describe what she seems to regret in her dying days – enumerating her regrets in life while simultaneously cautioning Belinda not to make the same mistakes. Lady Delacour exclaims, “If I had served myself with half the zeal that I have served the world, I would not now be thus forsaken! – I have sacrificed reputation, happiness – everything, to the love of frolic – All frolic will soon be at an end with me – I am dying – and I shall die unlamented by any human being.” The timing of this scene is particularly relevant to understanding what Lady Delacour means by ‘frolic’. This shared moment between Belinda and Lady Delacour comes immediately after the masquerade, where both women dressed up with masks – and where Lady Delacour’s reputation, which has been clearly stated up to this point, is proved. After this scene, Lady Delacour reveals her life story to Belinda – in which she describes the ways she has loved and lost in her life. I think that Lady Delacour, upon her terminal diagnosis, comes to terms with the ways in which her love for dramatics – and preference for masking herself as something she is not – (both literally and figuratively), has proven to be a waste of her own time. Her concern for pleasing the people around her – playing a “role” both in the way that is seen in the masquerade, but also in pretending to be happy in her life and marriage, has caught up to her in her final moments. In referring to ‘frolic’, I think Lady Delacour means that her love of transformation – sometimes as a social activity (masquerade) and more often, as a way of hiding her true situation – has left her in a loveless marriage and without personal peace. When she claims to have served the world more than herself – she refers to the way in which she keeps up her lively, theatrical appearances for those around her, before putting her own happiness first. Throughout the rest of the novel, “frolic” is used in many contexts – often referring to actions done out of fun or play. I think Lady Delacour’s confession to Belinda is a cautionary one – relating back to the moral tale, as this comes right after Belinda is thoroughly embarrassed about her and her family’s reputation at the masquerade. To her, her love of frolic has often filled the other voids in her life, and a form of escape. In this moment, faced with death, she wishes she prioritized differently.
Paper Topic Exploration: Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet as a Father-Daughter Relationship
Pride and Prejudice is unique among Austen’s novels for its strong representation of the male voice and character development. Mr. Bennet serves an interesting role in particular, as one of the only significant father figures seen among Austen’s first three works (Sense and Sensibility, Love & Friendship, and Pride and Prejudice). His relationship with Elizabeth is unique to any other parent-child relationship in Austen’s novels, as Mr. Bennet not only shows an obvious preference for his second-eldest daughter, but also a deeply rooted sense of respect that he does not afford his wife, or his other four daughters. In many ways, Mr. Bennet’s treatment of Elizabeth helps paint her as the strong, intelligent character that she is, as he is upfront about why he prefers her to her more “flighty” sisters. Their close relationship seems to be built upon the qualities they share, most of which are coded as “masculine” during this time. Elizabeth’s intellect, wit, love of reading, and pride are shared with her father, and while their relationship is in many ways defined by their similarities, Mr. Bennet’s inability to understand the fundamental challenges that his daughter faces helps illuminate the limits of his capability as a father. Mr. Bennet, as the first and prominent father character in Austen’s novels, in his relationship with his daughter Elizabeth, shows that his inability to identify with the struggles of his children, many of which are rooted in gender limits, define his father-daughter relationships.
Mr. Bennet asking Elizabeth what she thinks of the proposed marriage is an incredibly important moment in the novel. The conversation that Mr. Bennet has with Elizabeth is a means of giving her a voice in a situation when she normally has little to no say. However, Mr. Bennet asks her what she wants in a marriage, completely ignoring the concerns of social and financial security that marriage means for Elizabeth. This lack of concern for these elements of marriage demonstrate Mr. Bennet’s privileged ignorance to this type of concern. Though his relationship with Elizabeth proves to be one built out of respect, his inability to acknowledge her situation beyond the similarities they share show the limits of his parenting.
When Miss Caroline Bingley approaches Elizabeth with information regarding Wickham and Darcy, it is a rare moment of sincerity, that unfortunately goes unacknowledged due to her preceding reputation with Elizabeth. The moment in question occurs at the Netherfield ball, after Darcy and Elizabeth dance together, and Elizabeth is weary given her recent revelations about Darcy’s behavior with Wickham as told by Wickham. Miss Bingley immediately finds Elizabeth, making a point of bringing up the situation between Darcy and Wickham after hearing about Elizabeth’s recent friendship with him.
Miss Bingley is extremely upfront about her intention in approaching Elizabeth and offers the information she has without any prompting from Elizabeth herself. The general “rules” of conversation – rules that often promote roundabout ways of getting information, backhand compliments, and manipulation shrouded in good intention, are completely thrown out in this exchange. Miss Bingley is direct and to the point, addressing an issue that she has no business with, out of a direct concern she has about Elizabeth’s relationship with Darcy and Wickham.
What is most interesting about this conversation is that Elizabeth, who thinks herself a good judge of truth, intention, and character, misjudges the entire exchange. Elizabeth sees Miss Bingley’s need to intrude as an annoying form of meddling, and a product of her love of Darcy which may blind her to his extreme faults. Elizabeth has good reason to believe the information to be both unreliable, and incredibly subjective to Miss Bingley’s opinion of Darcy. However, everything Miss Bingley says turns out to be both reliable and objective.
This conversation is out of character for Miss Bingley, both based on her character and based on the social norms that she is familiar with. That is to say, Miss Bingley normally converses in a way that puts her intentions first, and with much more passivity than activity in situations that do not directly concern her. This serves as a form of foreshadowing from Austen, who choses Miss Bingley as the bearer of this information in a completely uncharacteristic style, which signifies the importance of this moment. As Elizabeth will find out much later, this conversation would be worth her while.
Passage (Volume III Chapter xi):
Mrs. Dashwood feared to hazard any remark and ventured not to offer consolation. She now found that she has erred in relying on Elinor’s representation of herself; and justly concluded that everything had been expressly softened at the time, to spare her from an increase of unhappiness, suffering as she then had suffered for Marianne. She found that she had been misled by the careful, the considerate attention of her daughter, to think the attachment, which once she had so well understood, much slighter in reality than she had been wont to believe, or than it was now proved to be. She feared that under this persuasion she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind, to her Elinor; – that Marianne’s affliction, because more acknowledged, more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness, and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, and greater fortitude.
The passage above, which details Mrs. Dashwood’s emotional reckoning with herself upon realizing Elinor’s deep heartbreak about Edward, is a great example of the power of free indirect discourse. The use of free indirect discourse in this moment is especially interesting because it is a rare moment of role-reversal between Elinor and her mother. Throughout Sense and Sensibility, Elinor has moments of free indirect discourse that show her careful and complex analysis of the characters around her. Mrs. Dashwood, up to this point, is not a character with much emotional depth – and is mainly characterized by her own sensibility. In this moment, however, she is the character whose mind we are given access to, and it is at a time when she is recognizing Elinor’s emotional fragility. The use of this technique helps shed light on the gravity of the moment for Mrs. Dashwood, and allows us as readers to be privy to a very intimate moment of self-reflection on motherhood.
Mrs. Dashwood realizes that she was completely blind to Elinor’s heartbreak, because she doesn’t express things the way Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood do. She not only recognizes her own shortcomings in this situation, but also seems to understand a dimension of Elinor that she had previously misunderstood. She finally can see that Elinor’s outward strength, emotional-containment, and overall lack of sensibility does not exclude her from the most human feelings of love and heartbreak. Moreover, Mrs. Dashwood’s inability to recognize this any earlier allowed her to give her attention to Marianne, forgetting that Elinor may be suffering just as much, and isolated in this struggle. This moment is extremely sad – not only because the depth of Elinor’s heartbreak becomes apparent, but also because Mrs. Dashwood is faced with a reality that she has long ignored – that her daughter Elinor, no matter how strong on the outside, is just as fragile as her other daughters. This moment is the singular opportunity we get as readers to hear Mrs. Dashwood’s inner thoughts, and Austen uses free indirect discourse to comment not only on Mrs. Dashwood, but also her two daughters, from a fresh perspective and in a pivotal moment.
When the Steele sisters arrive at Barton at the request of Lord Middleton, Elinor immediately sizes up the two sisters, Lucy and Anne. Elinor’s first impression of the sisters is based on their behavior with Lady Middleton and her children. Austen writes, “Elinor soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when she saw with what constant and judicious attentions, they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton” (117). As the sisters continue to give attention to the Middleton children and converse with their mother, Elinor’s opinion of them is only solidified as women who possess a sense for their social surrounding. This immediate evaluation of the Steeles says as much about the Steeles as it does as about Elinor’s concept of “sense”. Elinor’s acute perception of social structure and dynamics, and her attention to social dynamic are evident in this moment, and her ability to recognize the behaviors of others in this dynamic is particularly unique to her. The fact that Elinor is able to so quickly identify the benefit/motives of their actions as sensible is indicative of her own sense as well.
The Steele sisters’ reputation becomes complicated after this initial moment. Their actions warrant judgement from Elinor regarding their status and education, but they remain “agreeable” nonetheless. It is particularly interesting that Elinor’s primary evaluation of the sisters is in regard to their sense, because once Lucy shares her secret engagement with Elinor, the narrative becomes explicitly about Elinor trying to understand why and how Lucy chose her as her sole confidant. This choice may appear to be an act of naiveté, which could contradict Elinor’s initial judgement. However, I believe an alternate reading of this choice demonstrates Lucy’s “sense” even further, as Lucy’s decision to tell Elinor about her engagement may be a more calculated move, rooted in jealousy or manipulation. Elinor is the most sensible character in the novel up to this point, therefore her initial judgement of Lucy Steele as a woman of some sense is important because it identifies a similarity between them. Lucy and Elinor both possess “sense”, and their mutual love of Edward brings them even closer together. Perhaps Lucy Steele has more depth and sense than Elinor is willing to give her credit for, especially after finding out about Lucy’s engagement to Edward.
Blog Posts for English 246 Spring 2020