Sense and Sensibility
“I have suffered NOW”: Jane Austen’s Repressed Romantic
Elinor Dashwood’s famous speech in Volume III of Sense and Sensibility, in which she gives vent to emotions long-repressed, is in many senses the heart and soul of the novel. Having suffered through months of silent disappointment, endured for the sake of obligation and propriety, Elinor is at last given the chance to explain her passivity to her sister Marianne—to whom the very mention of such quiescence is an enigmatic outrage. It is generally held that Elinor’s defense of discretion is Austen’s own voiced espousal of so-called sense over sensibility; and while this may be true, it is not the passage’s only truth. Starting with Marianne’s denunciative summation of Elinor’s “way of thinking” (246), there unfolds a bewitching shift in both women’s apparent intonations. Before long it is Marianne who speaks the language of coolheaded restraint, and Elinor who indulges in intense theatricality. Keeping in mind the fact that Elinor’s speech at this juncture is meant to represent everything she stands for, it is undeniably interesting that she actually delivers it in a manner that represents everything she stands against. Austen is careful to set Elinor up as the victor in this passage, and in this she succeeds—but the methods she ends up employing cast some doubt on the staunchness of the argument she means to represent. Before Elinor reaches her celebrated outburst she gives an earlier, more collected explanation of her actions. It is to this first speech that Marianne’s offers a rather cold reply, which goes a long way in alienating any reader that might not already hold their allegiance with Elinor. Besides the fact that the entire novel has been told predominantly from Elinor’s point of view, Marianne is here jumping to conclusions about things that the Elinor, the narrator, and most importantly the reader have all understood for much longer than she has. She has only just discovered that Elinor has secretly known the man she loves to be engaged for months, but her initial shock at Elinor’s resignation quickly gives way to a simplistic and ungenerous reasoning away of it—possibly the closest Marianne ever comes to meanness with respect to her sister. “If such is your way of thinking,” she says, “if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up…your resolution, your self-command, are, perhaps, a little less to be wondered at” (246). The key word here is “easily;” Marianne cannot yet believe that a person with deep-rooted feelings could have borne Elinor’s situation at all, let alone with anything like dignity, so the fact that her sister has done so begs the conclusion that she is shallow enough to find it easy. It is important to note that Marianne’s response at this juncture shows more restraint and cool collection than we have ever seen from her before; in keeping with the reply’s spiteful spirit, it is fashioned in an almost facetious mockery of Elinor’s self-control. Though the narrator tells us that Marianne is in fact “much struck” (246) by Elinor’s restraint, she muses primly that upon reflection it is “a little less to be wondered at.” The ideas of “little” and “less” are linked by alliteration to strengthen the very smallness in scope of Marianne’s utterances. And nowhere is this pettiness more pronounced than in her next sentence—in which, having explained and belittled Elinor’s merits, she concludes that “they are brought more within my comprehension” (246). For Marianne, this is a somewhat wordy and mild way of essentially saying “I understand you.” Yet instead of saying just that, she suddenly feels the need to rely on polite periphrasis. Rather than announcing that Elinor’s virtues make complete sense to her, she only says that they make “more” sense to her. Rather than remarking that she now can understand them, she ventures to surmise that they’re “within my comprehension.” In a perfect illustration of the reversal their roles have undergone, Elinor replies to Marianne’s nicety with a strong, unbridled echo of its fundamental essence: “I understand you,” she says simply. “You do not suppose that I have ever felt much” (247). Such directness is not altogether unprecedented for Elinor, but never before has she been so unconcerned about its results. Her subsequent reversion to more mild language in her use of the word “suppose”—instead of, say, “think” or even “feel”–testifies to the struggle she has already begun: that between voicing the thoughts that she longs to express, and saying the words she wants others to hear. Yet her next thought moves back to the use of strong, Romantic language. “For four months,” she says, “I have had all this hanging on my mind” (247). If this monologue had been written as poetry, Austen would have here been starting a line with two spondees—the stressed syllables of “four” and “months.” The structure of the words makes it impossible for a speaker not to draw them out, and Elinor undoubtedly does so here. In the pages before her outburst, it was Marianne who continually harped on this idea of four months (“ ‘Four months!’—cried Marianne again… ‘Four months!—and yet you loved him!’” (246) ), and it was Elinor who set it aside. But now Elinor takes it back up with a vengeance, beginning her sentence with a built-in accent of just how long her suffering has gone on. Elinor’s rising emotion continues in this vein; she stresses the magnitude of her concerns when she refers to them as “all this,” in contrast to Marianne’s claims that she had never “felt much.” What’s more, Elinor next explains that she was unable to discuss them with anyone—and here she actually dramatizes the idea by saying that she could not speak of them to “a single creature,” instead of merely “a single person.” Assuming that Elinor does not make a habit of confiding in woodland creatures, it goes without saying that when she says she could confide in no creature, she can only mean that she could confide in no person. Yet she insists on using the wider, more dramatic—and incidentally, more bucolic–substitute that only a Romantic would employ at the height of her convulsions. Within her own modest bounds, Elinor is now actually exaggerating. Having committed herself to such a course, she can no longer look back. It is true that her next thought—that she dreaded the effect her own disappointment would have on Marianne and their mother—is classically Augustan in its concern for appearances and the convenience. But then this makes perfect sense, since Elinor does continue to espouse such principles—founded in sense, but now shaped by sensibility. In describing her struggle to dissimulate her feelings before Lucy, Elinor never says that she regrets having done so or feels it was wrong; she merely relates her discomfort with unprecedented wildness. Beginning by saying that Lucy “told” her of the engagement, she cuts herself off (with one of many breathless dashes that Austen usually reserves for Marianne) to amend “told” to the much more emotional “forced.” The histrionic diction continues with descriptions of hopes that were “ruined” and an enemy full of “triumph”—the very word that Marianne used earlier in the novel when, full of pain over Willoughby, she speculated on the world’s “triumph at seeing me so” (179). Though her conviction in the justness of her behavior never visibly falters, Elinor now begins to paint herself more like a victim than she has ever previously allowed herself to do. She repeats the phrase “I have had” throughout—as in “I have had all this,” “I have had to oppose,” “I have had her hopes,” and “I have had to contend,” mingling this, in the next section, with “I have been” and “I have known” to rhetorically reinforce her powerlessness in a powerful way:“This person’s suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested;–and it has not been only once;–I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again.—I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection.” (247)Tied in with this oratorical repetition are instances of literal repetition, invoked by Elinor to gain our sympathy. Her suffering “has not been only once,” and she has listened to Lucy’s rapture “again and again.” At this point there is no reason, technically speaking, for Elinor to tell us this; the only motive for such asides is to paint her restraint with newly-desired sensationalism. Such aspirations to our pity actually lead to delusions in her subsequent train of thought. Knowing that she’s separated from Edward “for ever”, Elinor says that she did not hear “one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection. Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has any thing declared him indifferent to me” (247-italics mine). She now seems to rely in her language on absolute, black-and-white distinctions that leave no room for error or moderation; just so, she does not allow Edward room for error or moderation either. Some might say that discovering the man you love to be engaged, while quietly courting you and allowing you to believe otherwise, would count as at least one proof of the man being unworthy. Not so for Elinor. Although it is true that Edward’s offense is not so grave as Willoughby’s toward Marianne, he is not by any means blameless in this affair–and when, earlier in the novel, Marianne insists Willoughby to be “not so unworthy as you believe him” (176), Elinor cannot take her seriously. Yet here Elinor finds herself doing the same favor for Edward, in a completely irrational defense of her own rationalism. Arriving full circle from her point of departure, Elinor eventually returns to Marianne’s original accusation of her shallowness. “If you can think me capable of ever feeling,” she says to Marianne, “—surely you may suppose that I have suffered now” (247). Coming as it does after a torrent of emotion, the effect of this sentence is a faintly sardonic one; if anything is clear at this point, it is that Elinor feels a great deal. Yet perhaps still stinging from her sister’s callousness, she expresses an uncertainty of having proven herself that can only be facetious–catering to Marianne’s faulty judgment with the words “If you can think me capable of ever feeling” (italics mine). Her stress on the word “now”, in saying that she has surely felt now, drives home a smarting ridicule of anyone who could at this point possibly doubt it. Her next italicized word, “then,” continues literally and figuratively from “now” to say that, had she not been restrained by duty, she too might have been unable to hide her own pain then. That fact that she recognized this duty, and acted under it as well, is ultimately what separates Elinor’s conduct from Marianne’s and makes her Austen’s designated hero. Marianne’s mortified dismay at this realization, now delivered with all the dashes and melodrama of the truly Romantic, is meant to serve as an illustration of everything that makes such a mindset ridiculous. Yet though Marianne does finally see reason, she (and perhaps the audience as well) is unable to do so until she first feels its truth in her heart. And Austen, whether consciously or not, understood that no such wisdom could truly be felt unless it was coiled in irrational sensibility, in illogical sensitivity. One can’t help but wonder whether Austen herself was far more romantic than she ever recognized.
Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?: Representations of Mothers in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
“I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child”. Jane Austen wrote these words about her novel, Sense and Sensibility, in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1811. Such a maternal feeling in Austen is interesting to note, particularly because any reader of hers is well aware of a lack of mothers in her novels. Frequently we encounter heroines and other major characters whom, if not motherless, have mothers who are deficient in maturity, showing affection, and/or common sense. Specifically, I would like to look at Sense and Sensibility, which, according to Ros Ballaster’s introduction to the novel, “is full of, indeed over-crowded with, mothers” (vii). By discussing the maternal figures in this work, I hope to illustrate the varying possibilities of what mothering and motherhood can entail in Austen, and what this curious spectrum of strengths and weaknesses means for the heroine involved. When discussing the mothers in Sense and Sensibility, it is only logical to begin with Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne’s mother. We meet her just a few pages into the novel, and are immediately told of her genuine and unassuming interest in Elinor’s relationship with Edward Ferrars. Unlike most of Austen’s mothers, Mrs. Dashwood is neither calculating nor preoccupied with a particular agenda for her daughters:”Some mothers might have encouraged intimacy from motives of interest…and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence…but Mrs. Dashwood was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her daughter, and that Elinor returned the partiality” (13).As generous as this attitude may be, however, it also illustrated a certain lack of prudence in Mrs. Dashwood. Thus, as a parent, she is not without fault. Like Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood is romantic and whimsical, more prone to act on feelings than reason. Also similar to her youngest daughter, she often misjudges both the characters and situations of individuals. When Elinor tells Marianne of the difficulties Mrs. Ferrars presents in marrying Edward, “Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth” (18). Furthermore, Mrs. Dashwood’s reaction to Willoughby is just as naïve as Marianne’s. “In Mrs. Dashwood’s opinion, he was as faultless as in Marianne’s” (43). It is only Elinor, acting with the maternal caution her mother does not possess, who has reservations about Marianne’s suitor. Thus, Mrs. Dashwood clearly fails as an authority figure for her children. She does not discourage them from acting recklessly (such as Marianne’s trip to Miss Smith’s home with Willoughby without a chaperone), nor does she provide the sort of structure or discipline that would prevent such situations from arising in the first place. She does, however, possess the nurturing and affectionate disposition that allows us to see her as, if not always a good mother, at least a loving and well-intentioned one. When Marianne becomes ill, it is only her mother’s presence that can put her at ease: “Marianne’s ideas were still, at intervals, fixed incoherently on her mother” (264).Mrs. Jennings, like Mrs. Dashwood, is a good-natured and kind woman, but fails to supply the maternal protection that might be expected of her. The “good humored, merry, fat eldery woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar” (29) takes an interest in Elinor and Marriane, and the time they spend together as companions eventually grows into a deeper, more caring mother-daughter type of relationship. Like Mrs. Dashwood, she tends to openly misread events (such as Willoughby’s letter to Marianne), and also like Mrs. Dashwood, she not entirely successful at keeping Elinor and Marianne under a mother’s watchful eyeMarianne’s sickness is not only due to her own carelessness, but also the negligence of her guardian. Even though Mrs. Jennings is a good-hearted woman, as a mother she seems to falter, both while overseeing Elinor and Marianne, and, more apparently, with her two daughters who are more like caricatures than intelligent, well-rounded individuals. Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton are less generous portraits of motherhood. I mention them together because they are inexorably linked in Austen’s view, both depicted as self-serving and corrupt forms of mothering. Lady Middleton, “though perfectly well bred…was reserved, cold, and had nothing to say for herself beyond the most common-place enquiry or remark” (26). She dotes on her children who, despite being described as “noisy” and “troublesome”, remain conspicuously anonymous. They are rarely named, or even given a gender, as if their individuality is not what is important, but rather, their ability to serve as their mother’s pet or prop. Her role as mother is the defining factor in Lady Middleton’s identity, and she seems to take interest in little else. Ironically, this particular brand of devotion comes across as being detrimental to everyone involvedit reduces her to a shallow and limited individual, and creates children that are spoiled brats. Like Lady Middleton, Fanny Dashwood is rendered as having a “cold hearted selfishness” (194), and uses her son (who, interestingly enough, is never actually present in the novel) to rationalize her greedy disposition. She convinces her husband John to give Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters considerably less than he had originally intended, with the reasoning that, “to take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy, would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree” (7). Aside from a chat with Lady Middleton that focused on comparing their son’s heights, this is only this instance when we see Fanny even feign interest in her son, and later we discover that she intends to spend some of “poor little Harry’s” (7) money on a new green-house for the backyard. Both of these women’s interests in their children strive to reach a specific goal; Lady Middleton craves compliments and attention, Fanny Dashwood desires money. Their poor mothering skills, however, are not surprising, but merely reflect Austen’s clear portrayal of them as shallow individuals with unbalanced values. In Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s now-classic The Madwoman in the Attic, they discuss a strange breed of women in Austen novels that, unlike the heroines, are angry, ruthless, and powerful. Often, “they are mothers or surrogate mothers who seek to destroy their docile children” (170). Such a description cannot help but bring to mind Edward’s mother, Mrs. Ferrars. “A little, thin woman, upright, even to formality, in her figure, and serious, even to sourness” (196), she appears to use her sons to fulfill her own narrow goals and reward her own pride. Mrs. Ferrars makes it common knowledge that Edward and Robert are to marry well and chose a career she considers ambitious and prestigious, such as going into law or politics. Elinor’s wariness of Mrs. Ferrars’s “disposition and designs” (88) leads her to fear the impossibility of marrying Edward, and even when they do marry, Mrs. Ferrars cannot entirely forgive Edward for the previous incident with Lucy Steele, and consequently makes every effort to show that Robert is the favored child. Interestingly, despite her lack of physical presence in the novel (we only meet Mrs. Ferrars for one brief encounter in the novel, and even then, Austen does not create dialogue for her that would allow us to witness what we’ve heard of her firsthand), there is a feeling that she is always looming (and disapproving), as if her methods of mothering are so suffocating and tyrannical that they are not contained within Edward, but appear to threaten others as well.In The Improvement of the Estate, Alastair Duckworth states “the need for ’employment’, ‘duty’, ‘responsibility’, is sounded again and again in Austen’s novels, as her heroines all learn the act of living itself is a profession” (34). This “resounding” in Sense and Sensibility is in part fueled by the lack of an ideal mother figure. Although Elinor loves her mother, she is also aware of her shortcomings. Ironically, Elinor, surrounded by negative examples of mothers, seems to successfully take on a maternal role, both watching out for her loved ones and keeping everything around her in check. This seems to suggest that the faults Elinor witnesses and endures in others allow her to become more mature. This line of thinking makes perfect sense when we consider Jane Austen’s tendency, particularly in Sense and Sensibility, to use her writing as a vehicle for not only entertainment but also instruction. We may view the varying representations of mothers then, not only as examples for Elinor to learn from, but for us as readers as well. Bibliography Ballaster, Ros. “Introduction to Sense and Sensibility”. Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.Duckworth, Alastair. The Improvement of the Estate. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972.Gilbert, Susan, and Sandra Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1979.Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen’s letters, 3rd. ed. Oxford University Press, 1995.
The Role of Class: Status Versus Love in Sense and Sensibility
In the novel Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen employs various thematic elements in order to educate the reader on the nature of higher British society in the 19th century. One of the most impactful motifs in the book is the notion that class drives one’s decisions and becomes somewhat of a higher power that dictates marriages, familial ties, and living arrangements. People are accepted or exiled based on their social standing, and marriages “for love” are a rarity among the semi-noble. Throughout the novel, Austen makes a unique commentary on the values of society while simultaneously telling an interesting story of a very particular case of a family (the Dashwoods) who are somewhat stuck in the middle. Austen examines the varying importance of the roles that class and love play in society through her juxtaposition of various romantic situations in the novel.
Primarily, Austen sheds light on the cold and selfish requirements of society in order to examine how society’s pressures have imposed on the Dashwood family. Willoughby and Marianne, for example, are “in love” but cannot be married. While this might seem ridiculous to the modern reader, Austen clarifies the seemingly ludicrous nature of society through Willoughby’s dismissal of and later revisit to Marianne, in which he explains why he has left her for the wealthier Ms. Grey. Although Willoughby realizes he can never be happy with her, he can at least come to coexist with Ms. Grey with a sense of financial stability. He rebuffs Marianne not because he was not in love with her, but because he was raised in a class system where high society is taught to preserve their family name rather than to be socially unstable and banished to the dregs of England’s multi-tiered class system. So, even though “[he] felt that she was infinitely dearer to me than any other woman in the world,” Willoughby can never be with Marianne because of the limitations that he feels override any sense of true love (Austen 274). But while even the spiteful Willoughby comes to accept his superficiality, Marianne deludes herself with unrealistic perceptions of love and wealth. When Elinor practically claims that “wealth has much to do with” happiness, Marianne rebuffs this notion, claiming that “beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction” (Austen 152). But when the sisters compared actual figures, Marianne’s romantic idealism is flattened, as her idea of a “competence” is two thousand pounds a year, which doubles Elinor’s notion of wealth. Austen uses irony in order to communicate that the importance of money does not diminish among those who claim to be above it.
Elinor’s relationship with Edward is also one defined by the strict limitations of society at the time. Although Edward would love to pursue his own lifestyle, he is consistently restrained by his concerned mother. In order to live comfortably and inherit his rightful fortune (according to primogeniture), he is forced to marry a woman of desirable status and Elinor, being the practical voice of the Dashwood family, forces herself to accept this. The secret engagement of Edward and the lower class Lucy Steele is a shock to everyone, as without his family inheritance or any semblance of a dowry from Lucy’s side, the two could not possibly live comfortably. Lucy realizes that Edward is no longer the heir to any fortune, and she refocuses her affections to his younger brother. Austen utilizes the character of Lucy Steele to represent the ideals of society as a whole, succumbing to greedy impulse rather than consulting more than just the state of their wallets. “Her constant endeavor to appear to advantage” is seen as being in poor taste (Austen 198). The contrast between needing money versus wanting money is compared very uniquely by Austen, who seems to be telling her readers that some money is necessary, although the actual desire of this money is tawdry. The eventual union of Edward and Elinor is seemingly impossible until the honorable Colonel Brandon sweeps in with a free property for them to stay on and unrealistically kind financial support. While Austen seems to be arguing for the steadfastness of true love, she subtly suggests that the economic insurance of a romantic partner is of similar or the same importance.
Towards the final stages of the book, both Elinor and Marianne are left financially comfortable and in love, which is truly an ideal situation when considering all of the odds working against them. While some may see her characters’ love-based relationships as a proclamation of rejection of social norms, under a closer examination it appears that nobody had to make any tangible sacrifices to achieve their harmonious marriages. While some of the people featured in Sense and Sensibility may be a little more outspoken than your typical young lady of the time, there is no real social commentary being made. Marianne, the supposed anomaly to typical British society, eventually conforms, marrying a well-established gentleman. She realizes the err of her ways with Willoughby, saying that she has nothing to regret but “[her] own folly” in blinding herself with the concept of a realistic marriage with a man who lacks wealth (Austen 331). Elinor also is bestowed with both a reunion with Edward and somewhat of financial stability thanks to Colonel Brandon. With her relatively middle-class standings, her effort to maintain her practical outlook results in various comments on the state of class from in an almost degrading manner. In her attempt to avoid going to London, she states that, “[she] think[s] very well of Mrs. Jennings’ heart, she is not a woman whose society can afford us pleasure, or whose protection will give us consequence” (Austen 258). Elinor, despite her intentions of kindness, always feels the need to uphold her family’s comfort.
Austen definitely advocates for the existence of true love through the characters of Elinor and Marianne, but it seems that she is making a separate claim – that the presence of wealth is nearly or equally as vital to one’s happiness. While seemingly making a plea for the importance of love in a marriage, Austen understatedly suggests that staying within social guidelines and marrying someone of an appropriate financial standing is still crucial to prosperity as a whole.
The Sorrows of Young Marianne: Correspondences Between Goethe and Austen
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, made waves in the German literary scene almost immediately upon its publication in 1774. Just five years later, the novel was translated into English, attaining a comparable level of popularity in England (Long 169). Celebrated British author Jane Austen was born in 1775, just a year after the novel’s initial publication. One can readily assume that Austen had the chance to read The Sorrows of Young Werther due to its immense popularity during her lifetime, her access to her father’s large library, and the following mention of it in Love and Friendship, a piece of her juvenalia:
“…but as we were convinced he had no soul, that he had never read the sorrows of Werter [sic]…we were certain that Janetta could feel no affection for him, or at least that she ought to feel none” (Austen).
Here, Austen, in her typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, describes the negative reactions of a young girl’s female friends toward one of her potential suitors. In the girls’ eyes, a man is certainly not an eligible bachelor unless he has read The Sorrows of Young Werther and thus absorbed some of its main character’s undying sentimentality. Earlier in this same letter–Love and Friendship is also written in the epistolary style–two female characters dramatically faint into “each other’s arms” at the news of a sudden departure (Austen). Already, the young Austen is unabashedly poking fun at the romantic and sensational notions that she continues to disavow in her later, more prominent works, such as Sense and Sensibility.
Sense and Sensibility, though not the first novel written by Austen, was her first to be published, in 1811, under the pseudonym, “A Lady.” In earlier drafts it was an epistolary novel, like The Sorrows of Young Werther. The novel revolves around the lives of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two young women who, along with their mother, must relocate to a small country home due to their father’s death and an unfair allotment of his inheritance. Elinor represents the “Sense” half of the title through her extreme rationality, while Marianne embodies “Sensibility” with her heightened sensitivity and romanticism. The two girls each experience rather complicated romantic relationships, but, by the end of the novel, they are both happily married to the men of their choosing–as tends to be the case in Austen novesl, all of which tend to rely heavily upon the conventions of the marriage plot.
The character of Marianne parallels with that of Werther in a multitude of ways, from her capacity for intense emotions, to her overpowering love for nature, to her tumultuous relationship with John Willoughby, which, in some ways, mirrors that of Werther and Lotte. Even the name “Marianne” is also present in The Sorrows of Young Werther; one of Lotte’s younger sisters is named Marianne. However, Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne does not share the same dismal fate as Werther, although she comes dangerously close due to her neglect of her own health. These similarities should not be seen as merely coincidental. Austen had clearly become familiar with The Sorrows of Young Werther and is known for the bold critiques of other literature that are present in her own works–Northanger Abbey, one of her two posthumously published novels, has often been read as a parody of the Gothic novel. By making Marianne so strikingly similar to Werther, but causing her to change her ways and live rather than killing herself, Austen provides a subtle yet distinct commentary on the ideas of sentimentality in Goethe’s novel. Throughout the novel, Marianne displays characteristics that strongly resemble Werther’s. But, it is only when she changes her ways that she finds happiness and true love. Thus, Austen is able to effectively point out Werther’s flaws.
Perhaps the most easily discernible similarity between Marianne and Werther is their deep appreciation for and devotion to nature. At the beginning of Sense and Sensibility and The Sorrows of Young Werther, both characters have settled in new towns, and each character immediately resolves to experience the new environment firsthand. Werther, while not overly pleased with “the town itself,” finds that the nature that surrounds it has “an inexpressible beauty” (Goethe 5). In his following letter, dated May 10, he continues to describe his deeply personal experiences with the outdoors, mentioning the sense of “wonderful serenity” that being alone in nature brings him (Goethe 5). Werther is truly overpowered by nature, so much so that when he is outdoors “everything grows dim before [his] eyes” and he begins to feel “the presence of the Almighty” (Goethe 6). Notably, Werther is also quite impressed with the late Count M.’s garden for its simplicity; he believes it was designed by a “sensitive heart” like himself (Goethe 5). This garden appears to be in the expansive, free-flowing English style rather than in the structured, symmetrical, and sometimes formulaic French style that was also common at the time. One can assume that Marianne would prefer the English style to the French as well, due to her “sensitive heart.”
Marianne’s first venture into the landscape surrounding her home also leads to much admiration for nature on her part. She and her younger sister, Margaret, decide to go for a walk despite the chance of poor weather because they are no longer able “to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned” (Austen 26). The fair weather is “not tempting enough” to entice either her mother or elder sister out of doors, a situation which shows that Marianne’s passion for nature is far greater than theirs (Austen 27). One can also deduce that Marianne may have persuaded Margaret to accompany her on this promenade. Marianne can certainly be quite convincing, what with her spirited personality, not to mention the power an older sibling often holds over a younger counterpart.
Once finally outdoors, Marianne experiences “delightful sensations” such as a “glimpse of blue sky” and “animating gales of an high southwesterly wind” (Austen 27). Overjoyed by these surroundings, she remarks to her sister “‘Is there a felicity in the world…superior to this?’” (Austen 27). If Werther were not alone on his aforementioned excursion, he would have certainly made a similar remark to whomever was accompanying him. However, Marianne’s joy is broken when rain begins to fall and, in the subsequent rush to return home, she missteps and falls “to the ground,” twisting her ankle in the process (Austen 27). Thus, Marianne, like Werther, is overpowered by nature, although in a much more literal sense–perhaps, here, Austen is deliberately poking fun at the character of Werther. Indeed, his reaction to nature can come across as a bit hyperbolic, and is therefore tempting to satirize. Either way, both Werther and Marianne are shown to be so engrossed in the natural world that being in it is overwhelming and even incapacitating for them.
Towards the conclusion of Sense and Sensibility, a broken-hearted Marianne will seriously jeopardize her own health by taking long, cold walks in the rain. And, while not exactly in a life or death situation, Werther ultimately fails as an artist at representing the natural world because its profound beauty is simply “more than he can bear” to put on paper (Werther 6). The resemblance between Werther’s and Marianne’s respective romantic relationships is apparent from the first times they each meet their beloveds. In their initial conversations, both couples eagerly discuss their favorite works of literature. Both Werther and Marianne are enamored with not only a new beloved, but also his or her taste in literature–if only for the sole reason that it directly corresponds with their own. Marianne and Willoughby, to their mutual delight, come to find that not only do they share the same favorite novels, but also that they even “idolize” “the same passages” from these novels (Austen 31). Werther, is “amazed” and “struck” by Lotte’s words, much as Marianne is with Willoughby’s, and eventually loses “all [his] reserve” after Lotte mentions Irish author Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. This novel tells the story of a wealthy Vicar with a large family who faces many hardships but ultimately becomes successful, wealthy, and happy (Goethe 24-25). This novel, with its highly sentimental qualities, would likely appeal to Marianne and Willoughby just as much as it seems to please Werther and Lotte–perhaps it is even one of the books the two discuss.
Aside from their shared interests, the two couples are also able to engage with each other in a highly unrestrained and friendly manner, despite having only just met one another. Marianne and Willoughby are said to “converse with the familiarity of a long established acquaintance,” while Werther, as mentioned above, loses “all [his] reserve” almost immediately upon speaking with Lotte (Austen 31, Goethe 25). While these connections may seem meaningful at first, it is important for the reader to realize the sense of superficiality that pervades them both. In an extremely contradictory statement, Werther notes that he “was so deeply lost in the excellence of [Lotte’s] conversation that [he] often did not catch the very words by which she expressed her meaning” (Goethe 25). While this statement initially seems to merely communicate the enjoyment Werther experiences while talking to Lotte, the fact that he cannot understand her “often” reveals how shallow their connection really is (Werther 25). How can he be so enchanted by her intelligence if he can barely discern what she is saying? Additionally, the two women with whom the pair is sitting in the coach seem wholly uninterested by their conversation, sitting “with wide-open eyes, as if they [are] not there at all” (Werther 25). While the women could truly be un-intrigued by the subject matter, there is also a chance that the conversation is simply not as enthralling as Werther depicts it to be. Or, Werther could be being impolite by choosing not to include them in the discussion. Either way, the reality of the situation is not nearly as ideal as the picture Werther paints in his letter to Wilhelm.
Marianne and Willoughby’s initial interaction also has its flaws. Marianne is left with the impression that Willoughby truly loves all of the literature that she adores, but the reader gets the feeling that he is perhaps only agreeing with her in order to please or impress her. The narrator states that “any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works” after the young, beautiful Marianne enthusiastically exhorts their value (Austen 31). Willoughby, therefore, “acquiesce[s] in all her decisions,” whether he sincerely believes them or not (Austen 31). As his true character is revealed in the latter part of the novel, a discerning reader is more likely to suspect that he does not. Like Werther, he is perhaps not listening to most of the syllables that exit Marianne’s mouth; rather, he is admiring her outer beauty. Finally, and once more calling to mind Werther and Lotte’s situation, Marianne and Willoughby are not alone during their talk, since her mother and sister, Elinor, are both present, yet seem to be un-included, due to either their own lack of interest or to rudeness on the part of the lovers. Right from the start, Werther and Marianne’s romantic experiences parallel each other with their seemingly strong connections underlied by a sense of falsehood and over-idealization.
Another effective way to see the inherent similarities between Werther and Marianne is through a comparison of the following quotes, the former from Werther in a brief letter to Wilhelm, dated July 10, the latter from a discussion between Marianne and Elinor about Elinor’s feelings toward her beloved, Edward Ferrars:“…if they ask me how I like her–like! I hate the word like poison. What sort of a person is he who likes Lotte, whose heart and mind is not completely possessed by her! Like! The other day someone asked me if I ‘liked’ Ossian!” (Goethe 44).“‘I do not attempt to deny,’ said [Elinor], ‘that I think very highly of him—that I greatly esteem, that I like him.’ Marianne here burst forth with indignation– ‘Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment.’” (Austen 13). Here, both Marianne and Werther have almost comically negative reactions toward the verb “like.” Neither of the two believe in doing anything by halves; they both put their entire beings into loving someone. While this notion may initially seem highly romantic and harmless, it eventually leads to much distress for both Werther and Marianne, as well as for those who care for them.
As each novel continues, more and more similarities crop up between Werther and Marianne. Willoughby turns out to be engaged, thus making him just as unattainable to Marianne as Lotte is to Werther. Marianne writes deeply expressive letters to Willoughby, just as Werther does to Lotte, but they are intercepted and read by his fiancee. Though we are never entirely certain, it seems that Werther’s letters to Lotte are read by her fiance, Albert, as well. Additionally, Marianne rejects societal conventions in a Werther-like fashion, either ignoring or disrespecting her elders, like Mrs. Jennings, a woman by whom she is treated with nothing but “unceasing kindness” (Austen 237). Marianne even admits to her behavior later, saying she had been “insolent and unjust” to “every common acquaintance” (Austen 237). In a manner that parallels Werther’s initial refusal to find work and obey his mother’s wishes, Marianne leaves many of her “dut[ies] neglected” (Austen 237). Both Werther and Marianne are so blinded by their doomed passions that they neglect other important aspects of their lives.
Like Werther, Marianne falls into a deep depression when she realizes that her love for Willoughby will never be requited. She begins to take long, solitary walks in the evenings, despite cold weather and rain. While this act alone could be detrimental to her health, Marianne also indulges in the “greater imprudence of sitting in her wet shoes and stockings” for hours after her walks (Austen 209). While not as extreme as putting a bullet in her head, this endangerment of her health is comparable to Werther’s decision to take his own life. Once she is recovered, Marianne even acknowledges this, saying to Elinor, “[m]y illness…had been entirely brought on by myself, by such negligence of my own health…[h]ad I died, –it would have been self-destruction” (Austen 236). Ergo, Marianne and Werther come extremely close to sharing the exact same tragic fate–an untimely death that brings misery to all of those who care about them. After first learning of Werther’s suicide, Lotte is so disturbed that she “faint[s]” and falls “to the ground” at her husband’s feet (Goethe 166). By the time the funeral occurs, she and Albert are unable to attend because her life is said to be “in danger” due to her grief (Goethe 167). Marianne, in a discussion with Elinor, notes that had she died, she would have left a “peculiar misery” to both Elinor and her mother, not to mention her extended circle of family and friends (Austen 237).
Why, then, does Marianne escape with her life, when she seems in almost every other way to be Werther’s double? During her illness, she is faithfully tended to by Elinor, who stays by her bedside almost constantly. As an exemplar of rational thought, perhaps Elinor somehow infuses some of her “sense” into Marianne, allowing her to recover from the sickness brought about by her excessive sensibility. Werther, on the other hand, had no such presence in his life, preferring to spend his time alone. Although he did manage to make friends, such as Count C and Fraulein von B, he eventually loses them though his own misconduct. Perhaps if he had had an Elinor in his life, he would not have had such a fateful demise.
After her near-fatal illness, Marianne has an epiphany of sorts and undergoes a remarkable transformation into a more rational form of her previous self. She swears that, from now on, her “feelings shall be governed and [her] temper improved” (Austen 237). Elinor, in all of her remarkable prudence, serves as a shining example of the kind of person that Marianne desires to become. In this light, Marianne can be seen as not a double but a reincarnation of Werther–one that is capable of evolving, as he is decidedly not. It is also possible that Austen, who is often seen as a proto-feminist for her portrayals of witty, intelligent, and nuanced women, could be making a point about the strength and adaptability of women. Either way, Marianne goes on to live a happy life by marrying Colonel Brandon, a man who truly loves her, and she him. While their romance is not as initially passionate or striking as her and Willoughby’s or Werther and Lotte’s, it outlasts both of those relationships, proving that “liking” someone before you love them is not as cold-hearted as Werther seems to think. A dose of rationality can often triumph over fiery passion.
Austen, Jane. Love and Freindship. Project Gutenberg, 24 Aug. 2008. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Dover Publications, 1996. Print.Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von, Elizabeth Mayer, Louise Bogan, and W. H. Auden. The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Novella. New York: Random House, 1971. Print.Long, Orie W.. “English Translations of Goethe’s Werther.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 14.2 (1915): 169–203. Web. 23 Apr. 2016
The Vulnerability of Male Wealth in Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen’s books are too often reduced to simple two-sided issues, and are often seen in a narrow and restrictive light. Instead of being a novel primarily concerned with romantic attachments or the close sisterly bond between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, however, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility can be read as a fiscally-centered creation, driven principally by an underlying concern with monetary affairs. This pecuniary understanding of the novel allows the audience to explore the complexity of inheritance issues, as well as the power dynamics that so fundamentally concerned both men and women in Austen’s epoch. While a more common reading of Sense and Sensibility focuses on the idea of female economics in the novel, it soon becomes clear that the issue of male wealth deserves a closer examination as well.
The very first paragraph of Sense and Sensibility opens with the legal concerns of the Norland Park estate, effectively setting up a vignette of a family in the midst of severe economic turmoil. It is precisely because of these convoluted legalities that Henry Dashwood’s younger family members – Marianne, Elinor, their sister and mother – are displaced from their home and sense of security. Essentially, the catalyst for the entire narrative stems from money and inheritance issues. In turn, this draws attention to the elemental importance of financial matters, not just in the novel itself, but in the broadened society of England. The esteemed Jane Austen scholar Lore Segal argues that there is a subtler, more pronounced reason as to why Austen opens her novel with financial jargon. From the very first line, she has successfully “taught her readers about the… gentleman’s relation to his money: he has to have inherited, not made, it” (Segal 252). While some readers may see the novel’s women as utterly dependent on the men in their lives for economic support, this understanding is too rudimentary and narrow. It is clear that the males of that society, too, had their own laborious customs and unique vulnerabilities in fiscal situations. With this more multi-dimensional understanding, Sense and Sensibility’s examination of wealth becomes much more rounded and altogether complex.
Segal writes that a gentleman’s “gentility is measured by his money’s chronological distance from its origin in commerce; if labor made it, he is no gentleman” (253). Authoritative dictates such as these limited the number of perceived gentlemen. Any man who had to physically work for his earnings was not considered a gentleman in English society. Even if one were to procure a great fortune, it would not be enough to buy one’s way into respectability. This idea is only exacerbated by other crucial issues, such as the placement of the firstborn and second son in any family of genteel origin. Edward Ferrars, for example, is poised to take over the family estate, so that his brother has to venture off to find a career, whether in the clergy or in the navy. This situation is complicated by the events of the novel, especially when Edward is given an ultimatum by his mother to find a more affluent and well-established wife. Upon refusing to listen to his mother, he is deprived of his entire wealth, thus highlighting the inherent vulnerability of his own position. Looked at from a wider angle, this vulnerability is telling of the issues surrounding male wealth as well. Edward is acutely “aware that there would be many difficulties in his way, if he were to wish to marry a woman who had not either a great fortune or high rank.” While he does eventually find happiness without listening to his mother, he loses his entire fortune in doing so, too (21).
Willoughby, also, is heavily dependent on his benefactress for financial security. He can only inherit his estate, Combe Magna, if he marries a wealthy woman. Though he is in love with Marianne, he tells Elinor that his affection for her was “all insufficient to outweigh that dread of poverty or to get the better of those false ideas of the necessity of riches, which I was naturally inclined to feel” (191). The rash Willoughby later comes to regret this decision, but his position, like Edward’s, reveals the fluctuating nature of wealth due to inheritance matters, even in matters regarding male wealth. Through the events that befall Edward and Willoughby – as well as the roles of their various benefactresses – the commonly-held understanding that only females like Elinor and Marianne have to worry about financial security in potential marriages is proven to be highly erroneous.
Chapter Length and Titles in Sense & Sensibility and Villette
Reading the novels of Defoe alongside those of Austen or Brontë feels very different, even though they wrote less than a century apart. In Austen’s novels, the formal delineation of chapters increases distance in the reading experience that a novel like Moll Flanders discourages. The structures of Sense & Sensibility and Villette admit that a reader might have a life outside of the novel by providing logical places to take a break, leave, and return later while Defoe’s all-consuming biographies deny the reader any realistic, formal clues. Of course, the introduction of chapters to the structure of novels also raises questions about how novels should be read and perhaps even subtly reflects the hand of the author in trying to control the reading experience. In this paper, I explore how two elements of chapters—length and title—affect the reading experience of Sense & Sensibility and Villette by destabilizing the narrative, emphasizing certain textual and formal elements, and adding coherence to these long, detailed stories. Although the formal qualities of chapter delineations get overlooked in favor of plot or imagery, chapter length could potentially affect the reading experience substantially on a subconscious level. Contrasting the statistics of chapter length in Sense & Sensibility and Villette usefully illustrates this change. For example, Sense & Sensibility begins with short, stable chapters. In the first volume, the mean chapter length is 4.18 pages, with a range of six pages (the longest being eight pages and the shortest being two). By Volume III, the mean chapter length increases by about two pages to 6.14, and the range increases accordingly to nine pages (between chapters of three and twelve pages). Of course, page length is partially a matter of publication standards, but standard deviation is not. In the case of Sense & Sensibility, standard deviation is minimal in the first volume; the average distance of chapter length from the mean of 4.18 pages is only 1.47 pages, meaning that the chapter lengths differ very little. By the third volume, this difference increases to an average chapter length of 2.35 pages away from the mean. This increase is minimal, but I would argue that in a novel that prioritizes subtlety and nuance, even a small change in page length could determine or reflect reading experience in some way and perhaps even destabilize the reader. Especially in such short chapters, the difference between a four-page and six-page average length is noticeable. The world of Villette is quite different from Austen’s England, and the length of chapters reflects this change. First of all, Villette’s chapters are consistently longer than Austen’s, with mean lengths of 9.07 pages for Volume I, 13.08 for Volume II, and 11.50 for Volume III. More revealing are the respective standard deviations for the three volumes, calculated to be 3.01, 3.34, and 4.59. While Austen’s chapter lengths remain comparatively standard throughout Sense & Sensibility, Bronte alternates chapters of varying lengths throughout Villette. The slight destabilizing that occurs in Sense and Sensibility would be tripled for Bronte’s novel, an effect that certainly reflects the more troubled and precarious narrative of Lucy Snowe. Also significant is the range of chapter lengths. The shortest and longest chapters of the novel fall very close together in the third volume—“Finis” concludes the novel in three pages, while “Sunshine” describes the happy finale to Dr. John and Paulina’s love story. The second-to-last chapter of Villette is five times as long as “Finis,” the final chapter, lending a (perhaps optimistic) sense of incompleteness to the unhappy ending. Additionally, although Villette prioritizes the imagery of storms over that of sunshine, it cannot be mere coincidence that “Sunshine” is the longest chapter in the entire novel, a full eight pages longer than the melancholy “Cloud” that follows. In comparing “Sunshine” and “Cloud,” it becomes apparent that chapter titles can affect the reading experience textually as much as chapter length affects the novel formally. Lucy’s chapter titles can be divided into six categories, ranging in importance to the plot of the novel, some abstract and some concrete: people, places, events, objects, action, and ideas. As the novel develops, chapter titles indicate what is important to the novel at that time. For example, in Volume I, almost all of the chapter titles fall into the categories of people and places, clearly setting up the basic information necessary to follow the plot. The final volume includes more abstract chapter titles—most of them falling at least partially into the “idea” category—like “Fraternity,” “Cloud,” “Sunshine,” and “The Apple of Discord.” Only one of the “action” titles falls into this category—“M. Paul Keeps His Promise”—indicating that the novel is shifting away from climax into decompression through thoughts and contemplation. The category of “people” comprises the most chapter titles, and Lucy emphasizes important characters by granting them multiple chapter titles. M. Paul only merits one chapter focusing on his identity as a character, but he does receive later mention in the chapters “M. Paul Keeps His Promise” and “Monsieur’s Fête.” Arguably, Monsieur Paul Emmanuel is the most important character in the novel except Lucy herself, but his individualized chapter does not occur until Chapter XXX in the third volume. “M. Paul” appears well after the other character’s chapters are finished, indicating that this chapter will not introduce M. Paul but merely shifts attention toward him. In fact, the story of his birthday part, “Monsieur’s Fête,” occurs before this chapter. Assuming Lucy wrote the chapter titles, her narratorial pacing and habit of withholding information spills over into these titles. If the “people” titles were consistent, Chapter XXX would be M. Paul’s first appearance or reappearance. Instead, Lucy grants M. Paul alone the privilege break the pattern in his chapter, indicating that M. Paul will also break the lonely pattern of the narrative. Lucy contrasts the M. Paul-centric chapters with those detailing the story of Dr. John and Paulina. Little Polly Home gets two chapters spanning the narrative—“Paulina” in the beginning and “The Little Countess” when she reappears in the narrative. Only the first identifies her clearly, perhaps to avoid giving the plot away by mentioning her name again in the table of contents. Similarly, Dr. John gets two chapters: first, he is “Isidore,” Ginevra’s secret lover, and then clearly named as “Dr. John.” Neither of these chapters reveals his identity as Graham Bretton, but the multiplicity of names in the chapter titles reflects Lucy’s insistence on good storytelling; she refuses to disclose Graham’s reappearance just as she uses Polly’s title instead of her name. As a couple, the two also merit an additional chapter: “The Happy Pair.” As Villette’s action winds down, the chapter titles shift from a focus on individuals to a unified ending required by the novel form. Because Lucy cannot give the reader a happy ending for herself, she uses chapter titles as a proxy to tell a story that brings characters together and unifies the chaos of earlier, singular chapters. Not all the chapters follow the logical idea that only crucial elements of the novel—such as major plot twists and central characters—deserve chapter titles. In my personal favorite, “A Sneeze Out of Season,” Lucy chooses to name the chapter after Madame Beck’s accidental interruption of Lucy’s conversation with Dr. John. By doing so, Lucy subverts Madame Beck’s interference in her life by focusing on the “occasion to smile—nay, to laugh, at madame” (116). At the level of form, this chapter is more important than the comic value Madame Beck’s “sternutation” provides: at more than one standard deviation away from the mean, the chapter is quite long (125). Additionally, the content of the chapter foreshadows and reflects the remainder of the story; John almost reveals his interest in Ginevra, but Madame’s sneeze prevents him from telling Lucy and the reader this information. In this instance, Lucy sets a pattern for her style as a narrator by ending the chapter in a cliffhanger and emphasizing Dr. John’s romantic interest as important. After this discussion of how influential chapter titles can be, the next logical subject is the effect of nameless chapter titles like those in Sense and Sensibility. First of all, the lack of chapter titles reflects the straightforward, predictable nature of the plot. Rather than working to temporarily withhold information from or even mislead readers like some of Villette’s titles, Austen’s chapter delineations only serve a formal purpose—to break up the novel into manageable chunks. Although this functionality may seem considerate on Austen’s part, the lack of chapter titles also refuses the reader any opportunity to skip ahead or play detective about the final outcome. The text demands full, constant attention and never gives itself away formally. It would seem that those writers, like Brontë, who take full advantage of the chapter by dividing and naming portions of their novels actually do themselves a disservice by constantly reminding readers that they are, in fact, in the middle of a novel. Without the convenient interruption that chapters provide, it might be easier to lose oneself in the action of the story, a reading experience that better reflects the protagonist’s life each novel strives to represent. In this case, however, life has come to reflect art. After all, people regularly refer to times in their own lives as “chapters,” a phenomenon that probably did not occur until individuals started to think of their lives as personal stories with narrative arcs. Although chapters rarely receive attention in discussions of literature, examining this small quality of books like Villette or Sense & Sensibility further emphasizes the tremendous effect of the novel form on real, human narrative.
How Objects Define the Dashwood Sisters
At its core, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is the story of two girls and the differing ideologies by which they live and view the world. Elinor, the oldest of the Dashwood girls, is a calm and rational thinker who always tries her best to be courteous and polite in public situations, while her sister Marianne believes in the open expression of feelings and is dismissive of social rules and expectations. Each girl is also associated with an object related to art: for Elinor it is sketching and the pictures that she draws, while for Marianne it is her beloved pianoforte, which she plays constantly. As a result of their association with these girls, both objects serve to reinforce the basic distinction in characterization between the two sisters that appears throughout the book. While Elinor’s artwork reinforces that she is reasonable and logical, it is also possible to learn more about the other characters in the novel from their reactions to her work, an idea which Elinor also puts into practice on her own. In contrast, Marianne’s piano represents her desire to get in touch with her emotions as well as her willingness to disregard the outside world due to her preference for her own personal world of sentiment.Upon initial examination, it seems strange that Elinor has any interest or talent in the arts, given her role as the intellectual sister who approaches life with a calm, judicious, and rational approach. Initially it would make more sense that Marianne, who has an emotional and idealistic personality, be the one who possesses the ability to create such expressive and subjective materials as drawings and sketches. Upon closer examination, however, Elinor’s pictures and the way she responds to the attention that they receive further reinforce her characterization as level-headed and in command of herself. For her, drawing pictures is a therapeutic exercise, a way for her to express her emotions and relieve stress without attracting the notice or concern of the rest of the family. Following Edward’s departure in Chapter 19 of Volume 1, Elinor finds in sketching a sense of solace as well as a way to avoid broadcasting her sadness:Elinor sat down to her drawing-table as soon as he was out of the house, busily employed herself the whole day, neither sought nor avoided the mention of his name… and if, by this conduct, she did not lessen her own grief, it was at least prevented from unnecessary increase, and her mother and sisters were spared much solicitude on her account (120).These attempts at minimizing or internalizing her emotions appear regularly throughout the novel, whether it is disguising her heartbreak regarding Edward’s engagement or veiling her dislike and remaining civil to the various boorish family or friends with whom she must interact. Thus, Elinor’s habit of instead expressing herself through other channels, such as the creation of drawings, is another way in which Austen reinforces the difference in the characterization of the two Dashwood sisters: to Marianne, Elinor’s lack of emotionality is a “mortifying condition” that is “exactly the reverse of her own,” and “appeared no more meritorious… than her own had seemed faulty to her” (121). As they are the creations of a girl who is directing her misery and woe into another, less openly emotional form, Elinor’s drawings reflect her innate “sense” by demonstrating her dislike of showing her feelings. By sketching, she is able to able to channel her sentiments without expressing them in ways she feels to be inappropriate or that would distress those she cares about.Elinor’s drawings also help to characterize the other characters in the novel with whom they come into contact. For example, Mrs. Palmer’s reactions to them are reflective of her cheery, if superficial nature: she claims that they “are quite charming” and that “I could look forever” — at which point the narrator notes that “she very soon forgot that there were any such things in the room” (125). Such a reaction to the drawings is consistent with the other depictions of Mrs. Palmer given in the novel and further help to reinforce the idea that she is unintelligent, shallow, and boorish. In another telling scene, Elinor’s screens are passed around the company assembled at Mr. John Dashwood’s residence, and as a result, a good deal is revealed or reinforced about the persons who look at them. Colonel Brandon, the first to receive them as they are passed around, reacts to them in his typically affable, polite, and respectful manner, telling the crowd that he “warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood” while at the same time “disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship” (267). Unlike the Colonel, who makes a courteous and thoughtful reply that both praises the work and shows his modesty, Mrs. Ferrars makes unsociable comments when viewing the drawing that are a microcosm of her larger portrayal in the novel. Upon her initial examination, Mrs. Ferrars dismisses Elinor’s art with an air of condescension, calling them “very pretty” and then promptly handing them back to her daughter, who, in an attempt to diminish her mother’s rudeness, asks her to acknowledge their beauty. At this point, Mrs. Ferrars instead praises the artwork of Miss Morton, her preferred choice for Edward’s wife; in doing so, she is making a not-so-implicit comparison between the two girls themselves. In using a simple drawing to attack Elinor as a person, Mrs. Ferrars is depicted as a nasty and spiteful woman interested in offending those she sees as threats to her plans for her son. That she acts in this fashion during her first appearance further cements her reputation for callousness that will only be bolstered by her later decisions to disown both her sons. Elinor also makes use of the opinions others voice regarding her artwork to find out more about their personalities, most notably in her interactions with Edward. She uses it as a test and as a way of measuring her compatibility with him that also appeals to her rational nature, as she knows that she will only be happy with a man who can relate to her and her passions. Although he does not sketch himself, Edward satisfies her requirements because she feels that “he has great pleasure in seeing the performances of other people” and that “he is by no means deficient in natural taste” — that is, he can appreciate art for its own sake. This attitude towards drawing signals to Elinor his “innate propriety and simplicity of taste,” and that is all she needs to view Edward as a suitable match for herself — unlike Marianne, who feels that Edward is a bad match because “in spite of his frequent attention to her while she draws, he knows nothing of the matter” and because “he admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur” (20). Once again, Elinor’s drawings represent a difference in ideology between herself and her sister: in contrast to Elinor, Marianne has the unrealistic wish of finding a beau who exactly shares her tastes in music and literature, telling her mother that “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own” (20). Elinor is realistic enough to know that finding someone that compatible is difficult and so is content in knowing that Edward likes her and thus enjoys her art as well. Like Elinor’s sketches, Marianne’s interest in her pianoforte further reflects her characterization as the more emotional, passionate, and sensitive of the Dashwood girls. However, unlike the drawings her sister makes, Marianne plays an instrument in order to express her emotions, not to hide them by channeling them into a different area. Following her rejection by Willoughby, she turns to music to get in touch with her feelings:She spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving (96).The combination of musical performance and crying reveals an interesting facet of Marianne’s personality: namely, that she views melody and song as an ideal way of communicating her deepest and most heartfelt sentiments. It also emphasizes her belief in the public nature of emotions: she believes that they are meant to be expressed openly, and she voices her feelings by playing a piano, an instrument designed to be performed and heard by others. She wants her feelings to be known, which is why she is so strongly associated with a piano: the instrument allows her to do just that.Another important aspect of Marianne’s persona is her lack of manners as well as her inability to show the appropriate amount of decorum in social encounters. Whereas Elinor always strives to mask her dislike or displeasure with others through politeness and respect, Marianne continually irritates others by flouting the rules for acceptable behavior by making inappropriate comments and statements. In one particularly memorable scene, she abruptly excuses herself from a group activity she has no interest in by telling Lady Middleton that, “you know I detest cards. I shall go to the pianoforte; I have not touched it since it was tuned,” with the narrator noting that “without further ceremony, she turned away and walked to the instrument” (164). Here the pianoforte is the vehicle by which Marianne escapes a social obligation she finds uninteresting, and that she is willing to irritate a large group of people by not doing what is publically expected of her reveals what she prioritizes and values. She is more interested in her thoughts and emotions, the interior realm of her own personality, than in what is going on in the outside world. In that way, the piano becomes both a symbol of her preference for the selfish, sentimental world as well as the device through which she gets in touch with that inner realm. It is at the piano where she is “wrapped up in her own music and her own thoughts, and had by this time forgotten that any body was in the room besides herself” (166), thus reinforcing the role the instrument plays in helping Marianne drift into her own private universe. As a figure associated with emotion and feeling, it is an inherent part of her personality that she be drawn to personal experiences over interactions with a wider world in which she places no value. By looking at the significant objects most closely associated with the two Dashwood sisters, it is possible to detect how each item reinforces their categorization as girls who possess either “sense” or “sensibility.” For Elinor, her drawings serve as a way to channel her emotions out into another form in a way that will escape the notice of others and maintain her reputation as a level-headed and logical individual. In addition, her artwork attracts the opinions of others in the novel, in the process revealing more about their characters — a fact that does not escape Elinor’s notice, who uses her work in this fashion to gather information on Edward’s personality in order to gauge his compatibility with herself. Just as Elinor’s illustrations echo and emphasize her intelligent and calm nature, Marianne’s love of the pianoforte represents her self-centered, emotional temperament. She employs the instrument both to communicate and share her feelings with the world as well to escape that world by getting caught up in her own playing to the point where she is completely unaware of anyone or anything else but herself. Ultimately, both things are symbolic of the differing ways the girls carry themselves throughout the novel.Works CitedAusten, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
Elinor’s Duties and Emotions: Conflicting Forces in Sense and Sensibility
Elinor’s mind is pulled in conflicting directions by her desires and obligations. Elinor loves Edward and wants to be with him, but after hearing about Lucy’s engagement to him, she withdraws her feelings. However, Elinor is aware of Lucy’s jealousy and deception, and doubts Edward’s love for Lucy. Elinor’s desire to be with Edward and her obligation to abide by society’s rules create conflicting feelings within Elinor.
Although Elinor hides her feelings, it is evident that she feels deep affection for Edward. When Edward arrives at Norland, he and Elinor become acquainted. Through Elinor’s mother’s eyes, it is apparent that Elinor and Edward love each other and will get married. However, Elinor’s sister Marianne questions how Elinor could love a man who is so untasteful and plain. In response, Elinor states that she has ‘[seen] a great deal of him” and “studied his sentiments and heard his opinions.” She continues on to praise Edward, pronouncing that his “mind is well read,” “his imagination lively,” and “his taste delicate and pure.” Elinor also states that she knows Edward “so well she thinks him handsome” (Austen, 22). Through Elinor’s compliments, it is apparent that she admires and cares for Edward. It is also evident that Elinor believes Edward loves her. Thinking to herself, Elinor says she “believed the regard to be mutual” (Austen, 23). After Edward visits their new home at Barton, Elinor draws in an attempt to distract herself, but thinks of Edward often. To find comfort, Elinor thinks of “Edward’s affection” and “every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him” (Austen, 100). Elinor thinks of good memories with Edward constantly and deciphers his behavior, making her feelings for Edward apparent.
After Edward leaves Barton, Lucy Steele tells Elinor of her secret engagement to Edward. Elinor is visibly affected and hurt by the news, but she remains calm and civil due to her societal obligation. Upon hearing the of the engagement, Elinor felt “astonishment,” “surprise,” and”solicitude” (Austen, 124-125). In her responses to Lucy, Elinor describes feeling a “painful perplexity” and that her “heart sunk within her” (Austen, 125, 129). However, Elinor kept her composure and although her security sank, “her self command did not sink with it” (Austen, 126). Elinor is shocked and hurt, but her moral imperative to follow society’s rules triumphs, and Elinor is able to conceal her feelings. Elinor “spoke cautiously” and “calmly,” and she “struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy…and complete” (Austen, 124, 129).
Laurence Sterne once wrote “No body, but he who felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man’s mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength.” In the conversations between Elinor and Lucy, it is apparent that Elinor’s mind is pulled in conflicting directions. As Elinor continued to speak to Lucy, she began to doubt their engagement, and resolved that Edward must not really love Lucy but be stuck in engagement with her. Following her senses, Elinor decides to orchestrate another conversation with Lucy to learn more of the engagement. The second conversation between Lucy and Elinor consists of false sincerity from both girls. Lucy repeatedly tries to gain a reaction from Elinor, and Elinor struggles internally while remaining civil towards Lucy. Elinor states that she hid her “very agitated feelings” with a smile (Austen, 143). After the conversation, Elinor is convinced that “Edward was not only without affection for the person who was to be his wife; but that he had not even the chance of being tolerably happy in the marriage” (Austen, 145). Elinor is able to see the deceit and insecurity through Lucy’s continuous gloating. However, Elinor controls her emotions and natural instincts to uphold her social responsibility and preserve her dignity. In another conversation between Elinor and Lucy following a dinner with Mrs. Ferrars, Lucy intentionally vaunts about Mrs. Ferrars’ kindness and liking towards her. Elinor responds bluntly and hopes to end the conversation, but Lucy continues, asking if Elinor is ill. The conversation between the two is interrupted when Edward arrives. Elinor speaks of “forcing herself” to greet Edward as she would normally, and refers to the act as a “struggle” (Austen, 227). Through Elinor’s meetings with Lucy is it shown that Elinor wants to defend herself and Edward’s love for her, but chooses not to as an effort to maintain decency and respectability.
After Edward and Lucy’s engagement is revealed, Elinor is forced to face Edward when Colonel Brandon asks her to relay a message. Upon seeing Edward for the first time since his engagement became public, Elinor describes feeling “astonished,” “confused,” and “uncomfortable” (Austen, 269). She states that she was “determined to get [telling the news] over with” (Austen, 270). Elinor keeps her composure, congratulating and wishing happiness to Edward. During her meeting with Edward, Elinor acts as though his engagement with Lucy has changed nothing, acting as if their connection and love had never existed. After Edwards leaves, though, Elinor recollects on the her past with Edward, his words, and her feelings for him. Complying with her societal obligation, Elinor loses hope of being with Edward, and accepts his marriage with Lucy.
Elinor’s confliction between her love and her conscience highlights the major theme of the novel, passion versus reason. Elinor’s desire to be with Edward and her feelings for him illustrate the passion. However, Elinor conceals her desires in order to abide by societal etiquette, representing the reasoning. Elinor’s voice of reason triumphs in the end, as Elinor and Edward get married and live happily.