Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapters 1 - 3

To Janeites

June 23, 1999

Re: S&S: Chs 1-3: "That Sanguine Expectation of Happiness which is Happiness Itself"

It has been suggested that there is a distinct unevenness in these early chapters. I agree. Chapter 2 is indeed one of the more remarkable and memorable scenes in Austen, and its rhythms, sheer aliveness and exactitude of reference distinguishes it from the generalized "flatter" chapters which adjoin it (Chapters 1, 3, & 4). These early chapters also include scenes which feel somewhat wooden; they exemplify lessons we are to learn about the silly Marianne. Chapter 2, on the other hand, is distinguished by its bitterness; artistically it is graphic, pointed, yet utterly believable. There is no simple lesson to be extracted and it part of a plot-design moving forward -- as the conversations between Marianne and her mother are not quite.

My feeling is the first version of S&S (1798 or the earlier Elinor and Marianne) began at Chapter Six is there is a distinct change in texture and pace at that time. From Six on we don't have sudden summaries of the past quickly sketched in interspersed by epitomising portraits of characters and pointed emblematic scenes which are a bit crude (such as Marianne's and the the mother's discussion of Edward and how she has given up hope of finding the perfect male) or even slightly wooden (the dialogue between Elinor and her mother over Edward).

Plotting time once again shows us a good deal. In Chapter Six, we get our first very specific reference to time (very early days in September); we are slowly visually placed in Devonshire and there is a weaving of kinds of writing that is slow and consistent and enables us to feel a morning, an afternoon, an evening go by. We have begun a deeply mediated book which has been rewritten or polished many times (as Q. D. Leavis argues this is the basis of Austen's genius). While it's true that. up to Chapter Six we can plot time by reading very carefully and working back from what is said after Chapter Six, still internally time and place are left vague and we move swiftly (in one page) through 10 years and one more, zero in on a will (bad news for the Dashwoods) and then a death (very bad news for the females the father and husband leaves behind) and then somewhat awkwardly through another 7 months or so (February to August). In Chapters 1-5, some of the writing in this section is flat and reads to me like added summary. And then we come upon the gem of Chapter 2.

The material of Chapter 2 echoes the experience of Austen and her mother and sisters at the time of the father's death. It has been shown it reflects some actual commentary made by one of the brothers. Hence it has to have been written _after_ 1798 when Cassandra said the first full version was complete. Its superior artistry marks it as later work too. It stands out in this framing of what was Austen's original full book of 1797-8.

Some commentary upon the first three chapters. The themes are set up. We have the operation of primogeniture interacting with the irrationality of people (the old man is taken by a child's tricks); we also have an emphatic contrast made between the reality of a young man Elinor is falling in love with gradually and the sentimental expectations Marianne imposes on him. As I say, as opposed to the naturalism of the dialogue between John and Fanny Dashwood, the dialogue between Mrs Dashwood and Marianne reads like an emblem; the moral points are leading to the statements Marianne and her mother make rather than a real conversation leading us to make inferences. They are almost puppets placed before us going through their routine; that's a bit strongly put, but I think it captures the somewhat ostentatiously demonstrative nature of Marianne's first dialogue with her mother. Marianne is also panned in the mother's final line (through the narrator's expectations of our laughter).

Austen relies on set portraits too: we have set portraits of Elinor, of Marianne (Chapter 1) and then of Edward (Chapter 3). Edward is not dramatized but instead a story is quickly told as if to explain what is happening and what's to come. There is a weakness in the novel as he is not brought forward. I have always supposed we were given his letters to Lucy and hers back to him and when the book was turned into omniscient narrative Austen had not dramatized him until he came to visit the Dashwoods in Devonshire. Emma Thompson's film version did improve on Austen in the sense of bringing out the arching sweetness and appealing qualities of Austen's conception.

Still even if Edward does not come alive until later in the bok, the moral pattern he is part of fits the themes in this chapter, e.g., his family want to use him for their personal aggrandizement in the eyes of fools. He has no false ambition; he has depths of feeling and is good hearted and intelligent. He is not false. What I wish is that Austen had made us feel the growing attachment between Elinor and Edward rather than explaining it. This Emma Thompson's film did do -- through a sympathetic depiction of Edward's relationship with a developed comic characterisation of Margaret.

Looking at the opening too we might predict that John Dashwood would be the central presence in the novel. His decision not to follow the spirit and meaning of his promise to his father is central in beginning the action or the move of the Dashwoods to Devonshire. But he falls away pretty quickly when we arrive at Barton Park.

I like the opening of this book for the bitter humour and sharp ironies directed at John and Fanny (and the dead grandfather too); also for the wry vision which undergirds Austen's depiction of the mother and daughter talking of when one should despair of bliss forever. There's also laughing out loud at Marianne's, "Nay, Mamma, if he is not to be animated by Cowper . . ." As if the world were filled with people who are -- I doubt Sir John Middleton could get through a line.

There is also the suggestiveness of the landscape which roots us in romance (even if it is undercut by Austen's comments on how the cottage doesn't quite come up to the total picturesque).

The opening does not quite bring Elinor forward though her strength, affectionate heart and intelligence are clear. In the student journal I quoted by the young man about Brandon, he argued that thematically speaking Elinor is a match for Brandon: they are the deep-feeling characters; Brandon has been more troubled than Elinor up to the this point, but by the book's end she has caught up.

Austen does manage in these opening chapters to draw us immediately towards Elinor although the focus is not on her. We are given enough to see her as in opposition not only to Marianne's ideas about like but her stepbrother, John Dashwood's. There is an opposition not sufficiently stressed, considering that we are told Elinor and John exchange letters later in the book. Perhaps theirs was one of the sets of correspondences in an earlier version of the book.

I like to see who speaks first and what the important characters say first in a novel. The author hits a chord whose music she will expand upon. The first spoken line is given to John Dashwood: "'It was my father's last request to me . . .'" As I pointed out at length in a comparison of the scenes the first time we read S&S together in a group setting, one can catch the difference in mood between this book and P&P by noticing that a conversation between a married couple opens both, yet in the latter (P&P) the dialogue is light and bright and sparkling, even if its meaning is ultimately sardonic and shows a man enduring a wife whose understanding of reality is shallow. In the former (S&S), the joke is the two understand one another all too well. So much for rejoicing at marital congeniality.

Elinor's first line is worth noting: "'I think you will like him . . .when you know more of him'" The reason I wish we had some dramatisation of the attachment that springs up between Elinor and Edward is that many readers don't sufficiently understand how deeply Elinor's first words are about Edward. She has been touched by him. Marianne's hurt over Willoughby is an outward demonstration of the pain Elinor will undergo all book long.

Aysin quotes Claire Tomalin's alert and enrichening paragraph on this book; in her first she went over Drabble's opening. There is just so much rich commentary on this book. In critical book after critical book I have read the chapters on S&S in those books which take it seriously (not as juvenilia) are often the strongest in a given book (I am thinking of Tony Tanner and Stuart Tave on Elinor)

Ellen Moody

--- "In seasons of cheerfulness, no temper could be more cheerful
than hers, or possess in a greater degree that sanguine
expectation of happiness which is happiness itself"
Sense and Sensibility (Ch 2)

Re: S&S: The Chronology S&S not only goes back ten years before the novel proper begins. (MP goes back to the marriages of the Ward sisters and it imagines three important chapters worth which occurrred 10 years before we again meet Fanny as a near 18 year old.) What Austen did not do in was in the later books go way back in time consistently. You can really work out the time when Eliza Brandon came to live with the Brandons, as they grew up, the forced marriage, Brandon's time in India and take these years up to the time when the old gentleman dies. In addition the material about Charlotte Palmer as a young girl and Mrs Jennings dovetails neatly into the Brandon time scheme. Austen has created a grid that goes way back; she also sets up events that occur ironically around the same time.

Again while in MP we have a sense of a wide world (including Antigua) and are told about other places in England and go to Portsmouth, in in S&S we experience the characters travelling slowly and at great speed across the landscape. Again it has been worked out that the distance and time it took the Dashwoods to go from Sussex to Devonshire, from Devonshire to London and from London to Somsetshire is absolutely accurate (set up in accordance with time tables of coaches and hours projected).

The book written in 1797-8 was an ambitious one. It had sweep and depth. Our extant text has rearranged or is at least a revision which places present time to the fore, but the background is still there.

Ellen Moody

To Janeites

June 17, 1999

Re: S&S: Time and Space

One doesn't have to believe that the earlier version of S&S was epistolary to examine the extant version and find a consistent time scheme going back 37 years or the remarkable uses of space and distance of which Austen carefully avails herself. It's simply there.

However, if you do, you can infer one reason for her having made such a scheme. That's a minor point I make in a long paper Philological Quarterly is going to publish (by me) this coming year: My "A Calendar for S&S" draws out the remarkable calendar in the extant novel and leaves the reader to make intelligent inferences. If you compare it with the other calendars I drew out and placed on my homepage you will find it differs considerably from all the other novels except MP (which does take us back); but even for MP we don't go back that far nor find ironic juxtapositions.

As for when Austen revised her books, there have been all sorts of comments and studies. The best are still by Southam and Chapman; some interesting speculations based on careful study are also done by Q. D. Leavis and Gooneratne. All these may be taken out of the library. Southam is particularly good: lucid, clear, chock-a-block with sensible sound commentary and inferences. He is one of those who believes S&S was originally epistolary; not that that makes his book better than other similar studies. It is the thorough scholarship that does.

What documents we have consist of Austen's letters and contemporary and near contemporary comments by her relatives. Of especial importance is Cassandra's: the first full novel Austen wrote was First Impressions (revised into P&P); the second was S&S (based on an earlier Elinor and Marianne which others remembered as epistolary); the third was NA. There is no document or evidence to suggest that NA was written as an earlier version than First Impressions. Hence my theory that it ought not to be regarded as her first full book. The first evidence we have about it is Cassandra's statement it was completed in a full draft after First Impressions and S&S. That would make it No 3 except Austen revised it again after she got it back from the publisher. It was the second to the last novel published; one of two posthumous books. And that is probably where it belongs.

There are of course a slew of separate studies on the time schemes and places in the novels, especially those of MP (which has a number of references in the text which can be linked to occurrences outside it); these all avail themselves of knowledge of the specific times and places the various authors argue for for each book; all also to be found in libraries. Southam, Chapman, Gooneratne and LeFaye are all available on the various Used bookstores sites on the Net too.

Ellen Moody

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