Monday, May 30, 2016

Desperate Remedies Part 5 - Burning Down the House

Hardy uses the revelation of Aeneas Manston's married status as an ironic opportunity to rehabilitate his character in the eyes of the reader. He doesn't struggle against his regrettable fate of being married to someone he does not love but, instead, works diligently to make his home ready for her. His failure to meet her at the right time is chalked up to a genuine misunderstanding.

In fact, Hardy draws a couple of new parallels between Manston and Edward Springrove that invite us to question if Cytherea's heart is unfairly biased towards the latter. Manston's unfortunate marriage calls to mind something Owen Graye says about Springrove earlier in the book, describing him as "an impulsive fellow who has been made to pay the penalty of his rashness in some love affair." Later, as Manston arrives in town, he sees Springrove for the first time, noting that "[b]ut for my wife, Springrove might have been my rival." Both are architects and their shared affection for Cytherea draws a clear line between them.

So it is a wicked trick Hardy plays in burning down the Carriford inn with the wayward Mrs. Manston inside. Upon this hinge, the two men's fortunes reverse.

Aeneas Manston is set free of his social obligation to his wife upon her death. His designs to woo Cytherea Graye had been brought to a grinding halt by the revelation that he was already married. This doesn't improve Cytherea's own social instability, as she remains reliant upon the capricious grace of Miss Aldclyffe as her employer but, at least, retaining that favor is no longer dependent on her reciprocating affection to the obviously smitten Manston. With the spectre of his wife's return banished, he is also free to retrain his sights on wearing down Cytherea's resolve.

The inn's destruction lands heavily on the Springrove family. The tenements, including the inn, were leased to Farmer Springrove along with the responsibility for having them restored. This debt, subtly enforced to Manston's benefit, threatens to send the family into a social chasm and pushes Edward out of the picture while Manston restarts his campaign to win Cytherea as his wife.

When Owen falls ill, Manston befriends and supports him. This proves to be the final point of leverage necessary to erode Cytherea's resistance to marrying a man that she does not love. Finally, the day arrives and the pair are married at Knapwater House. During the ceremony, Cytherea sees a grief-stricken Edward and all of her reservations about marrying Manston are confirmed. Though the ill-fated pair do manage a dramatic reunion far from the sight of others where miscommunications can be clarified, Cytherea is now married and they part with their love acknowledged but forever unconsummated.

This business of consummation becomes a suddenly important one as Cytherea and Manston leave for their honeymoon. It is revealed by a dying man that he saw the original Mrs. Manston after the inn had burned down, suggesting that she was, in fact, alive. Edward and Owen rush to the hotel where Cytherea and Manston are about to consummate their marriage and arrive just in time to stop them from doing so. This sets up the status quo for the remainder of the book, with Cytherea legally married to a man she doesn't love and spared from his touch only by the existence of a second Mrs. Manston.

This is also the section where Desperate Remedies abandons its pretenses of being a social novel and plunges into reversal after reversal to sell its pivot to the suspenseful.

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