There are little minute touches on the countenance sometimes, which are so transient they can hardly be overtaken by the eye, and which, from the passions being strongly guarded that give rise to these emotions, are so slight, that a common observer cannot discover them at all. I am sure my mother did not; but my sensibility was particularly rouzed at her relating a story that I did not then wish to have divulged; and I was too much interested in the narrative, not to attend precisely to its effects on the hearer.
Sidney Bidulph here asserts her expertise at physiognomic interpretation. In this case, it is not the configuration of Miss Burchell's facial features which give access to her soul, but, rather, their expression which gives access to her mind (an altogether lower order of semiology, but useful for interpretation, nonetheless). Later, Miss Burchell confirms the correctness of Sidney's reading: "She burst into a flood of tears: Oh, madam, you read my very soul! what disguise can I make use of before such penetrating eyes as yours?" (304). Later still, Miss Burchell provides the answer to her own question: art is the disguise she uses as she learns to "assume command" over her countenance (325).Related terms: