Sense and Sensibility: Volume II, Chapters 12 - 14 (34 - 36)

Re: S&S: Shaping the Second Volume for Publication: A Second Nadir

As First Impressions and the 1797-8 S&S were, according to those on the scene, the first full-length, completed novels Austen ever wrote, it might be useful in understanding how Austen meant us to read these novels as she changed yet kept them the smae for publication by comparing the volume divisions she used in the later extant versions.

Although by no means so rigidly set as in Victorian times (basically because the profits of most publishers were dependent on selling their copies to Mudie's whose business depended on the price he set for each of 3 volumes); nonetheless, by the 1810s, as we can see from Austen's own satire, a 3 volume structure was expected. Austen fit those of her novels published in her lifetime into 3 volume patterns. Since she had not the option of instalments in magazines, it's anachronistic to look for cliff hangers. Still she would be aware many readers would stop at the end of each volume and therefore expect closure.

What do we find at the end of the present volumes of P&P and S&S. At the end of Vol I in P&P we have Mr and Mrs Bennet discussing who's going to die, and him urging on her the hope she'll die first; I'm afraid she's not consoled. We have Mr Collins engaged to Charlotte, which event Mrs Bennet uses to vex everyone. We have Jane's deep disappointment over Bingley and difficulty in dealing with her mother's anxiety over him, discussions of which feel to her like attacks. However, at the end of Volume II in P&P, we have Elizabeth preparing to go to Pemberly; the long visit to Rosings has occurred, the proposal, and Lydia has gone off to Brighton. It too ends on a disquistion on the Bennets' marriage (the father did not seek affairs or gamble, but retreated to his library and walks), but counters that with a congenial dialogue between the Gardiners & Elizabeth as they look forward to their tour. There is a Johnsonian sentence which hits the note of the chapter very well:

'It was consequently mecessary to name some other period for the commencement of actual felicity; to have some other point on which her wishes and hopes might be fixed, and by again enjoying the pleasure of anticipation, console herself for the present, and prepare for another disappointment' (Oxford P&P, 2:19, 237).

By contrast, in S&S we hit nadirs. At the end of Volume I, Willoughby has decamped; Edward is revealed as having betrayed Elinor very badly; Elinor is subject to the malice of Lucy. Colonel Brandon has disappeared. Although I agree with Aysin that Chapter 22 is deeply moving, its uplift comes form its intelligence, strong compassion for others (as she said), and ability to endure. Not from hope. At the end of Volume 2, Willoughby has mortified Marianne, married Miss Grey, and is revealed as a shallow seducer of Eliza Williams; Lucy is at that point invited by Fanny Dashwood to come and live with her and Edward. Elinor feels as cut off from Edward as Marianne from Willoughby. The mood is not one of many mixed ironies and a Johnsonian outlook, but much more that of the romances and novels of the period, sentimental, epistolary, gothic. Robert Ferrars at the close of S&S, Vol 2, reminds me of a fop in Cecilia who has a number of funny dialogues with 'the inimitable Miss Larolles. But we are far more poignantly wounded in S&S. I'm not sure how much Austen saw this, but she felt it.

A non-sequitor: this volume division of S&S also resembles many French novels of the period -- I am thinking of Isabelle de Montelieu's Caroline de Lichtfield

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 15 February 2003