Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.
We’ve talked about fantasy casting a little bit here, and I’ve had several spirited conversations with fellow readers-along about who could play Cecilia or Mortimer. I preferred Saoirse Ronan for Cecilia, and one reader in particular is gunning for Ben Wishaw as Morty.
But readers, I saw a movie trailer this week that changes everything.
Masquerades. Mind games. Meddling mothers. WE HAVE OUR MORTY.
And you know Jamie Dornan can rock a periwig:
Anyhoo, readers, chime in with your dream casting and read on for my last recap:
After Mrs. Charlton’s untimely death, we’re back at Mr. Monckton’s. Cecilia’s house will be ready for her in two months, and in the meantime, she needs to settle up with her two remaining guardians. To London! Monckton manipulates Cecilia and his wife to ensure he gets to be there every step of the way. Gross.
Mr. Briggs and Mr. Delvile don’t exactly rush to meet with Cecilia, so she goes to the bookstore. You know, if it wasn’t basically a requirement for women to marry at this time, I think Cecilia would have been very happy just reading:
On the third morning, weary of her own thoughts, weary of Lady Margaret’s ill-humoured looks, and still more weary of Miss Bennet’s parasitical conversation, she determined, for a little relief to the heaviness of her mind, to go to her bookseller, and look over and order into the country such new publications as seemed to promise her any pleasure.
As usual, Cecilia runs into people in the darndest places. She finds Mr. Belfield at the booksellers, because he is now a pretentious writer instead of a pretentious back-to-the-land type. Cecilia remembers that his sister, Henrietta, exists, and goes off to see her. Now she’s got to deal with extremely annoying Mrs. Belfield and Mr. Hobson.
Cecilia gets all involved in the drama between Mr. Belfield and his family and it’s like, girl, you have enough drama of your own, plus everyone thinks you’re banging this guy and this isn’t helping.
Finally, Cecilia settles her accounts with her guardians. Mr. Briggs and Mr. Delvile are for sure my favourite couple in this book:
“Must, must!” cried Briggs, “tell all his old grand-dads else: keeps ’em in a roll; locks ’em in a closet; says his prayers to ’em; can’t live without ’em: likes ’em better than cash!—wish had ’em here! pop ’em all in the sink!”
“If your intention, Sir,” cried Mr Delvile, fiercely, “is only to insult me, I am prepared for what measures I shall take. I declined seeing you in my own house, that I might not be under the same restraint as when it was my unfortunate lot to meet you last.”
“Who cares?” cried Briggs, with an air of defiance, “what can do, eh? poke me into a family vault? bind me o’ top of an old monument? tie me to a stinking carcase? make a corpse of me, and call it one of your famous cousins?—”
But fun and games are over when Mr. Delvile let’s Cecilia in on a secret: someone’s been putting poison in his ear about her this whole time:
“I mean not, ma’am, narrowly to go into, or investigate the subject; what I have said you may make your own use of; I have only to observe further, that when young women, at your time of life, are at all negligent of so nice a thing as reputation, they commonly live to repent it.”
He then arose to go, but Cecilia, not more offended than amazed, said, “I must beg, Sir, you will explain yourself!”
“Certainly this matter,” he answered, “must be immaterial to me: yet, as I have once been your guardian by the nomination of the Dean your uncle, I cannot forbear making an effort towards preventing any indiscretion: and frequent visits to a young man—”
“Good God! Sir,” interrupted Cecilia, “what is it you mean?”
After some more charity work with Mr. Albany, Cecilia gets “caught” in Mr. Belfield’s back room (not an euphemism) while visiting Henrietta and it looks kind of bad. Morty controls his jealousy… for now. But Mr. Delvile is like “told ya so.” Cecilia moves into her own house, and makes good on her promise to give Mrs. Harrell a room. Luckily we don’t get much dialogue from her, because ugh.
At the end of Book 9, Morty makes his second interesting speech of the book, after a pep talk from Cecilia:
“You know not what you say!—all noble as you are, the sacrifice I have to propose—”
“Speak it,” cried she, “with confidence! speak it even with certainty of success! I will be wholly undisguised, and openly, honestly own to you, that no proposal, no sacrifice can be mentioned, to which I will not instantly agree, if first it has had the approbation of Mrs Delvile.”
So yes, Morty is proposing again, but THIS time, he’s got it figured out, AND his mom and dad are okay with it: Cecilia will change her name to Delvile, they’ll give up her $3,000 a year and live off her $10,000 lump sum which she’s already inherited. EXCEPT, she’s already spent that $10K on the Harrells, and Mr. Delvile knew that, which makes him extremely evil for allowing Morty to get his hopes up. They decide to go ahead anyway and become poor. I’m not sure why they couldn’t just wait a couple of years and allow Cecilia to amass a bunch of that sweet Uncle inheritance money, but I guess they probably *really can’t wait* to be married.
Okay, we have a plan… but Cecilia insists Morty go back to Mommy and get her okay, which causes a war between the senior Delviles, and eventually Mrs. Delvile gives her consent, independent of Mr. Delvile, who refuses to say who’s telling tales about Cecilia. And we end with the most unromantic wedding ever:
The ceremony was begun; Cecilia, rather mechanically than with consciousness, appearing to listen to it but at the words, If any man can shew any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, Delvile himself shook with terror, lest some concealed person should again answer it, and Cecilia, with a sort of steady dismay in her countenance, cast her eyes round the church, with no other view than that of seeing from what corner the prohibiter would start.
She looked, however, to no purpose; no prohibiter appeared, the ceremony was performed without any interruption, and she received the thanks of Delvile, and the congratulations of the little set, before the idea which had so strongly pre-occupied her imagination, was sufficiently removed from it to satisfy her she was really married.
They then went to the vestry, where their business was not long; and Delvile again put Cecilia into a chair, which again he accompanied on foot.
Oh! You thought we were done?
No no, see, Cecilia must conceal her marriage for as long as possible because of 18th century reasons. Like, Morty must go tell his father in person first, before the rest of the world can know, while Cecilia continues living with Henrietta and Mrs. Harrell like nothing’s happened, which was fine and dandy until an obscure cousin shows up and is like, excuse me miss, you got married and changed your name so I’ll just go ahead and take your house and money now…
But we get some come-uppance, too. Cecilia’s latest charity case JUST HAPPENS to be the pew-opener at the church where Cecilia’s first attempted wedding took place, and helps Cecilia crack the case of who objected: ’twas Lady Monckton’s maid, which means, ’twas Mr. Monckton. Confirming all Cecilia’s suspicions.
Morty decides to make matters even worse by challenging Mr. Monckton to a duel and damn near kills him.
Cecilia is hitting rock bottom: everyone knows all her business, her husband is a fugitive, and she’s homeless. She’s so desperate she applies to Mr. Delvile senior for help, and is denied. So she decides to go to France to join Morty, only, she has no life skills (not her fault, blame the patriarchy) and applies to Mr. Belfield for help.
Goddamn it Cecilia, why not talk to Mr. Albany? Mr. Briggs? A stranger on the street? Do you NEVER LEARN?
So yeah, everything gets mixed up, Morty returns and finds her in an awkward situation with Mr. Belfield AGAIN, and storms off. Cecilia, with good reason, fears Morty will kill Belfield, and tries to pursue them in a hired coach with sycophant Mr. Simpkins as escort. In one of the most evocative scenes in the book, Cecilia is restrained by one brutish man, while another man quibbles over money, surrounded by a mob of simpletons, and this is the patriarchy, people:
Cecilia, too full of hope and impatience for this delay, forced open the door herself, and without saying another word, jumped out of the carriage, with intention to run down the street; but the coachman immediately seizing her, protested she should not stir till he was paid.
In the utmost agony of mind at an hindrance by which she imagined Delvile would be lost to her perhaps for ever, she put her hand in her pocket, in order to give up her purse for her liberty; but Mr Simkins, who was making a tiresome expostulation with the coachman, took it himself, and declaring he would not see the lady cheated, began a tedious calculation of his fare.
“O pay him any thing!” cried she, “and let us be gone! an instant’s delay may be fatal!”
Mr Simkins, too earnest to conquer the coachman to attend to her distress, continued his prolix harangue concerning a disputed shilling, appealing to some gathering spectators upon the justice of his cause; while his adversary, who was far from sober, still held Cecilia, saying the coach had been hired for the lady, and he would be paid by herself.
“Good God!” cried the agitated Cecilia,—”give him my purse at once!—give him every thing he desires!”—
The coachman, at this permission, encreased his demands, and Mr Simkins, taking the number of his coach, protested he would summons him to the Court of Conscience the next morning. A gentleman, who then came out of the coffee-house, offered to assist the lady, but the coachman, who still held her arm, swore he would have his right.
“Let me go! let me pass!” cried she, with encreasing eagerness and emotion; “detain me at your peril!—release me this moment—only let me run to the end of the street,—good God! good Heaven! detain me not for mercy!”
From here, shit gets GOTHIC. This is the craziest shit I’ve read since The Monk – basically take out all the sex and criticism of the Catholic church, and you have the remaining chapters of Cecilia. Cecilia looses her mind, is literally a raving lunatic on the streets on London, and is basically kidnapped by some poor sap wanting to cash in on this rich-looking, but clearly bananas, lady.
Mr. Albany visits her as a charity case – not knowing who she is – and alerts the rest of the crew. Cecilia is very near death, which causes Mr. Delvile senior to come around at last, but rather than a heart-warming moment, it’s very cynical and I love it (and yes, this is the passage that supposedly inspired Ms. Austen):
“The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. Your uncle, the Dean, began it, by his arbitrary will, as if an ordinance of his own could arrest the course of nature! and as if he had power to keep alive, by the loan of a name, a family in the male branch already extinct. Your father, Mr Mortimer, continued it with the same self-partiality, preferring the wretched gratification of tickling his ear with a favourite sound, to the solid happiness of his son with a rich and deserving wife. Yet this, however, remember; if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination: for all that I could say to Mr Delvile, either of reasoning or entreaty,—and I said all I could suggest, and I suggested all a man need wish to hear,—was totally thrown away, till I pointed out to him hisown disgrace, in having a daughter-in-law immured in these mean lodgings!
So yes, we get our happy ending: Cecilia lives, Morty gets his father’s blessing, Mr. Monckton is disgraced, Henrietta marries Mr. Arnott, Mrs. Harrell finds another rich guy to marry, Mr. Belfield gets his shit together, and an obscure aunt leaves Cecilia some money so they won’t starve.
(I like to tack on an extra sentence to these old-timey marriage plots, along the lines of, “And she spent the next few decades gestating, birthing, and nursing children, several of whom died in infancy,” but let’s not do that. Happy ending! Happy ending!)