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.
“To His Royal Highness The Prince Regent, This work is, by his Royal Highness’s Permission, most respectfully dedicated, by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, the author” (Austen, Emma ii).The preceding is the dedication of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma, to the Prince of Wales- at his humble suggestion. While Austen was critical of the Prince’s lifestyle, she entertained his wishes- craftily weaving a satirically superfluous commitment of Emma to him (Austen “Letter”). This example is quite indicative of Austen’s writing style: subtle and witty, as well as her opinion of high society: superficial. When applying these contentions to Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, one can derive an entirely new appreciation of her character depiction, particularly of Marianne Dashwood, Ms. Sensibility.Austen portrays a world in which the rich become slightly less rich and all happiness rests in the arms of a man. Perhaps ironically, Austen uses the very few, and relatively undeveloped, male characters to define her two main characters: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The women’s interaction with these men at different times intensifies their satirically, and almost unbelievable, bifurcation as staunchly sense and sensibility.The 1995 film version of the same title, directed by Ang Lee, faced the task of making Elinor and Marianne appealing to a twentieth- century audience, upon whom Austen’s subtlety may have been lost. Interestingly, screen play writer, Emma Thompson, chose to alter the behavior of male characters such as Colonel Brandon, in an effort to redefine the sisters for the modern day; thereby, softening their intensity and rendering them relatable. This paper will examine how the portrayal Colonel Brandon in the novel forces Marianne to appear forever tormented by Willoughby and seek Colonel Brandon as a last resort. While, in the film, Colonel Brandon is presented in such a way to allow the viewer to believe that Marianne truly loves him- this adds depth to her character and develops her beyond mere emotional sensibility.In the novel, Colonel Brandon is a last resort for Marianne not to become a spinster. Marianne, in a sense, has no choice but to marry him once all hope for Willoughby has been extinguished and she recovers from perilous illness. It is debatable whether or not this was the intention of Austen, but she develops Colonel Brandon in such a way that makes him unappealing as an unappealing marriage choice for Marianne. When Marianne first meets the Colonel she finds him “an absolute old bachelor, on the wrong side of five thirty… [with] a face [that] was not handsome” (Austen Sense 32). In reference to the Colonel’s being in love with Marianne, she tells her mother: “he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the time.”(35). Marianne then refers to the Colonel as “infirmed” (35).Throughout the rest of the novel, Marianne deeply, and passionately loves Willoughby, and Colonel Brandon is but in the periphery. Therefore, when, in the very last chapter, Austen tells us Marianne has married the Colonel- it is less than romantic. Furthermore, Austen juxtaposes the marriage as an alternative to worse situations of living. Her first choice was to pine for Willoughby: “Instead of falling sacrifice to irresistible passions” (352). Her second choice was life as a spinster at home: “Instead of remaining even for ever with her mother”(352). However, she dicides in a moment of “calm and sober judgment” that it is best to marry Colonel Brandon, the only other male really available, as a last resort.Although it may appear that Marianne has overcome her former manner of “sensibility,” it is not truly believable. The preceding forty-nine chapters entailed her attachment to Willoughby; this small paragraph offers only a way to survive- one of the only ways to survive in 18th/19th century England for a woman: to become a wife.The film Colonel Brandon is drastically different than he is in the novel. In the film the Colonel is handsome, noble, and dashing. He is constantly portrayed as devoted to Marianne, but not in the “older gentleman” way he might seem in the novel. Instead, he becomes the underdog for whom the audience roots- because they are better able to draw their own conclusions of him.The most important difference in his interaction with Marianne in the film versus the book, is the moment in which he reads her the sonnets that she so loves. Director, Ang Lee, is able to present a moment of true love and adoration. The way in which Marianne hangs on the Colonel’s speech and the way in which he affectionately speaks to her- allow the viewer to feel excitement for a new romance for Marianne, not simply to pity her. Very significant to this scene is when she asks how long the Colonel will be gone, in hope that he will shortly return.James Monaco’s book How to Read a Film tells us the power film has over the novel is that “whatever the novelist describes is filtered through his language, his prejudices, and his point of view. With film we have a certain amount of freedom to choose, to select one detail rather than another” (46). This is precisely how the film version of Sense and Sensibility is able to let the viewer see Marianne as more than the emotionally overwrought character of the novel. Because she is able to love the Colonel, she is a more believable and deeper character. The novel version of Marianne makes her appear pathetic and forever stuck in her turmoil of sensibility.Works CitedAusten, Jane. Emma. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1996.Austen, Jane. “Letter of February 16th, 1813 to Martha Lloyd.” Jane Austen’s opinion on the infidelities of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Available at http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/jprncwal.html. 10 May 2003.Lee, Ang, dir. Sense and Sensibility. With Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Columbia, 1995.Monoco, James. How to Read a Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
“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.
Marriage is at the heart of every Jane Austen novel, or, at the very least, at the end of them, as every one of Austen’s heroines find themselves at ‘The End’ with a husband, a fortune and lifelong happiness. In reality, however, women often had to make a choice between love and money and hope that lifelong happiness would follow, and while popular opinion favoured ‘love and esteem’, many conduct manuals of the period instructed that ‘self preservation above inclination’ would ensure marital bliss (Jones, 2009, p. 1, 11). Marriage, therefore, was incredibly important to young ladies as it could destroy or secure future contentment, and to Austen, the importance of marriage can be considered threefold, in terms of its importance to society, to the individual and its importance in terms of morality and virtue. In Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, marriage is important as a means of socioeconomic mobility, an exploration of morality and ‘proper’ conduct and as a social contract that affects the wider community.
“She found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.”
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 50
When Marianne married Colonel Brandon, she not only gained a husband and a fortune but numerous social and domestic responsibilities and would have been expected and encouraged to adopt a new role within society, Elizabeth would have faced similar duties in Derbyshire as Mrs Darcy (Jones, 2009, p. 136). Interestingly, the liveliest heroines of these novels become the wives who happily take on the most social responsibility, in this way, Austen presents marriage in a realistic practical context and criticizes elopement as it fails meet the important demands of the wider community, in contrast, Lydia’s decision to run away with Wickham is presented as foolish and irresponsible (Sundari, 2015). The practical and proper marriages of the heroines in these novels brings joy to both their families and to the wider community, and for women of the period, marriage was a means of participating in society in a meaningful sense (Jones, 2009, p. 136).
However, the legitimacy and propriety of Marianne’s marriage in Sense and Sensibility is juxtaposed with the passionate attachment she had with Willoughby and the unfortunate marriage of Brandon’s cousin Eliza who succumbed to social expectations and faced ruination for it. While Marianne’s decision to marry Brandon and take practical steps towards contributing to society rather than uphold her earlier ideals and remain unmarried may not seem to be a ‘happy ending’ from an objective standpoint, Austen describes Marianne as “as much devoted to her husband as [she] had once been to Willoughby”, and as such prioritizes a socially beneficial and companionate approach to marriage (Galperin, 2003, p. 110). Importantly, Marianne makes a choice to enter society through marriage, whereas Eliza is coerced into a disastrous marriage with Brandon’s brother with consequences seemingly taken directly from a moralist pamphlet, here Austen makes a distinction between marriages that have the advantage of being socially advantageous and marriages that purely exist for this purpose (Jones, 2009, p. 139). Of course, not every one of Austen’s marriages that is purely socially or socioeconomically motivated fails so dramatically, Charlotte’s marriage to Collins is entirely contractual and operates with no dire consequences to either party or their community, but is, comparatively not as successful as Elizabeth’s marriage to Darcy. In this sense, Pride and Prejudice is a far more idealistic novel than Sense and Sensibility in its depiction of marriage as a union of the individual and society (Poovey, 1984, p. 17).
“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony”
Jane Austen, Letter to Fanny Knight
Sense and Sensibility is also comparably candid when it comes to the importance of marrying for money, especially in the eyes of the heroines who are acutely aware that they need to marry well to stave off destitution. With no relatives willing to support Elinor and Marianne, they are required to marry above their station as they have no means of earning money for themselves. Fortunately, Austen and moralists of the day agreed that ‘inequality of wealth’ is not a hinderence to marriage so long as the other party is mutual in character (Jones, 2009, p. 9). This is true of Elizabeth and Jane and Elinor and Marianne who are held in high esteem by their communities but interestingly the mercenary men in these novels tend to be presented as anything but worthy of the wealthy women they prey upon. These men, like Austen’s heroines, need to marry to live a comfortable life, whereas, the single men in possession of good fortunes, while they may be in want of a wife, are not in need of a wife. However, the heroines are not predatory and motivated purely by money as the men seem to be, in fact, Elizabeth’s refusal of two well-to-do suitors is the antithesis of Wickham’s preying upon two wealthy young women, and while Darcy’s 10,000 a year is not inconsequential, it is not as important to Austen as mutual regard and affection even at the risk of a ‘penny-scraping existence’ (Jones, 2009, p. 11). However, Austen is a realist, and perhaps even a cynic inasmuch as she is a romantic, and every one of her heroines in need of socioeconomic mobility is provided with it, and Mrs Bennet’s life goal to marry off her daughters, while seemingly silly, is an important one in order to assure the happiness of her family.
“Oh, Lizzy! Do anything rather than marry without affection.”
– Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 59
Interestingly, marriages to Austen are important as means of rewarding and punishing behaviour, and the happiest marriages to Austen are symbiotic unions based on mutual strength of character and are earned after ‘hard work, perseverance, love and luck’ (Sundari, 2015). The importance of marriage is most prominent here, particularly, the importance of carefully seeking a complementary partner. Elizabeth and Jane’s parents are terribly matched, as her father does not respect the woman he married after being “dazzled by youth, vivacity and beauty”, their daughters are far more cautious, perhaps too cautious according to Charlotte, but nonetheless, rewarded for their virtue and judgement (Jones, 2009, p. 21). Women in the period had little autonomy except in regards to marriage, and Austen sagely elevates this decision beyond mere physical compatibility, Lydia makes her choice too quickly, based on passion and must endure a life of Wickham’s gambling and philandering (Jones, 2009, p. 157). Marianne’s marriage to Brandon whom she was not initially attracted to mirrors Lydia’s elopement with Wickham and her own feelings towards Willoughby, if she had remained with Willoughby would she have remained happy once the physical attraction had worn off, or would Willoughby have followed in Wickham’s footsteps and sought other companions leaving Marianne powerless? (Jones, 2009, p. 157). Once married, women forfeited most of their autonomy and were at the mercy of their husbands, Austen stresses the importance of an informed and measured decision.
The ‘ideal’ central marriages in each novel are challenged and strengthened by the marriages of the supporting characters throughout. The loveless union of the Collins’ provides the setting for Elizabeth’s refusal of Darcy, just as the well matched Gardiners serve as Elizabeth’s guide as she enters into a more civil relationship with him at Pemberley. Elinor contemplates the impact of unhappy marriages at length as the ludicrous pairing of the Palmers sets the stage for her learning of Lucy and Edward’s engagement and lamenting his assured future misery. Through this, Elinor comes to realize that many men are taken in by beautiful but stupid women and spend their lives paying for it, this is a theme reflected in both novels and through Elinor’s sound and sensible judgement, Austen explores the potential for even intelligent people, like Edward and Mr Bennet, to make bad decisions when it comes to marriage (Jones, 2009, p. 147). These ‘less than perfect’ marriages are part and parcel of Austen’s novels and Austen seems to suggest that it is important to be circumspect during courtship and that “extreme feelings were transient and could not be maintained” but that compatibility in marriage required affection, mutual respect and complimentary temperaments (Jones, 2003, p. 146).
Marriage, to Austen, is important because it is the means by which her heroines achieve happiness and fulfilment, a balanced and well considered marriage provides her heroines with a strong social support network, good socioeconomic standing and a symbiotic union of like-minded and loving people. Austen’s novels provide insight and sophisticated social commentary about the role and importance of marriage in society that is still relevant, and while seemingly ‘counter-conduct’ provides sound and reasonable moral instruction to her readers in their own romantic endeavours. Beyond these ‘higher’ more complex uses, Austen understood the importance of marriage at the end of a romance novel as a reward for perseverance and good behaviour and a potential source of joy and misery for the unscrupulous and foolhardy.
Galperin, W. (2003). The historical Austen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Jones, H. (2009). Jane Austen and marriage. London: Continuum.
Pemberley.com,. (2015). Jane Austen — Letters — Brabourne Edition — Letters to Fanny Knight, 1814-1816. Retrieved 27 April 2015, from http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/brablt15.html#toc
Poovey, M. (1984). The proper lady and the woman writer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sundari, S. P. G. (2015, January). The theme of love and marriage in Jane Austen’s novels: Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Language In India, 15(1), 101+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA404830583&v=2.1&u=cowan&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=cd6d68a07c678c7339f5fc1304048214
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.
“In what sense is a child of that age a philosopher?” – Coleridge
If philosophy is defined as ‘advanced knowledge or learning’, it can be argued that age is not central to this definition, but the idiosyncratic experiences that are felt by each individual. Throughout both Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and William Wordsworth’s Two Part Prelude, young protagonists encounter experiences that force maturity in mind, even if not in physical form. Therefore, for some, it may be possible to reach this level of philosophy that Coleridge seems to imply is only possible in adulthood. Arguably, as a child, you feel the simplest version of any emotion; this can be seen also as the rawest form of feeling, a truth associated with philosophy. In a society that advocates, in line with Coleridge, that authority stems only from the mature, this argument is interesting to consider. It explores both physical and mental experience through an adolescence perspective, alluding to the Romantic ideal of entering realms of human understanding that were originally not encountered: in other words, searching for a philosopher in a form where no-one would previously think to look.
In pursuit of this definition of ‘advanced knowledge’, this can extend to the knowledge that one obtains from feeling acute emotion. In both texts, the young protagonists experience a fear and pain that not only takes away the blithe attitude of an adolescent, but places the burden of adult responsibility and pain upon them. In Sense and Sensibility, Douglas Bush suggests that Austen focuses on a ‘misery for the innocent’. And this is certainly true; Elinor, despite her young age, can arguably be described as a philosopher in her understanding of her existence in relationship to pain:
Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her for ever from the object of her love.
There is, undeniably, a sense of the dramatic to Elinor’s reaction. She uses language that is incredibly final –such as ‘mourning’ and ‘forever’ –that suggests more that Edward has passed, rather than chosen another. Thus, there is a tension between whether Elinor is a philosopher, considering her existence, or a melodramatic teen. Yet, in a society where identity is based upon marriage, whether for love or not, perhaps this loss does legitimately feel like the death of her chance to marry through choice. Furthermore, Elinor can be considered as a ‘philosopher’ through this painful experience; she learns the harsh truth of injustice, and becomes wiser through pain. Yet, if she is labelled as a philosopher, it is in private only. She must process this experience in ‘private’. Elinor thus struggles against the very conventions of the genre she is a part of. A convention of Romanticism is learning the truth of true, raw emotion, and whilst she feels this, she cannot verbally express it; this is yet another ‘obstacle’ she must overcome. Despite this argument, Marvin Mudrick states that ‘Austen’s tone is didactic and reproving’. This suggests the narrator as an almost parent perspective, that criticizes the over-dramatization of Elinor’s emotions, despite her given role as the more reasonable sister. This perhaps suggests that her lack of maturity simply presents an incapacity for Elinor to be a true philosopher; she has experienced the initial sting of love, but not yet the elongated agony of a life without love. Yet, neither argument is wholly wrong or right. Instead, it can be suggested that Elinor is experiencing a transition to this philosopher status. She has learned a higher truth about anguish, yet her age means she does not yet have the emotional capacity to fully register the experience. Therefore, Elinor’s personal experiences mean she possibly there is a prospect of philosophy, yet it is currently hindered by her immaturity.
In the opening statement, Coleridge questions as to whether, specifically, a child can exist as a philosopher. In Wordsworth’s Two-Part Prelude, the poet instead considers whether a childhood experience can inspire a philosophy in later life. As an adult, Wordsworth experiences:
[…] images, to which in following years,
Far other feelings were attached […]
And, like their archetypes, know no decay. (lines 285-287)
This particular quote examines how an experience can be felt by a child, and then become altered through the act of memory. For Wordsworth, the ‘archetypes’ of the memory remain wholly intact, the original emotions he would have felt as a child. Yet, upon the act of remembering this experience, ‘far other feelings were attached’, suggesting that the image becomes something else entirely. Therefore, we are left with an image and subsequently, some attached feelings, the ‘attached’ emotions indistinguishable from the ‘archetype’. It is thus interesting to consider the thought processes as both adult and child. A child is unrestrained by social expectations and uninfluenced by outside thought, suggesting this to be an optimum period to know the simple truth of a human’s existence. However, it is as an adult that Wordsworth realizes this awareness of thought process and how one exists; no memory can remain in its original state. As the adolescent transitions to the mature, the thought process will change, and invoking a memory will only encourage new thoughts and judgement to become ‘attached’ to it. But, this does not mean the original memory changes its shape. If these attached thoughts are indeed those that imply Wordsworth is a philosopher, it does not change the ‘archetypes’. The younger Wordsworth merely felt an ‘image’, an experience, that was meaningless at the time. It is only upon reflection that it becomes significant. Therefore, this argument can only agree with Coleridge. A child of only nine, the age of Wordsworth at the time of experience, cannot exist as a philosopher. The experiences he feels as an adolescent, however, can facilitate later possibility for philosophic thought.
Thus far, Coleridge’s statement has been considered as a sincere point of argument. Yet, it must also be read as satire. If, as he may suggest, a child can only feel modest emotion, it is perhaps the responsibility of others to act as philosophers. Thus, they can act as guidance to the young on the truth about reality and knowledge. In Sense and Sensibility, there is an innate focus on human relationships. As previously established, it is questionable as to whether Elinor had the capacity to act as a philosopher at such a young age. If so, Mrs Dashwood must maintain this position of responsibility in teaching her daughters the truth of their existence, this time in a social context. As girls becoming women in an extremely observant nineteenth century society, there is a certain expectation on Elinor, as the older sister, to act as the perfect wife. Towards the beginning of the novel, Mrs Dashwood considers this act of sacrifice in considering another’s happiness: “We shall miss her; but she will be happy.” (p.15) This emphasis on the ‘she’ suggests an authority in language, and her superior knowledge on social standing. It, despite the pronoun belonging to Elinor, also implies that Mrs Dashwood is more knowledgeable on how her daughter will feel than she is herself. This is once again emphasized in the slight yet noticeable shift in verbs. When addressing their own actions, Mrs Dashwood specifies ‘shall’, suggesting an intention, rather than a deliberate action. Yet, when she continues to address Elinor’s future, the language switches to the more deliberate ‘will’, implying a determination that cements her statement. This argument, undoubtedly, supports the possible intention of Coleridge’s statement as satire; Elinor’s Mother is still present to decide the happiness of her existence, refusing to allow any space for Elinor to take on this role herself. Yet, even this idea of Mrs Dashwood as, instead, the philosopher, seems ludicrous. Throughout the novel, she is constantly represented as encouraging the fanciful and romantic nature of her other daughter, Marianne. To suddenly assume this role of such thoughtful responsibility thus possibly seems a little unrealistic. Yet, it does suggest the idea that perhaps Elinor is not yet a philosopher at this age because she has not been allowed to do so. With more possible freedom, Elinor only grows in to deciding her own truth of the life she will live, and how it will make her feel.
A philosopher himself, Plato considered that the child was a human at its most advanced form. With this argument, it is perhaps interesting to consider if perhaps it is only children who are true philosophers. Untarnished by the outside world, only those in adolescence can achieve a pure experience of the world, and truly know the reason for existence. It is then with adulthood that comes also pain, of which can cloud a mind with hate and spite. It is then that a person cannot philosophize, cannot see the truth of individual existence. Contrary to Coleridge, it is not questionable as to whether one child can exist as a philosopher, but all of them.
Adams, A. Authors in Their Age Wordsworth (Glasgow & London: Blackie & Sons Ltd, 1981)
Austen, J. Sense and Sensibility (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1992)
Bush, D. Jane Austen (London & Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1975)
Mudrick,M. ‘Irony and Convention versus feeling’ in Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park A Casebook (London & Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1976)
Wordsworth, W. The Two-Part Prelude (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Although she only lived to forty-one years of age and published a mere six works, Jane Austen was one of the most profound authors of the nineteenth century. Her first published work, penned when she was but nineteen years old, was Sense and Sensibility: a dramatic rollercoaster of a story about two very different sisters and their journey through life and love. By looking at Jane Austen’s life, it is apparent that her personal life heavily influenced Sense and Sensibility in the context of the Dashwoods, other characters in the novel, varying situations they encounter, and the setting of her story, as well as being aided by her family. Society in her day helped Austen shape her own views on women as well as her own social commentary that she used in her novels.
The main characters in Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood women, are similar to many people in Jane Austen’s life, and many of the situations her characters face stem from experiences she had in her own life. For example, her great-grandmother was faced with a situation, not unlike Mrs. Dashwood’s: she was evicted from her home after her husband’s death by a close relative and was forced to take up teaching and other odd jobs in order to support her children and send them to school: “With a daughter and six sons to support, Elizabeth appealed to her father-in-law, who promised her £200 before he died. It turned out that his estate was tied up in favour of his eldest little grandson. Denied even her £200, Elizabeth paid off debts by selling valuables and a leasehold house, and then moved to Seven Oaks to take a roomy old home where she boarded and cleaned for the grammar school’s schoolmaster and some of his pupils” (Honan 12). This makes it easier to understand where Austen derived her ideas for her writing.
Another instance of Austen using her surroundings in her novel is Elinor and Marianne’s close and loving relationship. Austen’s older sister Cassandra was her anchor and her most intimate friend, especially in the early years of her life (Honan 5). Through this, she was able to form a very realistic relationship between the two contrasting Dashwood sisters. On the trend of templates, Marianne’s “putrid fever” towards the end of the novel was experienced firsthand by Austen, as while she was visiting colleges she contracted the illness of the same sort, typhus, and therefore knew what it was like to have the sickness (Austen 252; Honan 31). Austen, her sister, and her niece Jane Cooper all nearly died, and when the girls returned home, Jane Cooper’s mother died from the disease (Honan 31). This was no doubt a traumatic event for all involved, leading Austen to use it in her work as a romantic tool. This gives readers a chance to interpret the novel in a real way, as Austen intended. Compared to the literature of the time, Austen’s works were very real and in tune with how things really were in terms of society, love, and everything in between.
The way Elinor and Marianne handle their love-related dilemmas are very different, but they both hail from their author’s own tragic love life. When Austen was twenty, she met Tom Lefroy, her best friend’s nephew. He was charming and Austen could not find any fault in him. All seemed to be well until one day he dropped everything and left her in the dust since she was not of the status he or his family required (Honen 111). This situation is mirrored very closely in Sense and Sensibility with Edward and Elinor’s relationship as well as the one between Marianne and Willoughby. Although the girls and their relationships are strikingly different, Austen’s anguish bleeds through both of the girls’ responses to betrayal and being hurt by the men they love (80). Austen knew of love and heartbreak, obvious through the vividness in her works, but it is argued that she never found closure and therefore sought to give all her stories happy endings (“Jane Austen’s Life”).
Jane Austen used other instances in her life to create other characters and situations throughout Sense and Sensibility. For example, her best friend, Anne Lefroy, had the emotional range of Marianne and the bluntness of Mrs. Jennings: “Mrs. Lefroy was not subtle: she was a dramatic, passionate woman who had a whirlwind effect on nearly everyone… Her feelings outstripped or pressed at the limits of language…” (Honan 80). To continue, her uneducated friend Martha was the perfect mold for the likes of the Miss Steeles, who, like Martha, were mostly uneducated but knew how to handle themselves in some form around those of a higher class (Honen 79). Austen writes of Anne Steele, a character whose background mimics Martha’s: “… her features were pretty, and she has a sharp quick eye, and a smartness of air, which, though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person. Their manners were particularly civil, and Elinor soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense…” (Austen 99). Austen used her innate sense of observation, developed at an early age, to assess and consequently portray people based on their actions and their character, rather than on their appearances (Honen 63). This is shown many times throughout the novel, even when describing the main characters. When describing Margaret, she briefly covers the shape of her body, skin color, smile, and eyes, but even throughout all of that, Austen does not as much describe Margaret as a physical object, but rather as a deep character, emphasizing her good qualities and letting her attributes describe and define her rather than her looks (39).
Jane Austen’s young life was centered around her family and, according to Park Honan, that is where her personality grew and flourished (89). Her family, both immediate and extended, influenced her characters and stories (Warren). Her idol and closest friend, her sister Cassandra, was proficient in art, and Austen mimics this talent in Elinor’s character and gives her sister the recognition her ability deserved (Honan 37). Her mother was quick-witted and poetic, with a mild sense of humor that Jane ended up inheriting and ingraining in her works, from her early burlesque plays to Sense and Sensibility. On the subject of her siblings, her brother James confided in her at one point, claiming that he wished he could drop out of Oxford to be part of a clergy, however, Mr. Austen was adamant that all his children be educated (Honan 57). In Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars mentions how he and his family can never agree on a profession, as he wished for a simple, tranquil life in the clergy over law or politics, which are his family’s choices for him, and how he now sits idle at Oxford: “We could never agree in our choice of a profession. I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family” (Austen 85). In terms of her family as a whole, her family’s financial status as the “poor end of the gentry” gave Jane Austen the insight she needed to write the Dashwood women’s situation when they were kicked out of their home with little money to live off of, as she lived most of her life with her family having little to spare (Honen 92). Alternatively, Austen’s family moved to Bath when Jane was a little bit older, and because of this she was forced to move around quite a bit and stay in a multitude of different places (“Jane Austen’s Life”). This gave her the experience needed to write about many different areas, including London, where she visited for a time.
Jane Austen was a keen observer and, being shy, often kept to the sidelines at parties and balls (Honen 87). Based on her observations of the party-goers compared to how she saw her family at home, she formed opinions about the society in which she lived and subtly poked fun at the unfairness and double standards that existed within society’s views while also weaving in her own personal beliefs. For instance, the theme of money is nearly overwhelming in Sense and Sensibility. Society simply revolved around money, and if one wished to be anything in society, they had to have money or one was essentially worthless. In her novel, Willoughby leaves Marianne under the late premise that she did not have money and he was “forced” to marry a rich woman in order to make a name for himself (Austen 268). Willoughby’s wife, Miss Grey, is quite the catch in the novel according to the gossip, although she is miffed about being used for her money and she knows full well that Willoughby does not love her; only her money (Austen 270). On the subject of Willoughby, his slightly promiscuous and deceiving nature stemmed from Jane’s strange intrigue with adultery and sexual infidelity, which is connected to society in that it collectively was always looking for something to gossip about, and adultery could taint or even ruin someone’s reputation (Honen 164). Austen also found the absurdity in respect to what the higher classes did in their free time: the women stitched, played instruments, or gossiped while the men hunted; these things were all they seemed to do. Jane Austen used this to her advantage in her books as a mockery and a plot catalyst (“Jane Austen’s Life”).
The middle gentry did not have the freedom of extended job choice at this time, even men. This was made apparent by Edward’s commentary on his own nonexistent career (Austen 85). Austen showed how society created anguish in some with Elinor’s heartbreaking situation with Lucy Steele where she was forced to keep face and keep her heartbreak inside because of a promise she made because it was proper to do so (Austen 151).
In a moral sense, Jane Austen was firmly grounded in what she believed. Her strong faith in God enabled her fun side to embellish the comical parts of her writing while giving all her pieces an undertone of unquestioning assurance (Honan 275). Instead of obsessing over her characters’ looks and dress, Austen would rather expand on how they were as a person (39). With that, she also showed how differing personality types were not bad, in fact, through Marianne and Elinor, she demonstrated how the girls worked together and their differences in thought and perception helped them love each other (Honen 277). This shows Austen’s own character and that how she thought and wrote was not influenced by what the world thought, which gives insight into the text and how to make sense of her work.
First-wave feminism was just beginning to take root at the time of Jane Austen. When she was first able to read, at about ten years of age, she was introduced to the earliest feminist authors and she ate up the material (Honen 33). Marianne’s intense desire to always speak her mind shows how society dampened women’s self-expression and equality, like when the girls are visiting with Mrs. Ferrars and Marianne lashes out at Mrs. Ferrars when she regards Elinor’s paintings as unremarkable in comparison to Miss Morton’s (Austen 193-194). Marianne exclaims, “This is admiration of a very particular kind! What is Miss Morton to us? Who knows, or who cares, for her?– it is Elinor of whom we think and speak” (Austen 193). This is one of Marianne’s most intense outbursts, and her full range of emotion shows in her words, however, the ones around her do not see this as a positive (Austen 194). On another note, Elinor throws Marianne for a loop when she mentions that she does not exactly have the desire to marry Edward, as her feelings for him, in the beginning, were simply friendly in nature in the beginning, and her sister finds this preposterous, which shows how unusual it was for women to be independent and show qualities aside from the mainstream (Austen 18). Austen took issue with how society saw the perfect woman: a cookie-cutter beauty that was proper, emotionless, and hardworking. Austen illustrates her characters as distinct individuals and celebrated their diversity.
In Austen’s time, a woman’s worth was partially set on the perfection of her manners, since that is what society decided to judge a woman on rather than her personality or special talent, like Lady Middleton, who is void of any personality and only cares for her children (Austen 99). Austen did not like this way of evaluation, so she creates Marianne’s character to be one of wild emotions and often does not care what others think, which is a feminist viewpoint on what women should be able to do: speak their minds without fear of retaliation or open judgment. For instance, Elinor is just about forced to keep Anne Steele’s secret of her engagement to Edward because of societal standards, even though it ate at her for four entire months (Austen 151). Elinor only spills to Marianne because her sister is wailing about her own heartbreak, and it almost seems like she tells her for empathy’s sake (Austen 151). Austen created these instances because she saw just how complex women were in numerous ways. She observed social activities, both domestic and public, and because of her observations was one of the first to delve into the female psyche in her novels, as the feminine mind was not even breached in literature at the time (Honen 176). This gave her the opportunity to speak truth about women and how they really were, which opens a window into depicting the text as an outsider looking in.
Jane Austen used society to create her own viewpoints on women and the concept of feminism. She also used her life, surroundings, and family to help her write Sense and Sensibility. Austen may not have written many books before her untimely death, but what she said in them was extremely impactful and still is today.
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
Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility and Ang Lee’s film interpretation of the same name share many key similarities. Important transferred elements and cardinal functions are sustained in the jump from novel to film, rendering the plot, atmosphere and characters familiar to the reader. However, the overall impact of the same underlying story is vastly different when told utilizing these two independent mediums. While both book and film explore the life and loves of the Dashwood sisters, main narrative and character elements of Austen’s novel leave readers with the sentiment that sense is the better of the two options, as it emphasizes the stability and happiness found in contented relationships, like that of Elinor and Edward’s, over the wild and dangerous nature of impassioned love, like that which leaves Marianne deathly ill and nearly kills her. The film, on the other hand, utilizes characterization, portrayal, and cinematic enunciation through visual elements to impart viewers with the notion that sensibility is the more desirable quality of the two, going so far as to alter elements of both girls’ relationships in order to present them in a more romanticized, idyllic light.
One of the most evident reasons that the film and novel differ in impact is that their overall portrayal of the Dashwoods’ love interests, Edward and Colonel Brandon, is so starkly different. Much is left to be desired from the reader’s first impression of Edward in the novel, as he is described to be “not handsome”, with his manners requiring “intimacy to make them pleasing” (14). Despite his constrained nature however, Edward has moments when he is able to overcome his often paralyzing shyness and gives the Dashwoods “every indication of an open affectionate heart” (14). Colonel Brandon does not fare well by way of first impressions either, as both Marianne and Elinor dismiss him as a suitor due to his “advanced years” and “forlorn condition as an old bachelor” (29). But his heart is also ultimately in the right place as he demonstrates through repeated mindfulness and care for others in difficult situations, from diverting attention from Elinor’s love life at a dinner party to offering Edward a home after his fall from family grace. The impact of this characterization is reader satisfaction in knowing that, while neither Dashwood sister ends up in an impassioned or intensely romantic relationship, they will be happy and well cared for by settling down with two very kind and pragmatic men. Both men’s portrayal provides further evidence of the novel’s significance in deeming sense a superior option to sensibility. Despite their plain and unremarkable personalities, Edward and Brandon end up well matched with the Dashwood sisters, while Willoughby, a character who Marianne enjoyed a more passionate relationship with, was almost the death of her.
In direct contrast to the novel, the film adaptation adds more dimension and personality to Edward’s and Brandon’s characters. While the reader is only able to catch small glimpses into Edward’s character by way of the Dashwood’s conversations about him, film viewers get to see a newly imagined and fully fleshed out Edward; one who is charming, witty, and considerate. From scenes where he sword fights playfully with Margaret, to those depicting long walks with Elinor around Norland, it’s clear that the film intends for us to view him as an ideal romantic partner rather than just a nice man. Even choosing actor Hugh Grant, who is classically handsome and naturally charming, to play Edward was a conscious decision made to sway viewer interpretation of his character. Like Edward, Colonel Brandon receives a similar character reimagining in order to take on the role of a dashing suitor. He rescues and carries in Marianne from the freezing cold, reads to her lovingly from a book of sonnets, and is wed to her in a grand ceremony towards the end of the film – all scenes that were fully contrived by novel adaptors in an attempt to show his character in a different light. It’s also worth noting the mirroring of Willoughby’s romantic gestures by Brandon in the film – a decision that was likely made in an effort to subconsciously establish Brandon as a possible suitor for Marianne early on before he becomes a more viable option later. The highly romanticized view of both characters impacts film viewers in that they are more emotionally attached to and firmly believe in the importance of affection in relationships. Edward and Colonel Brandon are no longer just pragmatic choices for the Dashwood girls as emphasized by the novel – through the eyes of cinema both couples now fit into highly picturesque and classical version of what love should look like. This difference in portrayal further adds to the film’s significance in showing sensibility as the better option of the two, as it recommends passion in romance over practicality.
Aside from the portrayal of male characters in the film and novel, another great difference between the two is in their visual and narrative portrayal of each sister’s relationship. Many of Edward and Elinor’s interactions in the film are staged so that the couple is constricted in tight, close-up shots with pillars or doorways often framing them. A great of example of this happens early on in the movie in a sequence where Edward walks through a hall of doors to find Elinor, also framed by a door, silently weeping at her family’s misfortune of being forced from Norland. Though the moment they share as Edward attempts to console Elinor is sweet, it feels as though they are restricting their speech and holding back their true feelings from one another – a sentiment that is echoed by the aforementioned restrictive setup of the scene and camera shots. Marianne and Colonel Brandon, on the other hand, partake in a passionate and idealized romance – especially in comparison to the reserved nature of Edward and Elinor’s relationship. Their slowly growing affection for one another is complemented by dramatic scenes of Brandon rescuing Marianne in the pouring rain, him reading to her against the backdrop of an idyllic pastoral scene, and a final grand wedding between the two where Edward and Elinor play second fiddle to the bride and groom as part of the wedding party. The impact of using these sharply contrasting cinematic visual elements is felt strongly by the viewer, who is left with the notion that a classic romance like that of Marianne and Brandon’s is highly preferable to a cautious one like Elinor and Edward’s. While both couples are happy, the film is clear in using cinematic enunciation to portray Marianne and Brandon as the more fulfilled pair, ultimately signifying that sensibility makes for purer and better relationships than sense.
In comparison to the film, Austen’s novel goes in the opposite direction when portraying both couples. In the last few chapters of the book, Elinor and Edward’s relationship is brought to the forefront as readers are concerned about when and how their love will, if ever, come to fruition. Their patience throughout the novel is rewarded as readers get to see a fleshed out ending to the couple’s prolonged love story and even get a peek into their idyllic married life. In contrast to this nicely wrapped up ending is Marianne and Brandon’s relationship, which is rushed together within the last page or so of the novel. Their relationship seems almost like an afterthought to the narrator who, after noting the “great confederacy against” Marianne, asks “what could she do?” in regards to doing anything but marrying Brandon (267). The voice behind this question sounds flippant and almost a bit mocking, as though Marianne has no other option than to be paired off with Brandon because of his expressed interest in her, and that her marrying him isn’t so much a product of their mutual affection as it is due to the outside pressure from other characters. The narrator’s tone in depicting Marianne and Brandon’s quickly formed relationship, and portrayal of Elinor and Edward’s idyllic marriage leaves the viewer with the notion that proceeding through life with level-headed sense is a far better option to acting impulsively upon feeling, as Elinor seems to have ended up with the better partner. This directly contrasts the film, which depicts Marianne and Brandon as the more fulfilled couple, and ultimately shows the difference in significance between the two mediums, where film and novel each work to portray sensibility and sense, respectively, as the better of the two.
Differences in portrayal of Elinor’s reserved character is another element that affect the impact and significance of both the novel and film. Whenever Elinor is upset in the novel the reader is directly informed of her inner turmoil through Austen’s use of free indirect discourse. Because of this third-person narration, the reader knows of Elinor’s true feelings while other characters in the book itself are unaware of her suffering. In seeing her conceal her emotions so as not to burden those around her with her own heartache, the reader is impacted and left with the notion that Elinor is highly in control of what she feels and how she acts, especially in comparison to the perpetually weepy Marianne. This ability to exercise such great discipline, and ultimately act as the rock of the family, is further significant in that it recommends the usefulness of sense to readers to the paralyzing effects of sensibility, as seen through Marianne.
Because free indirect discourse is a main non-transferable element of the novel that must be subject to adaptation proper, viewers are informed of Elinor’s struggles through the actor’s performance. In this case the actor, Emma Thompson, chooses to express slight distress through facial expressions upon learning bad news before quickly shutting down to other characters and putting up a steely facade. While this attempts to portray Elinor’s reserved nature in a way similar to the book, the communication and ultimate impact through the two mediums could not have more different effects. In learning about Elinor’s true emotions through free indirect discourse, readers view her as a silent but strong type who always keeps herself together for the greater good of her family. In the film, however, Elinor’s brief emotional state and subsequent shut out of others make her seem as though she is the one in need of a change of heart rather than Marianne, as ascertained by the novel. Why? Because while Marianne is emotional by nature, she is portrayed as being better off because she is able to express her emotion to others and do something about her unresolved feelings. Elinor, on the other hand, is left throughout the film to cope on her own in silent misery. This impact of these differences has the overall effect of depicting sensibility as being superior to sense, as the former allows expression while the latter results in distress by isolation.
Through differences in the portrayal of love interests, relationships, and Elinor’s character overall, the impact and significance of the film and novel Sense and Sensibility differ in that the former recommends sensibility while the latter recommends sense. The film’s emphasis on sensibility is clear from the start, as characters are reimagined and worked into more well-spoken, charming versions of their novel counterparts and prove to be more worthy partners in relationships that are equally, if not more, romanticized through narrative, tone and cinematic enunciation. Conversely, the novel maintains a more modest depiction of characters and relationships, and emphasizes the importance of practicality and contentedness in choosing a partner over the wild and unruly passions that come from relationships governed by sensibility. Aside from the romantic aspects of both film and novel, Elinor’s portrayal in itself advocates for sensibility in the former, as she is depicted to be the sister suffering the most out of the two due to her inability to express her feelings like Marianne. The novel, however, utilizes free indirect discourse to show Elinor’s reserved nature to be one of her great strengths, as she is able to stay composed and make rational decisions – especially in comparison to Marianne, who is often a victim of her overactive emotions and easily attached heart.
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.