Sense and Sensibility: Volume III, Chapters 12 - 14 (48 - 50)

Sense and Sensibility: A Romance of Renunciation

When we began this novel, I came across an article by Roger Shattuck in The New York Review of Books in which he postulated a tradition of novels which began in France with La Princesse de Cleves and carried on in both England, France, and elsewhere (Russia, Anna Karenina), to which Shattuck said George Eliot's novels firmly belonged, a tradition of novels in which female sexuality is seriously explored and at the end of which the heroines often make a renunciation in favor of "le repos"--safety, security, tranquil sanity based either on self-sufficiency or a disillusioned second-choice marriage. When they don't renounce, the novel may end in tragedy, as in the famous suicide of Anna under the train. Shattuck instances The Mill on the Floss and never mentioned Austen's S&S.

Austen's S&S was the one novel Austen wrote which fits right into this "tradition," and Marianne and Elinor taken together could "stand for" a kind of doppelganger figure of the heroines in these novels. Eliot is much kinder to Dorothea Casaubon than Austen ever is to Marianne; Eliot openly identifies with Dorothea, and also in this later 19th century period Dorothea would seem to have had more choices than merely marriage for fulfillment, though in the end it seems she opts not for building cottages (again the moon in reality becomes philanthropic activities or making an index for Casauban's masterwork on mythology) or going into politics, but love and Ladislaw. But there is also a deep resignation in the final clause of the book which are also beautiful in their full sense of what makes life endurable, and that making of it endurable is not an unworthy activity:

or the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Marianne becomes a wife, a mistress of a family, and a patroness of a village. She could have done worse; with Willoughby she might have ended up harrassed by duns in some sordid London lodging, he having long ago tired of her and absconded.


RE: Romantic Qualification

At the opening of Mr Collins Considered Morris says the

"main purpose of criticism, and perhaps its only justification, is to send the reader back to the author's work with renewed interest. Next, but a long way behind, comes the offering of perceptions which the critic hopes wil make possible a better understanding of the writer's intention and art."

I suggest we can link our heroines to primal romance traditions which are ironic Elinor might be liked to Viola from Twelfth Night who says of herself she's like "Patience on a monument/Smiling at grief." When the great moment comes, she's overcome not because she didn't know he loved her, but because she thought there had come between them an insuperable obstacle. She can't be taken unawares; if you look at the time scheme you discover several months at Norland Park where he and she have been taking those long walks; she knows what's coming from his heart and body. Marianne is painfully eager; in fact what surprizes her is Willoughby's sudden coldness. And at the end of the book we are not to suppose Marianne didn't know what was coming when Brandon at long last proposed, a scene we are denied in the movie as well as the book, though we are given the beautiful poetry reading and the following:


Shall we continue tomorrow?


No--for I must away.


Away? Where?


That I cannot tell you. It is a secret.
He rises to leave

MARIANNE (impulsive)

But you will not stay long?

CLOSE on BRANDON's reaction.
(Screenplay 188)

Are there any other heroines who wait like this? Catherine Morland does seem to know what to expect when Henry Tilney defies his father and shows, but the waiting is mercifully short (the author is very kind to this heroine); Fanny too we are told -- through the eyes of Sir Thomas who in the last chapter of the book begins to notice Fanny and Edmund have a way of sitting for hours deep in converse on park benches under trees in Mansfield Park--Fanny too I say knew what was coming, but again we do not dwell with her on that waiting period.

Anne Elliot's waiting has been pure pain -- though we are told had she had an opportunity she might have forgotten. She was given none.

In his little book on S&S, Gene W. Ruoff ("Jane Austen's S&S) says it is interesting that it was S&S that Austen chose to pay herself to publish. She had tried with P&P (her father's letter about sending that one out exists) and NA (the well-known incident), still when she took one last ditch effort and herself paid "the expenses of printing the book, and took the receipts, subject to a commission paid to the publisher for the handling of it," and had to give a sum amounting "to a little less than a quarter or perhaps mroe than a third of her household's 460l. income, the risk was substantial." The chapters which center particularly on Elinor's pain right after Lucy has told her of Edward's engagement to her Lucy are as good as anything Austen ever wrote; she may have written as well again, especially in this line in Anne Elliot's pained introspections after she comes to Upper Cross and witnesses the Captain's flirting and has to hear the poisoned comments of her sister; but she never wrote better because she delves into an area--the sexual longings of women and where these take them--directly which she muted in her later books.

Ellen Moody

PS I too was much moved by the movie's presentation of Captain Wentworth's helping Anne into the carriage. It was the deeply haunted and sympathetic expression on Ciarhan Hinds' face as he moved off, and the intensity of Amanda Root's response as she felt his hand helping her up I think the scene is also beautifully written up in Austen's book.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 1 March 2003