Sometime in July 1996
Re: S&S, III, 1-3 (37-39): Gumshoes: A Sequence of Letters
Chapter 37 of Sense and Sensibility is very odd. We dofind anything much like it in P&P except when we read letters by Darcy or Mrs Gardiner nor in S&S except for those long passages entirely devoted to Elinor musing, remembering, thinking and the long story told by Colonel Brandon. If we look at the configuration of the pages in the Penguin 217-219 we see three massive paragraphs which are almost unbroken but for the very briefest or slightest interjections by Elinor; these paragraphs are entirely given over to the voice of Mrs Jennings. Now it's not so much the mass or the consistency of the voice that strikes me as a "give-away" that we have here the remains of a letter written by Mrs Jennings to a friend about the goings on at the Dashwoods at Harley Street, but more importantly that it is not at all interrupted by the presence of the omniscient narrator. Throughout P&P the speeches are all shorter and the omniscient narrator is hardly ever far from our side; always interjecting somehow in the paragraph, always shaping, always commenting however deadpan. I have been looking and looking and no piece is ever allowed to go on in this "undigested" way at length without interlace from someone else or the narrator--except of course when we read Darcy's letter, and the somewhat brief letter by Mrs Gardiner.
What we have beginning with "When I got to Mr. Palmer's, I found Charlotte in quite a fuss about the child..." and ending "I believe I could hellp them to a housemaid, for my Betty has a sister out of place, that would fit them exactly" is a story told in the first person, a narrator whose personality utterly suffuses, shapes, and judges the story for us. Mrs Jennings tells the little scenes in the kind of abbreviated way one finds in slighter epistolary novels and in Pamela especially at the beginning; sometimes the devices and demotic tone remind me very much of Richardson's Pamela ("Lord! thinks she to herself, 'they are all so fond of Lucy..."). This suggests that the good-natured Mrs Jennings of the second part of the novel who seems suddenly so unconcerned with wealth and prestige, so humane about relationships was the original character of S&S whose values could be depended upon to carry parts of the story. A mass of narrating with no sense of any other presence until "Here Mrs Jennings ceased."
Here is a letter from either Elinor & Marianne I or Elinor & Marianne II--as, I suggest there were two separate revisions of the early material.
And what comes hard upon Mrs Jennings's piece, but John Dashwood's of what we have of the original letter deliberately contrasted to Mrs Jennings--which is exactly the way epistolary novels work--begings "Your sister... has suffered dreadfully..." and with the same tiny interjections ends "He would stand to it, cost him what it might." The astute reviser has broken the letter with Marianne's interjection and then brought Mrs Jennings with "blunt sincerity" to say what the narrator wants us to feel, and added the reply which fits perfectly (pp 224- 5). Again and again epistolary novels take the same scene and present it interpreted utterly differently by two different people with juxtaposed letters. Now Clarissa tells it like it was, then Lovelace, and we are to decide for ourselves. Now Clary gives her view, then Anna, and we are to debate the issue.
And again in Chapter 38 there is a long series of massive paragraphs again uninterrupted by a narrator, again not having in them the slightest sense of the presence of an omniscient narrator by Miss Steele now telling her side of the story (pp 219-233) beginning "I am monstrous glad ... " to "Remember me kindly to her" with the addition of "La! if you have not got your best spotted muslin on! to bring us back to the new S&S, all introduced by the redoubtable (what would we do without her) Mrs Jennings for the new S&S: "Get it all otu of her, My dear." To cap the section off the younger Jane Austen had Lucy then appear in her letter to Elinor which she writes for Mrs Jennings' eyes so that she may wheedle the old kind lady and the Middletons into helping her and Edward.
This novel is just chock-a-block with letters from that lively young woman's first attempt at a full length novel, Elinor and Marianne. It had in it 2 contrasting heroines, a Gothic romance with more heroines, a melancholy hero, intense passion, exchanges of lovers (Lucy and Edward, Marianne and Willoughby), and biting social scenes such as those in these chapters complete with tellers who are vivid characters in their own right, or vivid enough; it had betrayals, landscapes, maybe a duel. It did not have the long flat opening chapter (which Southam notes was written to bring us up to where the epistolary novel first begin or to retell in concise way what was told in the dramatic epistolary way); it did not contain the brilliant omniscient narrator satire of John and Fanny Dashwood and many other good things, but it was very promising.
September 27, 1999
Re: S&S, 3:1 (37), Two More Letters.
I have an explanation for the great oddity of Mrs Jennings's non-stop pages long narrative -- as well as John Dashwood and in the chapter set in Kensington Gardens Nancy Steele's. As they stand right now they are almost wholly uninterrupted first person narratives; each tells the same set of events from a different point of view. I think they are in fact three letters which have been cleverly slipped into the omniscient narrative. It is very common in epistolary novels for the same event to be told more than once and from different points of view. That makes for irony, pathos, comedy. The scene between Elinor and Marianne is sandwiched in and I suggest it was originally a letter from Elinor to Mrs Dashwood in Dorset. The awkwardly inset musical party is now explained: it had to be placed there so as to move the Steeles to Fanny and John Dashwood's house so Nancy could spill the beans, and Austen could use these letters in the form of first person naratives.
In a letter novel the scene would then not be offstage, since everything is told through first person narratives through immediate memory.
The ironies in each of the first person narratives is worth noting. Mrs Jennings does not change character from the first part of the novel until now; she was seen from the outside during much of Vol I; now we move into her consciousness and find her to be good-natured and humane, decent, as well as pragmatic. John Dashwood comes across very badly: he is sublimely ignorant of just how awful he is. How do you reach such a person
Here we also have the height of the book, the climax. Note the love plot is thrown to the margins, and the relationship between the sisters made the center. Elinor does't confide her love to Edward in front of us, but to Marianne as Marianne confided hers to Elinor over Willoughby's letters. The moral is of coursse that Marianne sees how she has wronged her sister," and at long last Elinor gives vent to her anguish and resentment in a series of penetrating distinctions:
M: ....And yet you loved him.
Marianne's pained self-reproaches:
She [Marianne] felt all the force of that comparison [of her behavior to Elinor's]; but not as her sister had hoped, to urge her to exertion now; she felt it with all the pain of continual self-reproach, regretted most bitterly that she had never exerted herself before; but it brought only the torture of penitence, without the hope of amendment. Her mind was so much weakened that she still fancied present exertion impossible, and therefore it only dispirited her more (Penguin 228).
February 14, 2003:
S&S: Letters from 2 Drafts of Elinor and Marianne
A long painful diary letter by Elinor remembering and reflecting on what Lucy has told her of Lucy's engagement to Edward
Elinor in continuation to Mrs Dashwood; interlaced with short letters by Mrs Jennings to Mrs Palmer & to Elinor; and a long one by Colonel Brandon to Mrs Dashwood. Elinor includes in hers copies of other people's letters.
Colonel Brandon to Mrs Dashwood: His and Eliza Brandon's and Eliza Williams' Histories
A letter by Mrs Jennings and John Dashwood both to Elinor;
A letter by Nancy Steele, maybe to Mrs Richardson or relatives in Exeter; a letter by Lucy Steele;
Elinor in Continuation: Marianne Apparently Near Death
Willloughby's Confession: A letter to Miss Dashwood