Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapters 16 - 18

Re: Edward Ferrars: The Quiet Archness of His Manner

It's been suggested that the 1995 Miramax S&S, screenplay Emma Thompson produced not only a more attractive but a different Edward Ferrars than the one we find in Austen.

Not if we try to enter into the mind and heart of the characters. While Austen's presentation of Edward is sometimes wooden because she doesn't throw her narrative into dialogue or dramatic narrative sufficiently often in (this the earliest text of hers we have after the juvenilia), it has some depths of understanding and theme one doesn't find in the film adaptation.

The film is very clever; they have "killed three birds with one stone:" they have 1) filled out Margaret's character delightfully because 2) they have made her express many of our modern objections to the repression Elinor stands for, and 3) used Edward-Hugh Grant's response to her to show Edward Ferrars' gentleness, tact, playfulness, willingness not to dominate the situation at all costs and her response to him to reinforce this picture of his shyness as endearingly lovable. However, strong suggestions towards theseI would have to go on too long to go through the several (thought too few for the reader really to take in Austen's conception) dramatized narratives in which Edward Ferrars takes part. So ideas are in a number of the dialogues of S&S.

I direct the reader's attention to the long series of conversations between Edward, Elinor, and Marianne which stretch over 3 chapters (Vol 2, Chs 17-19, Oxford pp 90-105). First one of the most successful moments when the narrator underlines Edward's "quiet archness of manner:" it comes after Marianne has defined as a mere competence a sum which Elinor would regard as twice that necessary for real wealth, and defended her sum as not extravagant because "A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less,' and Edward who is alert and sensitive and sensible is struck: "'Hunters!' repreated Edward--'But why must you have hunters? Every body does not hunt.'" (Oxford 91). Many pages later Sir John and Mrs Jennings let drop the name of Willoughby as gone and as the reason perhaps Marianne thinks no-one will want to dance:

...when their visitors left them [Sir John & Mrs Jennings], he [Edward] went immediately round to her [Marianne] and said, in a whisper, 'I have been guessing. Shall I tell you my guess?'

'What do you mean?'

'Shall I tell you?'


'Well then; I guess that Mr Willoughby hunts.;

Marianne was surprised and confused, yet she could not help smiling at the quiet archness of his manner (Oxford 100) .

Marianne's view of Austen's Edward Ferrars is inadequate and at times unfair. He is reserved because, like Willoughby, he has something to hide; Willoughby dislikes Brandon because of the abandoned girl, Edward is "reserved" not in his behavior but in his words. Edward is far more truthful than Willoughby; the narrator hints that Willoughby's love of just the same author's Marianne loves comes from his desire to please her ("her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five and twnety must have been insensible indeed not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before" (Ch X, Oxford 47); Edward does not pretend to any feelings he does have; and what he has is deep (the conversation referred to is in Ch XVIII, 97). Finally, he is not stilted but emotional in the last sequence and conversation during his visit to Barton Cottage. He joys in the house, the Dashwoods, the walks ("Never had any week passed so quickly--he could hardly believe it to be gone. He said so repeatedly; other things he said too, which marked the turn of his feelings...," and in the following dialogue he displays a depth of sensibility which might even come up to Marianne's standards:

'[My sons] will be brought up,' said he, in a serious accent, 'to be as unlike myself as possible. In feeling, in action, in condition, in every thing' (Oxford 103).

To be sure there is too little of his gentle humor, too little of his sincere affection, his shyness in a book makes him a silent presence, his melancholy is despised by Marianne because it is not brought forward in the jargon she respects, and the movie has done much to recify the lack of dramatic discourse and interaction, but Edward Ferrars is not newly conceived by the 1995 Miramax movie; rather he is appreciated and given the transparent Margaret to be kind to so we can see it enacted in a transparent dramatic scenes.

Ellen Moody

To Geoff: There are flaws in _S&S_, but they are not in the conception of the heroes, but rather the dramatic realisation. I don't see why we can't have a anti-hero or semi-villain at the center of the book. Willoughby is a weak version of Henry Crawford, a real enough type in life. Brandon is a literary type in a way; he is the hero of sensibility, but I think that if Austen had shown him and Edward more her conception of Brandon as the deeply romantic and hurt older man and Edward as the awkward young man whose whole life has been one in which the qualities he had were scorned and the ones he didn't were held up for admiration, her book would have been very great indeed. She doesn't enter into the males in the way she does the females; I see some of the "gaps" (such as Brandon never actually speaking to Marianne, the very scenes in which Edward appears) as some of the many vestiges or anomalies which resulted from turning an epistolary narrative into an omniscient one. Edward was probably a letter-writer; so too Brandon. In fact we are told they correspond with Lucy and Mrs Dashwood respectively.

Edward does seem to be the character Austen had most trouble presenting. I think this is due to his not conforming to a macho ideal. He is very much a male version of Anne Elliot. Both came from cold, harsh, mercenary families; the behaviour and personalities are both are similiar. Austen recreated this type much more successfully in Mr Knightley: the one thing Edwards longs to do is something useful in life.


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Page Last Update 8 February 2003