Sense and Sensibility: Volume II, Chapters 1 - 2 (23 - 24)

June 11, 1996

To Austen-l

Re: S&S Chs 22-3: A Journal-Letter by Elinor? How Easy to Tranpose It

I'd like to suggest that what is labelled Chapter 22 & 23 in the Penguin S&S--in the Penguin, in the Oxford it's Volume I, the last chapter, and Volume II, the first, giving it a pivotal place in the narrative--represents one of several passages, long and short, and whole chapters of S&S which with very little trouble could be transformed back into epistolary narrative. The transposition is a matter of changing the pronouns.

If Elinor and Marianne (as I am persuaded it did) underwent 2 revisions (1797 and 1809 seem to be the latest choices among critics), certainly much of the novel was changed, but still, as anyone knows who has revised their work, much remained. James Edward-Austen Leigh in his memoir admitted the earliest material by his aunt in print at the time was in Sense and Sensibility.

The value of epistolary narrative lies in the meditative depth it allows the writer to give to a character; it also, to quote Richardson, always uses the character's lack of knowledge of what's to come and plays upon levels of dread about the future; the character often is asking him or herself what shall I do, and meditating the probable consequences of this or that choice, or analyzing why he or she or some other character did this or that. Famously Richardson described the effect of epistolary narratives thus:

All the letters are written while the hearts of the writers must be supposed to be wholly engaged in their subjects (the events at the time generally dubious); so that they aboudn not only with critical situations, but with what may be called instantaneous descriptions and reflections... (proper to be brought home to the breast of the youthful reader); as also with affecting conversations, many of them written in the dialogue or dramatic way" (Author's Preface to 3rd Edition of Clarissa).

It seems to me that Chapter 22 represents the use of "affecting conversations... written in the dialogue or dramatic way" taken from a diary-letter written by Elinor; for whom it was intended it is impossible to say. There are many epistolary novels where the recipient is hardly characterized at all and simply exists to receive letters; this may have been what Austen first wrote. It is unsatisfactory (as in Frances Brooke's epistolary novels which use this kind of uncharacterized recipient). The material in Chapter 23 represents the kind of in-depth reverie presenting "deep emotional pain" as I argued last week and which we in Richardson's Clarissa and Harriet Byron (from Sir Charles Grandison). Many other central epistolary heroines write at the heights of their crisis or despair, or sometimes simply at another turn in the plot (some heroines have quite a time of it in these epistolary pieces).

I'd like to call the attention of anyone who is interested in trying to work out how the present S&S came to be what it is to a few places in Chapter 23 (or Volume I, Chapter 1, depending on which edition you are using). I would say Sentences 1-4 (from "However small her general dependence... to other considerations arose") are a concise reworking of some original letter which addressed itself to a recipient which linked back to the conversations between Lucy and Elinor which were related on the day before. From "Had Edward been intentionally deciding her..." and carrying on for the rest of this 1st paragraph, then the next, and the third what we need to do is transpose "she" to "I," "her" to "me," in most of the sentences. The omniscient narrator was stuck in in the 2nd or 3rd revisions in the following sentences: "What a softener of the heart was this persuasion"--the sentences before and after were there before the revision as Elinor talking in the 1st person. Again the 2nd or 3rd revision added "She might in time regain tranquillity"--with the sentences before and after perfectly in tune with a 1st person letter. Then Elinor is true to herself objectifying her situation in the paragraph whjich begins "The youth infatuation" and "If in the supposition..."

Again we have revised material in the next three paragraphs which begin "As these considerations occurred to her in painful succession, she wept for him, more than for herself..." down to "She was stronger alone, and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be." These paragraphs have taken the place and made much shorter what was Elinor arguing with herself on behalf of Edward. I suggest, for example, behind the sentence which ends "Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem" which is now overlaid with the narrator's directive voice, an original sentence which read: "Edward has done nothing to forfeit my esteem." I imagine Austen as Elinor first wrote "I am stronger alone." The explanation and justification of Elinor's thoughts has replaced what might have read very melodramatically but would have been very immediate, and the words "poignant and fresh" are all that Austen has left us in which she described her sense of the tone of the original letter she wrote for Elinor and Marianne.

Again the next two paragraphs (from "Much as she had suffered from her first conversation... down to any other game that was sufficiently noisy") return to what was an original letter. Here again we transpose the "she's" to "I's" and "her's" to "me's," and again make brackets around certain sentences stuck in to represent the omniscient narrator directing us; for example, there's "But indeed, while Elinor remained so well assured within hereself..." with the sentences before and after only requiring a change in pronoun to make them back into the original letter.

At "One or two meetings' we are back to the omnisicient narrator of the 2nd and 3rd revisions, and a new letter "written in the dialogue or dramatic way" by Elinor begins again with "The insipdiity of the meeting was eactly such as Elinor [now make that "I"] had expected."

I will end by saying this whole sequence is deeply sympathetic to Elinor. If someone can find in the novel some section which similarly represents the original material given to Marianne I would love to study it. I do believe anyone who cannot identify with one sister and admire the other cannot really enter into this book (whichever one one identifies with and would like to be like being wholly a personal matter). I cannot say I read the book the way I did when I was young; I don't. And one cannot really retrieve lost time. This time as I was stirred as I read the omniscient narrator clauses which run: "On the contrary it was a relief to her, to be spared the communication of what would give such affliction to them..." I'm afraid my analogy has become the letter of rejection; you send off a job application, and you get a rejection, and then it's time to show the rejection letter to your family; how you wish you could have been real smart and not told about how you applied for the job; how you wish at any rate they'd shut up with their consolations and arguments on your behalf. On the novel Elinor imagines her mother and sister thoroughly condemning Edward. Well, such kinds of conversation only make things so much more indelible.

Ellen Moody

Re: S&S_ Chs 22-23: Imagine Them As Letters

As an addendum to my posting yesterday I'd like to say It seems to me that if one went through S&S with a metaphoric fine-tooth comb, looking for consistent kinds of clues and passages which reveal here was the 1st person narrative, and here now is the new omniscient narrative overlaid, one could get closer to Austen than in any other way. It would take a long time, great care, and would of course never stand up in a court of law or against Popper's idea that we can only be sure something is truth if we can find some way of disproving it. The letters are a bowlderized fragment of what she wrote; her novels too are written with a view to not embarrassing her family as well as pleasing a prospective conventional reader. We could lift the veil if we could ferret out the young woman who could not stop herself from writing as Elinor and Marianne. Such an exercise would throw light on Austen & maybe get round her blend of deadpan irony with a deeply felt emotional thrust by which she baffles us.

Ellen Moody

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