Monday, March 14, 2011

Lovers' Vows

Lovers' Vows. Elizabeth Inchbald.1798/2007. Dodo Press. 84 pages*. [You can read the play online here.]
Landlord: No, no! no room for you any longer--It is the fair today in the next village; as great a fair as any in the German dominions. The country people with their wives and children take up every corner we have.
Agatha: You will turn a poor sick woman out of doors who has spent her last farthing in your house.
Landlord: For that very reason; because she has spent her last farthing.
Agatha: I can work.
Landlord: You can hardly move your hands.
Agatha: My strength will come again.
Landlord: Then you may come again.
Agatha: What am I to do? Where shall I go?
Landlord: It is fine weather--you may go any where.  
Lovers' Vows was the play being "acted" within the Bertram home in Jane Austen's novel, Mansfield Park. Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram disapprove of their selection, thinking Ms. Inchbald's play *most* improper. (Though they would most likely disapprove of any play being performed (or rehearsed) without the support and permission of Mr. Bertram.) Since the play was included in the Norton Critical edition of Mansfield Park, I thought I would read it myself and see what all the fuss was about!

Agatha is a fallen woman. As a teen girl, she worked for a time for a wealthy family. The son in the family--the man who would become Baron Wildenhaim--seduced her with pretty words and promises of marriage. She conceived a child and left in disgrace. She was able to support herself and her young son. But it was a constant struggle to survive. Since her son has grown up and joined the army, well, the struggle has become more severe. When the play opens, she is in great danger.

Frederick, Agatha's son, happens upon her. Never expecting to find his mother cast off in the street, sick, alone, starving. What little money he has, he will spend providing for his mother's most immediate needs. He is able to learn the truth about his past; he is able to learn his father's name. But the mother is under the impression that the man who abandoned her is far, far away with a wife and child. That isn't quite the case.

Baron Wildenhaim has recently returned with his grown daughter, Amelia. (His wife has died.) Count Cassel is the man who is determined to win Amelia's hand in marriage. But, Baron is not impressed with the man's character. There is something about him that makes him not like the Count. So he keeps asking Amelia how she feels about the Count. Does she like him? Does she respect him? Could she see herself marrying him? Baron would LOVE for the Count to have the kind of integrity and intelligence of Mr. Anhalt.

Anhalt is a close friend of the family; he has tutored Amelia in many subjects. Now she is asking him to tutor her in the art of love. For she is madly in love with him, and sees him as the only man she could happily marry. He's not of her social class, so he's hesitant at first. But he loves her too. And if Amelia can persuade her father to allow the marriage, he'll happily marry her.

So what happens when Frederick meets Baron Wildenhaim? Neither knows the identity of the other. And I'm afraid Frederick doesn't make the best impression on the Baron. No! Frederick is begging him for money--money to support his mother--and when the Baron isn't able to give him enough, well, Frederick threatens to kill him. He's then imprisoned by the Baron, what will be his fate?!

Will the Baron discover Agatha's present condition? How does he feel about her after all these years? Has he felt the guilt as she has? Will Frederick reveal himself to his father? Will his father welcome him home and forgive him? How will Amelia adapt to having a brother? Will Anhalt and Amelia be allowed to wed?

I enjoyed many things about this play. But I think probably my favorite character was Verdun the Butler. He was so funny! He loved to talk in poetry, in verse, and when the Baron (and the others) begged him to talk in prose, he had such difficulty that he always slipped up and went back to verse! Anyway, maybe you'd have to read it in context to think that was funny. But it worked well for me! 

The love scene between Amelia and Anhalt:
Amelia [Alone]: Why am I so uneasy; so peevish; who has offended me? I did not mean to come into this room. In the garden I intended to go. [going, turns back] No, I will not—yes, I will—just go, and look if my auriculas are still in blossom; and if the apple tree is grown which Mr. Anhalt planted.—I feel very low-spirited—something must be the matter.—Why do I cry?—Am I not well? [Enter Mr. Anhalt.] Ah! good morning, my dear Sir—Mr. Anhalt, I meant to say—I beg pardon.
Anhalt: Never mind, Miss Wildenhaim—I don't dislike to hear you call me as you did.
Amelia: In earnest?
Anhalt: Really. You have been crying. May I know the reason? The loss of your mother, still?—
Amelia: No—I have left off crying for her.
Anhalt: I beg pardon if I have come at an improper hour; but I wait upon you by the commands of your father.
Amelia: You are welcome at all hours. My father has more than once told me that he who forms my mind I should always consider as my greatest benefactor. [looking down] And my heart tells me the same.
Anhalt: I think myself amply rewarded by the good opinion you have of me.
Amelia: When I remember what trouble I have sometimes given you, I cannot be too grateful.
Anhalt [to himself]: Oh! Heaven!—[to Amelia] I.—I come from your father with a commission.—If you please, we will sit down. [He places chairs, and they sit] Count Cassel is arrived.
Amelia: Yes, I know.
Anhalt: And do you know for what reason?
Amelia: He wishes to marry me.
Anhalt: Does he? [hastily] But believe me, the Baron will not persuade you—No, I am sure he will not.
Amelia: I know that.
Anhalt: He wishes that I should ascertain whether you have an inclination—
Amelia: For the Count, or for matrimony do you mean?
Anhalt: For matrimony.
Amelia: All things that I don't know, and don't understand, are quite indifferent to me.
Anhalt: For that very reason I am sent to you to explain the good and the bad of which matrimony is composed.
Amelia: Then I beg first to be acquainted with the good.
Anhalt: When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life. When such a wedded pair find thorns in their path, each will be eager, for the sake of the other, to tear them from the root. Where they have to mount hills, or wind a labyrinth, the most experienced will lead the way, and be a guide to his companion. Patience and love will accompany them in their journey, while melancholy and discord they leave far behind.—Hand in hand they pass on from morning till evening, through their summer's day, till the night of age draws on, and the sleep of death overtakes the one. The other, weeping and mourning, yet looks forward to the bright region where he shall meet his still surviving partner, among trees and flowers which themselves have planted, in fields of eternal verdure.
Amelia:Tell my father—I'll marry. [Rises.]
Anhalt [Rising.]: This picture is pleasing; but I must beg you not to forget that there is another on the same subject.—When convenience, and fair appearance joined to folly and ill-humour, forge the fetters of matrimony, they gall with their weight the married pair. Discontented with each other—at variance in opinions—their mutual aversion increases with the years they live together. They contend most, where they should most unite; torment, where they should most soothe. In this rugged way, choked with the weeds of suspicion, jealousy, anger, and hatred, they take their daily journey, till one of these also sleep in death. The other then lifts up his dejected head, and calls out in acclamations of joy—Oh, liberty! dear liberty!
Amelia: I will not marry.
Anhalt: You mean to say, you will not fall in love.
Amelia: Oh no! [Ashamed] I am in love.
Anhalt: Are in love! [starting] And with the Count?
Amelia: I wish I was.
Anhalt: Why so?
Amelia: Because he would, perhaps, love me again.
Anhalt [warmly]: Who is there that would not?
Amelia: Would you?
Anhalt: I—I—me—I—I am out of the question.
Amelia: No; you are the very person to whom I have put the question.
Anhalt: What do you mean?
Amelia: I am glad you don't understand me. I was afraid I had spoken too plain. [in confusion]
Anhalt: Understand you!—As to that—I am not dull.
Amelia: I know you are not—And as you have for a long time instructed me, why should not I now begin to teach you?
Anhalt:Teach me what?
Amelia: Whatever I know, and you don't.
Anhalt: There are some things I had rather never know.
Amelia: So you may remember I said when you began to teach me mathematics. I said I had rather not know it—But now I have learnt it gives me great deal of pleasure—and [hesitating] perhaps who can tell, but that I might teach something as pleasant to you, as resolving a problem is to me.
Anhalt: Woman herself is a problem.
Amelia: And I'll teach you to make her out.
Anhalt: You teach?
Amelia: Why not? none but a woman can teach the science of herself: and though I own I am very young, a young woman may be as agreeable for a tutoress as an old one.—I am sure I always learnt faster from you than from the old clergyman who taught me before you came.
Anhalt: This is nothing to the subject.
Amelia: What is the subject?
Anhalt: Love.
Amelia [going up to him] Come, then, teach it me—teach it me as you taught me geography, languages, and other important things.
Anhalt [turning from her]: Pshaw!
Amelia: Ah! you won't—you know you have already taught me that, and you won't begin again.
Anhalt: You miscontrue—you misconceive every thing I say or do. The subject I came to you upon was marriage.
Amelia: A very proper subject from the man who has taught me love, and I accept the proposal. [curtsying]
Anhalt: Again you misconceive and confound me.
Amelia: Ay, I see how it is—You have no inclination to experience with me "the good part of matrimony:" I am not the female with whom you would to go "hand in hand up hills, and through labyrinths"—with whom you would like to "root up thorns; and with whom you would delight to plant lilies and roses." No, you had rather call, "Oh liberty, dear liberty."
Anhalt: Why do you force from me, what it is villainous to own?—I love you more than life—Oh, Amelia! had we lived in those golden times, which the poets picture, no one but you—But as the world is changed, your birth and fortune make our union impossible—To preserve the character, and more the feelings of an honest man, I would not marry you without the consent of your father—And could I, dare I propose it to him.
Amelia: He has commanded me never to conceal or disguise the truth. I will propose it to him. The subject of the Count will force me to speak plainly, and this will be the most proper time, while he can compare the merit of you both.
Anhalt: I conjure you not to think of exposing yourself and me to his resentment.
Amelia: It is my father's will that I should marry—It is my father's wish to see me happy—If then you love me as you say, I will marry; and will be happy—but only with you.—I will tell him this.—At first he will start; then grow angry; then be in a passion—In his passion he will call me "undutiful"—but he will soon recollect himself, and resume his usual smiles, saying "Well, well, if he love you, and you love him, in the name of heaven, let it be."—Then I shall hug him round the neck, kiss his hands, run away from him, and fly to you; it will soon be known that I am your bride, the whole village will come to wish me joy, and heaven's blessing will follow.

*I read Lovers' Vows in the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Edited by Claudia L. Johnson. Published in 1998. As I didn't know *how* to cite that properly, I searched for an edition of the play on its own.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Readers Compass said...

Sounds great!

Kate Evangelista said...

Hi Becky,

I'm Kate Evangelista, author of Taste, and I just wanted to take this time to introduce myself. If you have the time, please stop by The Coffee Bar by using the link below:

I hope to see you there.


Ashley said...

I have never heard of this book, but the excerpt you so kindly provided is so romantic. I'm definitely reading it now.