Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapter 8

To Janeites

July 2, 1999

Re: S&S, Ch 8: In Which Mrs Jennings Prompts Discussions of Brandon

This chapter is rather short. It seems sandwiched in between Chs 7 and 9, as a kind of continuation of 7, before we go on to meet our third hero, Willoughby, in 9. Ch 9 is long. Has anyone ever noticed how uneven in length are the chapters of both P&P and S&S? I have speculated this unevenness results from 1) lopping, chopping, revising; and 2) Austen not having to fit her chapters into an instalment scheme and not even being sure she would get her work published. The chapters of the later novels are characteristically equal in length.

It follows hard upon the previous. First we get Mrs Jennings's teasing and then the conversations Aysin commented on between Marianne and Elinor and Marianne and her mother, conversations prompted in part by Mrs Jennings's perception that Brandon is 'very much in love with Marianne Dashwood' (Oxford S&S, ed Chapman, I:8, 36). Again this linkage between Mrs Jennings and Brandon; Mrs Jennings, let us not forget, is not wrong about Brandon.

Since Austen's books were all published within a few years of one another, one can see an irony in Marianne's sense that any woman of 27 who marries could only want be buying herself a position (or job), and if to an older man, the job is his nurse. Anne Elliot is 27; I once worked out Captain Wentworth's age to be 31 and Mr Elliot's to be 34. Yes Marianne is an absolute child in this dialogue; no understanding of the irrelevance of age to passion at all. Then again, as Aysin says, Elinor remarks maybe 17 and 35 better not have anything to do with one another. At the end of the novel they have a great deal to do: about two years later makes Marianne 19-20 and Brandon 37-8, the same span.

I agree with Aysin that especially in this early part of S&S Marianne is the most naive of Austen's heroines. Even if gothic books have coloured her ideas a bit too strongly, and she is apt to give credit to professions of virtue too quickly, Catherine Morland's principles are sound and good. She is kind and sympathetic to others throughout: Marianne is in comparison an epitome of egoistic indulgence. The chapter ends on a speech which again is meant to send up Marianne: 'How strange is their behavior! what can be the meaning of it? But the whole of their behaviour to each other has been unaccountable' (I:8, 39). There is something which needs to be explained: Edward and Elinor are off-standish before one another. But Marianne is not looking to understand the motives for this; rather she says off-standishness itself is always strange. Not so. The coldness and composure of Edward and Elinor are masks they hide behind, not to hide a false attempt to manipulate one another (e.g. Lucy Steele's use of the face she makes to meet the faces of others), but to protect themselves and one another from hurt.

A curious chapter because of its brevity (which lends the pace of the narrative the feel of a jog-trot) and focus on Brandon through these epitomising dialogues mean mostly to mock Marianne.

Ellen Moody

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