August 27, 2014

Why I Appreciate Edward Ferrars and You Should Too

We're nearing the end of Austen in August, hosted by The Book Rat, and I've been very much enjoying the various posts for this event! I've noticed a strange, sad pattern emerging, however, and that is: nobody really seems to like Edward Ferrars.

This is an error that must be rectified, and hence I bring you: the List of Reasons to Appreciate Edward Ferrars.

1.) He's honourable.

To a fault, perhaps, and many readers seem to think it is a fault — that his determination to uphold the engagement to Lucy Steele is nearer stupidity than anything else. But at that time, men breaking off engagements was not done. Edward would have been considered a monstrously insensitive jerk, if you will, for doing so. Not to mention it would have given Lucy Steele the opportunity to sue him for "breach of promise". (And knowing Lucy Steele, she just might have!)

This commitment to honour can also help to explain why he does not tell Elinor about the engagement — it's a secret, after all, and doubtless both he and Lucy agreed to keep it so (although obviously she doesn't keep up her end of the bargain!) — and why he does not truly pursue Elinor. Of course, they are drawn to each other and since she doesn't know about his engagement, she hopes for a proposal...but really, Edward does not do anything that blatantly signals his intentions to propose. (Unlike, say, Willoughby, who takes a lock of Marianne's hair and then absconds to London to get hitched to Miss Grey with her 50,000 pounds.)

Basically, in a rather sticky situation Edward is being a gentleman the best way he knows how, as well as steering clear of a lawsuit.

2.) He doesn't care about climbing the rungs of society.

Unlike his relatives, Edward's not all about status or wealth.

"But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished—as—they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Mrs. John Dashwood wished it likewise; but in the mean while, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambition to see him driving a barouche. But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life."

Won't be THAT quiet with all those chickens around... (gif source)
Rather, he's interested in becoming a clergyman and taking care of his parish. In fact, he places such little importance on social position that he is willing to risk his own — not once but twice — by becoming engaged to women his family disapproves of (and then in the case of Elinor, actually marrying her).

And the fact that he's nothing like his sister is enough to put him into Mrs. Dashwood's good books immediately: "'It is enough," said she; "to say that he is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already.'"

3.) He's practical.

Remarkably pragmatic, in point of fact. When discussing a scenic view, he says,

"I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower—and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world."

So, let's be honest: with that sort of level head he'd probably be very good at fixing things around the house!

And chopping wood. See? (The wet shirt doesn't hurt, either.)

4.) He doesn't cave to pressure from his family.

On two scores, actually — that he break off the engagement to Lucy Steele, and that he choose a distinguished sort of career. Edward knows who he is, and he isn't going to be coerced or persuaded to betray his values. As he says, "I wish as well as every body else to be perfectly happy; but, like every body else it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so."

5.) He's funny.

Not, like, Mr. Tilney funny, but Edward has a sense of humour. It's on the dry, subtle side, so maybe some readers just miss it, but it's there. I think it's one of the reasons Elinor is attracted to him, frankly — because it's similar to her own sense of humour.

By way of example:

"Now, Edward," said [Marianne], calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Barton valley. Look up to it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."

"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must be dirty in winter."

"How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"

"Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."

6.) He can hold his own in a verbal fencing match.

He and Marianne often find themselves in the midst of a good-natured argument, and Edward gives as good as he gets. (Plus, he gets extra points for having the patience to deal with Marianne at all.)

Case in point:

"What magnificent orders would travel from this family to London," said Edward, "in such an event! What a happy day for booksellers, music-sellers, and print-shops! You, Miss Dashwood, would give a general commission for every new print of merit to be sent you—and as for Marianne, I know her greatness of soul, there would not be music enough in London to content her. And books!—Thomson, Cowper, Scott—she would buy them all over and over again: she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree. Should not you, Marianne? Forgive me, if I am very saucy. But I was willing to shew you that I had not forgot our old disputes."

"I love to be reminded of the past, Edward—whether it be melancholy or gay, I love to recall it—and you will never offend me by talking of former times. You are very right in supposing how my money would be spent—some of it, at least—my loose cash would certainly be employed in improving my collection of music and books."

"And the bulk of your fortune would be laid out in annuities on the authors or their heirs."

"No, Edward, I should have something else to do with it."

"Perhaps, then, you would bestow it as a reward on that person who wrote the ablest defence of your favourite maxim, that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life—your opinion on that point is unchanged, I presume?"

"Undoubtedly. At my time of life opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should now see or hear any thing to change them."

7.) He admits when he's made a mistake.

Edward's no idiot, he realizes it was a mistake to get engaged to Lucy — indeed, he calls it a "foolish, idle inclination" — but hindsight is always 20-20. At least he's able to own up when he's wrong. 

8.) He's relatable.

I think perhaps this is what some readers least like about Edward, whether or not they realize it. He's more ordinary than Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth or Colonel Brandon. Edward is an introvert, who enjoys the simple pleasures of a quiet life in a parish. Also, I rather suspect he might struggle with some mental health issues — namely, anxiety and depression. His "want of spirits" is mentioned more than once, and he often seems rather down and moody. Of course, perhaps it's just due to the situation he's in, but I think he may have a general tendency to anxiety/depression.

Looking serious.
Edward doesn't go in for grand gestures like Mr. Darcy (paying for weddings, hmmmm?) or grand turns of phrase like Captain Wentworth ("you pierce my soul; I am half agony, half hope"). He doesn't have a tragic backstory like Colonel Brandon. And he isn't quite as...well, Mr. Knightley.

After all, Edward screwed up. He made a poor, impetuous decision when he was younger to get engaged to a woman he later realized he did not love. He's flawed. And yet that is what is so often celebrated in contemporary novels — characters you can really identify with, ones who feel real — so why do we wish, or perhaps even expect, our Austen heroes to be extraordinary?

There are likely far more Edwards walking around in the real world than there are Fitzwilliams or Fredericks. And given the above list — that's fine by me.

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