Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapter 7

To Austen-l

March 30, 1999

Re: S&S, Ch 7: Enter Mrs Jennings and Colonel Brandon

Suddenly Margaret is back. Having been nowhere to be felt or seen since Chapter 1, she is suddenly in agreement with Marianne that Brandon is "an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty" (Oxford S&S, ed Chapman, I:7, 34).

Although these chapters slow down the pace, and we are finally given some sense of equable rhythm, I still feel Austen at work introducing her material. I believe Lascelles says something about how in S&S and P&P, Austen shows a strong predilection for antitheses. In this chapter Austen uses them to good effect. Somewhere in his Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell talks about how no one can figure out why one person marries another or why they stay married or break up. Or why a particular pair of people are friends. This mystery or commonplace incongruity we observe daily in human relationships is the theme of the chapter. The disparity between Lady and Sir John Middleton becomes fodder for Austen to mock cold-heartedness in Lady Middleton, and to picture the ennui of their daily life. It is also part of the satire against marriage and family life in the novel.

Still why or how did Colonel Brandon happen to become the friend to Sir John Middleton; the former happy because he is shallow, the latter grave, thoughtful, withdrawn? Was Middleton someone Brandon turned to after his desolation at the death of Eliza Brandon? Sir John doesn't seem a likely candidate except on the grounds that he wouldn't notice Brandon's despair and wouldn't think to ask questions. We are told later in the novel that years before Mrs Jennings and Charlotte Jennings (now Palmer) "stuffed" when they went to Delaford Abbey. But we are not told how they came to visit Brandon. Note Colonel Brandon shows up at the same time as Mrs Jennings in the narrative. We are told by Sir John that Brandon was already at Barton Park, but Austen introduces the two characters as a pair. When Elinor and Marianne prepare to leave London, Mrs Jennings tells Brandon she and he will be dull as two cats together. There's some relationship here whose basis has been snatched away from view.

I suggest that in the first version S&S there was some friendship between Mrs Jennings and Brandon that went way back and, through his friendship with Mrs Jennings, Brandon became friends with Middleton. There is evidence later in the book that Brandon is as close or closer to Mrs Jennings than he is to Sir John. Mrs Jennings knows about the rumours about Brandon's "natural" child. I have wondered if Austen leads us to accept this unnatural pairing through the use of ironic satire when it was in some earlier form of the novel more naturally explained by some relationship Colonel Brandon happened to have with Mrs Jennings in his younger years, something chance brought about. Charlotte drops the information that her mother had hoped Colonel Brandon would ask for her hand. When was this?

Aysin wrote about how Marianne pains Elinor by her open admission of Elinor's vulnerability. I see this paragraph as beginning the depiction of Marianne in a more sympathetic light. Yes Marianne is right to be bothered by the fear others will find in Mrs Jennings's denseness material with which to give others ammunition to ridicule Elinor. We should, however, remember that Elinor is pained not because of the raillery which is inane or commonplace but rather because Marianne is so foolish as to care about it. It's Marianne's vulnerability that is taken seriously because she does not measure these things at their actual worthlessness:

"Marianne was vexed at it for her sister's sake, and turned her eyes towards Elinor to see how she bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Elinor far more pain than could arise from such common-place raillery as Mrs. Jennings's" (I:7, 34).

The closing two paragraphs on Marianne's music then reinforce or emphasize this sympathetic depiction of Marianne. We are invited to identify (Austen as we have said on this list was herself someone who could recreate herself by playing the piano -- losing herself in music she liked). Marianne really loves to play; the passion is not meretricious, is not phony, not silly, not put on. Among other things, her performance reveals that she practices. And the paragraphs allow Austen to link the secondary hero to the secondary heroine. Brandon, a bit later called a "man of sensiblity" with a "thinking mind" is the only one of the group listening to Marianne who is sincerely engaged by the music as an indice of the presence and soul (as revealed in her music) of the younger sister. Yes, it's an occasion for satirising those who pretend to respond to music and those who really do: "Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures. He paid her only the compliment of attention . . . " (I:7, 35). But Austen strikes an important note on the congeniality of two spirits here -- one Marianne is too young to understand or grasp as yet even though she concedes to him a sudden "respect" (35).

I also note that depiction of Mrs Jennings is here from an external point of view. We see her as she appears in public; we don't listen to her thought processes or hear her speak. I have thought the so-called change in the depiction of Mrs Jennings in this book is not a change: rather in the first half of the book we see Mrs Jennings from the outside in public scenes; in the second half, we get passages which read like left-over letters by her and as we enter her mind and see the world from the point of view of her good heart, we like her. From an outside point of view Mrs Jennings is someone to keep away from in public. She is insensitive on matters that count. However, later on when we view her from within, see her closely, how she behaves in private in a crisis (and in public too), and have opportunities to hear her talk and read her first person narratives, we like her. We also like her behavior which is good-hearted as well as "very happy" in appearance. I don't think her behavior changes or is contradictory. It is just presented from different perspectives, and I speculate it was the first Austen began with: Mrs Jennings was one of the major correspondents in the earlier version of S&S, a likable if perverse clown. In the present chapter Austen uses her in other ways (see above). The immediate joke is if reality made sense she ought to be Sir John's mother, not Lady Middleton's.

Ellen Moody

Subject: [Janeites] Subject: S&S: Chapter 7

To Janeites

July 1, 1999

Re: S&S, Ch 7 From: Aysin Dedekorkut

This chapter takes us to Barton Park to a visit to the Middletons. We learn that Sir John is a hunter and his Lady's occupation is her 4 kids. Sir John likes society and guests and receives them very happily. His only regret at this party is that he could not find any smart young men to introduce to the girls.

The only other male there is a particular friend of his: Colonel Brandon. Austen's first description of him is very interesting. He is "neither young nor very gay" (p.45). Later we learn him to be "silent and grave." (p.46) Next to these minuses Austen gives the Colonel some pluses of his appearance being "not unpleasing", "though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike." (p.46). However, these are not enough for our sentimental heroine Marianne and her sister Margaret who has her romance but not sense. They consider him "an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five-and-thirty" (p.46) I laughed hard at that wrong side line!!!!

hey have another addition to their party with Lady Middleton's mother Mrs. Jennings. This is fine with the Dashwoods. They have no desire to meet more than two entire strangers at once.

In this chapter we see the first example of Marianne's ability to hurt her sister and never realizing what she is doing. Mrs. Jennings is a merry, fat woman who is full of jokes, mostly on husbands and lovers. She makes insinuations and jokes that she "hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. Marianne was vexed at it for her sister's sake, and turned her eyes towards Elinor to see how she bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Elinor far more pain than could arise from such common-place raillery as Mrs. Jennings's."(p.46) Elinor is doubly vexed I think. First because Marianne is reminding her that she did leave her heart behind, and they are all aware of it, and second by looking at her so openly, Marianne is revealing this fact to outsiders.

One of the most interesting observations of this chapter says: "Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Middleton was to be his wife, or Mrs. Jennings to be Lady Middleton's mother." (p.46). Really how come the Colonel and Sir John are friends? Because there seems to be nobody else around? Even though we are told of all the friends visiting the Middletons and the cold ham and chicken parties?

Sir John has a major personality difference with his wife but that is common. The Bennets, the Palmers etc. Sir John's humor fits more with his mother in law than wife. But how is Mrs. Jennings Lady Middleton's mother? Of course we can give examples of Elizabeth Bennet and her mom, Elinor and her mom etc. But it is still interesting.

Lady Middleton's coldness is so repulsive that compared to her everyone and everything, including the gravity of Colonel Brandon is preferable.

After dinner Marianne plays the piano when she "was discovered to be musical" (p.46). Individuals' reactions to the performance is quite telling: Sir John is equally loud both in his admiration of her play and his chatter while she is playing. Lady Middleton is quiter and tries to hush up her husband but that doesn't mean she is listening herself. She asks Marianne to play a song she has just finished. Among the new acquaintance only Colonel Brandon "paid her the compliment of attention." (p.47) This gets him brownie points with Marianne and he has her respect for his taste. He isn't as ecstaticly delighted as herself but again, compared to the others he is preferable. Plus our naive little Marianne doesn't want to be unjust and she is "disposed to make every allowance for the colonel's advanced state of life which humanity required." (p.47) ;) Marianne makes me laugh so much this time around.

Last thing that caught my attention in this chapter is the similarity between the reactions of Lady Middleton and Mrs. Elton towards music once they got married. Lady Middleton "celebrated that event [her marriage] by giving up music, although by her mother's account she had played exteremely well, and by her own was very fond of it."(p.46)

Aysin Dedekorkut

"Emma, finding her [Mrs Elton] so determined upon neglecting her music, had nothing more to say."

Re: S&S, 7: In Which We Are Introduced to an Mismatched Couple

In response to Aysin, I don't know when it struck me that there is something odd about Colonel Brandon's introduction into the novel through his supposed friendship with Sir John Middleton (with whom in the novel he seems to have nothing in common). Maybe it was when I noticed that Mrs Jennings appears at the very time Colonel Brandon does; maybe it was when I connected this with her apparent long-time relationship with him: when were she and Charlotte at Delaford; when was it that Mrs Jennings thought Brandon could marry Charlotte. The relationship in the novel as now dramatised is not between Sir John so much as it is between Brandon and Mrs Jennings. It is Mrs Jennings who says to him, they will be dull as a pair of cats without the Dashwoods. These are old buddies. How did they come to be so?

Then again maybe my suspicions were aroused when I read Austen as Elinor's comment that: 'Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Middleton was to be his wife, or Mrs. Jennings to be Lady Middleton's mother' (p.46). What better way to cover something up than announce the oddity or incongruity -- or patched-over vestige -- by calling attention to it as odd. That disarms us. The wise person who wants to be forgiven for some fault doesn't hide it, but presents in a its best light.

A speculation: In the third volume of our S&S we get three long descriptions of how Nancy Steele mistakenly spilt the beans about Lucy and Edward's engagement: one by Mrs Jennings, one by John Dashwod, and one by Nancy herself. All rehearse the same material from different perspectives (as letters in epistolary novels do). As set up they read like first person narratives set into a third-person text. As we are told Elinor and John Dashwood regularly write, I have always wondered if the early epistolary novel used comical narrators in the ironic way of the Juvenilia and have suspected Mrs Jennings and John Dashwood and Nancy were three of these. Brandon's long history of himself is also a long first person narrative which is curiously interrupted by his comments he tells this very badly -- another common technique of epistolary novels. So in the early version of the book I suspect there was a relationship set up between Mrs Jennings and Brandon (perhaps told by her), one which gave her inside information on his 'love child'. She knows he has a sad history. She likes the man.

I like this chapter. Aysin has gone a number of the appealing elements: the sisters' two stances towards public behavior, the awful marriage of the Middletons, the curious strained tone. My favorite passage comes at the end with Brandon being the only one to do Marianne the real compliment of listening to her . I also like the man for loving music. Is it not so that although Austen has some feeling that a love of music brings with it some psychological traits which can endanger and make a personality self-destruct, she also gives her favorite characters a genuine love of music and those characters we are meant to dislike a pretended 'accomplishment'in it.

Cheers to all,

To Janeites

September 9, 1999

RE: The Colonel Brandon type in Radcliffe

For those interested in literary analogies, I have come across a portrait of a male in Ann Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest whose function and ideal sensiblity recalls Austen's Colonel Brandon: M. Vernueil. He falls in love with the secondary heroine; he is a much older man than she; well-educated, melancholy, has had bad personal troubles when young; was once a solider, even fought a dule, and is called a man of sensibility. He also has a lovely estate he takes good care of. I know Isobel Armstrong has other candidates for analogies, but I think M Verneuil is even closer in the mood he projects in the book.

I was also struck with the mixed character of Pierre de La Motte in this book: he is driven to be mercenary, has been wild, but is guilty in the same half-way as Willoughby, and closely involved with the chief heroine as her protector. I doubt Austen had La Motte in mind when she drew Willoughby; rather Austen and Radcliffe were working out of the same tradition and using the same fundamental types as outlines for their characters.

Ellen Moody

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