explanation that "I detest cards. I shall go to the piano-forte; I have not touched it since it was tuned." (p. 162) By refusing to take part in the group activity of card playing, as essential a part of the social scene as dancing, and by choosing a solitary activity, Marianne implicitly refuses to share in any of the activities or attitudes of the people around her. By suggesting that she considers their choice of amusement beneath her, she implies that she also considers them beneath her. This is why her thoughtless remark is so rude. In a society held together entirely by such delicate glue as dinner-parties, polite conversation, dancing, cards and gossip, to reject any of these activities is to challenge the very structure and validity of that society. As Barbara Hardy has put it, "On [Austen's] sensitive scales, little things weigh heavy."
In the same scene, Elinor would also prefer not to play cards. She is eager to talk to Lucy about Edward and try to understand what could have propelled him into such a foolish engagement. By a subtle and cunning social manoeuvre - offering to help Lucy finish a basket for Lady Middleton's daughter - Elinor gets what she wants without offending anyone. Austen comments tartly that
"Thus, by a little of that address, which Marianne would never condescend to practice, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the same time." (p. 162)
Austen also shows in this scene how Marianne's rudeness leaves Elinor with the task of covering up for her; Elinor smoothes over the awkwardness of the moment by complimenting Lady Middleton on her piano and saying that it is no wonder that Marianne cannot stay away from it. Tony Tanner has equated Elinor's skill in covering up with her skill in screen painting, arguing that she is a social painter of screens as well as a literal one. Tanner also coined the phrase "necessary lies" to describe how Elinor negotiates with society: she accepts the "whole task of telling lies when politeness required it" (p. 144) because Marianne refuses ever to say anything that she does not feel. Again, Elinor is willing to participate in the activities and strategies that are required to hold society together while Marianne is not. Ironically, in the scene in London when Mrs. Ferrars is rude to Elinor, Marianne's refusal to conform causes more pain to Elinor than to anyone else. Mrs. Ferrars is disdainful about Elinor's painting and Marianne rallies to her sister's defence; Austen comments that, "Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's warmth, than she had been by what produced it" (p. 242). Austen makes it clear that the social code is more than just a set of meaningless niceties: when used rightly, it protects other people's feelings and saves them from embarrassment. Had Marianne controlled herself, Elinor would not have been subjected to the humiliation of having Mrs. Ferrars' rudeness made obvious and of seeing her sister expose herself in public.
Because Elinor is so implacable in her adherence to a social code in which politeness supersedes honesty and emotion, Marianne assumes that she has no feelings. When Edward and Elinor are first parted, for instance, Marianne is amazed that "[Elinor's] self-command is invariable". According to Marianne, the proper behaviour for someone who has just been separated from the person they love is to be "dejected" and "melancholy", "to avoid society, or to appear restless and dissatisfied in it" (p. 72) and she is dismayed that Elinor is not to conforming to this stereotype. She, of course, conforms to it completely when she is parted from Willoughby. Marianne has her own idea of how people should behave just as Elinor does, but hers is based on Romantic principles of the supremacy of emotion and the individual self rather than on the Classical values of restraint and harmony. She cannot see through the surface of Elinor's self-control to the suffering beneath, and of course Elinor does not intend her to: like everyone else, Marianne has been taken in by Elinor's social façade. In Sense and Sensibility, self-control is a form of self-defence, perhaps the only form available to women as dependent as those of Austen's day. Elinor's intention in hiding her feelings is to convince everyone that she does not have any and so to make herself immune to the public humiliation that Marianne suffers when Willoughby deserts her. By making it clear to everyone one around her how attached she is to Willoughby Marianne exposes herself to the gossip, clumsy sympathy and general scrutiny that follows the announcement of his engagement to Miss Grey.
Austen is clear that self-control is crucial for survival in the social context in which she places her heroines. She does not claim that they should be unfeeling, but that they should know how to control their feelings.
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