Wordsworth: Edward Ferrars

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) is the Romantic poet who once said he wrote to “shew that men who did not wear fine clothes can feel deeply.”

Austen must have known of his poetry when she wrote Sense and Sensibility. She does not mention the poet in her work, least of all in connection with the slightly awkward Edward Ferrars.

Nevertheless, I believe the screenwriter Andrew Davies was onto something when he included a passage from Wordsworth’s beloved Tintern Abbey in the 1995 film adaptation of Austen’s novel:edward ferrars

I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air…

What connection can one possibly fathom between pedestrian Ferrars and the highflown language of Wordsworth? Besides, it was Willoughby who recited that passage.

Well, I’ll tell you…

A strong theme in Sense and Sensibility is the promotion of honesty, particularly in Christian marriage. Austen was the daughter of a cleric and strongly invested with the ideals of the good old C of E:

He, too, was awkward like Edward Ferrars, with a shy demeanor and a good humour adored by Charles Lamb.

He, too, was awkward like Edward Ferrars, with a shy demeanor and a good humour Charles Lamb adored.

In particular, for Austen, the marriage of men and women who have been transformed through “naked self-disclosure”, who have acknowledged their mistakes and who are now “poised to be active forces for good in their spheres, from village to town to nation to world.” — The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, by Laura Dabundo from a book review by Friar Paul Byrd, to be read in its full content here

Willoughby may have read Wordsworth’s words, but he was a dishonest character and we cannot suppose he felt “sense sublime” at all honestly. Edward Ferrars, on the other hand, was the honest character that Elinor Dashwood needed in a life-long companion. He revealed his mistake in engaging himself to Lucy Steele, yet remained faithful to it, without sentimentality attendant on thwarted love.

Once released, he turned his full devotion to the one he would best love, who was best suited to helping him be fully devoted to the ideal of Sense, versus Sensibility.

Recall how Edward read Cowper, and rather poorly in Marianne’s eyes. He did not fully engage in the feelings of overwrought nature:

“I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees…I have more pleasure in a farm-house than a watch-tower.”

He preferred the honesty of “nature put into practice” — a pleasure taken in nature, yet glorifying the utility it is put to. Any other “romanticizing” of nature is simply that–a useless ornament.

Like love that idles dormant.

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Regency Painters – Part Two

Young Woman Drawing - Villiers 1801

‘Only–If there did happen to be a gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?’

‘Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t,’ replied Freddy unequivocally.

‘Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,’ said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, ‘he might be wrought upon by jealousy.’

‘Who?’ demanded Freddy, out of his depth.

‘Anyone!’ said Kitty.

‘But there ain’t anyone!’ argued Freddy.

‘No,’ agreed Kitty, damped.  ‘It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence!  I shall seek a situation.’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Freddy, with unexpected firmness.  ‘That’s what you said last night.  Talked a lot of stuff about becoming a chambermaid.  Well, you can’t, that’s all.’

‘Oh, no!’ she assured him.  ‘Upon reflection, of course I perceived that wouldn’t answer.  And also I shouldn’t wonder at it if Hugh was quite at fault, and I might do very well as a governess.  To quite young children, you know, who don’t need instruction in Italian or Water-colour painting.’

‘Can’t do that either,’ said Freddy.

‘Well, really, Freddy!’ cried Miss Charing indignantly.  ‘Pray, what concern is it of yours?’

‘Good God, Kit, of course it’s my concern!’ retorted Freddy, moved to express himself strongly.  ‘You don’t suppose I’m going to have everyone saying you’d rather go for a governess than marry me, do you?  Nice gudgeon I should look!’

Cotillion, Georgette Heyer

No discussion of art during the Regency period can possibly omit the fine landscape painter J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851).  I’ve posted an example of his work here on the subject of Crichton Castle in Scotland.  His art, decidedly Romantic, elevated the medium of watercolor.  Without it, one could argue the Impressionist movement would not have been possible.  In any event, he brought about a decided preference for the liberating, poignant strokes of the finely executed watercolor.

It is no wonder that young ladies of the period, already steeped in gothic novels, should try to excel in this aspect of the fine arts. Indeed, in my earlier project, Notorious Vow, the heroine was rather self-conscious that the earl of Northam managed to catch a glimpse of some half-finished examples of her work in the medium.  She could not be certain, but he appeared to be rather amused at the sight of her abandoned canvases stacked neatly in her mother’s conservatory, as if in silent witness to the artist’s lack of focus and direction.  It was not quite the impression Vivien wanted to leave with the handsome earl.

Turner focussed strongly on emotional painting, using weather, fire, shipwrecks and other interactions with nature as primary subjects.  He is often called the painter of light.

Indeed, he was reported to have declared on his deathbed that “the sun is God.”

The Chapter House - Salisbury Cathedral (J. M. W. Turner)