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

RE: S&S Chs 34-36: Journal-letters by Elinor

I'd like to say that these weeks' three chapters seem to me to represent without that much revision by Austen a letter or series of letters comprising a journal or journal-letters by Elinor. It would have been in the manner of Burney's Evelina I admit it is hard to know to whom, since it doesn't make sense to me that Mrs Dashwood would want to hear what Elinor has to say, would like it the least little bit, being so "candid" (like Jane Bennet herself). So they are Elinor to X, a friend somewhere else. If you look back to Chapters 23-4 in the Penguin (Vol I, Ch xxii, Vol II chs i-ii in the Oxford), you will notice a similar disposition of materials, a similar dominance of Elinor's voice, the same presentation of Lucy which makes her words become a form of snarling, as in "'Are you ill, Miss Dashwood?-- you seem low--you don't speak;--sure you an't well?'" (Penguin Ch 35, p 202). Another indication that this was a letter is the absence of a deep sense of Marianne's presence. This is all a welling up from within Elinor, and she has a pen whose ink is acid.

Last week's chapters, in comparison, cannot have come just from letters by Elinor. The actual matter of Elinor's letters, some of it unrevised and unshortened is there all right; for example in Chapter 32, pp, 181- 3, the first whole paragraph through Paragraph 8, which material comes to a close with the phrase "Early in February..."). It was through Elinor's eyes one first observed Marianne changing towards Brandon:

"'His chief reward for the painful exertio of disclosing past sorrows and present humiliations, was given in the pitying eye with which Marianne sometimes observed him, and the gentleness of her voice whenever (though it did not often happen) she was obliged, or could oblige herself to speak to him" (Penguin p 182).

I suggest at this point we did not have the further generalization that Elinor was glad to see the growing together of the pair, but that we were actually given conversation. The reason Brandon and Marianne never speak in our present S&S is its revised state. The dialogues were cut in order to make room for the new material and overarching point of view and quicker pace.

But last week's chapters also contain a great deal of an originally very long letter by Brandon now following what's left in a concise form from the revision of letters by Marianne and her mother (Chapter 31). The Marianne material (so to speak) is represented by a concise third-person omniscient narration in Paragraphs 1 -9 (pp 170-1, the opening of Chapter 31. It is Marianne whose feelings well up against Mrs Jennings, who felt so strongly the words actually kindly meant: "'Now, my dear, I bring you someting that I am sure will do you good." (Penguin 171) There is also a concise rewrite of a letter originally written by Mrs Dashwood from Devonshire to Elinor (Ch 32, Paragraphs 2-5, pp 179-80, from "To give the feelings or language of Mrs Dashwood" .... to "she judged it right that they should sometimes see their brother").

Ellen Moody

RE: S&S: Chs 34-6: More on epistolary possibilies and limitations

Arnessa writes:

: But back to S&S. Ellen, I don't understand why you think Elinor would wield the acid pen in an epistolary novel. I think everyone would be coolly and justly treated in Elinor's letters. It's Marianne, on the contrary, whose writing I think would give vent to all her spleen against all those unfeeling people who torment her with their tasteless kindness. I'm wondering now if, in the original Elinor & Marianne, Elinor was invited to London at all. She's not given much to do there. Perhaps Marianne wrote to her sister at Barton, telling her of Willoughby's and Edward's betrayals?

I like this. Yes. Maybe more of the material than I am supposing was written by Elinor was written by Marianne. It would give the novel far more taste, far more fillip, a pungent quality and variety at the same time. I feel sure Austen was always thinking of entertaining us as she went. She didn't want to bore us even for a little bit; and the novelist always puts everything they've got into the first one. Think of Pickwick Papers, A Tale of a Tub; they just poured it on.

One problem though: in a letter-novel the technical problem includes achieving verisimilitude through first-person narratives; that is, in a 3rd person omniscient narrative the "fiction" the reader accepts is that the impersonal narrator knows all, sees all, and is even allowed to hold information back. Now Austen uses this kind of "cheat" to achieve suspense not only in Emma but Northanger Abbey. Where the heroine is blind to circumstances some of the others see and which the narrator also has seen, but been "holding back" on us and only letting us peek at through the eyes of another character--in Emma twice we move into the perspective of Knightley who does suspect something "fishy" between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. I think this kind of flexibility offered by the omniscient narrator is one of the reasons Austen switched from epistolary to 3rd person narrative. One always has to explain why the letter-writer knows something.

Consider the deeply inward and deeply painful nexus out of which this and previous week's chapters grow. How right Darcy is here. Consider the final qualification of this shattering sentence from the turning point at the end of Volume I (I disagree with Henry Churchyard that Austen did not use the conventional divisions of the three-decker; it seems clear to me that in P&P and S&SM she did):

"She was stronger alone, and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her apearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be"--the "regrets so poignant and so fresh" of the second part of the sentence throw over the "unshaken firmness" and "appearance of cheerfulness" to the point of near dissolution (Penguin 119)

Part of the moral pattern of the plot is to show us that Marianne must learn that an appearance of cheerfulness and an apparent unshaken firmness are not at all cheerfulness and unshaken firmness. Marianne does not know Elinor is shattered. Marianne is wholly unaware that "Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her forever from the object of her love. Marianne does not know how deeply Elinor loves Edward--to the point of forgiving him, of seeing her case as merely "pitiable," while his is "hopeless. She has merely lost the thing dearest to her heart in life. Nothing much. Ahem. In the previous chapter only Elinor or an omniscient narrator could tell us that "Elinor was almost overcome--her hert sunk within her, and she could hardly stand... and worse upon realizing the hair in the ring was Lucy's as to the intensely brief "I did," "with a composure of voice, under which was concealed an emotion and distress beyond anything she had ever felt before. She was mortified, shocked, confounded" (Penguin 114).

In the first scene beween Lucy and Elinor I am fascinated by the depiction of Marianne playing crashingly loud at the piano while Lucy and Elinor apply their razor-like words across one another's skins. Much of course has been revised. I was sorry that the movie did not pick up on this. Imagine it.

Still I agree that the acid pen can certainly also be held by Marianne, and thoughout the novel the earlier scenes with Mrs Jennings and some of the pieces of the scenes with Lady Middleton might be worthy the bold unashamed pen of a Marianne. One must return and return again to the tones in those three brief epistles of Marianne's that we are given. Let us recall Marianne's sharp tongue in Chapter 10:

"'But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank, I have erred against every common place notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful:--had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared'" (Penguin 42).

This is a satire on the tete-a-tetes she's seen between Edward and Elinor. That's why the mother breaks in.

Now in this week's three chapters while Marianne could not relate as she wouldn't be able to understand or give their significance--as in Lucy's "'Are you ill, Miss Dashwood?--you seem low--you don't speak;--sure you an't well.'" (Penguin 202); nonetheless in this week's chapters we have such bitter scenes of the unkind Dashwoods & mean shameless Mrs Ferrars, the tasteless Middletons, the childishly obtuse Mrs Jennings, the in a way painful Palmer relationship that if these scenes are read in a serious tone, they make one's flesh creep. It could very well be through Marianne's eyes that we saw Mrs Ferrars insult Elinor's drawing. It is Marianne after all who becomes enraged at Mrs Ferrars and boldly says who cares for any Miss Morton; it is Elinor we care for. Or ought to.

A comparison of Jane Bennet and Marianne is revealing. If Marianne is to be seen as the candid interpreter and sincere and earnest, some of the material which might seem appropriate to Elinor in the book could have come from Marianne's pen. However, Jane is like Elinor in that both see the ugliness of life and turn away from it, Jane in pain and Elinor in stoicism. Jane's way is to talk up the good. Elinor's is to be silent.

Two thoughts: Much in the present S&S can only be fully accounted for by the present 3rd person omniscient narrator, but there is much left over from the original Elinor and Marianne. Austen's nephew, James Edward-Austen Leigh wrote that the earliest of Austen's writing may be found in the extant Sense and Sensibility.

The other: what a exciting story this first novel is in a way. So much is doing. That's why I think the movie works so well. Compare it to the movie of Persuasion or text of Emma. Less is happening; the two latter are more diurnal, more realistic. But we have several stories going here with duels and pregnancies and spunging houses and flights to India in one, deep pain and betrayals in the other two, yet a third couple, the Dashwoods (I hesitate to think Charlotte would have turned into a Fanny Dashwood when Mr Bennet died, but one can never predict these things...), not to omit the Palmers, with Mrs Palmer's childbed appearing ironically in just the way such things appear in the world, for that's all the world cares for, the paragraph in the newspaper telling that the Palmers as a family have a male heir. I know this first novel has never been a critical favorite, but readers have liked it all along; like P&P it has always been well-known; there's a lot here.

Isabel Armstrong speaks of 2 revisions, and others speak of a first novel long under consideration or apparently being written during the first half of the 1790's and then revised and revised, we have to take into account that an enormous amount has been changed, sifted, altered, rearranged, replotted, disguised.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 15 February 2003