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Miss Moore asks: I was just wondering about Sense and Sensibility . . . . Throughout the latter part of the book, does Lucy Steele have any knowledge of Edward’s love for Elinor or vice versa? Because if I’m not mistaken, they mention that Elinor is fond of a man by the name of Ferrars and then Lucy proceeds to tell her of the engagement. Just something I was wondering about.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Oh yes, Miss Moore, Lucy Steele knew about Edward and Elinor all right! At least, she had suspected Edward was falling for someone else, and when “the elusive Mr. F” is brought up, she deduces that that someone is Elinor. She knew they had been staying in the same house. And Marianne makes such a big deal of it that it’s obvious Elinor is fond of Edward too.
So at this point, Lucy knows her fiancé is tired of her and in love with someone else, who loves him back. I can see why you’re confused. Why should Lucy tell Elinor that she is engaged to Edward, unless she’s dumb or flat-out evil? You would think that she would just break up with Edward, or that he, if he had a spine, would break up with her, end of story. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. You have to remember that marriage for these women was a job: it was their source of income and social security. Quoting poor Charlotte Lucas: “[marriage] was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” Lucy doesn’t especially want the future job of being Edward’s wife, but it’s good enough until something better comes along. I’m sure we’ve all had jobs like that.
Lucy knows that Edward won’t break up with her because he is a Man of Honour. In all the English novels I’ve ever read, Men of Honour cannot ask women to be their wives and then dump them. You might call it job security for wives. Oh, men can get up to anything they want to get the woman to break the engagement, but they can’t break it themselves. If they did, the woman could actually sue them in court for Breach of Promise, so you can see how serious it was.
If Lucy was a heroically nice sort of girl, her reaction to learning that Edward loved someone else would have been to offer to release him from the engagement. But she isn’t. She’s “on the make” as they used to say—scrambling up the socioeconomic ladder by any means possible. So she lets Elinor know that Edward is taken. She says, “Back off, b****! He’s mine!” and she tries to convince Elinor that Edward really loves her and not Elinor. In doing that she’s making sure she keeps her job until she gets a better one; that is, until she marries Edward’s brother.
I hope that made sense. It’s kind of like a soap opera, isn’t it?Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Charlotte Lucas, Edward Ferrars, Elinor Dashwood, Jane Austen, Lucy Steele, Marianne Dashwood, marriage, Sense and Sensibility on Monday, February 7, 2011 · 4 Comments »