Sense and Sensibility: Volume II, Chapters 1 - 3 (37 - 39)

To Janeites

September 30, 1999

Re: S&S, 3:2 (38): Inward Narrative

This chapter is inward-turning. Whether I am right to surmize the long first-person narrative by Nancy Steele was originally a letter which preceded Lucy's or not, note how much of what happens is told us through the characters's minds. Thus the effect of what happened on the characters' minds and their various sensibilities and attitudes are made the focus of our attention. This chapter doesn't have a dual voice (the narrator and Elinor as a third- person point of view), but a polyphony of voices.

We may take Elinor's estimation of Lucy's superiority to so many women as we do Charlotte Lucas's argument for a comparatively content life with Collins. Both rest on an absolutely minimalist level of expectation out of experience. When Elizabeth Bennet says to Darcy, I don't wonder at your knowing so few accomplished women when your criteria are these, I wonder at your knowing any, that is the obverse side of the same way of looking at the world. If we look at Lucy's letter and compare it with Nancy's first person narrative, we see someone who can take care of herself in terms of the circumstances she is thrown into. Unlike Marianne, she doesn't go into hysterics; she sits quietly and waits. She is not naive and understands Edward was trying to get out of the engagement but when he takes the high ground for breaking off, she can take a higher: she will never desert him, no matter how poor. Then she writes a letter putting the best face on what happened, a letter which subtly flatters Mrs Jennings at every point. As the narrator says, 'As soon as Elinor finished it, she performed what she concluded to be its writer's real design, by placing it in the hands of Mrs Jennings. As Mary's letters are intended as a mediator between her brother and Fanny, so Lucy writes to Mrs Jennings under the guise of Elinor. Nothing more flattering than coming across praise of yourself in a letter not intended for your eyes. Clever Lucy. Note too in the letter she appears to forgive Nancy; in person she did nothing angry Nancy was capable of observing. What would be the use of that? She takes the blow and carries on.

The book also at this point asks that we compare Lucy to Marianne. The parallel with Elinor is clear all along: both dowerless, both without connections; both fell in love with Edward. Elinor snubbed at a party at which Lucy is catered too, but where it is Marianne who goes to pieces again. In this chapter I see a parallel with Marianne set up since we have just travelled through Marianne's response and also Brandon's history of the two Elizas. Lucy is a tough little cookie (to use old-fashioned slang); she would also treat Edward reasonably were they to marry. What would she gain from not doing so? The final line of the chapter is ironic because Mrs Jennings doesn't appreciate how true is the statement that the 'letter does Lucy's head and heart real credit' -- real credit if getting through this world in physical comfort, surviving with your self-respect together be the criteria.


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