“‘If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy.’
‘But you would still be reserved,’ said Marianne, ‘and that is worse.’
Edward started – ‘Reserved! Am I reserved, Marianne?’
‘I do not understand you,’ replied he, colouring. ‘Reserved! – how, in what manner? What am I to tell you? What can you suppose?'” (125)
I don’t quite understand the way Austen uses the word “reserved”. This passage is just one incident of where the word pretty much implies an insult. The only thing I can figure is that in her day, it meant something akin to “secretive” – purposely hiding things that should really be out in the open. Edward, of course, is especially upset here because he is actually hiding something, and is afraid Marianne has twigged to it.
Another thing that struck me yesterday in reading this story is how Elinor’s reserve – or rather, her outwardly calm, self-controlled way of dealing with her emotions – is actually shooting her in the foot. I’ve mentioned before that I find her approach to life far more attractive than Marianne’s, who is constantly annoying me by her attitude that Elinor should be like herself and leak feelings all over the place. However, it occurred to me that if Marianne had been in Elinor’s place, falling in love with Edward back at the beginning of the story in Norland, there would have been no doubt whatsoever of that fact in Edward’s mind. But as is, Elinor is calm and collected, and Edward can delude himself that by sticking around Norland, he’s not harming anyone but himself, that Elinor feels only “friendship” for him – of course leading to their falling deeper in love the longer he stays. If he’d have knows that this is what he was doing to her, he’d have packed his bags and got out of there (being that sort of guy, the diametric opposite of Willoughby). So, really, Elinor’s reserve (in our meaning, not Austen’s) is a root cause of her problems, even though perhaps not as much as Marianne’s lack of it is for her.
Incidentally, that story replays in Pride and Prejudice – it’s Jane’s “serene countenance” which makes Darcy believe that “her heart is not likely to be easily touched”, and he talks Bingley into the belief that she’s not interested in him, setting off a whole avalanche of heartache and problems.
I guess Austen wasn’t as unreservedly (haha) on the side of “sense” as I thought she was. Even a good thing can be overdone.