August 31, 1999
Re: S&S, Ch 30: Marianne Off-Stage; Mrs Jennings & Brandon On-Stage with Elinor as Prompter
In this chapter we read Mrs Jennings's description of this old-fashioned fecund, and beautifully varied place is found, and I noticed that Marianne is not very often on-stage in the chapter. In the previous two she utterly dominated the action by her active presence, words, thoughts, gestures. If we look at the actual text of this chapter we find Marianne beats a hasty retreat before the good-natured but (for Marianne) painfully, exasperatingly obtuse gestures of Mrs Jennings to comfort her. For once Marianne is embarrassed by public display.
Even in the paragraph where Marianne's attempt at self-control and mortification is described, the speaker or consciousness through which we see her is Elinor's ('Elinor, who did justice to Mrs Jennings's kindness ... ', Penguin S&S, ed RBallaster, II:8 or Ch 30, p 163). Most of the rest are Mrs Jennings. Look carefully and you find that what you have in Chapter 30 is a long first person narrative by Mrs Jennings interrupted by Elinor at discreet points with questions that don't cause but rather interrupt Mrs Jennings's flow so that it will not seem to be a long set-piece in the voice of a single character. Elinor's longest paragraph until after Mrs Jennings goes into her reverie of memories of Delaford is the one where she hints to Mrs Jennings that she is sure there is no need to caution the Palmers and Middletons not to speak in front of Marianne about Willouhby for now. This enables Austen to produce humor through Mrs Jennings's obliviousness to the need for a hint and her own volubility over the matter.
The whole chapter up to the Colonel's entrance and Mrs Jennings's moving away reminds me of the chapter wherein Brandon tells Elinor his long history and the one where Willoughby tells Elinor his long history and the one where Nancy goes on at length about what has been happening to Lucy and Edward since Edward's mother and sister threw the pair of them out. In other words, I am wondering if what we have here is a transposed letter by Mrs Jennings. This would explain why suddenly we get this eruption of memories of Delaford. When people are writing letters they go off-track, where their minds lead them to. I speculate Mrs Jennings was writing to a correspodent about Marianne and then about the Colonel's abbey which if only Marianne were to like him, Marianne could be mistress of. In talking about Marianne's terrible disappointment and crisis, she explains who Miss Grey is, how much money is involved, and the rest of it. In telling of the Abbey, she hopes that Marianne will soon be led to forget Willoughby.
I also speculate or suggest the last portion of the chapter, Brandon's tale of himself at the stationer's shop at Pall Mall is a clever transposition of a letter by Brandon. It is turned into 'live' dialogue by again placing the slightest comments as interjections by Elinor into his first person narrative.
The chapter is not seamless; the narrator does not make herself felt. Rather Elinor is brought in to provide transitions, interjections and smooth over the original material. And again I am struck by the juxtaposition of Mrs Jennings and Colonel Brandon material. They also seem to occur together as characters. And when was it Mrs Jennings and Charlotte were at Delaford so long ago. Brandon and Mrs Jennings are the old friends. They used to sit around dull as two yawning cats -- or so Mrs Jennings saw it. Perhaps Brandon's inward experience was very different at the time.