Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapter 9

To Janeites

July 5, 1999

Re: S&S, Ch 9: Two Visions of Life and a Romance Suddenly, a highly romantic chapter. There is really a closely similar scene in The Romance of the Forest where Adeline is walking in a beautiful landscape which is caught with breath-taking imaginative suggestiveness, a squall suddenly forms, and lo and behold a hero appears, and much in the manner of Willoughby rescues our heroine. She even falls and needs to be carried to a nearby shelter. Another analogue may be examined in Isabelle de Montolieu's Caroline de Lichtfield. Again a handsome man comes from nowwhere on a horse and help the lady. Radcliffe does not criticise Adeline and Montolieu only gently mockes her heroine, though her heroine's musical training couldn't hurt and may get her jobs.

When we first read S&S on Austen-l, I was much taken by Marianne's assertion: 'Is there a felicity in the world superior to this? -- Margaret we will walk here two hours' and Margaret and her 'pursuing their way against the wind'. The previous paragraph runs:

'They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of a high southwesterly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations'.

The phrase 'the partial sunshine of a showery sky' is beautifully suggestive. What I remembered was the passsage in Wuthering Heights which opposed the intense vitality of one of the heroines with the weaker hero

"one time, however, we were near quarrelling. He [Linton] said the peasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bnk of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about the bloom, and the larks singing high up over head, and the blue sky, and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of happiness -- mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright, white clouds flitting rapdily above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle, and dance in glorious jubilee.

I said his heaven would be only half alive, and he said mine would be drunk; I said I should fall asleep in his, and he said he could not breathe in mine... (Wuthering Heights, Houghton Miffllin, ed. VSPritchett, Ch XXIV, p 210).

Elinor, Austen's Fanny Price and her Anne know what is an 'ectasy of peace' -- think of Fanny in her attic looking at her pictures, reading her journey book through China and her poetry. Marianne is the closest Austen gets to Bronte's Catherine. <>The core of Marianne's fundamental attraction to Willoughby is she feels his spirit, where he finds joy, is a match for hers. For me Brandon is the weary soul who craves the stillness of listening to her music. We should not dismiss the intense passionate responsiveness of Marianne to life and to Willoughby. If we do, we miss the meaning of one level of the book. Life with Brandon will bring Marianne safety, contentment, the romance of chivalry and kindness; but what she longed for was to be alive, the heights of some energy. It may be a dream to some, but dreams are real experiences too.

Against this we have Sir John who is 'puzzled'. Emily Bronte's Catherine and Linton's conversation would puzzle him too. He lives on a level where people set their cap at others and measure them in pounds and shillings. Not that he's not fond of his dogs. He is -- up to a certain point. I thought the actor who played the role in the 1995 S&S, Robert Hardy, caught the character perfectly.

Ellen Moody

Re: S&S: Two Competing Visions of Joy

In response to Luisa who commented on the intense delight of the scene between Margaret and Marianne in Chapter IX: Marianne does give words to the idea that joy is in exhilaration, adventure, risk, the whirling wind: "'Is there a felicity in the world superior to this?'" (Penguin 37). To which the answer is it depends upon who you are; what you love is who you are. Now the sweetest felicity for Fanny Price is that quiet stillness she knows in her room upstairs at peace; the stability and security she finds in the unalienable kindness of Edward; the still turning point of peace is what Anne Elliot craves by the side of Wentworth; it is what Elinor deeply rejoices in. This kind of opposition knows no rational argument; there are no sides to take.

It may be we'd rather that Austen gave the full-blooded articulation of the opposition of temperaments we find in Wuthering Heights instead of her underdetermined not quite conscious hints.

There will always be those who will love Elinor best and understand how one can dwell in great joy with such as Edward (as Fanny does in the end with Edmund); ---he need not do anything; he need only be him, what he is at his best when they are at peace together; and there will be those who will love Marianne who sought the alluring male, adventure, danger, the inebriation of feeling alive through courting ultimate risks.

We could remember that the moral of the tale in Wuthering Heights is contained in the narrative incident: the swing broke and the man waiting to catch her was someone who had himself fallen and been permanently wounded too long ago. So Bronte's attitude is not all that different from Austen's who leaves Marianne with Brandon, a semi-broken man.


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