Sense and Sensibility: Volume II, Chapters 1 - 5 (23-27)

To Janeites

August 16, 1999

Re: S&S: Chs 24-26: Elinor's Point of View

I'd like to add a few comments to those already made. Juliet describes Moreland Perkins's book: I too would like to recommend for basically the same reasons Juliet does. In terms of these chapters, Perkins insists that Elinor is the dominant sensibility, her long interior monologues with their (for the time) highly unconventional assessments of people's motives and examination of herself and dramatisatio of other people constitute the major portion of S&S. He devotes something like 3 of 9 chapters to Elinor alone. If we step back from these chapters, we can see that all is being described as close to and through Elinor's consciousness. As with the previous chapters (22-23), one can imagine them Richardsonian letters by a lady in a house to someone else in continuation.

thought the description of Marianne's anxiety brilliant. Marianne is more than half-frantic, and anyone less obtuse than Mrs Jennings would see her strain. While I agree we are not to sympathise with her behavior towards Mrs Jennings, I think we are supposed to enter into her feelings for Willoughby and take them as seriously as we do take Brandon's for Marianne (or later Brandon's for his cousin and cousin's daughter). Marianne's pacing back and forth, her clinging to Mrs Jennings's weather reports are so real, not sentimentalised at all. There's an exactitude and delicacy in the language of perception and concrete imagery.

Yes vis-a-vis Lucy, Elinor gives almost as good as she gets for awhile. But eventually the strain of this kind of duplicitious or hidden insult tells on her; more to the point, she is at a severe disadvantage as Lucy is really engaged to Edward and Edward has not told Elinor anything about this, but let her believe he loved her, Elinor. Elinor is like the person who goes on strike; she is only as strong as the person she is fighting will permit her to be. Lucy opened up to her; Lucy can command the conversation; Elinor is in the dark in comparison. As Nancy says, it must hurt to bring it up -- and invite more hurt (as Elinor says to herself).

Again here is the Colonel linked to Mrs Jennings in the sense that he is her first visitor, and this seems perfectly natural to Mrs Jennings. He is contrasted to Willoughby and Edward in this chapter.

There is a good deal about letters in this chapter.

We should also note Charlotte Palmer's 'fine size' and coming confinement. This will provide Austen with a reason why for several chapters all description of Elinor and Marianne appears without Mrs Jennings's presence. In the original book Elinor and Marianne may have stayed with the Middletons, not just visited them. This visit provides Fanny Dashwood with the excuse not to invite them because Austen wants to keep the scenes of Anne Steele telling Fanny Dashwood; Austen also did not want to lose the slipped-in inset letters or first person narrative by which they are told, Mrs Jennings and John Dashwood's narratives; and Ch 37, III:1), Nancy Steele's story of how Edward almost didn't come to Lucy (Ch 38, III:2) .

Cheers to all
Ellen Moody

Re: S&S: Chs 24-26: Comedy and Charlotte's Coming Confinement

I thought I'd add a couple of more thoughts to my posting on the above chapters last night. First, on the comedy of these chapters. It's of a peculiar sort. There is something funny about Marianne's jumping upon Mrs Jennings's sudden comment on the hardness of the ground: ah yes, that's why Willoughby cannot be in London; what a happy thought. The comedy comes from Elinor's -- and through her -- the reader's perception that Marianne is absurd and is, just about helplessly, revealing to anyone with eyes to see that she is in a state of erotic enthrallment, or, to use popular language, panting after Willoughby. We laugh at the incongruity of her consolation -- and at its inadequacy. The logic won't hold: one cannot infer that much from hard ground necessarily or even probably. We also laugh at Marianne's exposing herself. If we were mean people, we'd laugh aloud. If we were dumb in the way of Mrs Jennings, and caught on, we'd tease her. However, the tone of Elinor's discourse is not that of triumph over the weak or vulnerable or nonsensical -- which of course we enjoy feeling we are not. It's not that of superiority: Hobbs said all comedy consisted in being made to feel superior to someone or something, that was its glee. It's that of embarrassment. Elinor is embarrassed for her sister. She longs to stop Marianne from behaving in this way; she would like to protect her.

All these twists are there, and we do laugh and yet feel mortified for Marianne. I think that's the power of the doppelganger figure. Elinor is a quiet or repressed version of Mariane; Elinor looks into her heart and sees Marianne. The double figure then gives us endless twists of feeling and thought.

There is also an interest in Charlotte's pregnancy in and of itself. This is a novel which keeps time carefully: Did everyone notice Lucy says it was a Monday on which she revealed all to Elinor? I was able to work that out to have been December 4th if the years are 1797-98; a date which makes the tracking of the months in a number of the dialogues and then days (as in Nancy Steele's recounting of Edward's behavior after his sister discovers his engagement) consistent. Charlotte gives birth in mid-February, and a number of incidents are tied to her condition and customs surrounding her condition at the time.

Ellen Moody

This is an addendum to Jennifer M Love's thoughtful commentary on the Thompson-Doran movie S&S & on the novel by Jane Austen of the same name. (I use both names [Thompson-Doran] since the book of the script makes it clear the script is a product of both women's collaboration over a long period of time, together with Ang Lee when it was filmed, although the primary writer was Thompson).

She began with the statement: "S&S to me, the book, is darker than P&P, very satirical in places, very disturbing often, certainly at end. Marianne is ill in spirit and bodily for much of the story; Elinor is fraught with secrets, preoccupied and unhappy for long periods. Fanny and John Dashwood and Lady Middleton are despicable one and all--I can't laugh at them; I often wish them away (Edward's mother too), thinking no one could be that bad. Yet they're there, representing conventions of mercenery and misogynist behavior in the moneyed classes, dragging down Elinor, who is valiantly shielded anyway by Marianne. Dragging down everyone."

And a little later she said of Marianne's near encounter with death: "That illness was born of physical and mental exhaustion, of a breakdown which is significantly regarded with a faint measure of satisfaction by some of the men in the novel, not excepting Willoughby." Her main objection seemed to me to be that the movie lost not only the complexity but the darkness of the original book.

I would like to second this view. As I listen to S&S read aloud by Jill Masters and read slowly through P&P I am struck by their having been published within one year of one another, having similar outlines (2 sisters, several love stories, a dwelling on money, prestige, unfeeling people, hypocrisy &c), and yet in overall effect and mood so different. P&P is ultimately bright & sparkling, and S&S is ultimately austere & grim. Putting aside P&P for today as it's our weekly topic--and I am aware of my great fault of prolixity--I thought I'd say the movie-makers were aware of this change. They meant to soften and lighten S&S (perhaps I preferred the movie Persuasion because the makers did not mean to lighten the book). Some briefly-stated proofs that the change was deliberate: those darker scenes originally in the script were left on the cutting room floor (such as Brandon visited the wretchedly poor daughter abandoned by Willoughby); the emphasis on Margaret; the not bringing to life the duel we are told in the book occurred between Brandon and Willoughby while they did bring other hints out which lead to romance and lighter wit (in other words various choices) and the not bringing out the real rivalry between the two as the book does finally show it was; the softening of Willoughby (in the novel the narrator hints Willoughby's dislike of Brandon has something hidden; Elinor says he lacks candor); the not bringing out the real emotional parallels between Edward and Willoughby (both are liars, Edward did have an intense relationship with Lucy, in the movie as someone else said it is left to a witty somewhat anti-feminist cat fight in potentiaAnd finally to look at little more closely at one change which shows the movie-makers understood they were moving some grim material which the modern American audience would have been made very uncomfortable by, let us consider the elimination of Lady Middleton & her children from the movie, and their appearances in the book. Earlier this year someone pointed to an animus Austen appeared to feel towards the boy child who the adults had used to seduce the old grandfather into leaving everything to him and forgetting his nephew and nephew's wife and 3 daughters though it was they who worked at making his life pleasant. She certainly presents Lady Middleton's children as awful spoilt brats (cf the "light and sparkling" well-behaved children of Mrs Gardiner who are presented as happy enjoyable presences--very like the moviemaker's Margaret). And I would suggest the grimness of the book is especially intense in the scenes where everyone must sit for hours enduring a kind of living death playing cards or otherwise flattering the obtuse cold Lady Middleton and the equallly obtuse if kindly Sir John. I chose to quote just a bit of one relatively lesser scene because it suggests the groundwork music upon which _S&S_ is built:

"The young ladies went [to Barton Park], and Lady Middleton was happily preserved from the frightful solitude which had threatened her. The insipidity of the meeting was exactly such as Elinor had expected; it produced not only novelty of thought or expression, an dnothing could be less interesting than the whole of their discourse both in the dining parlour and drawing-room; to the latter, the children accompanied them, and while they remained there, she was too well convinced of the impossibility of engaging Lucy's attention to attempt it. They quitted it only at the removal of the tea-things. The card-table was then placed, and Elnor began to wonder at herself for having ever entertained a hope of finding time for conversation at the park. They all rose up in preparation for a round game.

'I am glad, said Lady Middleton to Lucy, 'you are not going to finish poor little Annamaria's basket this evening; for I am sure it must hurt your eyes to work fillagree by candlelight. And we will make the dear little love some amends for her disappointment to-morrow, and then I hope she will not much mind'" (Oxford 144)

The slavery of Lucy to this awful child is made clear here; then follows the painful conversation between Elinor and Lucy in which we listen to Lucy's malice--with Elinor's acid tongue getting some retorts in here and there to pain Lucy in turn.

Over it all is the crashing piano, Marianne playing wildly and loudly and thus allowing the exploitative tete-a-tete to go forward. Marianne herself is her usual selfish self in the scenes following where she ignores any obligation to be at least attentive to Mrs Jennings who is helping them escape this and go to London, as usually utterly wrapped up in self and its concerns. But let us not choose which sister suffers more, Elinor who keeps the "fresh poignancy" of her grief to herself, especially when Lucy brings forward a new letter from Edward to herself and reminds Elinor of how strongly a man like Edward can bind a girl to his affections (although he is awkward, modest, and not handsome--the last characteristic the movie-makers ignored when they chose Hugh Grant), or her sister who laments for the shallow but showily handsome man.

Ellen Moody

Re: S&S: Nervous, Exploratory Prose

[Chapter 27] The above is a phrase Gard uses as characteristic of Austen's mature style in Emma. The line Aysin quoted from S&S demonstrates that this ability to charge language with the intense nervous energy of real life which manifests itself in tiny gestures was there in S&S_. Equally remarkable is how the same lines are also shaped to a comic pattern, pointed morally and therefore at the same time distanced from us, and slightly unreal. So we laugh at Marianne while feeling on our pulses the intensity of her passionate anxiety to influence or explain away her misery by the weather. By-the-bye in other points of the book we find Elinor similarly trying to explain away Edward's conduct through prose that is poignant with nervous energy.

Ellen Moody

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