Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapter 6

Re: Landscape And Evocative Detail

Some of the descriptions in S&S are set-pieces. We have a paragraph of description which is uninterrupted; also the words are often general:

"as they drew towards the end of [their journey, their interest in the appearance of a country which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant fertile spot, well-wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house.

Again looking around the physical landscape surrounding the house:

High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reach into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them (Oxford 28-9).

The language is also generalized; it seems as Josh says an artistic composition, but does that mean it is not evocative? do we not see it? It is not "fleeting," but the preference for fleeting may be a matter of taste. The house inside is all specified and we see it graphically. Radcliffe and Scott's novels were admired for their "landskips" and they are all highly organized.

In the landscapes of Sanditon we lack organized pictures; we are given a few suggestive details. Scattered details instead of a picture and these are called dynamic and urgent, especially since the details are of rushing wind, waving linen, the movement of the sea. But this dynamic urgency is also in S&S; first there's an organized whole which is put there to draw us and the perceivers in::

The high downs which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the enjoyments of air on their summits were an happy alternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up their superor beauties...

But within it we do have the lightening phrase which captures the scene moving: the girls walk up one of the hills

attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky...

Then the girls move under the sky"as they gaily descended the downs, rejoicing in their penetration," & we get the following strong sensation:

at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of an high south-westerly wind"

so we are told they pitied the sister and mother who wouldn't come.

But then the text moves swiftly again, and joyously: they

"pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty mintues longer, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set fall in thieir face...

There is again a return to static language but it's a kind of joke about the "exigence of the moment:" "One conslation however remained for them...

it was that of running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill ... They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage, but a false step brought her suddenly to the ground, and Margaret, unable to stop herself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and reached the bottom in safety.

Back to our frame; atop a "gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him... passing up the hill...

Then he enters the picture, a scene is quickly etched: "He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in the fall, and she was scarcely able to stand...Oxford 41-2)

The set-piece remains central to S&S, but in this novel we see adumbraged the same urgency, fleeting detail, dynamic movement of Sanditon. One could argue there's no more in Sanditon since Austen never got a chance to work the book up. She does speed along in her letters.

I'd like to suggest both S&S and Mansfield Park have a good deal evocative fleeting scenery in the context of big set-pieces. So too P&P and Emma which I usually pair together: Donwell Abbey recalling Pemberly and the mood of the two books resembling one another at moments.

Ellen Moody

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Update 1 February 2003