Jane Austen Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

I started to look carefully at Sense and Sensibility for my sixth form students, and the more I looked, the more I found. Beneath the obligatory decorum of the upper middle class drawing-room is a sense of passion and suffering more intense in this novel than in Jane Austen’s next novel, Pride and Prejudice. Indeed, it is almost too intense to be contained by the comedy of manners genre.

I have printed out extracts from each chapter and added my commentary – which is highlighted in green.

The views in this commentary are simply my own opinions; they are by no means incontrovertible facts. They reflect the way the novel seems to me. I have been much helped by my friends Susie Carrdus, Anabel Donald and Catherine Simpson whose insights have been invaluable.

I am so very grateful to Beth Lau, Professor of English Emerita at California State University, Long Beach, for her generous permission to reprint her introduction to the New Riverside Editions edition of Sense and Sensibility, now out of print.
I could not have put any of this on the website without the help and expertise of Cezary Wasowski, Milena Fabisiak.

August 2017

Chapter 1 (excerpts)

We are introduced to the Dashwood family and their circumstances.

Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, although Jane Austen probably wrote the first version in the mid 1790s. Austen family tradition tells us that it was first written as Elinor and Marianne in 1795 and reworked in 1797. To start with, it may have been written in letter form, as an epistolary novel, following in the tradition of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747). Again, this is not certain. Jane Austen revised it in 1809 / 10 before its publication on 30th October 1811; it was published anonymously.

In 1811, we are in the middle of the Romantic period; however, Jane Austen’s style is to a considerable extent influenced by the eighteenth century – she was a great admirer of the eighteenth-century prose writers, especially Dr Johnson, and of poets such as Crabbe. Sense and Sensibility is a comedy of manners, albeit a profound one, aiming to entertain by poking fun at the foolishness (foibles, follies) of people in upper middle class and high society. It is a form of gentle satire. Jane Austen famously uses irony as a means of revealing folly, but she does so in other subtle ways, too. As she wrote to her sister Cassandra just after the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, ‘I do not write for such dull Elves / As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’ (She is deliberately appropriating and misquoting Walter Scott here.) You have to be on your toes to read Jane Austen.

At the beginning of the novel, Jane Austen establishes the facts. And the facts are to do with family and finance. Family, in that Mrs Dashwood is left a widow and her three daughters fatherless; finance, in that, in this patriarchal society, the money that was morally due to them has been left to their rich half-brother and his baby son. So, from the beginning, the Dashwood women are in a vulnerable situation, and without a responsible head of the family to help them. In fact, in Chapter 2, the new head of the family, John Dashwood, does the opposite of helping them.

The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew, Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old gentleman’s days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish (pleasing flavour or quality, OED) to his existence.

The opening focuses on the prominence of the long-established Dashwood family. They are a respected family of considerable importance who have been ‘long settled in Sussex’, ‘for many generations’, they have a large estate and a residence of considerable size. This does not sound like an opening leading to relatively straitened circumstances for its principal characters but, because of the nature of a patriarchal society, it rapidly becomes so. Because women, however good, are legally unimportant in this society.

‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.’

Even in such an explicitly factual introduction, certain patterns of logic (or non-logic) emerge. The Dashwoods are an established part of Sussex: they ‘had been long settled’ there for ‘many generations’. We are then told ‘the size of the estate’ and ‘their residence’ (evidently a seat of importance), and ‘their property’. Three times, the possessive adjective ‘their’ is repeated. Possessions are what they do and have. It’s after this that we are told that they have ‘engage(d) the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance.’ The good opinion of everyone seems to stem from the Dashwoods’ very considerable list of possessions and time spent living there, as opposed to any sense of deserving this ‘general good opinion’ by any other means. The word ‘respectable’ seems open to question (it means worthy of respect). What constitutes respectability? (We’ll find out in the course of the novel.) It’s almost as if, from the outset, Austen is damning these members of the landed gentry with faint praise. However, the even tone of the opening precludes the certainty that Austen is satirising them.

‘In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old gentleman’s days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.’

After the very materialistic opening, with its emphasis on name, estate, residence, property, we now have human feelings. The old gentleman enjoys ‘the society of his nephew and niece, and their children.’ They give him ‘attention’, ‘goodness of heart’, ‘solid comfort’ and ‘cheerfulness’ all of which add ‘a relish to his existence.’ These are qualities quite different from possessions. Our heroines and their father and mother, Mr and Mrs Henry Dashwood, are clearly presented as good, loving, and creating happiness. So even in this first paragraph, Austen gives us two quite different definitions of what is desirable in life: very considerable possessions and wealth, and love. These are to be key to the novel.

By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son; by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady, respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father’s inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety (part) of his first wife’s fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life interest in it.

Jane Austen turns her attention to the financial situation. Mr Henry Dashwood’s son by his first marriage has not only inherited a lot of money from his mother but has also married a rich young woman. John Dashwood is ‘amply provided for by the fortune (wealth) of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth.’ We are talking about a very large amount of money indeed.

However, the young women with whom the novel is to be concerned have little money; as Jane Austen explains, it is ‘secured’ elsewhere, leaving them in an insecure situation. She makes it clear that Mr Dashwood’s son does not need to succeed to the Norland estate in order to have plenty of money, whereas his half-sisters do, ‘for their fortune (money / assets) … could be but small’. Not only do they deserve to be financially rewarded for their ten years’ kindness to the old gentleman, but they are also in need of the financial reward.

The old Gentleman died; his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure. He was neither so unjust, nor so ungrateful, as to leave his estate from his nephew; but he left it to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of the bequest. Mr. Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters than for himself or his son; but to his son, and his son’s son, a child of four years old, it was secured, in such a way, as to leave to himself no power of providing for those who were most dear to him, and who most needed a provision, by any charge on the estate, or by any sale of its valuable woods. The whole was tied up for the benefit of this child, who, in occasional visits with his father and mother at Norland, had so far gained on the affections of his uncle, by such attractions as are by no means unusual in children of two or three years old: an imperfect articulation (he didn’t speak very clearly), an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise, as to outweigh all the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters. He meant not to be unkind however, and, as a mark of his affection for the three girls, he left them a thousand pounds a-piece.

The old gentleman who has been so affectionately looked after by Henry Dashwood’s second wife and daughters has not served them well. In his will, he has left the family property, Norland, to his nephew, Henry Dashwood, but in such a way that it is ‘secured’ – that word again – to Henry Dashwood’s son and grandson, who are already rich. ‘Mr. Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters’. Jane Austen uses strong words here: ‘he (the old gentleman) left it (Norland) to him (Henry Dashwood) on such terms as destroyed half the value’. And as a result, Henry Dashwood has ‘no power of providing for those who were most dear to him, and who most needed a provision’. Henry Dashwood is evidently a loving and generous man, who ‘had wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters’. Jane Austen emotionally ramps up the superlatives when she describes them as being ‘most dear to him, and who most needed a provision.’

The whole bequest is ‘tied up’ in favour of a child of four years old, whose contribution to his great uncle’s happiness has been ‘imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise’.

Jane Austen makes very evident her views on the patriarchal system of bequeathing everything valuable to the nearest male heir and his son regardless of their conduct. She juxtaposes the small child’s characteristic ‘cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise’ with ‘the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters’. The child’s parents have merely made ‘occasional visits’, to be set against the ‘years’ of attention the old gentleman has received from his niece. This makes clear the unfairness of the system. As a woman, Jane Austen knows at first hand the systems that leave money away from those who ‘most needed a provision’. When her father died – he was not well off – her mother, her sister and she had to spend several years in an itinerant fashion before her very rich brother, Edward, settled them in a cottage in Chawton.

Rachel Brownstein comments, ‘The narrator’s even tone implies it is as certain as death that men merely use dependent women, that virtue goes unrewarded, that ingratitude, caprice, and selfishness prevail, that people do active harm and yet remain respectable.’ (Rachel M Brownstein, ‘Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice’ from The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen edited by Edward Copeland, Juliet McMaster, CUP, 1997)

‘Secured’ has a quasi-legal sense but also forms a contrast with the precarious financial situation of the women. They are not in the least secure. The irrevocable legal finalities implied by the word ‘secured’ have left them in a thoroughly insecure situation. The old gentleman has died and left everything ‘to his son, and his son’s son,’ in a patrilineal fashion. He is thinking of the dynastic line of men, not of the women who have made his last ten years comfortable and happy.

Mr. Dashwood’s disappointment was at first severe; but his temper was cheerful and sanguine, and he might reasonably hope to live many years, and by living economically, lay by a considerable sum from the produce of an estate already large, and capable of almost immediate improvement. But the fortune, which had been so tardy in coming, was his only one twelvemonth. He survived his uncle no longer; and ten thousand pounds, including the late legacies, was all that remained for his widow and daughters.

After the exposition of the preliminary facts, Jane Austen gives us a close-up of the second death: the death of our heroines’ father, and the promise that the son of his first marriage, Mr John Dashwood, makes to his father as he lies dying.

His son was sent for as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr. Dashwood recommended (entrust, consign, commit (something) to a person or thing for attention, care, consideration, or use – OED) with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest (having a right or title to, a claim OED) of his mother-in-law (step-mother) and sisters.

Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of the family; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature at such a time, and he promised to do every thing in his power to make them comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance, and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much there might prudently be in his power to do for them.

There is a considerable sense of urgency here, increasing the sense of the importance of the promise John Dashwood makes to his dying father. John Dashwood is sent for ‘as soon as his (his father’s) danger was known’ and his father makes his wishes known ‘with all the strength and urgency’ that he can. Mr Dashwood, John Dashwood’s father, recommends – that is, entrusts – his son with the charge of looking after Mrs Dashwood and the three girls after his death. John Dashwood makes his father a verbal and moral promise, not a legal one. It is something his father specifically and urgently requests on his deathbed, it is a commission ‘of such a nature at such a time’ (that is, as he lay dying).

John Dashwood gave his father his ‘assurance’ that he would look after ‘the interest’ of the Dashwood women. This means the right or claim of the Dashwood women to the amount of money that is rightfully theirs. John Dashwood ‘promised to do everything in his power to make them comfortable’. Highlighting the importance of this recommendation and promise, is the Biblical directive, later referred to more explicitly, to look after widows and orphans. Once his father’s dying request is made, the tension diminishes: his father is ‘rendered easy’ and John Dashwood has ‘leisure’. Having ‘promised to do everything in his power’ for his sisters, he now has time to think over what might ‘prudently be in his power to’ do for them. The exact similarity of the phrases highlights the two words that are different: ‘everything’ and ‘prudently’.

The way that John Dashwood manages to renege on his promise foreshadows the way Willoughby (and Edward to a slightly lesser extent) behave to Marianne and Elinor when they are not constrained by any social or legally binding commitment. Although Austen’s Christianity is not generally made explicit, the opening of Sense and Sensibility comes near to making it so. In the Authorised Version of the Bible, St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 5 verse 37 reads: ‘But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ In Chapter 5, Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. Verse 37 means, be a man of your word. If you say yes, do it. There is no mention of lawyers and signatures: this is about honouring the spoken word. John Dashwood breaks his spoken promise.

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable (worthy of respect) than he was:—he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself;—more narrow-minded and selfish.

Of this paragraph, Rachel M Brownstein writes: ‘Beginning with a polite double negative and quickly modifying it, reiterating ‘rather’ to make it almost an intensifier, shifting the blame from the man to his wife – as people do – and sympathetically acknowledging John Dashwood’s good points, or seeming to, before reverting in a damningly short, emphatic sentence to his character’s fixed flaws, the narrator makes it clear that his respectability reflects badly on his neighbours.’

She adds: ‘Towards the end of the novel, when Elinor meditates as generously as she can on the character of her sister’s deceiver, she condemns Willoughby in the words used here of John Dashwood: “Extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish”. A world where young men have these vices is a harsh one for young women.’ (Rachel M Brownstein, ‘Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice’ from The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen edited by Edward Copeland, Juliet McMaster, CUP, 1997)

‘Had he married a more amiable (kindly) woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:—he might even have been made amiable himself…’. We all tend to blame John Dashwood’s wife for what he did, especially after reading Chapter 2. But, considering his general pattern of behaviour, Jane Austen emphasises the rather tentative conditional tense of the verb: ‘Had he married …, he might …, he might…’. She follows these three possibilities with the damning, ‘But…’. It seems that it was at least as much his own fault as that of his wife that he did not become amiable.

When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousand pounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother’s fortune, warmed his heart, and made him feel capable of generosity.— “Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.”— He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.

The eventual paring-down of the sum that John Dashwood gives to his step-mother and half sisters is not quite so much all his wife’s doing as we might suppose after reading Chapter 2. Before we even get to Chapter 2, Jane Austen tells us that John Dashwood has done a lot of thinking on the subject of giving his step-mother and half-sisters a decent sum of money. ‘He meditated within himself’, ‘he then really thought himself equal to it’, ‘capable of generosity’, ‘he thought of it all day long, and for many days successively’. It’s evidently a very big step for him, and he has to take into lengthy consideration the fact that ‘he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.’
Austen adds to the sense of hesitation involved in these prolonged meditations on the part of John Dashwood by using modal verbs. She relays his exact thoughts: “Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.” The modal verbs proliferate: ‘would give them’; ‘would be liberal and handsome’, ‘would be enough’, ‘he could spare so considerable a sum’. The modal verbs suggest possible actions, conditional actions. These thoughts are not nearly so definite as they might initially appear, or as John Dashwood thinks they are. He has to psych himself up, ‘he then really thought himself equal to it.’

The more you look at John Dashwood’s thoughts, the less attractive his character seems. ‘He would give them three thousand pounds’ and the first consequence of this in his mind is that ‘it would be liberal and handsome!’ It is his reputation, his standing amongst his neighbours, the way such a gift would reflect on himself, that comes first to his mind. People will think he is ‘liberal and handsome’ (in the sense of magnanimous, morally admirable OED). Only then does the important consequence of such a gift occur to him, that it would make his step mother and half sisters ‘completely easy.’ The irony of the last thought that comes to him presumably escapes him, but it does not escape the reader. “Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.”— Three thousand pounds is, as he admits, a very ‘considerable sum’ but what he does not appear to notice is that he is so rich that he can spare it with ‘little inconvenience.’ This reflects adversely on his pluming himself on his liberality. He won’t actually notice the difference, so in fact, it’s not all that liberal.

John Dashwood is a very rich man; he has ‘the prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother’s fortune …’. Austen makes the size of his financial situation abundantly clear: ‘the prospect of … in addition to … besides the …’. And yet he finds it necessary to square possible ‘inconvenience’ to himself with his conscience. The paragraph ends, ‘he did not repent,’ as if by John Dashwood’s moral and spiritual code, you should undertake not to ‘inconvenience’ yourself. The irony, of course, is that he doesn’t have a moral and spiritual code, as rapidly becomes clear.

John Dashwood’s thoughts give us a fully-rounded picture of his character. The word ‘prospect’, for John Dashwood, means likelihood (as it still does nowadays). And, more specifically, financial likelihood. But for him, that is all that prospect means. The likelihood, having a view, of more money. Whereas, in Chapter 6, the prospect (meaning view) from Barton Cottage is described. ‘The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond.’ This is an entirely different understanding of the word prospect. It is a looking outwards at the beautiful view beyond oneself. John Dashwood’s financial prospects are a view of the future looking inwards, and solely concerning himself and his wife and son.

No sooner was his father’s funeral over, than Mrs. John Dashwood, without sending any notice of her intention to her mother-in-law, arrived with her child and their attendants. No one could dispute her right to come; the house was her husband’s from the moment of his father’s decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much the greater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood’s situation, with only common feelings, must have been highly unpleasing;—but in HER mind there was a sense of honour so keen, a generosity so romantic, that any offence of the kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her a source of immovable disgust. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favourite with any of her husband’s family; but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of shewing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it.

There are a lot of negatives here underlining the general family feeling against Mrs John Dashwood: ‘No sooner..’, ‘without sending …’,‘No one…’, ‘had never been…’, ‘no opportunity …’, ‘how little attention…’.

Again, Austen presents us with the contrast of legal right with emotional integrity and sensitivity. First, we were shown John Dashwood’s promise to his dying father to look after his step-mother and half sisters (his reneging on the promise comes in Chapter 2). This time we are shown his wife’s immediate and offensive taking-up of her legal rights to the house in which her stepmother-in-law has been living and of which she has been mistress for the last ten years. And the stepmother-in-law whose household she is so summarily taking over is a woman whose husband has just died.

Fanny Dashwood’s actions here illustrate a theme that will be key in the novel: that having the right to do something does not necessarily make it a good thing to do. Later in the novel, Willoughby’s behaviour leads Marianne to understand that he intends to marry her. He never puts this into words, so technically, he has the right to get engaged to someone else. And the old gentleman at the opening of the novel put his impulse towards the baby boy before a sense of gratitude for what Elinor and Marianne’s family had done for him. Again, he had the right to do so. Jane Austen shows us, however, that she does not think it was well done.

Austen knew what it was like to have a beloved home, horses and furniture taken over by a sister-in-law with unfeeling haste. On 8 January 1801, she wrote to her sister Cassandra:
‘My father’s old ministers are already deserting him to pay their court to his son (Austen means her brother James). The brown mare, which as well as the black, was to devolve on James at our removal, has not had to patience to wait for that, and has settled herself even now at Deane. The death of …. (probably two other horses) …has made the immediate possession of the mare very convenient, and everything else I suppose will be seized by degrees in the same manner.’ )
This was written when Jane Austen’s father decided to leave Steventon, where he had been rector for many years, and go to Bath. At the time, James, her eldest brother, was vicar at Deane, near Steventon. He soon moved into Steventon Rectory as curate of the parish. Hence Austen’s reference to the parishioners paying ‘court to his (her father’s) son.’ It was James’s wife who was so very eager to ‘seize’ the furniture and horses from Steventon while she was still living at Deane.

Fanny Dashwood’s haste in taking over Norland is striking: ‘No sooner …. without sending any notice of her intention … arrived… ‘from the moment of ‘. It’s true that she is legally in the right: ‘the house was her husband’s from the moment of his father’s decease’. Jane Austen draws our attention to both the legal and the personal aspect of the situation, when she writes, ‘from the moment of his father’s decease’.

But Norland is a household in mourning for husband and father. Fanny Dashwood is thus conspicuous for the ‘indelicacy of her conduct’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines delicacy as ‘exquisite fineness of feeling…a refined sense of what is becoming, modest or proper; … delicate regard for the feelings of others’. Mrs John Dashwood, however, acts without ‘attention to the comfort of other people’. (This is very similar to her husband’s idea of acting ‘with little inconvenience’ to himself.) We’re shown Mrs John Dashwood’s behaviour in terms of immediate action. The next paragraph shows us her step-mother-in-law’s behaviour in terms of intense feeling.

So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever, had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on the propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three children determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breach with their brother.

The feeling that Mrs John Dashwood lacks, Mrs Dashwood possesses in abundance. She feels ‘acutely’. We are now introduced to Elinor, not by name, but by her advice. This advice is passionately offered, it is an ‘entreaty’, but it is also intelligent and full of ‘propriety’. It is a counsel that will benefit ‘all her three children’ in avoiding ‘a breach (falling out) with their brother’. Although Jane Austen is generally fairly sparing in such matters, she does alliterate ‘despise her daughter-in-law’ and ‘breach with their brother,’ which intensifies the strength of feeling in the passage.

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;—her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

To a writer like Jane Austen, whose ideas are formed in the late eighteenth-century, moderation is the key. Moderation recommends an avoidance of extremes or excess. Later, in Pride and Prejudice, the alarming adjective ‘wild’ is used of Lydia, and this is another extreme to be avoided. So this first description of Marianne is a warning: ‘her sorrows, her joys (both strong emotions in themselves) could have no moderation’. The following paragraph shows Marianne and her mother indulging in and positively relishing their misery, which is, rationally speaking, a contradiction in terms. Such behaviour, however, is in line with the excess of emotion displayed in sentimental novels. The words used are extreme: ‘violence’, ‘affliction’, ‘agony of grief’, ‘sorrow’, ‘wretchedness’ and we’re told they were ‘overpowered’. These extremes are further stressed through adverbs: ‘again and again’, ‘wholly’, ‘every’, ‘ever … in future’. Marianne and her mother indulge in their sorrow and are actively ‘seeking increase of wretchedness.’

Whereas Mrs Dashwood cherishes her daughter’s ‘excess of sensibility’, Elinor sees it with concern. So Elinor is immediately introduced as being the opposite of her mother, and, in a sense, responsible for her. Elinor feels the situation intensely: ‘Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted’. However, Elinor, by contrast with Marianne, ‘could exert herself.’ The repeated word ‘could’ emphasises what Elinor is able to do through her exertions. The fruits of this exertion are social and there’s a whole list of them: ‘she could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival … could strive (make efforts) to rouse (stir her into positive action) her mother… and encourage her to … forbearance (patient self-control).’ Elinor is seeking through her considerable efforts to bring the disparate sides of her family into some form of working relationship.

Are we invited to infer any comparison between Marianne and Mrs John Dashwood in their ability to distress others? If so, it is made more evident later on, when Marianne indulges her grief over Willoughby and, to avoid distressing her family, Elinor is careful not to display hers over Edward. Both Marianne and Mrs John Dashwood act with ‘little attention to the comfort of other people’.

Stuart M Tave, writing of Marianne’s sensibility, notes that ‘The excess, the lack of moderation, the lack of prudence, is a deliberate moral choice, and a choice of weakness.’
(Stuart M Tave, ‘Marianne and Elinor Dashwood’ from Some Words of Jane Austen, University of Chicago Press, 1973)

Jane Austen’s nephew wrote in his memoir of his aunt: ‘When Sense and Sensibility came out, some persons, who knew the family slightly, surmised that the two elder Miss Dashwoods were intended by the author for her sister and herself; but this could not be the case. Cassandra’s character might indeed represent the ‘sense’ of Elinor, but Jane’s had little in common with the ‘sensibility’ of Marianne. The young woman who, before the age of twenty, could so clearly discern the failings of Marianne Dashwood, could hardly have been subject to them herself.’

I had written the rest of this commentary – and then returned to the opening of the novel. And I was again struck by the way in which the bald facts at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility appear to be delivered matter-of-factly, as if giving a news report.
‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew, Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old gentleman’s days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.’
The construction of the sentences is unexciting; it simply conveys some not very interesting facts. ‘The family … had been long settled’, ‘Their estate was … their residence was …The late owner was …’.
In her next novel, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen begins in a completely different way. We are plunged into a conversation between a husband and wife with opposing views on life. Maybe Jane Austen had learned to start a novel more interestingly. But no. She begins Mansfield Park in a style similar to that of the opening of Sense and Sensibility. Evidently she finds it an effective way of introducing some of her novels.
‘About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage.’
In fact, the factual content and seemingly bare tones of the opening of Sense and Sensibility act almost as camouflage for what Jane Austen is really saying. The baldly presented paragraphs form an indictment of the power of the rich, self-satisfied patriarchy of upper middle class society.
Look at the facts that Jane Austen chooses to lay before us. They are not random. They are exclusively concerned with wealth, the good reputation in society of a family long established in one place, the comfort of one individual (a man) and the power of that man to change the lives of others as he chooses.
Further, it seems that the power of this man is used to commodify the lives of others. We are not told what his sister meant to him in terms of their relationship; we are told what he found in his sister, ‘a constant companion and housekeeper’. When she dies, he wants to ‘supply her loss’. It sounds faintly as if he has run out of washing up liquid. Again, we are told what he finds in his nephew’s family. His days are ‘comfortably spent’ and they attend constantly to ‘his wishes’. He derives ‘solid comfort’ from their presence. Comfort has now been mentioned twice in three sentences. And the cheerfulness of his nephew’s children add ‘a relish to his existence.’ ‘Relish’ in this sense means ‘pleasing flavour or quality’ (OED) – although the sense of ‘flavour’ in something you eat adds to the sense of cheerfulness being more valuable as a commodity than as an attribute of somebody you love.
The permanence and importance of the Dashwood family is enhanced by Jane Austen’s style: ‘The family … had been long settled’, ‘Their estate was … their residence was …The late owner was …’. This style, X was, Y was, establishes as fact something that is actually more akin to the opinion of the important members of the family, the men. It does not apply to the women.
For into this state of affluent permanence and comfort for the men come whim, displacement, relative poverty and misery for some of the women. On a whim, the old gentleman chooses to prefer a baby boy to those women who have looked after him for ten years. As a consequence of the way the estate is entailed, the women are displaced rather than ‘long … settled’, made relatively poor (although the Dashwood estate is ‘large’) and very miserable although they have been concerned with the old gentleman’s ‘comfort’. What seemed to be bald random facts delivered in a low-key fashion now take on a somewhat different appearance. They mask the absolute power wielded by rich men in a patriarchal society. And this power is to be seen throughout the novel.
I think, too, that the novel’s opening can be understood differently depending on the reader’s attitude to life, particularly in 1811. A man who was a member of the privileged and powerful patriarchy would take it as read that this is what would happen and that women could be summoned to replace other women to cater for a man’s comfort. And then displaced when another man took over the family seat. However, a woman is much more likely to read the opening as an indictment of this accepted way of doing things.
The automatic rights of one gender render the existence of the other gender precarious in the extreme. And Jane Austen explores this precarious state of affairs not only in Sense and Sensibility, but also in Pride and Prejudice, where the sisters must marry because they will lose their home when their father dies. I am using the term gender rather loosely, since Fanny Dashwood, the wife of John, and Lucy Steele, who marries financial security, share the ruthlessness towards other women of their patriarchally-minded husbands.
Jane Austen explores the precarious situation of vulnerable women in all her novels. It is a particularly noticeable aspect of Sense and Sensibility, partly because the point of view is Elinor’s, perhaps the quietest female character in the novel. She it is who most accurately perceives what is happening and what can be done to salvage the situation of herself and her sister as they experience what is dealt out to them by the active members of their society. The active members are usually, but not always, the men. Elinor and Marianne have to suffer the consequences of actions instigated by Fanny Dashwood, Lucy Steele and Mrs Ferrars in addition to those perpetrated by Edward, Willoughby, Sir John Middleton, and John Dashwood.
In Mansfield Park and Persuasion, too, the focus is very much on the experience of the vulnerable woman who must live with the consequences of other’s actions. Both Fanny Price and Anne Elliot are acutely aware of the fact that they can do nothing but endure and endeavour to survive. They cannot take any active part in their own lives. When the happy ending arrives, it is not through anything they have done; it is a matter of chance that Edmund becomes disillusioned with Mary Crawford and that Louisa Musgrove falls in love with Benwick, thus releasing Wentworth from his perceived obligations towards her. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is granted her happy ending by Lucy’s fortuitous and opportunistic decision to marry Robert Ferrars. In all three novels, the woman through whose perceptions we experience the novel suffers the consequences of others’ actions rather than precipitating them herself. Elinor, Fanny and Anne do not change in the course of the novel – which makes them very different from such forceful heroines as Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse. Austen always evinces a considerable interest in the plight of women whose only option is to endure what is dealt out to them.
The case is somewhat different in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Both are novels with high-spirited protagonists who make plenty of mistakes. (Elinor, Fanny and Anne make very few mistakes. Their perception is sometimes at fault but they do not act on their mistaken perceptions, so they do not harm anyone.) In Pride and Prejudice and Emma, it is the characters of secondary importance, Charlotte Lucas and Jane Bennet, who have no or few options, whereas Elizabeth is able to some extent to determine her own destiny. For example, she turns down two offers of marriage and she takes the initiative in thanking Mr Darcy for what he has done for Lydia. Emma Woodhouse, too, determines her own destiny in the matter of refusing Mr Elton’s proposal. Mr Knightley has to point out to her Harriet Smith’s vulnerability, increased by Emma having persuaded her to refuse Robert Martin’s offer of marriage. He also makes clear Miss Bates’s vulnerability. Emma herself finally comes to understand Jane Fairfax’s precarious situation. In Emma, such an awareness is a part of the awakening of Emma’s heart and understanding of others. In both Pride and Prejudice and Emma, the heroine changes and matures, arriving at a more humble estimate of herself and a more generous understanding of others. In other words, she learns to become a part of her society, a very eighteenth century concept.
The vulnerability that Jane Austen explores in her novels is, in part, brought about by the young women’s lack of a secure home. This is often in consequence of their living in a patriarchal society – defined by the OED as ‘relating to, characteristic of, or designating a society or culture in which men tend to be in positions of authority and cultural values and norms are seen as favouring men.’ Sense and Sensibility thus opens with the Dashwood women being ousted from Norland; over the Bennet sisters there hangs the future when they will have to leave Longbourn and Mr Collins will live there; Fanny is transported at an early age to Mansfield Park and when she returns to Portsmouth at the order of her uncle, it is to find that she does not belong there; Anne Elliot has to leave her beloved Kellynch and either stay with Mary or her godmother or live in Bath with a father and sister who do not love her. In every case except that of Anne Elliot, the novels end with the heroines living not only in a secure emotional relationship but also in a named house. Elinor is in Delaford Parsonage very near her sister; Elizabeth is at Pemberley quite near her sister; Fanny is at Mansfield Parsonage. Only Anne Elliot’s home is unnamed, perhaps increasing the sense that her security is in her relationship with Captain Wentworth, although his naval career, with its ‘quick alarm’ makes permanent physical security questionable. The navy, writes Austen in the last sentence of the novel, is known for its ‘domestic virtue.’
Possibly the ending of Persuasion reflects its interest in a newly emerging element in society: that of men who have made their fortunes in the Napoleonic wars, specifically in this novel, in the navy. Thus Admiral Croft rents Kellynch and Captain Wentworth rises to social eminence recognised even by Lady Dalrymple, ‘A very fine young man indeed!’ Thus, whereas Elinor ends the novel in Delaford Parsonage, Fanny Price in Mansfield Parsonage, and Marianne, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma Woodhouse in the big house – all part of the old inherited squirearchical social system – Anne links her life to a young man who represents the new society, that of meritocracy and ‘national importance.’ Perhaps, therefore, it is fitting that no settled place is ascribed to her in her married life, but instead, ‘a very pretty landaulette’ – a symbol of movement rather than fixity. Anne’s sister, Mary, reminds herself that ‘Anne had no Uppercross Hall before her, no landed estate, no headship of a family.’ Anne’s choice is contrasted with the static, old-fashioned choice of Mary.
The plight of dependent women is one that had interested Austen for a long time. She started to write The Watsons in 1803 or 1804 but left it unfinished, possibly because the death of her father in 1805 extinguished any desire to pursue the novel’s themes. To quote Kathryn Sutherland in ‘Making Books: How Jane Austen Wrote’:
The Watsons seems set to be a study in the bleak realities of dependent women’s lives, with little of the romantic illusion we associate with the earlier fictions, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Virtually penniless, the Watson sisters see their precarious grasp of respectability daily weakened by an invalid father whose death will deprive them of their home. Elizabeth Watson, the eldest, knows that her only hope of escaping destitution or the charity of unwilling relations lies in marriage, and there is nothing romantic in her vision. Her words are very moving:
‘..you know we must marry. – I could do very well single for my own part. – A little Company, & a pleasant Ball now & then, would be enough for me, if one could be young for ever, but my Father cannot provide for us, & it is very bad to grow old & be poor & laughed at. – I have lost Purvis, it is true but very few people marry their first Loves. I should not refuse a man because he was not Purvis-.’
‘In a manuscript filled with deletions and interlinear additions, with evidence of second thoughts, it is worth remarking that this passage flows easily, with almost no correction.’ Kathryn Sutherland is an expert on Austen’s manuscripts, and the inference here is that, the ideas and feelings coming from Jane Austen’s heart, the words she wrote had no need of subsequent correction.
(Jane Austen Writer in the World, edited by Kathryn Sutherland, Bodleian Library, 2017)
In addition to the financial pressures and difficulties of living as a woman in a patriarchal society, Jane Austen’s heroines suffer social and personal troubles. In Sense and Sensibility, both sisters suffer from men’s deceitful behaviour. Willoughby’s untrustworthy pursuit of Marianne and her trust in him lead to her suffering; Edward’s behaviour towards Elinor when he is already engaged elsewhere leads to her forced witness of his commitment to a woman he does not love and her realisation that her love for him has no future. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas exerts very considerable pressure on Fanny to marry Henry Crawford. Fanny, meanwhile, watches her beloved entranced by another woman. As in Sense and Sensibility, the heroine, Fanny, endures the misery of loving a man it seems impossible to marry. In Emma, Emma unwittingly and ironically brings her own suffering on herself. Having, in superior fashion, unfeelingly imposed her will on the lives of others, she finds she too is caught up in the consequences. However, the novel’s primary focus is not on her suffering, which is very brief. In Persuasion, Lady Russell (in this instance the agent of the point of view that favours maintaining the status quo) has persuaded Anne that it will be in her beloved’s best interests if she breaks off her engagement to him, so she is forced to be the instrument of her own suffering. This is a variation on Emma’s situation, but whereas in Emma, the unhappiness is of two chapters’ duration, in Persuasion, it pervades the novel.

Chapter 2 (excerpt)

John Dashwood and his wife settle at Norland. They have a long conversation about the amount of money that John Dashwood should allow his father’s widow and three daughters.

The fabulously rich John Dashwood ends up allowing his widowed stepmother and his three half-sisters £500 a year. It is absolutely not enough. When Jane Austen’s father died unexpectedly, Jane Austen, her sister and her mother had to live on £450 a year. She and her sister and mother had one servant, and in the summer they lived with various relations or in temporary lodging until, after a few years, they were settled in Chawton Cottage by Austen’s rich brother, Edward. So she had a very good idea of what this £500 meant. In fact, in a letter to his brother Frank about what his mother and sisters would have to live on to his brother, Henry Austen writes, in tones reminiscent of John Dashwood:
‘So you see My dear F., that with her own assured property, & Cassandra’s, both producing about £210 per ann., She will be in the receipt of a clear £450 per Ann. – She will be very comfortable, & as a smaller establishment will be as agreeable to them, as it cannot but be feasible, I really think that My Mother & Sisters will be to the full as rich as ever. They will not only suffer no personal deprivation, but will be able to pay occasional visits of health and pleasure to their friends.’ Although this sounds rather mean on the part of Henry, Jane Austen’s favourite brother, the brothers clubbed together to help the Austen women.

Mrs Dashwood wants to have a carriage, but you had to have an income of at least £1,000 a year to afford this so she’s living in fantasy-land even to think of it. This is a genteel poverty of the upper middle classes; when the Dashwood women move to Devon, they have a roof over their heads and enough to eat. However, they are dependent upon the kindness of other people.

John Dashwood’s meanness not only ensures that his half sisters will live in a much poorer way than they are used to. They will also find it harder to get married, as they have only their looks and their personalities to recommend them. Hence Elinor finds herself in competition with Lucy Steele, also poor and pretty. Hence Marianne is jilted for a rich heiress.

Mrs John Dashwood’s power is portrayed from the very opening sentence of Chapter 2. “Mrs John Dashwood now installed herself mistress of Norland; and her mother and sisters-in-law were degraded to the condition of visitors.’ You can see the immediate ousting process in action: ‘installed herself mistress’ instantly followed by ‘were degraded to … visitors’. Fanny Dashwood installs herself in the active voice of the verb; the Dashwood women are degraded in the passive voice of the verb – in other words, they suffer this degradation; it is imposed upon them by Fanny.

Mrs. John Dashwood did not at all approve of what her husband intended to do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject. How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods, who were related to him only by half blood, which she considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount. It was very well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?

“It was my father’s last request to me,” replied her husband, “that I should assist his widow and daughters.”

Austen gives us in reported speech this account of Mrs John Dashwood’s intention of substantially reducing the amount of money allowed to John Dashwood’s half-sisters and stepmother. It’s presented as fairly verbatim reported speech: Mrs John Dashwood’s ruthlessness is evident in the way she ratchets up the emotive words. There’s lots of focus on the helpless and beloved little boy: ‘their dear little boy’, which then moves to ‘impoverishing him’, ‘rob his child, and his only child too,’ ‘ruin himself, and their poor little Harry …’. Words like ‘rob’ put John Dashwood in the wrong and make him sound like a thief, a criminal. The little boy is alternately ‘their … little boy’ or ‘his… child.’ So she shifts the responsibility towards their child (and away from Elinor and Marianne) from them jointly onto John Dashwood solely. Then, the words relating to the money: first it’s ‘impoverish’, then it’s the more intense and emotive ‘rob’ and finally, cataclysmically, it’s ‘ruin.’ The amount of money that John Dashwood intends to give his half-sisters seems very fluid: first it’s ‘so large a sum’, then it’s ‘so large an amount’, then it’s ‘all his money’.

Fanny Dashwood opens her campaign with a question that, as readers of Chapter 1, we know attacks John Dashwood at his weakest point: ‘How could he answer it (justify) to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum?’ In Chapter 1, he was described as thinking ‘of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.’ The key words here are John Dashwood’s ‘did not repent’ and Fanny Dashwood’s ‘how could he answer it to himself?’ These are the words that pertain to some sort of exclusive financial moral code that husband and wife appear to live by.

But the introduction of a spiritual word, ‘repent’ into John Dashwood’s considerations implies that John and Fanny Dashwood have decided to worship mammon (riches, and the worship of wealth). They have dismissed the admonition of Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 16, verses 13 – 15.No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.’ (Authorised Version)

Mary Poovey writes: ‘Because these sentences belong to the narrative and not to direct dialogue, they mimetically convey the tone of the conversation and simultaneously judge it by reference to an implicit system of more humane values – the undeniably Christian values that one loves one’s neighbour as one’s self… Almost every action in the novel suggests that, more often than not, individual will triumphs over principle and individual desire proves more compelling than moral law.’
(Mary Poovey ‘Ideological Contradictions and the Consolations of Form: Sense and Sensibility,’ The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the works of Mary Wollestonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, University of Chicago Press, 1984)

In her onslaught on her husband, Fanny Dashwood shows herself to be mistress of the battering ram sentence structure. She delivers definitive statements backed up by rhetorical questions plus a smattering of throwaway exaggerations. Here she is, hurling a missile at him: ‘And what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods, who were related to him only by half blood, which she considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount.’

So you get a statement formed as a question:
‘what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods … have’
plus a dismissive description of them:
‘who were related to him only by half blood’
plus the throwaway exaggeration:
no relationship at all
the combined forces of which constitute an assault on her husband’s morality: ‘what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods… have on his generosity … so large an amount’. This puts him in the wrong; he has to try to justify himself to fend off the accusation.

Fanny Dashwood then introduces another statement with the throwaway generalisation, ‘It was very well known’. ‘It was very well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages’. This is spiced up with a few exaggerating words, ‘very’ and ‘ever’. Hot on the heels of this comes another question with its exaggerating accessories intensifying the offensive: ‘and why was he to ruin (exaggeration) himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money (exaggeration) to his half sisters?’

Goaded into justification of his intentions, John Dashwood speaks and his first words in the novel are: “It was my father’s last request to me,” replied her husband, “that I should assist his widow and daughters.” Not only are last requests sacred, but the words of his father’s last request are echoed many times in the Bible in both Old and New Testaments.
Here are just a few examples. (Orphans are probably children whose father (the breadwinner) has died, which effectively is Mrs Dashwood’s position.)
“You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. (Exodus, Chapter 22 verse 22)
‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ (Deuteronomy, Chapter 27 verse 19)
‘Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James, Chapter 1 verse 27)

From this point onwards in Chapter 2, Jane Austen presents the conversation dramatically, in direct speech. Jane Spencer remarks: ‘Dramatic dialogue is important to her (Austen). Richardson and Burney both used it extensively. … for up-to-date witty dialogue among educated people she turned to Maria Edgeworth.’ She gives as an example Edgeworth’s novel Belinda (1801)
(Jane Spencer, ‘Narrative Technique: Austen and Her Contemporaries’, A Companion to Jane Austen editors Claudia L Johnson and Clara Tuite, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)

After the first chapter of information given in third person narration, Fanny Dashwood and her husband suddenly move to the front of the stage in dialogue. Fanny Dashwood responds dismissively to her husband’s justification of his semi-formed intentions. ‘He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child.’

The tone of her words is not only dismissive but impatient and unconsidered. It comes off the top of her head – though her feelings, determination to hang onto all the money, are not unconsidered. Phrases like ‘I dare say’ and ‘ten to one’ are tossed off. She repeats herself to make the message clear: ‘He did not know what he was talking of… he was light-headed … Had he been in his right senses…’. Then she reverts to emotional manipulation via her husband’s little boy ‘your own child’ thus thrusting all the responsibility for the child’s wellbeing onto her husband. The dismissive tone is startlingly, shockingly at odds with the seriousness due to her father-in-law’s last wishes.
John Dashwood demurs. ‘Something must be done for them whenever they leave Norland and settle in a new home.’

‘Well, then, let something be done for them; but that something need not be three thousand pounds. Consider,’ she added, ‘that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could ever be restored to our little boy….’.

John Dashwood’s wife takes his word, ‘something’, and begins on her plan to reduce it to nothing. She repeats the word ‘something’, and then sets to work. With the powerful command, ‘Consider’, thus apparently giving the decision to her husband, she delineates a scenario frightening to a man so money-conscious as John Dashwood. ‘…when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could ever be restored to our little boy …’. The key words in this nightmare of vanishing money are ‘when’, ‘once’, ‘never’. These are absolutes, terrifying to a greedy man. Then she produces as a fact cast in stone: ‘Yours sisters will marry’. Building rapidly on this non-fact, she adds, ‘it (the money) will be gone for ever’. Another frightening and absolute fact, ‘for ever’. Then the emotional blackmail, including the weasel words ‘ever’ and ‘our little boy’. So what John Dashwood does for his sisters impacts upon John and Fanny and the little (oh, so appealing) boy.

So John Dashwood cuts the amount he intends to give his sisters by half. This is applauded by his wife, who ladles flattery over him: ‘What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters! And as it is — only half blood! — But you have such a generous spirit!’ At the same time as praising him, she impresses upon him the fact that the Dashwood girls are only his half-sisters, not his full sisters.

This horror is compounded by their calculation of how long Marianne and Elinor’s mother may live. She is probably in her early forties at this point. Mrs John Dashwood says, peevishly, that if Mrs Dashwood lives another fifteen years, ‘we shall be completely taken in.’ (deceived). Deceived, later in the novel, is a word applied to broken trust in a loving relationship, Willoughby deceiving Marianne. Mrs John Dashwood here applies it to how long her mother-in-law is likely to live. Her husband says, ‘her life cannot be worth half that purchase.’ This means, she isn’t likely to last half that long (not even seven and a bit years). But his turn of phrase is instructive: he expresses himself most often in terms of money: ‘purchase’. The reckoning of the John Dashwoods is entirely focused on greed and imagined financial dangers: ‘they would only enlarge their style of living if they felt sure of a larger income…’. There is no thought of living, suffering human beings. Words to do with emotions and relationships (‘taken in’) are here applied to money, which is their world.

Mrs John Dashwood feels she needs to work further on her husband to expunge from his mind the idea of an annuity to the Dashwood women. So she enlarges upon the tedium involved in paying an annuity, and the lack of independence it brings to the person paying it out. She prefaces her illustration of the evils of paying an annuity by defining annuity as something that ‘comes over and over every year’, somewhat unnecessarily one would have thought. ‘An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it.’

Quite soon, it appears that all Mr Dashwood’s father can have had in mind when he asked his soon to look after his second wife and her daughters, is ‘no idea of your giving them any money at all. The assistance he thought of, I dare say, was only such as might be reasonably expected of you; for instance, such as looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping them to move their things, and sending them presents of fish and game….’. Isobel Armstrong notes that the owner of a landed estate would give his ‘tenants and dependants’ such presents (Sense and Sensibility, Penguin Critical Studies, 1994). So this is how the Dashwood women have been redefined? At the beginning of the chapter they became ‘visitors’, by the end of the chapter they are tenants or neighbours. He considers it unnecessary ‘to do more for the widow and children of his father, than such kind of neighbourly acts.’ By distancing his relationship with Elinor and her family in this way, John Dashwood can countenance giving them very little money.

Mrs John Dashwood then moves her explanation of what the Dashwood women will need to a consideration of how their poverty will assist them in having too much money to know how to spend it. ‘Five hundred a-year amongst them and what on earth can four women want for more than that?’ She lists all the items and expenses they will not have, triumphantly concluding that this will make them comfortable. ‘They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a-year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it…’. The word ‘comfortable’ takes us back to Chapter 1, when John Dashwood ‘promised (his dying father) to do everything in his power to make them comfortable’. There is a lot of redefining of words going on here. If Fanny Dashwood were speaking nowadays, she’d say, ‘It’s a win / win situation.’

Zelda Boyd writes most illuminatingly on this chapter in her article ‘The Language of Supposing’ on the way Jane Austen employs modal verbs.
‘The discussion goes on like this for five pages, full of “woulds,” “coulds,” and “mays” with which Mrs. Dashwood sketches various possible scenarios, all of which augur doom for them and prosperity for Marianne and Elinor, only to conclude with a series of “cans,” “wills,” and “musts” which assert a happy ending for all if they do nothing. John is easily turned around. He never needed much convincing—a paragraph would have sufficed to disinherit the women—but who could cut short such a delicious scene of self-interest masquerading as disinterested deliberation?

‘I have focused on this scene (Chapter 2) because it provides the clearest example of what modals can do—not to mention what people can do with modals. They allow us to talk about the nonliteral, for they constitute the world of possibility, in this particular case the unsavory world of self-justifying fictions. And we do find in Austen, in Sense and Sensibility and elsewhere, that the foolish, the selfish, the manipulative are those most prone to fall into modal language, since they are forever reshaping the facts to match their desires.’

Later in the same article she notes the irony in: ‘… Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood’s vision of their own poverty on several thousands a year and their relations’ affluence on several hundred …’.
(Zelda Boyd, “The Language of Supposing: Modal Auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility,” in Jane Austen: New Perspectives, Vol. 3, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier, 1983).

Our first sight of John Dashwood in Chapter 1 was given through description from Austen, the third-person omniscient narrator. In Chapter 2, we hear him speak for the first time. The first thing he says is ‘It was my father’s last request to me … that I should assist his widow and daughters.’ And his first action in the novel is to renege on that promise.

At the end of Chapter 1, we were given a distinction between legal right and truly good actions or conduct (decorum, in fact). Mrs John Dashwood moved into Norland the moment it became legally hers, trampling over the grief of the newly widowed and fatherless Dashwood women. Here, Mrs John Dashwood redefines good conduct, so that it comes to mean allowing the Dashwood women very little of an enormous fortune and keeping it for herself, her husband and their son. This, in spite of the Biblical injunction and her father-in-law’s last wishes. She redefines sense (a key issue in this novel) as ‘had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child.’

These first two chapters illustrate, in terms of money, what ‘sense’ can be made to mean, and it is quite as wayward a definition of it as some of Marianne’s more extreme efforts at sensibility. The first chapter outlines, in baldly stated, factual, authorial third-person narrative, the details of the monetary implications of the inheritance that has gone to John Dashwood and not to his stepmother or half sisters. The second chapter dramatises the dialogue between the beneficiaries of the will of the late Mr Dashwood. The first chapter is striking nowadays in the absolutism of the patriarchal nature of inheritance that it illustrates. The second chapter is striking in its illustration of avarice; the Dashwoods, it has been calculated, must be at least as rich as Mr Darcy with his £10,000 a year. Gene Ruoff writes: ‘John and Fanny are near to being fabulously wealthy – only 300 to 400 families in England had incomes of over £10,000 a year…’
(Gene Ruoff, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992).

The promise to his and his half-sisters’ father that the apparently ‘respectable’ John Dashwood makes but does not keep casts its shade over the novel. Elinor, in particular, is always searching to know the truth of a given situation, and constantly doubts that she has discovered, or uncovered, it. The truth of what men have really done has a major impact on the lives of the women in this novel.

With such an unpleasant and unloving and hypocritical example of distorted and misapplied sense to begin the novel, we are naturally inclined towards sensibility. But sensibility can be distorted and misapplied, too, as we’re about to see.

Sensibility is evidently a key word in the novel. In her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Sense and Sensibility, Ros Ballaster writes: ‘If sensibility first denotes (indicates) a quality found in individual behaviour, later in the (18th) century it acquires the further connotation of a form of aesthetic response to external objects. The idea of sensibility refines (clarifies) an earlier idea of ‘sentiment’, (sentiment being) the engendering of a sympathetic response to the suffering of others… Whereas the mid-century novel of sentiment, best exemplified in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747-8), attempts to stimulate he reader’s sympathy for a virtuous and persecuted protagonist (leading character), the novel of sensibility such as Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling (1771) offers a detailed study of the sympathetic motions of feeling on the part of a central character is response to the narratives of suffering he or she observes. …. (With sensibility) perception of external objects becomes a wholly aesthetic indulgence. ‘Heroes’ and ‘heroines’ of sensibility prefer to their cottages ruined, their fields suffocated by dead leaves, their landscapes free of human life, so that they can focus on the complexities and rhythms of their own experience of perception.’
(Ros Ballaster, Introduction to Sense and Sensibility, Penguin Books Ltd, 1995)

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her feminist argument complains that ‘in order to maintain women’s dependence on them, men have enslaved women to the aesthetic gratifications of a weak and trembling sensibility.’ (Introduction to Sense and Sensibility, Penguin Books Ltd 1995). Wollstonecraft’s suggestion is that women reject sensibility in order to obtain freedom. She writes: ‘Women are supposed to possess more sensibility, and even humanity, than men, and their strong attachments and instantaneous emotions of compassion are given as proofs; but the clinging affection of ignorance has seldom any thing noble in it, and may justly be resolved into selfishness, as well as the affection of children and brutes.’ (Chapter 13, section 4, OUP 1994)

Marilyn Butler describes sensibility in her book, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. To give some impression of aspects of sensibility, I have quoted several excerpts.

Butler describes Henry Mackenzie (1745 – 1831, lawyer and writer) as the ‘arch-exponent of ‘feeling’. (p 21). She looks in detail at Mackenzie’s Julia de Roubigné (1777), a novel that illustrates ‘how radical sentiment could be.’ This novel takes elements of its plot from Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise (translated into English in 1761) and from Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther, translated into English in 1771.

Mackenzie’s novel: ‘vindicates passion.’ There are three main characters: Julia herself, Montauban whom she marries because she is grateful to him, and Savillon, her true love. Julia and her great friend Maria, believe ‘that it is not enough for a woman not to swerve from the duty of a wife; that to love another more than a husband, is an adultery of the heart; and not to love a husband with undivided affection, is a virtual breach of the vow that unites.’ Julia identifies herself emotionally with Savillon and ‘the opinions we formed, the authors we read, the music we played together…’. (Perhaps Marianne’s feeling for Willoughby can be seen as similar to this?)

Julia’s mother writes a letter of rational advice to her daughter: ‘The rapture of extravagant love will evaporate and waste; the conduct of the wife must substitute in its room other regards…’. However, in Julia de Roubigné, Julia’s mother is wrong. So is Julia’s husband, Montauban, when he thinks about motives for a woman’s attachment to a man. ‘…what can be stronger than those sentiments which excite her esteem, and those proofs of them which produce her gratitude?’ Mackenzie endorses the passion of Julia and Savillon for each other. Marilyn Butler describes the novel as ‘strikingly radical’. This is because of its attitudes towards human instinct and human judgement. It champions the ‘truth of instinct’ – which in this novel never leads a character to act selfishly or with cruelty or in a sexually immoral way. Reason, gratitude, duty and honour are not to be relied upon: the truth of sensations is to be relied upon.

Marilyn Butler concludes her chapter on ‘The Radical Inheritance’ of Jane Austen thus: ‘It is the quality of feeling that sanctifies the marriage … And of all the propositions advanced by liberal novelists during the century, this soon came to seem personally the most liberating, and socially the most dangerous.’

Butler also notes that Mary Wollestonecraft wrote: ‘Sensibility is the mania of the day, and compassion the virtue which is to cover a multitude of vices, whilst justice is left to mourn in sullen silence, and balance truth in vain … Quitting the flowers of rhetoric, let us, Sir, reason together …’ A Vindication of the Rights of Man, 1790.

And William Godwin, Political Justice 1793 writes about ‘the perfection of the human character’. ‘We ought to be upon all occasions prepared to render a reason of our actions. We should remove ourselves to the furthest distance from the state of mere inanimate machines, acted upon by causes of which they have no understanding.’

Marilyn Butler writes (p 36): ‘The most typical hero of the era of sensibility is not the master of events … but the sensitive observer – Gibbon and Hume’s personae in their histories, Gray’s in his Elegy, Sterne’s as Yorick or Mackenzie’s as Harley. All are men who record a rapid and endlessly varied sense of impressions, and all are helpless to influence the onward movement of destiny.’

Marilyn Butler comments on the fact that these writers were optimistic about human nature in only a limited sense. ‘… they hold the intuitive side of man’s nature to be naturally benevolent, the stress they place on the irrational makes man the tool of processes over which he has no control.’…’The disturbing feature of sentimentalism is that it has much to say about sensation, little about action…’
(Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, Oxford OUP, 1975)

Edmund Burke Reflexions on the Revolution in France (1790). One of Burke’s views is that ‘human beings intuitively feel love or sympathy for family, for neighbours … Only the perverted think in terms of their selfish individual ‘rights’ or advantages. It is only by obeying his deepest instincts, which are social, and by mistrusting his reason, which may delude him with false notions of where his advantage lies as an individual, that man can achieve happiness and fulfil his nature.’

Chapter 3 (excerpts)

Mrs Dashwood and her daughters remain at Norland for some time as they have nowhere else to go. Fanny Dashwood’s brother, Edward Ferrars, comes to stay.

While Mrs Dashwood and her daughters have stayed at Norland, through lack of anywhere to move to, Mrs John Dashwood’s brother, Edward Ferrars, has spent a great deal of time there. He is introduced in a very low key way (the opposite of Marianne’s ‘preserver’, Willoughby). In fact, he is introduced in terms of what he is not.

‘Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar (special) graces of person or address (manner or style of speaking). He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart. His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement.’

Patricia Meyer Spacks claims that Edward is one of ‘two ‘romantic heroes’ but this seems optimistic. Edward hardly seems qualified to be a romantic hero; to cast Hugh Grant as Edward in the 1995 film gave him a charm that the Edward of the novel conspicuously lacks. The other candidate, Colonel Brandon, has a history that is actually far more romantic, even if he is perpetually ‘grave and silent.’ Richard Jenkyns writes: ‘Colonel Brandon … has the most romantic life of any character in any of the novels. He has served as a soldier in the East Indies; he planned to elope with the girl he loved…; he has rescued a fallen and dying woman from a debtors’ prison and undertaken the care of her orphaned child; he fights a duel with Willoughby …the most Byronic figure in Jane Austen’s entire canon, is Colonel Brandon, the man in the flannel waistcoat.’
(Richard Jenkyns, A Fine Brush On Ivory: An Appreciation of Jane Austen, OUP, 2007)

Elinor mentions Edward to her mother. This is the first example we have of the two of them speaking. Very soon we will also hear Marianne for the first time.

“It is enough,” said she; “to say that he is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything

amiable. I love him already.”

“I think you will like him,” said Elinor, “when you know more of him.”

“Like him!” replied her mother with a smile. “I can feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love.”

“You may esteem him.”

“I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love.”

Mrs Dashwood thinks / feels in superlatives. ‘It implies everything amiable. I love him already.’ Elinor is much more exact: ‘I think you will like him,’ followed by, ‘You may esteem him.’ (Esteem means think highly of him.) For Mrs Dashwood, like and esteem are meaningless as words of approbation (approval). Approval to her immediately means love. Esteem immediately means love.

Mrs Dashwood jumps to conclusions: ‘No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behaviour to Elinor, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching.’ This is a long way from the truth. But at the end of the first volume, it emerges that the situation is further confused by the fact that he became engaged to Lucy Steele a long time earlier, so there is a question mark over the propriety of his spending time with Elinor now. This is one of the many secrets in the novel. It serves to show how difficult it is to perceive situations accurately, whether you are possessed of sense or of sensibility.

Next we hear Marianne talking to her mother about her reservations as regards Edward. The word she first uses, ‘amiable’, means more than simply friendly or nice. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us: ‘that friendly disposition which causes one to be liked; habitually characterized by that friendliness which awakens friendliness in return; having pleasing qualities of heart.’ The pleasing qualities of heart are definitely important in such a moral writer as Austen.

“Perhaps,” said Marianne, “I may consider it (Elinor’s choice) with some surprise. Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly. But yet, he is not the kind of young man — there is a something wanting (lacking), his figure is not striking — it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister. His eyes want (lack) all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. And besides all this, I am afraid, mama, he has no real taste. Music seems scarcely to attract him, and though he admires Elinor’s drawings very much, it is not the admiration of a person who can understand their worth. It is evident, in spite of his frequent attention to her while she draws, that in fact he knows nothing of the matter. He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. Oh mama! how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!”

“He would certainly have done more justice to simple and elegant prose. I thought so at the time; but you would give him Cowper.”

“Nay, mama, if he is not to be animated (made lively, exciting) by Cowper! — but we must allow for difference of taste. Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broke my heart had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility. Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward’s virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.”

“Remember, my love, that you are not seventeen. It is yet too early in life to despair of such an happiness.

Marianne’s reservations about Edward stem from his lack of grace, spirit, fire, taste, connoisseur-ship of music, lack of animation by Cowper’s poetry and crucially, lack of sensibility. In all this, she defines herself as a devotee of the cult of sensibility.

The first impression given by Elinor and by Marianne is that they are opposites (this becomes increasingly less the case as the novel progresses; Austen would never give us such a simplistic pattern). Elinor says little, and what she does say is accurate and considered. Marianne says a great deal and, whether it is about Edward’s shortcomings or about her own preferences, it is all about herself. Her style is impassioned: ‘Oh mama! how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night!’ Jane Austen uses all sorts of rhetorical techniques to emphasise the intensity of Marianne’s feelings: the ‘Oh’, the repetition of ‘how’, the exclamation mark. And the exaggeration: ‘it would have broke my heart… to hear him read with so little sensibility.’ Of course, as her mother points out, she is only sixteen. The gentle irony of her certainty about matters of life and love at the age of sixteen plays over the passage.

Later, Willoughby is to display the same extravagant, Romantic rhetoric in his speech as Marianne has just demonstrated. No wonder she sees him as a kindred spirit.

Family Scene – Evening in the Drawing Room, from ‘The Social Day: a poem, in four cantos’ by Peter Coxe, engraved by J. Scott, published 1822

This engraving portrays, as it were, Edward reading and everybody listening. The relevant section from Peter Coxe’s ‘The Social Day: a poem, in four cantos’, Canto IV reads:
‘Whether shall Milton’s strain divine
Enchant, — or Pope’s mellifluous line;
Dryden or Spenser’s lyre convey
The lofty, or romantic lay,
‘ Or sweetest Shakspeare,” fancy’s child.
Warble his native wood-notes wild :”
Whate’er the theme in varying range
From grave to gay in suited change.
The passing hours endearing flow
As tears or smiles of feeling glow :
And evenings thus of grateful leisure
Leave a rich fund of mental treasure.’

Chapter 4 (excerpts)

Elinor has become fond of Edward. His sister, Fanny, dislikes the friendliness between the two and her behaviour to Elinor’s mother on the subject makes Mrs Dashwood glad of an opportunity to move. Mrs Dashwood’s cousin, Sir John Middleton, offers the family a cottage on his estate in Devonshire, and she writes to accept.

Jane Austen opens the chapter in mid-conversation. Marianne and Elinor are exchanging ideas on taste (a concept, David M Shapard notes, that was much discussed at the time).
(The Annotated Sense and Sensibility edited by David M Shapard, Penguin, 2011)

“What a pity it is, Elinor”, said Marianne, “that Edward should have no taste for drawing.”

“No taste for drawing,” replied Elinor; “why should you think so? He does not draw himself, indeed, but he has great pleasure in seeing the performance of other people, and I assure you he is by no means deficient in natural taste, though he has not had opportunities of improving it. Had he ever been in the way of learning, I think he would have drawn very well. He distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much, that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture; but he has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right.”

Elinor speaks in a very considered and unexcitable way. But what she says about Edward is surely wishful thinking? Her statement about his Leonardo-level potential seems the stuff of fantasy. ‘Had he ever been in the way of learning, I think he would have drawn very well.’ If I wanted to be unkind, I could say that it resembles Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s deplorably arrogant assertion about the musical talents of herself and her daughter in Pride and Prejudice: ‘If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne …’. However, Elinor’s remark is far fron arrogant: it is the observation of a woman in love.

So much of Elinor’s speech is carefully balanced and crafted that it doesn’t sound at all spontaneous, but very measured and unlike a 19-year-old on the subject of the young man she loves.
He does not draw himself, indeed, but
he has great pleasure in seeing the performance of other people, and
I assure you he is by no means deficient in natural taste, though
he has not had opportunities of improving it.
The only clue to her depth of feeling for this somewhat unpromising young man is that she makes four, very gentle, statements about him. Two of these statements are really very definite, and Elinor even intensifies her certainty with words like, ”great pleasure’, ‘I assure you’, and ‘by no means.’ And the word ‘he’ keeps reappearing.

Compared to Marianne’s way of expressing herself, Elinor’s quietly spoken recommendation of Edward seems very tame, but it is unequivocal. Here is Marianne talking to her mother on the subject of Edward after his lamentable performance in reading Cowper’s poetry (Chapter 3):

‘I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. Oh mama! how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!’

Austen’s portrayal of character is dramatic: we know the sisters immediately through their ideas and their way of voicing them. Here, Marianne’s rhetoric ratchets up the intensity of what she has to say. She addresses her mother with an intensifiying exclamation, ‘Oh mama!’, heightened by repetition, ‘how spiritless, how tame,’ and then enhances the strength of her feelings by contrasting her sister with herself: ‘she bore it with so much composure … I could hardly keep my seat.’ Marianne’s fondness for extremes is evident: ‘in every point’, ‘most severely’, ‘driven me wild’, ‘dreadful’. And she is talking, as nearly always, about her feelings. She seems to be modelling herself on the heroine, Julia, in Henry Mackenzie’s novel, Julia de Roubigné. In her very next novel, Pride and Prejudice, Austen enables us to identify every character from a single sentence of their speech; her ear for people’s individual habits of expression and phrasing was particularly acute.

Stuart M Tave observes: ‘Marianne thinks of her sensibility as a force that gives her freedom and power, gives her depth of emotion, gives her an ability to judge herself and to judge others. It does none of these things and it makes her often the opposite of what she thinks she is.’
(Stuart M Tave, Some Words of Jane Austen, University of Chicago Press, 1973)

Marianne was afraid of offending, and said no more on the subject; but the kind of approbation which Elinor described as excited in him by the drawings of other people, was very far from that rapturous delight, which, in her opinion, could alone be called taste. Yet, though smiling within herself at the mistake, she honoured her sister for that blind partiality to Edward which produced it.

From the outset, Austen portrays the closeness as well as the difference of the sisters: ‘Marianne was afraid of offending’, ‘she honoured her sister’. Even though they differ so much in character, their deep affection for one another is clear. Their difference means that Marianne, in particular, finds it hard to understand Elinor. Elinor is happy with Edward’s ‘approbation’ whereas Marianne can only be satisfied with ‘rapturous delight’.

As the chapter unfolds, Elinor speaks a great deal – and on the subject of Edward Ferrars. It all sounds very formal and almost wooden, which may be not only why Edward doesn’t leap from the page as a hero, but also why readers almost invariably prefer Marianne to Elinor. ‘I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure.’ Sentences such as this are hardly likely to attract the reader.

No wonder Marianne reacts as she does.

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she (Elinor), “that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

Marianne here burst forth with indignation —

“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted!

Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.” Elinor could not help laughing.

Marianne’s reactions to her sister’s textbook speech are impulsive, believable, attended by a series of exclamation marks, and full of sisterly teasing: ‘Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.’ Still, the sisters’ affection for one another is evident: far from being offended, Elinor bursts out laughing.

However, what I have called Elinor’s textbook speech, is in fact a very accurate description of her feelings. Elizabeth, in Pride and Prejudice, is equally honest as she muses at length over Mr Darcy’s changed behaviour towards her, and her feelings towards him.
‘She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both….’ (Chapter 44)

Elinor’s aim to be as accurate as possible is contrasted with Marianne’s language. Anthony Mandal writes of Austen’s ‘preoccupation with the potential for language to be misused.’ He notes ‘Marianne’s resistance to gradations of attachment, which results in her lack of understanding about Elinor’s feeling for Edward’ and quotes as an example, “Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted!”’
(Anthony Mandal, ‘Language’, Jane Austen in Context, CUP, 2005)

In Chapter 3, Mrs Dashwood showed a similar resistance to gradations of attachment as she talked to Elinor about Edward:

“It is enough,” said she; “to say that he (Edward) is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already.”

“I think you will like him,” said Elinor, “when you know more of him.”

“Like him!” replied her mother with a smile. “I can feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love.”

“You may esteem him.”

“I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love.”

It is perhaps because she is careless about the potential for language (and behaviour) to be misused that Marianne is so susceptible to Willoughby’s posing as the Romantic stereotype. Because she does not distinguish between exaggeration and truth, she does not realise that his hyperbole and charm camouflage lack of feeling.

Needless to say, critics disagree about the portrayal of Elinor and Marianne. David M Shapard observes, of Elinor’s mode of speech, that it ‘echoes the language found in many philosophical writings or essays of the time. … Other speeches of Elinor will exhibit the same quality, a product of the author’s inclination to make her a representative and mouthpiece of important moral principles’. Moreland Perkins calls Elinor an intellectual because of her ‘unrelenting, dispassionate, analytical inquiry into the causes, contents, contexts and outcomes of individual persons’ conduct and experience …’.
(The Annotated Sense and Sensiblity edited by David M Shapard, Penguin, 2011)
(Reshaping the Sexes in Sense and Sensibility by Moreland Perkins, University Press of Virginia, 1998)

Earlier reviews seemed to take for granted what Austen’s aim must be in her portrayal of Elinor. An anonymous review in the British Critic of May 1812 noted that ‘The object of the work is to represent the effects on the conduct of life, of discreet quiet good sense on the one hand, and an over-refined and excessive susceptibility on the other.’ Walter Scott, writing in the Quarterly Review of October 1815, remarks that ‘The interest and merit of the piece depend altogether upon the behaviour of the elder sister’. An anonymous writer in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of July/August 1866, writes: ‘The book, however, to our mind, fails in its intention by making sensibility more attractive than sense.’

Susan Morgan describes Elinor as ‘the moral centre of Sense and Sensibility, having both deep affections and the willingness to control the desires of her own heart for the sake of the people she loves.’ (Susan Morgan, Character and Perception in Jane Austen’s Fiction, University of Chicago Press, 1980) Marvin Mudrick, in his provocative essay of 1952, calls Marianne ‘the life and center of the novel’. (Marvin Mudrick, Irony as Defense and Discovery, Princeton University Press, 1952) Richard Jenkyns writes: ‘And inescapably the emotional heart of the book is Marianne.’ (Richard Jenkyns, A Fine Brush on Ivory, OUP, 2004)

Perhaps the difficulties in bringing to life such a good and self-disciplined young woman as Elinor, and to have hers as the main point of view in the novel, prompted Jane Austen to recast the central viewpoint in her next novel. In Pride and Prejudice, she solved this difficulty by making Jane Bennet, the good and self-controlled young woman, a part of the sub-plot. Her heroine is the less perfectly good, less self-disciplined and less candid Elizabeth Bennet, owner of a much more attractive and spontaneous (and erroneous) point of view.In both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, the young woman whose viewpoint is the central one has a sister of whom she is very fond and with whom she is contrasted. In Mansfield Park and Persuasion, Jane Austen returned to the good young woman as the central intelligence and experience. Both Fanny Price and Anne Elliot are isolated figures, even though Fanny has cousins and Anne, sisters. These cousins and sisters do not show Fanny and Anne affection, hence the isolation of the central figure. Between those novels, Jane Austen experiments again, centring the skewed point of view in the very secure, self-confident Emma, who makes more mistakes than any other of the heroines.

Marianne’s ideas for Edward’s improvement so that he becomes the perfect husband are full of sixteen-year-old exaggeration and nonsense. She envisages Edward’s increased taste for drawing as being ‘so indispensably necessary to your future felicity’. Not only is his enjoyment of Elinor’s ‘favourite pursuit’ essential to their happiness, but she takes their marriage for granted. And this, despite the fact that Elinor has just told her that there is no official relationship between herself and Edward and that she does not know his feelings.

Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth.

“And you really are not engaged to him!” said she. “Yet it certainly soon will happen.

As so often, the situation of one sister is shortly to be paralleled to the situation of the other. Soon Elinor and her mother will be wondering whether or not Marianne is engaged to Willoughby.

Portrait of a lady at a drawing table by Paul Sandby (1731- 1809) I imagine Elinor to be like this, as she draws.

another drawing of a young woman drawing by Paul Sandby

It is easy to overlook Edward almost completely, he seems such a nonentity. (It was a clever move in the film of 1995 to cast Hugh Grant in the part, which automatically invested it with charm.) And similarly, the long paragraphs detailing Elinor’s carefully disciplined thoughts and feelings are easy to skim. But they are worth careful investigation.

We were introduced to Edward in Chapter 3. There he was represented as ‘a gentlemanlike and pleasing young man’ whose ‘behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart.’ But it is not until Chapter 49 that ‘his heart was now open to Elinor.’ What we first see in Edward is to some extent appearance, not reality (in Chapter 22 we learn that he is engaged to another woman). His introduction is curiously negative for a hero. ‘Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar (particular) graces of person (appearance, looks) or address (manner of speaking, expressing himself). He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy (he was shy) to make them pleasing.’ He is hardly the archetypal hero. He appears the exact opposite of the dashing and personable Willoughby; however, there are unfortunate similarities between the two men.

When Elinor tells Marianne what she thinks of Edward, it all sounds very moderate. ‘Of his sense and his goodness,’ continued Elinor, ‘no-one can, I think, be in doubt …I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. …’.

You might expect Elinor to describe Edward’s laugh, his tone of voice, the things he does, the way he looks, the way she feels. But she doesn’t. She describes him in terms of abstract nouns, which seem rather to slow things up. They are words like, ‘sense’, ‘goodness’, ‘doubt’, enjoyment’. There are not many verbs to give forward motion to the paragraph, and those that there are, are unexciting: ‘can’, ‘seen’, heard’, pronounce’, ‘is’. Then, what she tells us is apparently not to do with her feelings but an assessment of his personality and interests. And what she tells is expressed in a very organised way, rather than tumbling out of her on a wave of emotion.
I have seen a great deal of him,
have studied his sentiments and
heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste;
and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that
his mind is well-informed,
his enjoyment of books exceedingly great,
his imagination lively,
his observation just and correct,
and his taste delicate and pure. …

Elinor’s opinions of Edward are listed in a fashion that suggest the tidiness of her mind. Although her description of him is very quiet compared to the rapturous effusions of Marianne later on, she is actually quite forceful. She is the person doing everything: ‘I have seen … have studied … heard.’ Although she is not definite (‘upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that’), in the next list she makes about Edward, again she is the one making the pronouncements: ‘his mind is … his enjoyment of books (is) … his imagination (is) … his observation (is) … his taste (is)….’. This estimate of Edward is all focused upon qualities of his mind; Elinor is careful to steer well clear of his heart when she is talking to her sister. (In the next long paragraph she tells Marianne that she is not sure of his feelings.) I think the school-marmy nature and tone of her answer is one of the qualities that puts readers off her. It’s almost as if she’s writing a report on his progress during the term.

In his wonderful book on Jane Austen’s style, Howard S Babb observes: ‘One mark of that world (of Jane Austen) is its minimum of physical action. In place of physical event, the style records a series of intellectual, emotional, and moral states, implying that these … make up the real importance of an action. The human mind and heart, in fact, are the major fields of activity in these novels.’
(Howard S Babb, Jane Austen’s Novels: The Fabric of Dialogue, Archon Books, 1967)

Elinor had given her real opinion to her sister. She could not consider her partiality for Edward in so prosperous a state as Marianne had believed it. There was, at times, a want of spirits about him, which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke a something almost as unpromising. A doubt of her regard, supposing him to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude. It would not be likely to produce that dejection of mind which frequently attended him. A more reasonable cause might be found in the dependent situation which forbad the indulgence of his affection. She knew that his mother neither behaved to him so as to make his home comfortable at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views for his aggrandisement. With such a knowledge as this, it was impossible for Elinor to feel easy on the subject. She was far from depending on that result of his preference of her, which her mother and sister still considered as certain. Nay, the longer they were together, the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard; and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more than friendship.

If you look at the verbs in this paragraph, they are not concerned with physical action. Here’s a list of the verbs at the beginning of the paragraph: ‘had given’, ”could not consider’, ‘had believed’, ‘was’, ‘denote’, ‘spoke’, ‘give’, ‘produce’, ‘attend’, and so on. This is all about an opinion (not a fact) arrived at through considering, supposing, feeling. Howard Babb writes: ‘The two strongest verbs, ‘spoke’ and ‘forbad,’ activate concepts not people: it is the ‘want of spirits’ that ‘spoke’ and ‘the dependent situation’ that ‘forbad.’ ‘

Elinor is, as usual, in pursuit of the unknowable truth (as opposed to Marianne, who has leapt to the romantic conclusion). This is stated at the outset: ‘She could not consider her partiality for Edward in so prosperous a state as Marianne had believed it’. Elinor is thinking most carefully about Edward and this paragraph is all about her feelings and his. The abstract nouns, so typical of eighteenth century style, are about emotions: ’partiality’, ‘want of spirits’, ‘indifference’, ‘regard’, ‘inquietude’, ‘dejection’, ‘affection’, ‘feel easy’, ‘preference’. Elinor’s mind constantly reaches out to Edward with the repetition of the words ‘his’ and ‘him’.

We are moving imperceptibly into Elinor’s mind and heart, and her consideration of Edward’s possible feelings for her. The whole paragraph is shrouded in doubt. There are frequent doubtful clauses: ‘if it did not denote indifference’, ‘a something almost as unpromising’, ‘a doubt’, ‘supposing’, ‘need not’, ‘would not be likely’, ‘might’, ‘impossible … to feel easy’, ‘far from depending’. The cumulative doubt is then contrasted with ‘that result … which her mother and sister still considered as certain.’ This in its turn is contrasted with Elinor’s last thoughts in the paragraph: ‘the longer … the more doubtful seemed … no more than …’.

Edward’s possible ‘regard’ for Elinor dwindles into possible ‘friendship’ in Elinor’s mind as she ponders the possibilities. The lack of certainty is, I think, portrayed by the frequent hesitations produced by all the commas. This has the effect of further nullifying any sense of forward movement – conspicuously lacking in this paragraph anyway, since at the end it seems to have gone into reverse – ‘affection’,’regard’ and ‘preference’ having diminished into ’no more than friendship’. So we have the ultra-slow and uncertain hesitations brought about by all the commas: ‘There was, at times, a want of spirits about him, which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke a something almost as unpromising. A doubt of her regard, supposing him to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude.’ By the end of each sentence, we have crept forwards only as far as ‘a something … unpromising’ and ‘inquietude’. And then, Elinor seems literally hedged about by her doubts by her position in the middle of a sentence. ‘With such a knowledge as this, it was impossible for Elinor to feel easy on the subject.’

Howard Babb tells us that ‘in Jane Austen’s style such concepts (he means, as ‘want of spirits’ or ‘the dependent situation’) are the real actors. She often handles these groups of nouns as if they need only step on the stage in order to convince the audience. … in accordance with an eighteenth century practice, she frequently capitalized such words in her manuscripts.’ Apparently, in the eighteenth century, such conceptual terms were often given vitality by being personified, so that they actually seemed to have a life of their own.

After this long description of Elinor’s feelings, Jane Austen tells us Fanny Dashwood’s characteristically unpleasant reaction to the friendship of her brother with Elinor. Fanny Dashwood more or less declares war on Mrs Dashwood.

But, whatever might really be its limits (the friendship of Elinor and Edward), it was enough, when perceived by his sister (Fanny Dashwood), to make her uneasy; and, at the same time … to make her uncivil. She took the first opportunity of affronting (insult; it can also mean attack) her mother-in-law (Mrs Dashwood) on the occasion (on the matter), talking to her so expressively of her brother’s great expectations, of Mrs Ferrars’s (her mother) resolution (unyielding determination) that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in (entice him) that Mrs Dashwood could neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavour to be calm. She (Mrs Dashwood) gave her (Fanny) an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week to such insinuations.

As usual, truth and perception are two quite different things. ‘But, whatever might really be its limits’ is the truth, which even Elinor does not know. Fanny’s perception of the likely state of affairs, as she sees it, is enough to make her worried and therefore to prompt her to take fairly vindictive action: ‘it was enough, when perceived by his sister, to make her uneasy; and, at the same time … to make her uncivil.’ The two almost identical clauses reveal Fanny’s character: ‘to make her uneasy … to make her uncivil’. If she is uneasy, she acts immediately and discourteously to pre-empt any development of the situation.

‘She took the first opportunity,
of affronting her mother-in-law on the occasion,
talking to her so expressively
of her brother’s great expectations,
of Mrs Ferrars’s resolution that both her sons should marry well, and
of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in;
that Mrs Dashwood could

neither pretend to be unconscious,

nor endeavour to be calm.

She gave her an answer which marked her contempt, and
instantly left the room …

You can see from the sentence structure how Fanny Dashwood piles it on. Not only does she ‘affront her mother-in-law’ which is fairly strong language for what is supposedly an account of a civilised upper class family but, in addition, she talks to Mrs Dashwood ‘so expressively’. And the list of her objections to Elinor as a possible wife for Edward is formidable: Edward has great expectations (he says later that he has none); his mother’s resolution (fixed intention: a very strong word) that her sons should marry well, and finally an attack on any young woman who tries her arts on him. Quite what forms the danger attending any such young woman will take is unclear. It’s an unspecified threat, calculated to deter anyone from making such an attempt. Presumably Mrs Ferrars and Fanny see themselves as being in a position of power that enables them to issue threats to others. Later Mrs Ferrars threatens Edward with disinheritance if he refuses to free himself from his engagement to Lucy Steele.

The antithetical structure of this sentence displays its dynamic, Fanny versus Mrs Dashwood. The verbs that initiate the action, ‘She took’, … ‘of affronting … talking’ followed by the repeated ‘of’ (about), propel the sentence irreversibly to ‘that’ heralding Mrs Dashwood’s reactions – a lack of calm, a feeling of contempt and an abrupt departure from the room. Which leads one to think that, in this skirmish, Fanny is the victor, since she is left alone on the battlefield (drawing room). The word ‘affront’ has various connotations, noted in the OED. It can mean ‘to engage in battle; to attack, assault’ (although this meaning is now obsolete); ‘to cause offence to, to insult (a person) openly or deliberately’, and ‘to confront.’ The structure and patterning of the sentence so redolent of confrontation are reinforced by the meaning of the words.

Naturally, after being in receipt of all this vitriol and insult, with its affronting and danger, Mrs Dashwood dismisses the two civilised options of pretending to be unaware of Fanny’s meaning, or being calm in the face of it. She delivers some sort of verbal missile and ‘instantly left the room’, thus attempting to counter Fanny’s taking ‘the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law.’ War is declared. You can see how poor, and therefore powerless, women have to fight for everything.

Both Mrs Ferrars and Mrs Dashwood make resolutions. We are told of Fanny and Edward’s mother, ‘Mrs Ferrars’s resolution that both her sons should marry well’. Elinor’s mother, ‘gave her (Fanny) an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week to such insinuations.’ Both mothers make resolutions about their children. Mrs Ferrars wants both her sons to marry well (that is, to marry well-born and well-off young women). Mrs Dashwood resolves to remove her beloved daughter from an unkind sister-in-law. Both mothers therefore are concerned with the welfare of their children, but they understand welfare in quite different ways: one in terms of money and social status, the other in terms of courteous treatment and feelings. Ironically, neither of Mrs Ferrars’ sons marries a rich bride and her favourite son, Robert, marries a young woman who is not well-born either.

Chapter 5 (excerpts)

Mrs Dashwood makes preparations to move to Devonshire.

A relation of Mrs Dashwood offers her and her daughters a cottage near his own house in Devon. She accepts the offer and they move to Devon. It becomes clear that allowing them to spend a few months with him at Norland is all that John Dashwood is prepared to do for them. Marianne says goodbye to Norland.

Mrs Dashwood and her daughters are to go to Devon with only three servants, which nowadays sounds like luxury. However, it wasn’t in those days. Three servants is the bare minimum for a member of the gentry; servants’ wages were very low at the time, the typical yearly wage for a maid of all work was £6 – 10.

Edward’s reaction to the news that the Dashwoods are to go to Devon is an example of two things that are to occur time and again in the novel. The first is a secret – this is a novel full of secrets. And the second is a misunderstanding because the other person in the conversation – and, quite often, the reader too – do not know about the secret until later. Thus the novel becomes more and more concerned with how difficult it is to know the facts of a situation, when people have secrets. And also, how difficult it is properly to understand another person, or even oneself.

Edward turned hastily towards her (Mrs Dashwood), on hearing this, and, in a voice of surprise and concern, which required no explanation to her, repeated, ‘Devonshire! Are you, indeed, going there? So far from hence! And to what part of it?’

The reader and Mrs Dashwood assume that Edward’s surprise and concern are at his imminent parting from Elinor, ‘So far from hence!’ But, as Isobel Armstrong points out, he is in fact ‘disturbed because they are getting so near to his secret.’ The secret is something that Elinor and the reader do not discover until much later: Anne and Lucy Steele live in Devon, and Edward is secretly engaged to Lucy. There is a world of secrecy and deception in Edward’s behaviour towards Elinor that we do not yet know about. When we do hear about it, in Chapter 22, we have probably forgotten what Edward has said here in Chapter 5. In fact, although Elinor in her love for Edward exonerates him from wrong-doing, he has been at least been deceitful, though maybe not to the extent that Willoughby is to be towards Marianne. (Isobel Armstrong Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Critical Studies) 1994)

Marianne is desolate in saying goodbye to Norland, where she has lived for ten years.

Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. “Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you? — when learn to feel a home elsewhere? — Oh happy house! could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! — And you, ye well-known trees! — but you will continue the same. — No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! — No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! — But who will remain to enjoy you?”

Marianne’s farewell to Norland is full of stagey sensibility. Some details suggest that she has acquired a great many of her ideas by reading. She addresses Norland as if it were a person: ‘Dear, dear Norland’ and calls it ‘you’. In saying, ‘ye well-known trees,’ she is using a form (ye) that was already archaic and consciously literary. And she is, in true romantic / sensibility mode, alone. I don’t think Jane Austen is mocking Marianne here but I do think she is laughing affectionately at her youthful bookish expression of her feelings. This is gentle satire. Austen would not satirise true and profoundly experienced feelings, but Marianne’s, although sincere, are learned from the cult of sensibility and indulged in. Jane Austen knew what it was to have to leave a well-known and much-loved home; it is said she fainted when her father announced that on his retirement the family would move to Bath.

Marianne is not always wrong, although her expression of her feelings is open to gentle satire. She is right in saying goodbye to some of the beautiful old trees – although mistaken in thinking that they will ‘continue the same’. In Chapter 33, John Dashwood tells Elinor about some of the ‘improvements’ he and Fanny have made at Norland. He describes the plans for the new greenhouse and flower-garden.

“Where is the greenhouse to be?”

“Upon the knoll behind the house. The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for it. It will be a very fine object from many parts of the park, and the flower-garden will slope down just before it, and be exceedingly pretty. We have cleared away all the old thorns that grew in patches over the brow.”

Chapter 6 (excerpts)

Barton Cottage

Jane Austen describes their new home in Devon. It is a cottage, though by our standards, rather a large one. She satirises the fashion for picturesque cottages by pointing out its defects (from a picturesque point of view): it is not thatched and there are no honeysuckles growing up the walls. In other words, it is in a lovely place and, apart from a few drawbacks, is a nice cottage to live in. Picturesque cottages would have been a misery to live in, if habitable at all.

It was a pleasant fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture. After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bed-rooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair. In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed! — but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy. It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.

‘as a cottage it was defective…’
Uvedale Price had set the standard for the true picturesque cottage in his Essay on the Picturesque of 1794. Ann Bermingham writes, ‘Price singled out variety, intricacy, irregularity in the form of the cottage and decorative details such as twining vines, flowerpots, birdcages and thatch as the essential ingredients of the picturesque cottage. He also made plain in his remarks on the beauty of decaying thatch, that picturesqueness was at odds with modern notions of comfort.’
(Ann Bermingham, The Cottage Ornée, University of Delaware Press, 2007).

This is a hovel from one of Heideloff’s drawings from his Gallery of Fashion 1802. It is very picturesque with its surrounding dead trees.

Edward Copeland notes that ‘Picturesque beauty (was) an aesthetic theory of nature that by the 1790s had become something of a popular cliché … but nevertheless a theory with considerable cultural power. The three major theorists were William Gilpin (1724 – 1804), Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight (1750 – 1824). Gilpin … argues that the picturesque in nature, its ruggedness and irregularity, its scenes of ‘high, low, steep, and rocky’, offered a particularly English category of nature, a middle way between the sublime and the beautiful that was to be appreciated … by the standards of painting.’ Sense and Sensibility, CUP 2006 p 450

Dr Johnson defined a cottage as ‘a mean (poor) habitation’ (1755) but it was glamourised and sentimentalised in the later 18th century. The introduction to the Norton edition of Sense and Sensibility tells us that it was ‘seen no longer as a labourer’s dwelling but as a site of rustic simplicity and retirement from the debasing pleasures of the city.’ In fact, it seems that it was seen as a continuation of the pastoral ideal in literature. Jane Austen does not subscribe to this notion, hence her ironic adjective, ‘defective,’ and later Elinor points out the smoking kitchen and dark stairs.

If the idea of retiring to a cottage was a familiar 18th century literary convention, Jane Austen’s version of it is different from the norm. Such retirement from society was usually the choice of men (it features in Love’s Labour’s Lost, for instance); in Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Dashwood, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret are a community of women. Rather than being a voluntary retirement, in Sense and Sensibility it is one forced upon the Dashwoods by the unpleasant behaviour of Mrs John Dashwood and the meanness of their half-brother. In her book on Sense and Sensibility, Isobel Armstrong lists some of the writing about retirement from society: ‘Retirement’ (1782) by Cowper; Columella (1776) by Richard Graves; The Man of Feeling (1771) by Henry Mackenzie.

This involuntary banishment to Devon and poverty is a means of disempowering the Dashwood women. Usually, in art and literature, you looked at a cottage and its inhabitants; several characters in the novel do so. Mrs Palmer thinks it pretty; Willoughby says he would like to rebuild Combe Magna as a replica of the cottage; Robert Ferrars describes the cottage ornée. Jane Austen, by contrast, gives us cottage life as the Dashwoods experience it. They do not have accommodation for a guest’s horse, so Edward has to stable his in the village. They do not have accommodation, either, for the horse that Willoughby wants to give Marianne. The Middletons can require them to come over to the big house, or can walk over and intrude upon them, not even bothering to use the front door but looking in through the window.

Amongst other poets of the time, Goldsmith, Crabbe and Wordsworth wrote about cottage life. Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village’ (1770) idealises rural life. Crabbe’s ‘The Village’ (1783) in anti-pastoral mode, attacks the idyll. The other side of the idyll is the hovel lived in by the exploited and poverty-stricken labourers. Wordsworth began ‘The Ruined Cottage’ in 1797, although it was not published till some time later. In this latter poem, Isobel Armstrong notes that ‘the decaying cottage signifies (the woman’s) psychological disintegration’.

As a taste of the literary background to Austen’s description, here is the opening of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village’ (1770)

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain, (Auburn is the name of the village)
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed,
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
How often have I paused on every charm,
The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made!

Goldsmith condemns rapacious landowners (John Dashwood take note)

… The man of wealth and pride

Takes up a space that many poor supplied;
Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds,
Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds:
The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth
Has robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth

Carol Rumens writes: ‘Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village is both a marvellous descriptive poem and a powerful political essay. Polemic comes alive when it is grounded in detail, and Goldsmith conducts his argument using an expansive array of vivid supporting material – topographies, interiors, and sharp human portraits. ….surging emotions … carry the poem on its flood-tide of nostalgia, lamentation and invective.

‘Goldsmith’s “Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain” is fictional, or at least a composite. The poet is blending recollections of the Irish village of his boyhood, Lissoy, and the fruits of his more recent travels through the villages of England, which had undergone similar enclosures and depopulation. Goldsmith’s political argument is also a moral one, and the “shapeless ruin” he sees in the landscape reflects the decadence produced by the pursuit of luxury. The enclosures are aggravated by what might be called “privatisation by life-style”, as “The man of wealth and pride / Takes up a space that many poor supplied; / Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds, / Space for his horses, equipage and hounds.”’
(Carol Rumens’ Poem of the week: The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith, The Guardian, 31 May 2010)

By contrast, in ‘The Village’ (1783), ‘George Crabbe observes that the golden age of pastoral poetry, if it ever existed, is long past.. …Crabbe’s bleak account of rural life has always been taken as a response to the sentimentality of Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village (1770).’
spenserians.cath.vt.edu accessed 4th April 2017

The poem contrasts the traditional representation of the rural idyll in Augustan poetry with the realities of village life;

I paint the cot,

As truth will paint it, and as bards will not:

Crabbe describes the rural equivalent of the workhouse. It is evidently a hovel that could be seen as a picturesque cottage if you were not the unfortunate person having to live in it.
Such is that room which one rude beam divides,
And naked rafters form the sloping sides;
Where the vile bands that bind the thatch are seen,
And lath and mud is all that lie between;
Save one dull pane, that, coarsely patch’d, gives way
To the rude tempest, yet excludes the day:

Sir John Middleton’s kindness to the Dashwoods extends not only to letting them live in his cottage, but in addition, upon their arrival, he gives them things to eat: garden produce and birds that he has shot. There are, as will be discovered, drawbacks to Sir John, but his generosity to relations he doesn’t know is in marked contrast to their half-brother’s meanness. The direct comparison between Sir John Middleton and John Dashwood is invited by the fact that they both give (or John Dashwood says he will give) presents of ‘fish and game and so forth’ to the Dashwood women.

The Dashwood women’s living in a cottage kindly made available to them at a low rent reflects their relative poverty. They are reliant on other people’s generosity to go anywhere (Mrs Jennings’ generosity to go to London, for example). They necessarily stay in their cottage during the first part of the novel, while others come and go. Colonel Brandon disappears mysteriously to London; Willoughby leaves; Edward arrives and leaves again, the Palmers arrive with the Middletons and so do the Steeles.

Link: www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/payne-wooded-landscape-with-a-cottage-beside-a-bridge
William Payne 1776–c.1830 Wooded landscape with a cottage beside a bridge
Tate Gallery, London

William Payne’s cottage is obviously supposed to be part of the rural idyll – shaded by venerable trees, beside a brook and a pack-horse bridge. Take one look at it, and you’ll see that it is scarcely fit for cows or sheep. This picturesque idea of the cottage in the country is all part of a pastoral make-believe: the realities of life on not much money are no fun at all.
Jane Austen describes the landscape in which the Dashwoods’ cottage is set.

High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.

The countryside contains pasture, cornfields and timber: ‘open downs, … cultivated and woody.’ In other words, it is not wild, Romantic, extreme landscape, but well managed and productive. The village is a part of the landscape – man integrated into the countryside – illustrating the 18th century ideal of man as a part of society and a part of a working countryside. ‘The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows.’ The village is described as being part of a ‘pleasant view’, not a blot on a Romantic landscape. And the cottage looks (from one aspect) onto the village, connecting it with the village. But from another aspect, the views are bigger. ‘The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond.’ Austen takes the eye from the cottage, to the valley in front of it and still further, ‘reached … beyond.’ Possibly this indicates that the girls’ horizons are not so completely limited in this newly-imposed exile to Devon as they appear. Isobel Armstrong suggests that the hills and valleys and forest are ‘expressive of feminine symbols.’ (Isobel Armstrong, Sense and Sensibility Penguin Critical Studies, 1994) Certainly, Austen uses features of landscape symbolically in Mansfield Park, and to some extent is to do so in Chapter 9 of this novel.

Chapter 7

Barton Park, Sir John and Lady Middleton, Mrs Jennings and Colonel Brandon

Barton Park was about half a mile from the cottage. The ladies had passed near it in their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of an hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance. The former was for Sir John’s gratification, the latter for that of his lady. They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for, however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass. Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Lady Middleton had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while Sir John’s independent employments were in existence only half the time. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education; supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good-breeding of his wife. Lady Middleton piqued herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. But Sir John’s satisfaction in society was much more real; he delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased. He was a blessing to all the juvenile part of the neighbourhood, for in summer he was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors, and in winter his private balls were numerous enough for any young lady who was not suffering under the insatiable appetite of fifteen. (In other words, if you are fifteen, you can never go to enough private balls.)

Rachel Brownstein observes that the novel’s portraits of marriages in the first few chapters ‘are clear signs of the novel’s darkness. As John and Fanny Dashwood, in the extraordinary dialogue in Chapter 2, talk themselves, like King Lear’s evil daughters, into ever less fairness and generosity to John’s half-sisters, their marriage is revealed as effectively an anti-social relationship. The marriage of the less well-matched Sir John and Lady Middleton falls short of doing actual social ill, but it also unpleasantly illustrates how both individual character and the wider society are affected by the most intimate of chosen social relations.’
(Rachel M Brownstein from The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austenedited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster, CUP, 1997)

Jane Austen makes the incompatibility of Sir John and Lady Middleton particularly clear by the antithetical fashion in which she introduces them. She frequently makes a distinction between the activities and preferences of Sir John and Lady Middleton, interspersing these with more general observations that apply to both of them.

The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance.
The former (hospitality) was for Sir John’s
gratification, the latter (elegance) for that of his lady.
They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for, however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass.

Sir John was a sportsman,Lady Middleton a mother.
He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children;

and these were their only resources.

Lady Middleton had the advantage of being

able to spoil her children all the year round,

while Sir John’s independent employments
were in existence only half the time.
Continual engagements at home and abroad,
however, supplied all the deficiencies
of nature and education;
supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good-breeding of his wife.

Lady Middleton piqued herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in anyof their parties.

But Sir John’s satisfaction in society was
much more real; he delighted in collecting
about him more young people than
his house would hold, and the noisier
they were the better was he pleased.

The arrival of a new family in the country was always a matter of joy to him, and in every point of view he was charmed with the inhabitants he had now procured for his cottage at Barton. The Miss Dashwoods were young, pretty, and unaffected (genuine, sincere). It was enough to secure his good opinion, for to be unaffected was all that a pretty girl could want to make her mind as captivating as her person. The friendliness of his disposition made him happy in accommodating those, whose situation might be considered, in comparison with the past, as unfortunate. In shewing kindness to his cousins, therefore, he had the real satisfaction of a good heart; and in settling a family of females only in his cottage, he had all the satisfaction of a sportsman; for a sportsman, though he esteems only those of his sex who are sportsmen likewise, is not often desirous of encouraging their taste by admitting them to a residence within his own manor.

Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were met at the door of the house by Sir John, who welcomed them to Barton Park with unaffected sincerity; and as he attended them to the drawing-room, repeated to the young ladies the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any smart young men to meet them. They would see, he said, only one gentleman there besides himself; a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay(light-hearted, carefree). He hoped they would all excuse the smallness of the party, and could assure them it should never happen so again. He had been to several families that morning, in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlight, and every body was full of engagements. Luckily Lady Middleton’s mother had arrived at Barton within the last hour, and as she was a very cheerful, agreeable woman, he hoped the young ladies would not find it so very dull as they might imagine. The young ladies, as well as their mother, were perfectly satisfied with having two entire strangers of the party, and wished for no more.

Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother, was a good-humoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands; hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. Marianne was vexed at it for her sister’s sake, and turned her eyes towards Elinor, to see how she bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Elinor far more pain than could arise from such common-place raillery as Mrs. Jennings’s.

Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Middleton was to be his wife, or Mrs. Jennings to be Lady Middleton’s mother. He was silent and grave. His appearance, however, was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five-and-thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.

There was nothing in any of the party which could recommend them as companions to the Dashwoods; but the cold insipidity of Lady Middleton was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Colonel Brandon, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir John and his mother-in-law, was interesting. Lady Middleton seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves.

The cold insipidity of Lady Middleton is obviously a grave drawback, although the word repulsive, meaning repellent, was not as strong then as it is now. Bafflingly, the only time Lady Middleton is to be seen enjoying herself is when her children ‘pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse …’.

In the evening, as Marianne was discovered to be musical, she was invited to play. The instrument was unlocked, every body prepared to be charmed, and Marianne, who sang very well, at their request went through the chief of the songs which Lady Middleton had brought into the family on her marriage, and which perhaps had lain ever since in the same position on the pianoforte; for her ladyship had celebrated that event by giving up music, although by her mother’s account she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it.

Jane Austen faintly praises Lady Middleton in the most damning way. ‘She had played extremely well, and … was very fond of it (music).’ So either this is a fiction – she had neither played well nor was she fond of music, but we are told she was because that was what accomplished young ladies did. Or she had played well but is now so locked in her elegant, idle insipidity that she no longer does anything except have her clothes torn by her children. Worse still, when she married ‘her ladyship had celebrated that event by giving up music.’ ‘Celebrated’ seems singularly out of place. It implies that the marriage was not something that Lady Middleton was inclined to celebrate, or else that she had only learned to play the piano as a means of attracting an eligible bridegroom. Both are depressing reasons.

Mrs Elton, inEmma, describes herself as ‘doatingly fond of music — passionately fond’ but adds, ‘married women, you know … are but too apt to give up music.’

Marianne’s performance was highly applauded. Sir John was loud in his admiration at the end of every song, and as loud in his conversation with the others while every song lasted. Lady Middleton frequently called him to order, wondered how any one’s attention could be diverted from music for a moment, and asked Marianne to sing a particular song which Marianne had just finished. Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures. He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that extatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others; and she was reasonable enough to allow that a man of five-and-thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment. She was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required.

In contrast with her hostess, Marianne plays really well and truly loves music. Austen bitingly portrays the complete lack of attention that her host and hostess pay her despite their admiring words. ‘Sir John was loud in his admiration at the end of every song, and as loud in his conversation with the others while every song lasted. Lady Middleton frequently called him to order, wondered how any one’s attention could be diverted from music for a moment, and asked Marianne to sing a particular song which Marianne had just finished.’ Colonel Brandon, quite unlike the Middletons, ‘paid her only the compliment of attention.’ Jane Austen makes clear her biting satire on the Middletons’ vacuity. She repeats Sir John’s loudness: ‘Sir John was loud in his admiration … as loud in his conversation …’. The conversation drowns out the music. Lady Middleton initiates quite a lot of activity, for her: ‘Lady Middle frequently called … wondered … asked …’ but when it comes to the asking, it’s to desire Marianne to sing a song she has just sung. This renders meaningless her earlier activities of calling to order and wondering how anyone could not listen to the music. The anticlimax says it all. Whereas the Middletons make quite a lot of noise, one way and another, Colonel Brandon pays attention to Marianne’s music in silence.

‘Jane Austen’s family music books digitised and online’ can be found at Southampton University, southampton.ac.uk/news/jane-austen-music-books.

The description of an evening spent with the Middletons and their guests sounds fairly penitential. It forms a contrast with the true taste, elegance, affection and gentility of the Dashwood women.

Chapter 8

Mrs Jennings immediately decides that Colonel Brandon and Marianne should make a match of it. Marianne thinks that Colonel Brandon is old. Meanwhile, she wonders why Edward has not come to visit them.

Sir John Middleton and his wife’s friend, Colonel Brandon, is staying with them, and also Mrs Jennings, Sir John’s mother-in-law. Colonel Brandon has listened attentively to Marianne singing and accompanying herself on the Middletons’ piano, and this is enough to confirm Mrs Jennings’ burgeoning ideas. Like Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Jennings likes to marry people off; like Miss Bates in Emma, she is talkative and goodhearted. Elinor and Marianne’s changing reactions to her makes her something of a moral yardstick in the novel. At this early juncture, they do not appreciate her goodness and generosity.

Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure (an annual payment made to a widow). She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world. In the promotion of this object, she was zealously active, as far as her ability reached, and missed no opportunity of projecting weddings among all the young people of her acquaintance. She was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantage of raising the blushes and the vanity of many a young lady by insinuations of her power over such a young man; and this kind of discernment enabled her soon after her arrival at Barton decisively to pronounce that Colonel Brandon was very much in love with Marianne Dashwood. She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first evening of their being together, from his listening so attentively while she sang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Middletons dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening to her again. It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It would be an excellent match, for he was rich and she was handsome. Mrs. Jennings had been anxious to see Colonel Brandon well married, ever since her connection with Sir John first brought him to her knowledge.

‘ … she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world.’ In this half-sentence, Jane Austen sums Mrs Jennings up: she is enormously energetic (her range is ‘all the rest of the world’), and her intelligence is limited – ‘therefore’ should lead to a reasoned conclusion, but it doesn’t. And her sole objective, ‘nothing to do but …’, is to marry everyone off. This sense of Mrs Jennings’ energy continues: ‘she was zealously active’; ‘missed no opportunity’ and ‘was remarkably quick’. She does not believe in half-measures: she decisively pronounces ‘that Colonel Brandon was very much in love with Marianne Dashwood.’

Jane Austen depicts Mrs Jennings as being very certain in her many actions and ideas. Look at all the clauses beginning with ‘she’ and ‘she was’: ‘she was zealously active’, ‘She was remarkably quick’, ‘She rather suspected it’, ‘She was perfectly convinced’. The limited intelligence continues, too, as the basis for her deduction that Colonel Brandon is devoted to Marianne is that he listens to Marianne’s playing and singing ‘again’. In the Dashwoods’ small cottage, he could scarcely avoid doing so, but this fact has escaped Mrs Jennings’ notice. Mrs Jennings wastes no time in arriving at her conclusion: ‘It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It would be an excellent match …’. The short sentences add to the definitive effect.

There are two jokes here. One is that Marianne, who for much of the novel despises Mrs Jennings, can behave in a somewhat similar way. She is convinced that Edward and Elinor will get married, and is astounded that they are not even engaged. She falls for Willoughby at once. The other joke is, of course, that Mrs Jennings is quite right about Colonel Brandon, though perhaps more through her anxiety to see him well married than from any remarkable powers of perception.

Mrs Jennings also has a certain amount in common with Mrs Dashwood in her romantic imaginings. Mrs Dashwood, like Marianne, jumped to conclusions about Elinor and Edward: ‘No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behaviour to Elinor, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching.’

Marianne is appalled by Mrs Jennings’ selection of Colonel Brandon for her. She considers it ‘an unfeeling reflection on the colonel’s advanced years (he is 35), and on his forlorn condition as an old bachelor.’ Marianne on the subject of Colonel Brandon as an eligible husband is a source of considerable comedy.

“But at least, mamma, you cannot deny the absurdity of the accusation, though you may not think it intentionally ill-natured. Colonel Brandon is certainly younger than Mrs. Jennings, but he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous! When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?”

Look at the direction of Marianne’s argument here. ‘Colonel Brandon is certainly younger than…, but he is old enough to be my father.’ She argues in opposites, which is a persuasive but fallible way of thinking (persuasive to herself, that is). The opposites are ‘younger than’ and ‘old enough’. She then proceeds to ‘if he were ever …. must have…’. Her logic travels from question ‘if’ to answer ‘must have.’ The trouble is, the ‘if’ and ‘must’ are only applicable in her own mind, so this argument is persuasively building up a false image of Colonel Brandon in her mind. And the argument is, of course, this being Marianne, about Colonel Brandon’s capacity for feelings on the all-important subject of love: ‘animated enough to be in love’, ‘every sensation of the kind.’ This is followed by an absolute statement, brief because it is so absolute: ‘It is too ridiculous.’ Then she sees him as beyond the reach even of unkind jokes because of his ‘age and infirmity.’ She puts this in the form of a rhetorical question, again a self-persuading technique. ‘When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?’ The damning picture of Colonel Brandon as being in the last stages of old age is built up by a veritable thesaurus of words associated with decline: ‘old enough’, ‘long outlived’, ‘age and infirmity’ and a little later ‘declining life’. (Thirty-six years later, Charlotte Bronte’s smoulderingly Byronic hero, Mr Rochester, is the same age as poor antiquated Colonel Brandon.)

“Infirmity!” said Elinor, “do you call Colonel Brandon infirm (not very strong)? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to my mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the use of his limbs!”

“Did not you hear him complain of the rheumatism? and is not that the commonest infirmity of declining life?”

“My dearest child,” said her mother, laughing, “at this rate you must be in continual terror of my decay; and it must seem to you a miracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty.”

“Mamma, you are not doing me justice. I know very well that Colonel Brandon is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive of losing him in the course of nature. He may live twenty years longer. But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony.”

“But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony.” Another of Marianne’s absolute and incontrovertible statements made with all the authority of her sixteen years.

“Perhaps,” said Elinor, “thirty-five and seventeen had better not have any thing to do with matrimony together. But if there should by any chance happen to be a woman who is single at seven-and-twenty, I should not think Colonel Brandon’s being thirty-five any objection to his marrying her.”

“A woman of seven-and-twenty,” said Marianne, after pausing a moment, “can never hope to feel or inspire affection again, and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small, I can suppose that she might bring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of the provision and security of a wife. In his marrying such a woman, therefore, there would be nothing unsuitable. It would be a compact of convenience, and the world would be satisfied. In my eyes it would be no marriage at all, but that would be nothing. To me it would seem only a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other.”

“It would be impossible, I know,” replied Elinor, “to convince you that a woman of seven-and-twenty could feel for a man of thirty-five anything near enough to love, to make him a desirable companion to her. But I must object to your dooming Colonel Brandon and his wife to the constant confinement of a sick chamber, merely because he chanced to complain yesterday (a very cold damp day), of a slight rheumatic feel in one of his shoulders.”

“But he talked of flannel waistcoats,” said Marianne; “and with me a flannel waistcoat is invariably connected with aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble.”

The clincher. The infamous ‘flannel waistcoat’! With characteristic irony, Jane Austen will go on to show that Brandon has the most romantic history of anyone in the novel and also that he will be Marianne’s husband and that Marianne as Mrs Brandon is not his nurse!

Marianne, a very young 16, here accuses Colonel Brandon of having rheumatism and being thus in a state of ‘declining life’. She admits that his friends are not yet ‘apprehensive of losing him in the course of nature’ but she pictures Colonel Brandon as marrying someone who would be a nurse to him, which in Marianne’s view ‘would be no marriage at all’ but only ‘a commercial exchange’. And, of course, the most passion-killing, damning indictment of Colonel Brandon is that ‘he talked of flannel waistcoats’ so he must be old and feeble. The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as not flannel at all, but wool. It is ‘a short (woollen) garment worn next the skin’. The first quotation illustrating a reference to this unglamorous garment is in 1606.

Marvin Mudrick, in his essay of 1952 that has become a classic, writes: ‘If Edward Ferrars is dull, Colonel Brandon is a vacuum. Introducing him, the author describes him as ‘silent and grave’; and this is the liveliest account we have of him.’ (Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery, Princeton University Press,1952)On the other hand, Richard Jenkyns, in A Fine Brush on Ivory, (OUP 2004), says: ‘Colonel Brandon … has the most romantic life of any character in any of the novels.’

Rita Sahney makes these observations on Colonel Brandon: ‘… he is not such a hopeless case. He can rise to the occasion; he can offer Edward a living, bring Mrs Dashwood to Marianne’s sickbed. There is a practical side to his awareness of the needs of others and his ability to meet them. That is what one expects in real life; someone to count on in a moment of crisis. He is a perfect contrast to a cold materialist like John Dashwood or a pseudo Robert Ferrars. … There is no alternative to wisdom and sound morality in the Austen canon.’
(Rita Sahney, Jane Austen’s Heroes and Other Male Characters: A Sociological Study Abhinav Publications, 1990)

There is a more serious point in Austen’s portrayal of Marianne as being unable to see Colonel Brandon as being anything other than old, infirm and fit to be nursed. This, like her estimate of Mrs Jennings, reflects her inability to see his true virtues. Like all votaries of the cult of sensibility, she relies on the truth of first impressions. Elinor is similarly blind to Mrs Jennings’ goodness at first, but she appreciates Colonel Brandon from the outset.

Forms of address have changed. You would speak of and to someone as Miss or Mrs X, Mr X or Colonel X. To speak of and to a man as X suggests familiarity. In this extract, Marianne and Elinor call him Colonel Brandon, which is correct. However, a little later, Marianne calls Mr Willoughby, Willoughby, which denotes an intimacy not warranted by any formal engagement between them.

Chapter 9

Marianne hurts her ankle on a walk and is rescued by Willoughby who carries her home.

Marianne and her sister Margaret go walking on the downs near their cottage. However, rain forces them to run home and Marianne stumbles and hurts her ankle. She is seen and carried home by a young man, Willoughby, who is out shooting. Sir John Middleton visits the family next day and tells them all more about Willoughby, who has an elderly cousin in the neighbourhood with whom he is staying.

The whole country (neighbourhood) about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite(intense) enjoyment of air on their summits, were a happy alternative when the dirt (mud)of the valleys beneath shut up their superior beauties; and towards one of these hills did Marianne and Margaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned (caused). The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two others from their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne’s declaration that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud would be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set off together.

They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration (insight) at every glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of a high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations.

“Is there a felicity (happiness) in the world,” said Marianne, “superior to this? — Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours.”

This passage is more ironic than at first appears. For example, ‘the high downs … invited them … to seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits.’ The hills are personified (‘high downs … invited them’) which is in itself a form of Romantic exaggeration. Romantic, too, is the notion that nature is inviting Marianne and Margaret to enjoy themselves. And the adjective ‘exquisite’ to describe the enjoyment that the girls seek is another Romantic hyperbole. In fact, the opening of the paragraph is charged with superlatives and abundance: ‘The whole country … abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite enjoyment …’ The feeling that the girls can no longer bear ‘confinement’ is a slight breach of the self-discipline required of feminine decorum; the idea being, on the whole, that men’s pursuits and business were more often outside than women’s, and that a woman should be self-disciplined enough to endure ‘confinement.’ This signals, perhaps, Marianne’s later shaking off of the confinement of decorum in her relationship with Willoughby. Characteristically, Marianne declares (wrongly) that the weather will be ‘lastingly fair’ because she wants it to be.

The passage continues with Romantic terms: ‘animating gales’ which bring Marianne and Margaret ‘delightful sensations.’ ‘Gales’ is a poetic word for breeze. The idea of sensations rather than reason is – I think – Romantic, too. Marianne’s response is characteristically hyperbolic: ‘Is there a felicity (happiness)in the world superior to this?’ The perception of the ‘animating gales’ is a very attractive one. Wordsworth uses the word breeze rather than gales in the opening of ‘The Prelude’ (1805), but the ‘blessing’ of which he writes is certainly ‘animating’:

‘Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze
That blows from the green fields and from the clouds
And from the sky’.

In a letter of 1803, Coleridge writes:
‘I never find myself alone, within the embracement of rocks and hills, but my spirit careers, drives, and eddies, like a leaf in autumn: a wild activity of thoughts, imaginations, feelings, and impulses of motion rises up from within me …. Life seems to me then an universal spirit …’

It is of these ideas that Marianne seems to be an advocate and later, when we see the wearisome society of the Middletons, the Palmers, the Steeles, the John Dashwoods and Mrs Ferrars, her wishing to escape into a more inspiring world is very understandable.

The opening of this passage could be seen as an example of free indirect discourse – description apparently supplied factually by the narrator but really coloured by someone else’s characteristic thoughts and opinions. It is a way of writing that Jane Austen found in the works of late eighteenth century writers and perfected. ‘The high downs … invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite (intense) enjoyment of air on their summits …’ is not simply a factual piece of narration. It is typical of Marianne’s perceptions that the high downs are inviting her to walk on their summits, and to anticipate that the enjoyment while she is doing so will be ‘exquisite.’

Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set full in their face. — Chagrined(vexed, bothered) and surprised, they were obliged, though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their own house. One consolation however remained for them, to which the exigence (urgent need) of the moment gave more than usual propriety (appropriateness); it was that of running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill which led immediately to their garden gate.

They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage (was ahead), but a false step brought her suddenly to the ground; and Margaret, unable to stop herself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and reached the bottom in safety.

It seems to us nowadays perfectly reasonable for Marianne and Margaret to run full pelt down the hill to their own house to avoid getting wet. But in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, it was not at all the thing for ladies to run. Running fast was even worse, as very likely you would show your legs as you ran. Thus, when Jane Austen writes of a ‘consolation’ in the girls’ predicament being that of ‘more than usual propriety’ in their decision to run for home, it is presumably ironic. It is very far from being an action of ‘more than usual propriety.’ Added to this is their lack of control: Marianne takes ‘a false step’ and Margaret is ‘unable to stop herself … was involuntarily hurried along.’ And this lack of propriety and control leads, in Marianne’s case, to falling over. This, in turn, leads to Willoughby’s romantic rescue, involving his picking Marianne up and carrying her home. This was completely improper – touching a young woman so closely, and in this case a young woman he doesn’t even know. Isobel Armstrong considers it possible to see this falling over of Marianne’s as she runs downhill as an image of a moral / sexual fall.

from Modes et Manières No 25, Retour de Longchamp (Chapeau avec Fichus), 1800, by P L Debucourt (1755-1832), hand-colored etching and aquatint on paper. Website www.clarkart.edu

A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers (gun dogs) playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Marianne, when her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in her fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services; and perceiving that her modesty declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without farther delay, and carried her down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directly into the house, whither Margaret was just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated her in a chair in the parlour.

Willoughby is presented as the active person here, with Marianne of necessity not moving, and being acted upon. Willoughby ‘put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in her fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services; and perceiving that her modesty declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without farther delay, and carried her down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directly into the house…’

Again, if you know the literature of the period, you will see what Jane Austen is up to here. Willoughby’s entrance in the novel is thoroughly Romantic, rescuing a maiden in distress. Ironically, he turns out not to be Romantic at all, but to be entirely materialistic, and he marries a rich heiress. The hero of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novel, Udolpho (1794), also appeared from nowhere, in ‘hunter’s dress … his gun …slung across his shoulder’ and ‘followed by a couple of dogs.’ Willoughby ‘quitted not his hold till he had seated her …’. The archaic language evokes chivalric romance, such as Water Scott’s ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ (1805). (This is the poem Willoughby and Marianne discuss in the next chapter.) Willoughby’s rescue of Marianne has been described as ‘the physical shorthand for emotional depth that we see Willoughby enacting’. (Quoted in Darryl Jones’s Jane Austen)

Obviously, Marianne perceives Willoughby as the Romantic hero of the situation. But there is another point of view: that she has fallen because she acted improperly in running, and that he, a predator, is exploiting her vulnerability. She has laid herself open to this and made herself vulnerable to violation by an unscrupulous scoundrel. What she sees as help can be seen as Willoughby opportunistically gaining the entrée to the home of an attractive and innocent young woman who will be susceptible to his sophisticated and experienced arts of seduction.

Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.

She thanked him again and again; and, with a sweetness of address (way of speaking) which always attended her, invited him to be seated. But this he declined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Dashwood then begged to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby, and his present home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would allow him the honour of calling tomorrow to enquire after Miss Dashwood. The honour was readily granted, and he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions. — Marianne herself had seen less of his person that the rest, for the confusion which crimsoned over her face, on his lifting her up, had robbed her of the power of regarding him after their entering the house. But she had seen enough of him to join in all the admiration of the others, and with an energy which always adorned her praise. His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story; and in his carrying her into the house with so little previous formality, there was a rapidity of thought which particularly recommended the action to her. Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting. His name was good, his residence was in their favourite village, and she soon found out that of all manly dresses a shooting-jacket was the most becoming. Her imagination was busy, her reflections were pleasant, and the pain of a sprained ankle was disregarded.

Surely Jane Austen is warning us here, with irony directed affectionately towards her, that Marianne’s ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination’ are captivated, and that the good-looking Willoughby may not be all he seems. He appears to embody her image of the perfect man. However, Marianne’s admiration is largely based on his appearance: ‘his exterior attractions’ and ‘his manly beauty and more than common gracefulness’, ‘his person and air’. Finally, ‘he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.’

Isn’t Austen gently teasing Marianne here (gently, because she is very young and naive)? His departing in a manner that is bound ‘to make himself still more interesting’ has to be Austen affectionately mocking Marianne’s instant response to Willoughby. Who else would be thinking that? And what does his ‘good’ surname, Willoughby, his living in their favourite village and his wearing such a becoming shooting-jacket have to do with his true character, his gentleman-like behaviour, integrity and good character? Nothing, as she will all too soon discover. In fact, a well-read reader of Sense and Sensibility in 1811 would know that the villain of Fanny Burney’s popular novel Evelina(1778) was Sir Clement Willoughby. The ‘good’ name that Marianne perceives would have ominous associations for Austen’s contemporary readers.

An apparently charming character very similar to Willoughby causes mayhem in Pride and Prejudice: Wickham. He, too, is described primarily in terms of his appearance: ‘the young man wanted (lacked) only regimentals (army uniform) to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address(way of speaking)’. (Chapter 15) Like Willoughby, Wickham forms a striking contrast with the true hero. Henry Crawford inMansfield Park is another charming and plausible villain.

Willoughby was out shooting when he rescued Marianne. This is a perfectly likely occupation for an upper class young man staying in the country. But it does also mean that our first image of him is that of a predator and the prey, it turns out, is Marianne. She, however, sees him as her rescuer. Appearances are deceptive, as so often in this novel.

Juliet McMaster identifies two kinds of rescue in Austen’s novels – which are full of rescues. She calls them ‘the genuine and the spurious and only one is the kind that arouses and deserves love. The spurious ones are such as are the staple of the usual romance, and are matters merely of chance: Frank in the incident with the gipsies, Willoughby at the scene of the sprained ankle … merely happen to be there, and, being there, do the obvious thing.’ (The reference here is to Frank Churchill rescuing Harriet Smith from gipsies in Emma.) Juliet McMaster continues: ‘Not on such fortuitous occurrences should a genuine love be based. The real rescue, the one that deserves the return of love, is a moral act, a matter of choice, like Wentworth’s with Anne and little Walter, or Knightley’s with Harriet on the dance floor. In both cases there are other people present who could have helped by didn’t; it is the hero’s heroism that moves him.’ (Captain Wentworth removes a troublesome little child pestering Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and Mr Knightley dances with Harriet Smith whom everyone else is ignoring in Emma.)
(Juliet McMaster, Jane Austen on Love, ELS Editions, 1978)

On Juliet McMaster’s assessment of an action that truly deserves love, Willoughby’s rescue of Marianne is spurious, but Colonel Brandon’s bringing of Mrs Dashwood to the seriously ill Marianne at Cleveland is genuine. When Willoughby carries Marianne home after she has hurt her ankle, he is acting a part, the part of the Romantic hero or ‘preserver’. As he says, later, to Elinor, he acts, when he knows Marianne better, ‘without any design of returning her affection’. The word ‘design’ is instructive here. Willoughby’s spurious action prompts the adulation of Marianne’s family whereas Colonel Brandon’s thoughtful transport of Mrs Dashwood to her daughter’s sickbed is an inconspicuous action not calculated to arouse publicity.

Another requirement of social custom is lacking in this encounter: a formal introduction. As Helena Kelly observes (Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, Icon Books Ltd, 2016), you had to be introduced before you could converse with someone. And you had to be introduced by someone who knew both you and the newcomer. Hence, at the assembly at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, Bingley can ask his partner, Jane Bennet, to introduce him to her sister. However, the circumstances of Willoughby’s rescue of Marianne obviate the possibility of a formal introduction. Not only this, but he is, again of necessity, carrying Marianne, so there is from the beginning a physical closeness that overleaps the usual social boundaries. It’s no wonder that ‘Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance’.

I don’t know whether to attach any importance to the fact that the garden gate has been left open – though admittedly through Margaret’s haste to run into the house ahead of Willoughby and her sister. There may be very slight echoes lingering of ‘hortus conclusus’, rooted in the Old Testament. The hortus (garden) conclusus (enclosed) is a symbol or image of virginity in both art and literature; the image was very popular in medieval art. It is mentioned in the Song of Solomon (Old Testament) Ch 4 verse 12: ‘a garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.’ Does Marianne’s later disregard for the niceties of social rules – her flouting of chaperonage, her allowing Willoughby to use her Christian name and to cut a lock of her hair – amount to a leaving open of the garden gate to him? Is it a tacit encouragement to him to take advantage of her as we later learn he did of Colonel Brandon’s ward? In Chapter 48, when Edward rides up to the cottage, ‘He stopt at their gate’. Not so Willoughby in this chapter. ‘Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directly into the house’. Edward is hardly a role model for correctness, after his secret engagement to Lucy, but once he is freed from that, he adheres carefully to the social norms, in marked contrast to Willoughby.

Austen explores something similar in Mansfield Park. Maria Bertram is engaged to Mr Rushworth, and during a visit to his seat, Sotherton, he goes to get a key to a gate that will let everybody wander further. However, Henry Crawford, to whom Maria is much attracted and who is flirting with her, persuades her to make her way past the gate without waiting for her fiancé to return with the key. Whereas the symbol of a garden to which only the husband has the key is to be expected in, say, Chaucer (The Merchant’s Tale), Austen very rarely employs symbols in this way. In this instance, however, she certainly is doing so, and perhaps also with the gate to Barton Cottage.

After some minutes spent in this way, Miss Bertram, observing the iron gate, expressed a wish of passing through it into the park, that their views and their plans might be more comprehensive. It was the very thing of all others to be wished, it was the best, it was the only way of proceeding with any advantage, in Henry Crawford’s opinion; and he directly saw a knoll not half a mile off, which would give them exactly the requisite command of the house. Go therefore they must to that knoll, and through that gate; but the gate was locked. Mr. Rushworth wished he had brought the key; he had been very near thinking whether he should not bring the key; he was determined he would never come without the key again; but still this did not remove the present evil. They could not get through; and as Miss Bertram’s inclination for so doing did by no means lessen, it ended in Mr. Rushworth’s declaring outright that he would go and fetch the key. He set off accordingly.

“It is undoubtedly the best thing we can do now, as we are so far from the house already,” said Mr. Crawford, when he was gone.
“Yes, there is nothing else to be done. But now, sincerely, do not you find the place altogether worse than you expected?”
“No, indeed, far otherwise. I find it better, grander, more complete in its style, though that style may not be the best. And to tell you the truth,” speaking rather lower, “I do not think that I shall ever see Sotherton again with so much pleasure as I do now. Another summer will hardly improve it to me.”
After a moment’s embarrassment the lady replied, “You are too much a man of the world not to see with the eyes of the world. If other people think Sotherton improved, I have no doubt that you will.”
“I am afraid I am not quite so much the man of the world as might be good for me in some points. My feelings are not quite so evanescent, nor my memory of the past under such easy dominion as one finds to be the case with men of the world.”
This was followed by a short silence. …..

‘….Your prospects, however, are too fair to justify want of spirits. You have a very smiling scene before you.”

“Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha–ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.” As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. “Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!”
“And for the world you would not get out without the key and without Mr. Rushworth’s authority and protection, or I think you might with little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, and could allow yourself to think it not prohibited.”
“Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will. Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment, you know; we shall not be out of sight.”
“Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him that he will find us near that knoll: the grove of oak on the knoll.”
Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. “You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram,” she cried; “you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you will be in danger of slipping into the ha–ha. You had better not go.”
Her cousin was safe on the other side while these words were spoken, and, smiling with all the good–humour of success, she said, “Thank you, my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good–bye.”
Mansfield Park, Chapter 10

Sir John called on them as soon as the next interval of fair weather that morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Marianne’s accident being related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew any gentleman of the name of Willoughby at Allenham.

“Willoughby!” cried Sir John; “what, is HE in the country (region / neighbourhood)? That is good news however; I will ride over tomorrow, and ask him to dinner on Thursday.”

“You know him then,” said Mrs. Dashwood.

“Know him! to be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year.”

“And what sort of a young man is he?”

“As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.”

“And is that all you can say for him?” cried Marianne, indignantly. “But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius (inclinations)?”

Sir John was rather puzzled.

“Upon my soul,” said he, “I do not know much about him as to all THAT. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?”

But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr. Willoughby’s pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.

The comedy here arises from the contrast between Marianne’s idea of describing a man, and Sir John’s. Both Marianne and Sir John are living in their own bubble. They are polar opposites, and neither understands the other. The sporting-mad Sir John reckons Willoughby to be ‘As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you.’ Then he gives his definition of a good fellow: ‘A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.’ His main interest is in ‘the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw.’ Marianne’s concern with Willoughby’s ‘pursuits, … talents and genius’ only puzzle Sir John. They both have very one-sided ways of looking at a person.

“But who is he?” said Elinor. “Where does he come from? Has he a house at Allenham?”

On this point Sir John could give more certain intelligence (information); and he told them that Mr. Willoughby had no property of his own in the country; that he resided there only while he was visiting the old lady at Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions he was to inherit; adding, “Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching I can tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger sister, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Miss Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon will be jealous, if she does not take care.”

Sir John’s ‘more certain intelligence’ is fairly inaccurate. We later learn, when Willoughby is engaged to the heiress Miss Grey, that he is ‘all to pieces’ (financially ruined) as a result of his extravagant lifestyle, hence his need to marry an heiress. So, as regards financial security (nil) as well as moral integrity (nil), he is not at all ‘well worth catching’.

“I do not believe,” said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good humoured smile, “that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of MY daughters towards what you call CATCHING him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe with us, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however, from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose acquaintance will not be ineligible.”

“He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived,” repeated Sir John. “I remember last Christmas at a little hop at the park, he danced from eight o’clock till four, without once sitting down.”

“Did he indeed?” cried Marianne with sparkling eyes, “and with elegance, with spirit?”

“Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert (go hunting).

“That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue.”

‘Elegance’, ‘spirit’ and ‘no moderation’ are the qualities that captivate Marianne. Sir John describes Willoughby dancing ‘from eight o’clock till four, without once sitting down.’ When Marianne discovers that he did so ‘with elegance, with spirit’, she exclaims, ‘That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be.’ She moves within two sentences from the personal ‘That is what I like’ to a generalisation about young men based on her personal preference, ‘that is what a young man ought to be.’ For Marianne, ‘like’ becomes ‘ought’ without hesitation. She then expands upon the generalisation encapsulating the ideal of a young man, which is still in fact her personal preference and not a generally accepted idea at all: ‘his (a young man’s) eagerness … should know no moderation.’ She has made her own love of extremes into a concept known to be universally accepted. This is very wonky thinking. In fact, it isn’t thinking at all: it is an effusion of feeling. It is Marianne making the personal universal. She does so again when she goes with Willoughby to Allenham: it was not improper because she enjoyed it. This is a naive distortion of morality and reality and it is to cause her great distress.

“Aye, aye, I see how it will be,” said Sir John, “I see how it will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poor Brandon.”

“That is an expression, Sir John,” said Marianne, warmly, “which I particularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man,’ or ‘making a conquest,’ are the most odious of all. Their tendency (implication) is gross (unrefined) and illiberal (not well bred); and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity.”

Sir John did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed as heartily as if he did, and then replied,

“Ay, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other. Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already, and he is very well worth setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling about and spraining of ankles.”

‘Set your cap at him’ was a newly-coined and vulgar colloquial expression of the time, meaning that a predatory woman would try to ‘catch’ a man. This, of course, is considered extremely immodest by the Dashwoods. None of them would dream of setting out to ‘catch’ a man. Ironically, Willoughby sets out to amuse himself with Marianne, rather than the other way about – perhaps his enjoyment of hunting and shooting suggests that he is the predatory one. Sir John usually speaks in a colloquial way; both Elinor and Marianne speak in a more formal way, though Marianne’s speech often contains more words from contemporary literature and ideas than her sister’s does.

It seems to me that Marianne is being extremely impolite to Sir John. However irritating he is, he is her host and has provided her family with somewhere to live. She says to him: ‘I abhor (detest) every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man,’ or ‘making a conquest,’ are the most odious of all. Their tendency (implication) is gross (unrefined) and illiberal (not well bred); and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity.” In other words, she tells him that she detests his vocabulary which is ‘common-place’, ‘gross and illiberal’ and generally unclever. Surely this is outrageous; and she is only sixteen.

Sir John had defined Willoughby as being as ‘good a kind of fellow as ever lived’ because he shot and rode. His second definition of the idea of ‘a good fellow’ is one who dances well into the small hours and is up early to hunt. What Marianne notices in this description of Willoughby is ‘his eagerness … should know no moderation.’ (The eagerness in this example is an eagerness to dance late and start hunting early.) But to the 18th century mind, to ‘know no moderation’ is abhorrent. Moderation is key to 18th century thought, hence the Romantic rebellion against the notion. Later, we discover what Willoughby’s lack of moderation entails: he has seduced Colonel Brandon’s ward and left her pregnant and unprovided for. Lack of moderation can lead to immoral conduct (it does in Lydia’s case in Pride and Prejudice).

Unabashed by Mrs Dashwood’s and Marianne’s reproofs, Sir John continues. “Ay, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other. Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already, and he is very well worth setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling about and spraining of ankles.” His ideas are distasteful to the Dashwoods: he talks of young women’s ‘conquests’ and advises the young women that Colonel Brandon is ‘very well worth setting your cap at’ (that’s to say, he is quite a matrimonial prize, with his house, estate and money). What Sir John refers to as ‘this tumbling about and spraining of ankles,’ is a pseudo-avuncular way of speaking, I think. You only tumble about if you are young and heedless. It suggests that he is not altogether taking them seriously. This in a world where men were to be taken seriously and women were very much second-class citizens. To tumble was also slang for having sex with, and although Jane Austen is most unlikely to use words with a sexual connotation, there is still the memory of this meaning. This lends support to Isobel Armstrong’s interpretation of Marianne’s fall on the hillside as suggestive of a moral fall. Or at least of laying herself open to a moral fall, as she does in her later unchaperoned behaviour with Willoughby.

I wonder, too, whether it is possible to see something almost akin to sexual penetration in Willoughby’s carrying Marianne ‘into the house with so little previous formality’ though ‘the gate … which had been left open.’ Mrs Dashwood and Elinor are amazed, and sanction the intrusion – indeed, thank him for his help. But Willoughby is obtruding very suddenly into the secluded world of the four women. And it is an entrance that he enthusiastically follows up with his subsequent visits and his stretching, or breaching of the conventions with Marianne. We learn later that he breached much more than conventions with Colonel Brandon’s ward. Whatever interpretation you put upon his rescue of Marianne, he is certainly an experienced seducer and she an innocent and very young woman.

Susan Morgan remarks: ‘Marianne’s notions of pure taste prompt her to tell Sir John, “I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man’ or ‘making a conquest’ are the most odious of all.” We notice that these dislikes have to be expressed in terms such as ‘abhor’ and ‘odious,’ choices which are themselves so exaggerated as to be clichés.’ (Susan Morgan, ‘Polite Lies: The Veiled Heroine of Sense and Sensibility’,Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31, September 1976). Thus Marianne is condemned out of her own mouth. It just so happens that her common-place phrases are different from Sir John’s. Further irony follows, as Susan Morgan points out in the same article. Sir John tells her about Willoughby’s ‘nicest little black bitch of a pointer’ which Marianne thinks is quite beside the point. ‘It will turn out that the man whose language Marianne has such contempt for has told her more than she knows. Sir John’s apparently irrelevant and silly information about Willoughby’s riding, shooting, and hounds is a telling description of his “pursuits, his talents and genius.” ‘

Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 introduce and juxtapose the two men who are interested in Marianne: Colonel Brandon, the faithful lover, contrasted with Willoughby, the faithless lover.

Chapter 10

Willoughby

Marianne’s preserver, as Margaret, with more elegance than precision, styled Willoughby, called at the cottage early the next morning to make his personal enquiries. He was received by Mrs. Dashwood with more than politeness; with a kindness which Sir John’s account of him and her own gratitude prompted; and every thing that passed during the visit tended to assure him of the sense, elegance, mutual affection, and domestic comfort of the family to whom accident had now introduced him. Of their personal charms he had not required a second interview to be convinced.

The Cambridge University Press edition of the novel tells us that ‘preserver’ is a ‘cliché of popular fiction found in a Lady’s Magazine tale, ‘The Shipwreck’ (1794). The heroine, a Miss Brandon, is rescued from drowning by a Mr Willoughby: ‘Her preserver appeared, and announced himself to be Willoughby, that Willoughby who … would not hesitate to encounter a thousand times the same danger he had now braved to shield her from harm.’ Past copies of the Lady’s Magazine were available by the year in bound editions in the circulating libraries.’
(Sense and Sensibility, edited by Edward Copeland, CUP, 2006)

What the Dashwood women bring to their household was described at the beginning of Chapter 1. Here we hear more of what it is like to be in their company; no wonder Willoughby enjoys it so much, quite apart from the loveliness and enthusiasm of Marianne herself. Mrs Dashwood’s gratitude prompts her to receive him with kindness, and the whole family display ‘sense, elegance, mutual affection’ which leads to ‘domestic comfort.’ Willoughby later tells Elinor (somewhat self-pityingly) that with the wife he has chosen, ‘Domestic happiness is out of the question’. (Vol III chapter VIII) Jane Austen has an eye for the details of domestic atmosphere: Fanny Price’s parents live in fractious chaos in Mansfield Park; Anne Elliot delights in the warm-hearted teamwork of the Harvilles in Persuasion but is less happy at Christmas with ‘a domestic hurricane’, which to Mrs Musgrove constitutes a ‘little quiet cheerfulness at home’.

Miss Dashwood had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure. Marianne was still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister’s, in having the advantage of height, was more striking; and her face was so lovely, that when in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her skin was very brown, but, from its transparency, her complexion was uncommonly brilliant; her features were all good; her smile was sweet and attractive; and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardly be seen without delight. From Willoughby their expression was at first held back, by the embarrassment which the remembrance of his assistance created. But when this passed away, when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare, that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.

We now see Elinor and Marianne’s appearance through Willoughby’s eyes. Perhaps it tells us something about him that he particularly notices their looks. Marianne is really lovely; Jane Austen writes, ‘when in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens.’ Cant is ‘a stock phrase that is much affected at the time, or is repeated as a matter of habit or form’. (Oxford English Dictionary)

At first Marianne does not look at Willoughby; she is embarrassed by the unusual circumstances of their first meeting. But, we are told, ‘when this passed away, when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare, that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation…’. The moment of her first looking at him is delayed by a series of clauses starting ‘when’:
‘when this passed away,
when her spirits became collected,
when she saw …
when she heard him declare,
she gave him such a look of approbation …
And apparently, when anyone sees her eyes, ‘which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardly be seen without delight.’

So, even before they start talking to one another, Marianne has let him know that he is a very acceptable and desirable young man. James Fordyce, in hisSermons To Young Women (1766), would have been rather alarmed at Marianne’s behaviour. ‘If aught on earth can present the image of celestial excellence in its softest array, it is surely an accomplished Woman, in whom purity and meekness, intelligence and modesty, mingle their charms. But when I speak on this subject, need I tell you, that men of the best sense have been usually averse to the thought of marrying a witty female?’ Marianne, to be sure, exhibits intelligence, but maybe purity, meekness and modesty have been breached by her expressive glance. There is a link to Fordyce’s original at www.bl.uk/collection-items/conduct-book-for-women

Marianne takes it for granted that, as Willoughby is a ‘gentleman’ with apparently ‘perfect good-breeding’, he will behave as a gentleman is expected to. He will be aware of his social responsibilities. As a gentleman, these would have included a concept of 18th century chivalry: a gentleman did not trifle with a young woman’s affections; if he showed interest in her, it must presuppose honourable intentions towards her. In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, having unconsciously awakened expectations in Louisa Musgrove and her family, feels himself duty bound to honour them. It is not until Louisa attaches herself to another man that he considers himself free to approach Anne.

Unfortunately, this ‘frankness’ that Marianne perceives in Willoughby is a quality that exists only in her imagination, as later events make clear. This is an instance of Jane Austen’s irony – that the certainties of a sixteen and a half year old turn out to be tragically unreal – being a very sympathetic irony.

It was only necessary to mention any favourite amusement to engage her to talk. She could not be silent when such points were introduced, and she had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books; her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each — or if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm; and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

Jane Austen emphasises the speed with which Marianne discovers in Willoughby the realisation of her ideal. ‘It was only necessary … She could not be silent … she had neither shyness nor reserve…. They speedily discovered …’. And already, Marianne is taking the lead in the conversation. ‘Encouraged… she proceeded to question him …her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight … ‘. Then they find that they agree, and they agree in a Romantic way, as the words ‘so rapturous a delight’ and ‘idolised’ show. ‘The same books … were idolised by each …’. If they do disagree, Marianne is the one who initiates arguments and decisions and enthusiasms to persuade Willoughby: ‘the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm; and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with … familiarity.’ From Willoughby’s point of view, all he has to do is follow her lead. His agreeing with her arguments seems to be somehow affected by ‘the brightness of her eyes’. He enjoys her company but, as we soon discover, is experienced in seduction. He has only to ‘acquiesce in all her decisions,’ for her to perceive him as a soul mate.

The CUP edition of the novel tells us that ‘he acquiesced in all her decisions’ is a ‘seductive strategy taken by … the villain of Charlotte Lennox’s novel The Female Quixote (1752).’ And ‘her enthusiasm’ is ‘a term suggesting rapturous intensity and allied with the still strong eighteenth-century association of the word with fancied inspiration, ill-regulated religious emotion, even frenzy.’ In other words, a word to beware of.

Patricia Meyer Spacks writes: ‘From this account, Marianne appears to be the source of all the opinions that she and Willoughby share; he takes his cues from her. She in effect invents the ideal young man, in her own image.’
(Patricia Meyer Spacks, Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, Harvard University Press, 2013)

I think Austen is sounding a warning when she writes, ‘long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.’ Familiarity is ‘absence of ceremony; free or unrestrained interaction; friendly informality (OED)’. Another meaning has sexual connotations which I can hardly think are appropriate here, although Willoughby does have form in that direction. Surely, at a very first meeting, and long before it ends (a morning call usually lasted for fifteen minutes but this visit is evidently much longer), Marianne should not be conversing with ‘familiarity’? Her mother and sister are present, but she is inviting danger in so quickly overstepping the social conventions. When Willoughby has left, Marianne speaks with scorn of such conventions, ‘every common-place notion of decorum’.

It is perhaps for this sort of reason – to guard themselves against seducers’ wiles – that conduct books advised young ladies to behave along the lines of being ‘reserved, spiritless, dull’ that Marianne so scornfully dismisses. Marianne’s behaviour is not promiscuous but it is a little forward – delightfully so – but it does lay her open to exploitation by the experienced Willoughby. As he admits to Elinor much later, when he thinks that Marianne is dying,

‘I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance, than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire, more pleasantly than I had ever done before. Your sister’s lovely person, and interesting manners, could not but please me; and her behaviour to me almost from the first was of a kind – it is astonishing, when I reflect on what it was, and what she was, that my heart should have been so insensible! But at first, I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection.’ (Chapter 44)

and

‘…it had been for some time my intention to re-establish my circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune. To attach myself to your sister, therefore, was not a thing to be thought of; and with a meanness, selfishness, cruelty, which no indignant, no contemptuous look, even of yours, Miss Dashwood, can ever reprobate (disapprove) too much – I was acting in this manner, trying to engage her regard, without a thought of returning it. But one thing may be said for me: even in that horrid state of selfish vanity, I did not know the extent of the injury I meditated, because I did not then know what it was to love.’ (Chapter 44)

“Well, Marianne,” said Elinor, as soon as he had left them, “for ONE morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby’s opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported, under such extraordinary despatch (speed) of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages, and then you can have nothing farther to ask.”—

Marianne evidently enjoys contemporary poets. She and Willoughby have discussed William Cowper (1731 – 1800) and Walter Scott (1771 – 1832). Scott’s very popular poem, ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ was published in 1805 and features romantic love. ‘The silken cord, the silken tie, / Which heart to heart, and mind to mind, / In body and in soul can bind.’ Pope is clearly considered a very old-fashioned and unRomantic poet by Marianne.

The cult of the picturesque was very popular at this time – hence Austen’s irony on the subject of the unpicturesque nature of Barton Cottage in Chapter 6. One of its chief exponents, Gilpin, argued for ‘the picturesque in nature, its ruggedness and irregularity, its scenes of ‘high, low, steep, and rocky’. Edward Ferrars teases Marianne on the subject later, she being an ardent proponent of the picturesque.

Second marriages were an issue in contemporary literary debate. Maria Edgeworth’s novel, Belinda (1801), presents a heroine who balances between faithfulness to her first love and marrying a second attachment. It is also a central issue in Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1753-4). An extract from Chapter 19 of Belinda sheds light on the sort of ideals Marianne embraces.

‘First loves,’ continued Mr Percival, ‘are not necessarily more foolish than others; but the chances are certainly against them. From poetry or romance, young people usual form their earlier ideas of love, before they have actually felt the passion; and the image which they have in their own minds of the beau ideal (perfect beauty) is cast upon the first objects they afterward behold….. Deluded mortals are in ecstasy whilst the illusion lasts, and in despair when it vanishes.’

… ‘But,’ said she, ‘do not you think that this prejudice, as I am willing to allow it to be, in favour of first loves, may in our sex (women) be advantageous: Even when a woman may be convinced that she ought not to indulge a first love, should she not be prevented by delicacy from thinking of a second?’

And so on.

The description of Marianne’s conversation with Willoughby shows how her thoughts are taken almost entirely from what she has read, and not from life.

“Elinor,” cried Marianne, “is this fair? is this just? are my ideas so scanty? 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.”

James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women advised such a course of action as Marianne here despises. The issue of decorum is raised and discussed here – an important topic in all Jane Austen’s novels, as both Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse learn. The Oxford English Dictionary defines decorum as ‘Propriety of behaviour; what is fitting or proper in behaviour or demeanour, what is in accordance with the standard of good breeding; the avoidance of anything unseemly or offensive in manner.’ It’s a word that was first used in this sense in the 16th century, and true decorum is hard to achieve. True decorum demands not only outward observance of the rules of polite society but includes thoughts and feelings that give rise to such good behaviour and decorous actions.

David M Shapard notes: ‘The commonplace notion of decorum she probably means is that limiting introductory visits to fifteen minutes, in which banalities are most exchanged’. (At the end of the novel, Elinor talks fixedly about the weather to Edward.) ‘But her behaviour has also violated more serious principles of contemporary decorum. One is the courtesy to include all in the conversation. … Another is female modesty and caution…’.
(David M Shapard,The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, Anchor Books, 2011)

“My love,” said her mother, “you must not be offended with Elinor — she was only in jest. I should scold her myself, if she were capable of wishing to check the delight of your conversation with our new friend.”— Marianne was softened in a moment.

Willoughby, on his side, gave every proof of his pleasure in their acquaintance, which an evident wish of improving it could offer. He came to them every day. To enquire after Marianne was at first his excuse; but the encouragement of his reception, to which every day gave greater kindness, made such an excuse unnecessary before it had ceased to be possible, by Marianne’s perfect recovery. She was confined for some days to the house; but never had any confinement been less irksome. Willoughby was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners. He was exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart, for with all this, he joined not only a captivating person, but a natural ardour (enthusiasm, passion) of mind which was now roused and increased by the example of her own, and which recommended him to her affection beyond every thing else.

His society became gradually her most exquisite (intense) enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted (lacked).

In Mrs. Dashwood’s estimation he was as faultless as in Marianne’s; and Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted her sister, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting (treating with a lack of respect) too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want (lack) of caution which Elinor could not approve, in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.

Marianne began now to perceive that the desperation which had seized her at sixteen and a half, of ever seeing a man who could satisfy her ideas of perfection, had been rash and unjustifiable. Willoughby was all that her fancy had delineated in that unhappy hour and in every brighter period, as capable of attaching her; and his behaviour declared his wishes to be in that respect as earnest, as his abilities were strong.

Her mother too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised, by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it; and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Edward and Willoughby.

In Chapter 9 we learned that Willoughby’s ‘person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story.’ Here, he is ‘all that her fancy had delineated’. The word ‘fancy’ is one to beware of: what is Willoughby really like? Jane Austen’s description of him makes it clear that it is his appearance, his superficial attributes, that so entrance Marianne. Like Wickham after him (inPride and Prejudice) his appearance disguises much less likeable qualities.

Mary Wollstonecraft writes of ‘that sensibility of which self is the centre’ and urges reason as a means of controlling sensibility. (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792) Marianne resists all Elinor’s attempts at reason, in favour of that sensibility of which self is the centre. Ironically, she fails to see Colonel Brandon’s true love for her. Colonel Brandon is the man with the really Romantic life-history. Marianne, however, is entirely taken up with and taken in by his polar opposite, Willoughby.

Colonel Brandon’s partiality for Marianne, which had so early been discovered by his friends, now first became perceptible to Elinor, when it ceased to be noticed by them. Their attention and wit were drawn off to his more fortunate rival; and the raillery (teasing) which the other had incurred(experienced) before any partiality arose, was removed when his feelings began really to call for the ridicule so justly annexed(added to, brought on itself) to sensibility. Elinor was obliged, though unwillingly, to believe that the sentiments which Mrs. Jennings had assigned him for her own satisfaction, were now actually excited by her sister; and that however a general resemblance of disposition between the parties might forward the affection of Mr. Willoughby, an equally striking opposition of character was no hindrance to the regard of Colonel Brandon. She saw it with concern; for what could a silent man of five and thirty hope, when opposed to a very lively one of five and twenty? and as she could not even wish him successful, she heartily wished him indifferent. She liked him — in spite of his gravity and reserve, she beheld in him an object of interest. His manners, though serious, were mild; and his reserve appeared rather the result of some oppression of spirits than of any natural gloominess of temper. Sir John had dropped hints of past injuries and disappointments, which justified her belief of his being an unfortunate man, and she regarded him with respect and compassion.

Elinor the artist is constantly mentioned as seeing and noticing what is outside her. In this paragraph, Elinor sees Colonel Brandon and his partiality for Marianne. It ‘became perceptible (apparent) to Elinor’, ‘She saw it with concern’, ‘she beheld in him’, ‘she regarded him’ (looked upon him). The others make assumptions: ‘had so early been discovered by his friends’; Elinor sees the truth except, of course, very understandably, in her own affairs.

Just as we saw Elinor and Marianne through Willoughby’s eyes, we now see Colonel Brandon’s through Elinor’s. This description of him immediately follows the long account of Willoughby, and Marianne’s attachment to him. This in itself highlights the contrast between the two men, and the contrast is developed through Elinor’s perceptions. The description of the two men is set out in the same form of words three times:

general resemblance of disposition between the parties might forward the affection of Mr. Willoughby, an equally striking opposition of character was no hindrance to the regard of Colonel Brandon

a silent man of five and thirty
a very lively one of five and twenty?

she could not even wish him successful,
she heartily wished him indifferent.

Ironically, Colonel Brandon, with his ‘gravity and reserve’ and his passion-killing flannel waistcoat, is dismissed by Marianne. Someone who married a man of thirty-five, she thinks, could only consider being his nurse. But he is the Romantic man, not Willoughby or Edward Ferrars. He is the man with the Romantic past, the details of which would not be amiss in a sentimental novel. Again, appearances mislead.

Perhaps she pitied and esteemed him the more because he was slighted by Willoughby and Marianne, who, prejudiced against him for being neither lively nor young, seemed resolved to undervalue his merits.

“Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”

We have by now heard quite a lot about Willoughby, but this is the first time we have heard him speak. It is not an altogether edifying experience. It is an example of what Elinor has already noticed: ‘slighting (treating with a lack of respect) too easily the forms of worldly propriety’. His first pronouncement is epigrammatic (an epigram is a short witty saying), witty, but unkind – witty at the expense of a good man. Wickham speaks in a similar way about Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. In Jane Austen’s novels, however charming a man is, if he speaks ill of another he will turn out to be the baddie.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that Willoughby is scoring a cheap point by making generalisations. He also structures his pronouncement to make it seem conspicuously and speciously clever.
the kind of man … whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about;

whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to

‘The kind of man’ (generalisation) whom ‘every body’ / ‘all’ contrasted with ‘nobody’ (repeated). ‘Every body’ and ‘all’ and ‘nobody’ are also generalisations, and ‘nobody cares about’, ‘nobody remembers to talk to’, erase the praise in ‘speaks well of’ and ‘are delighted to see.’ In fact, Willoughby should be very glad that nobody talks to Colonel Brandon, if indeed this is true, as Colonel Brandon will shortly know the truth about Willoughby. The generalisations that Willoughby makes here condemn Colonel Brandon (but ironically, condemn Willoughby for making them in the first place about so good a man).

“That is exactly what I think of him,” cried Marianne.

“Do not boast of it, however,” said Elinor, “for it is injustice in both of you. He is highly esteemed by all the family at the park, and I never see him myself without taking pains to converse with him.”

Elinor does not make easy generalisations. She takes particular examples that refute what Willoughby has said in his generalities. First she points out the injustice to Colonel Brandon in Willoughby’s remark. Then she gives two specific (rather than generalised) examples, first, of people who think well of him and secondly who like to talk to him.
‘He is highly esteemed by all the family at the park, and
I never see him myself without taking pains to converse with him.’

“That he is patronised (supported) by YOU,” replied Willoughby, “is certainly in his favour; but as for the esteem of the others, it is a reproach in itself. Who would submit to the indignity of being approved by such a woman as Lady Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, that could command the indifference of any body else?”

Willoughby takes issue with Elinor in a semi-flattering manner. ‘That he is patronised by you … is certainly in his favour.’ He then takes refuge in continuing his attack on Colonel Brandon; he rudely describes the approval of Lady Middleton and Mrs Jennings as an ‘indignity’ (loss of one’s dignity). Again, he expresses himself in generalities: ‘Who would submit to … that could command …?’ and he persuasively makes his attack in the form of a rhetorical question. He attacks with emotional weapons such as rhetorical questions and flattery; Elinor with truth.

“But perhaps the abuse (insults) of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for the regard (esteem) of Lady Middleton and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust.”

“In defence of your protégé you can even be saucy (cheeky).

Elinor can be both clever and truthful. Adopting Willoughby’s rhetoric, and expressing herself considerably more wittily than he, she says:
the abuse (insults) of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for
the regard (esteem) of Lady Middleton and her mother.
In her phrasing of Elinor’s riposte, Austen exactly parallels the opinions of ‘yourself and Marianne’, ‘Lady Middleton and her mother.’ Thus she neatly and tellingly highlights Willoughby’s and Marianne’s abuse by contrasting it with the regard of Lady Middleton and her mother. Even more neatly, she then converts abuse into praise.
‘If their praise is censure (criticism),
your censure may be praise,
for they are not more undiscerning (discriminating, refined),
than you are prejudiced and unjust.”
First she lands a punch on Willoughby by pointing out that he has shot himself in the foot with his bad-mouthing witticism: his criticism can be interpreted as praise. She makes this attack through chiasmus, which in terms of rhetorical polish far outstrips his rhetorical question. Elinor follows this up by proving the truth of her observation, saying that Willoughby is certainly as prejudiced and unfair towards Colonel Brandon as Lady Middleton and her mother are (by his own admission) unrefined. Willoughby is temporarily silenced, and Marianne takes up his defence by calling her sister ‘saucy’.

“My protégé, as you call him, is a sensible man; and sense will always have attractions for me. Yes, Marianne, even in a man between thirty and forty. He has seen a great deal of the world; has been abroad, has read, and has a thinking mind. I have found him capable of giving me much information on various subjects; and he has always answered my inquiries with readiness of good-breeding and good nature.”

In calling Colonel Brandon ‘sensible’ and saying that ‘sense will always have attractions for me’ Elinor is implying that what Willoughby and Marianne have said about Colonel Brandon has little to do with sense. She also implies that nonsense such as Willoughby and Marianne have been spouting is not attractive to her.

“That is to say,” cried Marianne contemptuously, “he has told you, that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome.”

“He WOULD have told me so, I doubt not, had I made any such inquiries, but they happened to be points on which I had been previously informed.”

“Perhaps,” said Willoughby, “his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.”

The notes to the CUP edition of the novel tells us that this is ‘a crudely biased criticism of Colonel Brandon’s colonialist career in its mocking reference to ‘nabobs’, those newly enriched and allegedly corrupt returnees from India to Britain, ‘gold mohrs’, the coins used for British trade in India and ‘palanquins’, the luxurious and extravagant covered litters employed in carrying the nabobs about.’

Gillian Russell notes that, ‘By suggesting that Brandon’s experience of the East would have included knowledge of ‘nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins,’ that is, the trappings of oriental corruption, Willoughby implies that the Colonel’s military service was motivated by self-aggrandisement.’ The truth, we learn much later in the novel, is quite the opposite. Willoughby does not hesitate to make denigratory suggestions about Colonel Brandon, whereas Colonel Brandon is silent about Willoughby’s actions until he has proved himself a deceiver and seducer.

(Gillian Russell, ‘The Army, the Navy, and the Napoleonic Wars’; A Companion to Jane Austen (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture) edited by Claudia L Johnson and Clara Tuite, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

“I may venture to say that HIS observations have stretched much further than your candour. But why should you dislike him?”

“I do not dislike him. I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has every body’s good word, and nobody’s notice; who, has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year.”

Elinor voices the elephant in the room when she asks Willoughby, ‘why should you dislike him?’ But of course, this is the last question that Willoughby would want to answer. He does not deal in truth. So he uses bathos to criticise Colonel Brandon again. He begins as if praising him: “I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man …’ and then undermines the praise by saying that he has more money than he can spend, too much spare time and that he looks smart.

“Add to which,” cried Marianne, “that he has neither genius, taste, nor spirit. That his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression.”

You can already see the bad influence of Willoughby on Marianne, whom he has encouraged to give voice to criticism of a good neighbour, a considerable breach of decorum. Wickham had the same effect on Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Marianne expresses her emotions in lists of negatives, with cumulative but not rational effect:
neither genius, taste, nor spirit … no brilliancy … no ardour … no expression.
Essentially, it seems, Colonel Brandon’s major fault is that he is not Lord Byron.

“You decide on his imperfections so much in the mass,” replied Elinor, “and so much on the strength of your own imagination, that the commendation I am able to give of him is comparatively cold and insipid. I can only pronounce him to be a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart.”

Elinor retaliates with a list of her own, having taken aim at the alleged ‘imperfections’ of Colonel Brandon decided upon ‘so much in the mass’ and arrived at ‘so much on the strength of your own imagination.’ Elinor’s list of good qualities is much more moderate than Marianne’s, expressed in terms of positives, not negatives, and also more dependable: ‘a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart.’ Willoughby’s criticisms of Colonel Brandon have not been sensible (based on sense, that is); they have been based on dislike. Willoughby has not proved himself well-bred in making these criticisms, nor well-informed; his behaviour has not been gentlemanly (and is shortly to be still less so) nor amiable in feeling.

Elinor, with the utmost decorum, has made it clear that she is implacably opposed to Willoughby’s words and behaviour. Willoughby’s word ‘disarm’ reveals that he recognises that a war of sorts has been declared (arms are weapons). His ‘three unanswerable reasons for disliking Colonel Brandon’ (he admits that he does) are unanswerable because they are too ridiculous to allow an answer. Even after this attempt at laughing off his dislike of the man, he is drawn into repeating his strong feeling, ‘the privilege of disliking him as much as ever.’

“Miss Dashwood,” cried Willoughby, “you are now using (treating) me unkindly. You are endeavouring to disarm me by reason, and to convince me against my will. But it will not do. You shall find me as stubborn as you can be artful. I have three unanswerable reasons for disliking Colonel Brandon; he threatened me with rain when I wanted it to be fine; he has found fault with the hanging of my curricle, and I cannot persuade him to buy my brown mare. If it will be any satisfaction to you, however, to be told, that I believe his character to be in other respects irreproachable, I am ready to confess it. And in return for an acknowledgment, which must give me some pain, you cannot deny me the privilege of disliking him as much as ever.”

A curricle was a fashionable two-wheeled carriage, drawn by two horses. Apparently the ‘hanging’ was the elegant suspension of the body of the curricle on its springs. John Thorpe, in Northanger Abbey, is similarly absorbed by his curricle: ‘curricle-hung you see … the iron-work as good as new, or better.’ Absorption in ones curricle earns a man a black mark in Jane Austen’s novels, almost on a par with going to London for a haircut (Frank Churchill in Emma).

More damning are the ridiculous reasons Willoughby gives for disliking Colonel Brandon. These are, in effect, a witty way of saying that he won’t tell anyone why he doesn’t like Colonel Brandon. In fact, as we later learn, there are very serious reasons for two men’s mutual hostility and not long after this they are involved in a duel with one another.

Jane Austen uses a very similar plot-line in Pride and Prejudice: the heroine is the focus of both the attractive villain and the good man who initially appears less charming. And in both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice the two men who vie for the heroine’s favours have history: in both cases, the charming young man has wronged a sister / ward of the good man. Austen makes the heroine’s choice between the two men a part of Elizabeth’s education of the heart in Pride and Prejudice. Whereas, in Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon gradually comes to the fore when Willoughby is off the scene. Marianne marries Colonel Brandon as a result of a confederacy against her, rather than a carefully delineated change of heart towards him. Her change of heart towards her husband is tacked on in one sentence at the very end of the novel.

The question to ask is, does Willoughby intend to communicate with Elinor in this last paragraph? And the answer seems to be, no; instead he is (wittily) blocking her attempt at communication. In fact, he is showing off his wit, moving the spotlight onto himself as a wit and away from a discussion of Colonel Brandon’s merits.

from Chapter 11

Many social entertainments are provided by the Middletons. Marianne is obviously in love with Willoughby. Elinor and Colonel Brandon talk about Marianne’s ideas.

Elinor finds the evenings spent at Barton Park fairly unexhilarating. Marianne is taken up with Willoughby, Mrs Jennings talks a lot and repeats herself and Lady Middleton has nothing much to say, and certainly nothing of any interest.

“In Colonel Brandon alone, of all her new acquaintance, did Elinor find a person who could in any degree claim the respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship, or give pleasure as a companion. Willoughby was out of the question. Her admiration and regard, even her sisterly regard, was all his own; but he was a lover; his attentions were wholly Marianne’s, and a far less agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing. Colonel Brandon, unfortunately for himself, had no such encouragement to think only of Marianne, and in conversing with Elinor, he found the greatest consolation for the total indifference of her sister.

“Elinor’s compassion for him increased, as she had reason to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already been known by him. This suspicion was given by some words which accidentally dropt from him one evening at the Park, when they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed on Marianne, and, after a silence of some minutes, he said with a faint smile, “Your sister, I understand, does not approve of second attachments.”

“No,” replied Elinor, “her opinions are all romantic.”

“Or rather, as I believe, she considers them impossible to exist.”

“I believe she does. But how she contrives it without reflecting on the character of her own father, who had himself two wives, I know not. A few years, however, will settle her opinions on the reasonable basis of common sense and observation; and then they may be more easy to define and to justify than they now are, by anybody but herself.”

“This will probably be the case,” he replied; “and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.”

While Elinor’s dry humour wonders how Marianne can account for her own existence without realising that her father had two wives, Colonel Brandon is much more indulgent towards the extreme views of youth, ‘the prejudices of a young mind’ as he calls them. He tries to camouflage his growing interest in Marianne by speaking of ‘a young mind’, but as his eyes have been ‘fixed on Marianne’ while she has been dancing, this is not very convincing.

“I cannot agree with you there,” said Elinor. “There are inconveniences attending such feelings as Marianne’s, which all the charms of enthusiasm and ignorance of the world cannot atone for. Her systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as her greatest possible advantage.”

Elinor cannot be doing with Marianne’s wholehearted embracing of Romantic ‘systems’ or doctrines. She evidently sees them as being unrealistic, hence her hope that Marianne will eventually make a ‘better acquaintance with the world’. Also, Marianne’s ideas lead her to set ‘propriety at nought’, as we shall see in the next chapter. Taken too far, this can lead not only to a ruined reputation but also to selfishness.

After a short pause he resumed the conversation by saying —

“Does your sister make no distinction in her objections against a second attachment? or is it equally criminal in everybody? Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances, to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?”

“Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the [minutiæ] of her principles. I only know that I never yet heard her admit any instance of a second attachment’s being pardonable.”

When Colonel Brandon resumes the conversation, he is overtly talking about Marianne, ‘your sister’. He is also overtly talking about ‘a second attachment’. So his wishes are made clear from an early stage in the novel. He seems to have a sense of humour, too: ‘is it (a second attachment) equally criminal in everybody?’ The idea of putting someone behind bars for falling in love a second time shows a wit that can tease Marianne’s views with affection. Colonel Brandon then attempts to mask his questions behind generalities, ‘those who have been disappointed’. However, he is remarkably specific about the reasons for the disappointment: ‘whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances…’. Is he teasing Marianne again when he asks whether everyone, after a failed first love, is expected to be ‘equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?’ – that is, as indifferent as Marianne claims would be the case for her.

Elinor takes up Colonel Brandon’s metaphor of crime when she tells him that, ‘I never yet heard her admit any instance of a second attachment’s being pardonable.’

“This,” said he, “cannot hold (she cannot continue to believe this); but a change, a total change of sentiments — No, no, do not desire it, — for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change — from a series of unfortunate circumstances” — — Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures which might not otherwise have entered Elinor’s head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and [everything] established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.

Colonel Brandon holds firm to his wish that ‘a young mind’ should retain its ‘romantic refinements.’ He then ventures into the realm of the personal. ‘I speak from experience. I once knew a lady …’. As he reaches the wretched part of his narrative, ‘a series of unfortunate circumstances…’ he cannot continue. It is not clear whether this is because he is overwhelmed by emotion or because he feels it is not the moment to divulge a memory that has scandalous elements. But for whatever reason, it seems a little hard on the part of Marvin Mudrick to say of him that ‘grave and silent’ is the liveliest he ever gets. He is obviously a man of deep feeling, attracted to Marianne, indulgent towards her naivety and with a sad history himself.

Chapter 12

Marianne’s responses to Willoughby seem to Elinor unwise. The identity of the man Elinor loves is half-revealed.

As Elinor and Marianne were walking together the next morning the latter communicated a piece of news to her sister, which in spite of all that she knew before of Marianne’s imprudence (lack of care for the consequences of an action)and want of thought, surprised her by its extravagant testimony (proof) of both. Marianne told her, with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated (suited, fitted) to carry a woman. Without considering that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them, she had accepted the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.

We hear Marianne’s news as Elinor hears it, although it is in reported, not direct, speech. That comes in the next paragraph. But in this opening paragraph, the news comes tumbling out just as Marianne will have expressed it, ‘with the greatest delight’ and ‘in raptures’.

“Willoughby had given her a horse,
one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was
exactly calculated to carry a woman.

Marianne gives more and more information, excitement mounting: the glorious details about the horse accumulate in number and intensity. And the details about the horse are actually all about Willoughby: ‘one that he had bred himself on his estate’ and which somehow seems to be especially for her, ‘exactly calculated to carry a woman’.

This is immediately followed by what are evidently Elinor’s considerations of all the practical drawbacks (with moral implications in their being overlooked), in a similar list, and mounting in the problems presented.

Without considering
that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse,
that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant,
and keep a servant to ride it,
and after all, build a stable to receive them….

The paragraph ends by returning to Marianne’s ecstatic outpourings.

she had accepted the present without hesitation,
and told her sister of it in raptures.

Then we hear Marianne directly.

“He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for it,” she added, “and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the delight of a gallop on some of these downs.”

Most unwilling was she to awaken from such a dream of felicity (happiness) to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and for some time she refused to submit to them. As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for him; he might always get one at the park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. Elinor then ventured to doubt the propriety of her receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so lately (recently) known to her. This was too much.

The expense of keeping a horse would be considerable, in fact, prohibitive, and Marianne has not even thought of it. A servant (a groom) would be needed to look after the horse and to accompany Marianne on rides – so a second horse would be required for him, and a stable for the two horses.

Elinor looks first at the impracticalities of keeping a horse, and then the breach of behaviour that is involved in accepting such a present from a man Marianne has only recently met.

Jane Austen describes Marianne’s rapturous plans as a ‘dream of felicity’, and you can hear in Marianne’s speech the impetuous excitement of her ideas: the horse is to come ‘immediately’, ‘we will ride every day,’ and she encourages Elinor to ‘imagine … the delight of a gallop.’ As so often, she states as certainties, ‘we will ride every day,’ things that are only ‘dreams’. ‘We will ride every day,’ and, ‘You shall share its use with me,’ demonstrate very determined usage of the future tense. Simple future would involve We shall and You will. Facts are airily dismissed; it will cost only ‘a trifle’, the necessary groom can ride ‘any horse’ including perhaps one ‘at the park’ and the horse can be stabled in ‘the merest shed.’

We don’t hear Elinor’s account of the difficulties attendant on accepting Willoughby’s gift. We hear Marianne’s very reluctant reception of them.

Most unwilling was she to awaken from such a dream of felicity (happiness)

to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair;

she refused to submit to them.

As so often, the clauses are patterned so that the similarities and differences are clear. Marianne has first ‘to awaken from … a dream of felicity’. Then she has ‘to comprehend all the unhappy truths’. So ‘dream’ is contrasted to ‘truths’; ‘felicity’ is contrasted with ‘unhappy’; ‘awakening from a dream’ is contrasted with understanding truth. Marianne’s response is to refuse to submit, for quite a long time. The sentence opens with ‘Most unwilling was she…’ and closes with the same reaction differently expressed, ‘for some time she refused to submit…’ Marianne’s refusal to awaken from her dream is indicated through the repetition of her original reaction at the end of the sentence. It sounds almost like a rendering in miniature of what is to happen to Marianne with the dream of felicity with Willoughby.

As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; Mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for him; he might always get one at the park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient. Marianne’s argument is in fact a rather petulant and entirely irrational list of excuses. There are a lot of modal verbs (would, might) to suggest hypothetical ways of overcoming any difficulties.
As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle;

Mamma she was sure would never object to it;
and any horse would do for HIM;
he might always get one at the park;

as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient.

Elinor’s second reason for Marianne’s refusing Willoughby’s present of a horse is the doubtful ‘propriety of her receiving such a present.’ If Marianne accepts a horse from Willoughby when they are not engaged, it will suggest that they are on closer terms than they should be. Reputation is everything for a young woman. As we later see, Willoughby and Marianne’s relationship becomes known even in London society, although they are 200 miles from London, deep in the Devonshire countryside.

You can see ‘she (Marianne) refused to submit to them’ (‘all the unhappy truths which attended (would arise from) the affair’) in two ways. One possibility is that she is a fantasist or, as Austen described Emma, an ‘imaginist’. Her feet are not on the ground. And it will take several unhappy truths, such as the betrayal of Willoughby, for her feet to arrive on the ground. Another possibility is that the life of women was one of restriction: women were considered inferior to men and were ruled by them and by a series of pronouncements on how they should behave that constricted them almost beyond bearing. The word ‘submit’ is telling here, and one can sympathise with Marianne’s desire not to submit.

“You are mistaken, Elinor,” said she warmly, “in supposing I know very little of Willoughby. I have not known him long indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and mama. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy — it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from my brother, than from Willoughby. Of John I know very little, though we have lived together for years; but of Willoughby my judgment has long been formed.”

‘You are mistaken, Elinor….
I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world …It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy –
it is disposition alone.’

This paragraph opens with several of Marianne’s questionable assertions made with all the assurance of a young woman of 16.

David M Shapard points out that for the first time Marianne here calls Mr Willoughby, Willoughby, indicating a surprising familiarity and intimacy on her part that is shortly to be matched by Willoughby calling her Marianne. To say that her judgement of Willoughby has long been formed seems a little impetuous. Marianne has not known him ‘long’.

Elinor thought it wisest to touch that point no more. She knew her sister’s temper (temperament; nature). Opposition on so tender a subject would only attach her the more to her own opinion. But by an appeal to her affection for her mother, by representing the inconveniences which that indulgent mother must draw on herself, if (as would probably be the case) she consented to this increase of establishment, Marianne was shortly subdued; and she promised not to tempt her mother to such imprudent kindness by mentioning the offer, and to tell Willoughby when she saw him next, that it must be declined.

She was faithful to her word; and when Willoughby called at the cottage, the same day, Elinor heard her express her disappointment to him in a low voice, on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side impossible. His concern however was very apparent; and after expressing it with earnestness, he added, in the same low voice — ”But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you.”

This was all overheard by Miss Dashwood; and in the whole of the sentence, in his manner of pronouncing it, and in his addressing her sister by her Christian name alone, she instantly saw an intimacy so decided, a meaning so direct, as marked a perfect agreement between them. From that moment she doubted not of their being engaged to each other; and the belief of it created no other surprise than that she, or any of their friends, should be left by tempers so frank, to discover it by accident.

To call Marianne by her first name is an intimacy on Willoughby’s part that he should not even consider unless he and Marianne are formally engaged to be married. That he uses it when they are not engaged represents a breach of decorum on his part that will be underlined by his later callous behaviour. It is all part of his plausible but untrustworthy appearance.

The horse’s name is another indicator of Willoughby’s intention of arousing emotions and expectations that he does not intend to realise. Queen Mab features in Romeo and Juliet, where she ‘gallops night by night / Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love’ in dreams ‘more inconstant than the wind.’ (Edward Copeland’s note in the CUP edition of the novel) Ros Ballaster, editor of Penguin Classics Sense and Sensibility, notes that ‘Willoughby is paying a covert compliment to Marianne in the name of the horse he has given her. Queen Mab … is the fairies’ midwife, who brings to birth men’s secret hopes in the form of dreams while they sleep.’

Willoughby seems to inhabit the same fantasy world as Marianne.
— ‘But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you.’

‘…the horse is still yours… I shall keep it only till you can claim it….. Queen Mab shall receive you.’ This is meaningless. The horse is somewhere in Somerset, presumably. Willoughby – we know later – is amusing himself with Marianne, although he does claim to entertain some more serious possibilities. However, he has no money, so even if he does entertain more serious possibilities, how would he be able to marry and keep horses? The whole thing is a pipe-dream but it leads Marianne to expect a proposal that Willoughby is not in a position to make.

Margaret related something to her the next day, which placed this matter in a still clearer light. Willoughby had spent the preceding evening with them, and Margaret, by being left some time in the parlour with only him and Marianne, had had opportunity for observations, which, with a most important face, she communicated to her eldest sister, when they were next by themselves.

“Oh, Elinor!” she cried, “I have such a secret to tell you about Marianne. I am sure she will be married to Mr. Willoughby very soon.”

“You have said so,” replied Elinor, “almost every day since they first met on High-church Down; and they had not known each other a week, I believe, before you were certain that Marianne wore his picture round her neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature of our great uncle.”

It is typical of Elinor’s dry sense of humour that she should use such ironic bathos (anticlimax). It starts with expectation – ‘you were certain that Marianne wore his picture round her neck’ – building up to a let down – ‘it turned out to be only the miniature of our great uncle.’

“But indeed this is quite another thing. I am sure they will be married very soon, for he has got a lock of her hair.”

“Take care, Margaret. It may be only the hair of some great uncle of HIS.”

“But, indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne’s. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and mama went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissors and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book.”

For Willoughby to cut off and keep a lock of Marianne’s hair could simply be a romantic gesture (although again it implies an intimacy that does not exist in fact). Later on, Lucy Steele gives Edward a ring to wear that contains a lock of her hair. But for a man to cut off a lock has erotic implications such as are explored in Pope’s poem, ‘The Rape of the Lock’ (1714).

Patricia Meyer Spacks writes: ‘The sexual vulnerability associated with sensibility is one of the novel’s understated themes.’ (Sense and Sensibility, An Annotated Edition, Harvard University Press, 2013) The story of the two Elizas makes this sexual vulnerability explicit.

For such particulars, stated on such authority, Elinor could not withhold her credit; nor was she disposed to it, for the circumstance was in perfect unison with what she had heard and seen herself.

If Marianne has allowed Willoughby more intimacy than is altogether wise or completely decorous, Elinor’s love for Edward is about to be almost exposed as well. Both sisters’ hearts will be more open to the public than will make them happy.

Margaret’s sagacity was not always displayed in a way so satisfactory to her sister. When Mrs. Jennings attacked her one evening at the park, to give the name of the young man who was Elinor’s particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great curiosity to her, Margaret answered by looking at her sister, and saying, “I must not tell, may I, Elinor?”

This of course made every body laugh; and Elinor tried to laugh too. But the effort was painful. She was convinced that Margaret had fixed on a person whose name she could not bear with composure to become a standing joke with Mrs. Jennings.

Marianne felt for her most sincerely; but she did more harm than good to the cause, by turning very red and saying in an angry manner to Margaret,

“Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right to repeat them.”

Some surprisingly violent words are to be found in this passage. ‘Mrs Jennings attacked…’; Elinor finds it ‘painful’; Marianne speaks in ‘an angry manner’. In such a society, these are strong expressions. The critic, Mark Schorer, remarked upon the ‘verbal brutalities’ in Austen’s prose, and these are some examples.

(Mark Schorer, ‘The Humiliation of Emma Woodhouse’ (1959) in Ian Watt, ed., Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall,1963)

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“I never had any conjectures about it,” replied Margaret; “it was you who told me of it yourself.”

This increased the mirth of the company, and Margaret was eagerly pressed to say something more.

Elinor’s pain and Marianne’s anger are contrasted with the ‘mirth of the company’. Such insensitivity causes extreme distress to the sisters, and serves to establish their distinction of mind and feelings.

“Oh! pray, Miss Margaret, let us know all about it,” said Mrs. Jennings. “What is the gentleman’s name?”

“I must not tell, ma’am. But I know very well what it is; and I know where he is too.”

“Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Norland to be sure. He is the curate of the parish I dare say.”

“No, THAT he is not. He is of no profession at all.”

“Margaret,” said Marianne with great warmth, “you know that all this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence.”

“Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his name begins with an F.”

Most grateful did Elinor feel to Lady Middleton for observing, at this moment, “that it rained very hard,” though she believed the interruption to proceed less from any attention to her, than from her ladyship’s great dislike of all such inelegant subjects of raillery (teasing) as delighted her husband and mother. The idea however started by her, was immediately pursued by Colonel Brandon, who was on every occasion mindful of the feelings of others; and much was said on the subject of rain by both of them. Willoughby opened the piano-forte, and asked Marianne to sit down to it; and thus amidst the various endeavours of different people to quit the topic, it fell to the ground. But not so easily did Elinor recover from the alarm into which it had thrown her.

Colonel Brandon is such a quiet figure that he is in danger of seeming a nonentity. In fact, his responses constantly feature. Here, although the person under attack is not Marianne, he feels Elinor’s discomfort, since he is ‘on every occasion mindful of the feelings of others’ and he does his utmost to distract attention from her, ‘much was said on the subject of rain’. Jane Austen may seem simply to be describing what everyone is talking about, but in fact she is portraying feelings, perception, sensitivity and kindness. Colonel Brandon’s is a much more practical, even if understated, action, than the grandiose but indecorous gesture of Willoughby in offering Marianne a horse when it was obvious that Barton Cottage could not accommodate one and the family could not afford one and he was not officially engaged to her. Colonel Brandon’s talking about rain stems from his awareness of and sympathy with the feelings of others; Willoughby has been primarily advertising himself in a flamboyant gesture which actually showed a lack of awareness of anyone else. He now invites Marianne to play the piano, but apparently not to distract attention from Elinor and the identity of ‘F’, more to selfishly indulge his flirting with Marianne.

A party was formed this evening for going on the following day to see a very fine place about twelve miles from Barton, belonging to a brother-in-law of Colonel Brandon, without whose interest it could not be seen, as the proprietor, who was then abroad, had left strict orders on that head. The grounds were declared to be highly beautiful, and Sir John, who was particularly warm in their praise, might be allowed to be a tolerable judge, for he had formed parties to visit them, at least, twice every summer for the last ten years. They contained a noble piece of water; a sail on which was to a form a great part of the morning’s amusement; cold provisions were to be taken, open carriages only to be employed, and every thing conducted in the usual style of a complete party of pleasure.

To some few of the company it appeared rather a bold undertaking, considering the time of year, and that it had rained every day for the last fortnight — and Mrs. Dashwood, who had already a cold, was persuaded by Elinor to stay at home.

Chapter 13 (excerpts)

The projected picnic has to be cancelled. A letter arrives for Colonel Brandon that, he explains, necessitates his immediate departure for London. He is, characteristically, aware of the impact of his departure on the others, since his presence is necessary for them to have their picnic at Whitwell.

“I am particularly sorry, ma’am,” said he, addressing Lady Middleton, “that I should receive this letter to-day, for it is on business which requires my immediate attendance in town.”

“In town!” cried Mrs. Jennings. “What can you have to do in town at this time of year?”

“My own loss is great,” he continued, “in being obliged to leave so agreeable a party; but I am the more concerned, as I fear my presence is necessary to gain your admittance at Whitwell.”

What a blow upon them all was this!

“But if you write a note to the housekeeper, Mr. Brandon,” said Marianne eagerly, “will it not be sufficient?”

He shook his head.

“We must go,” said Sir John. “It shall not be put off when we are so near it. You cannot go to town till to-morrow, Brandon, that is all.”

Zelda Boyd, in her article on ‘The Language of Supposing’ (1983) writes of ‘….the hypothetical, with the world of supposition and desire as opposed to the world of hedgerows and apples (ie reality). In this world we find the comic figures—like … Mrs. Jennings or Sir John Middleton—who are comic precisely because they are always busily remaking the actual to suit their assumptions. ….. Mrs. Jennings is forever assuming that possible engagements are real ones, and Sir John insists that events “must and shall” be as he wishes them. They are incorrigible.’

Later in the same article, she writes:
‘Sir John Middleton, for example, while miles beyond the Dashwoods in generosity, is just as bent as they upon remaking the world to conform to his will. Consider his response when it appears that the trip to Whitwell must be canceled because of Colonel Brandon’s sudden departure.
“We must go,” said Sir John. “It shall not be put off when we are so near it. You cannot go to town till to-morrow, Brandon, that is all.”

‘Here modals serve for what we surely read as imperatives. But whereas imperatives are direct expressions of will, the modals simply report that an imperative exists. Thus Sir John’s “cannots” and “shall nots” and “musts” tend to mask (although very thinly in this case) the crudely willful nature of his outburst. They transform subjective desire into objective grounds, “I want you to stay” into “It is absolutely necessary that you stay.” When Colonel Brandon proves recalcitrant, Sir John reluctantly assents to his going. Indeed, he could hardly do otherwise. But lest we should think that he has learned any lessons in submission, Sir John immediately begins planning the colonel’s return. “He must and shall come back,” he declares.’

(Zelda Boyd: “The Language of Supposing: Modal Auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility,” in Jane Austen: New Perspectives, Vol. 3, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier, 1983)

“I wish it could be so easily settled. But it is not in my power to delay my journey for one day!”

“If you would but let us know what your business is,” said Mrs. Jennings, “we might see whether it could be put off or not.”

“You would not be six hours later,” said Willoughby, “if you were to defer your journey till our return.”

“I cannot afford to lose onehour.” —

Elinor then heard Willoughby say in a low voice to Marianne, “There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one of them. He was afraid of catching cold, I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out of it. I would lay fifty guineas the letter was of his own writing.”

“I have no doubt of it,” replied Marianne.

Before Colonel Brandon leaves, he bids farewell to Elinor and Marianne, making clear his disappointment at doing so.

“Is there no chance of my seeing you and your sisters in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?”

“I am afraid, none at all.”

“Then I must bid you farewell for a longer time than I should wish to do.”

To Marianne, he merely bowed and said nothing.

“Come, Colonel,” said Mrs. Jennings, “before you go, do let us know what you are going about.”

He wished her a good morning, and attended by Sir John, left the room.

The complaints and lamentations which politeness had hitherto restrained, now burst forth universally; and they all agreed again and again how provoking it was to be so disappointed.

“I can guess what his business is, however,” said Mrs. Jennings exultingly.

“Can you, ma’am?” said almost everybody.

“Yes; it is about Miss Williams, I am sure.”

“And who is Miss Williams?” asked Marianne.

Much later, in Volume II, Chapter IX, we learn that the letter came from Colonel Brandon’s young ward, Eliza. Having been seduced by Willoughby, she was near giving birth to his child and had nowhere to live, ‘no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her.’ Colonel Brandon therefore loses no time in travelling to help his ward, while Willoughby, her seducer, makes unpleasant suggestions about Colonel Brandon, and goes off to enjoy himself with another young woman whom he is also to betray. Again, in retrospect, the contrast between Colonel Brandon’s and Willoughby’s behaviour towards the same young woman, Eliza Williams, makes very clear the contrast between their characters. When Marianne falls ill after being deceived by Willoughby, it is again Colonel Brandon who does everything in his power to help her, bringing her mother from Barton.

Willoughby took his usual place between the two elder Miss Dashwoods. Mrs. Jennings sat on Elinor’s right hand; and they had not been long seated, before she leant behind her and Willoughby, and said to Marianne, loud enough for them both to hear, “I have found you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning.”

As so often with Jane Austen, this apparently rather triumphalist and somewhat vulgar remark on the part of Mrs Jennings cuts both ways. ‘I have found you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning.’ The triumphant note is evident in her starting both sentences with ‘I have found you out’, ‘I know where you’, as if it were a form of combat, ‘I’ against ‘you’. ‘You’ are the secretive lovers. ‘I’ – Mrs Jennings – has obviously won. Mrs Jennings directs this exulting announcement at Marianne, another woman, not at Willoughby, who was presumably the instigator of the morning’s expedition. It suggests that, as a young woman, Marianne is in the wrong. Young men can get away with anything, although Willoughby does get called Mr Impudence very soon. However, the vulgarity and possible impertinence of Mrs Jennings is offset by the fact that Marianne, in participating in such jaunts with Willoughby, is laying herself open to the censure of society, and a woman’s reputation is everything.

Marianne coloured, and replied very hastily, “Where, pray?”—

“Did not you know,” said Willoughby, “that we had been out in my curricle?”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determined to find out WHERE you had been to. — I hope you like your house, Miss Marianne. It is a very large one, I know; and when I come to see you, I hope you will have new-furnished it, for it wanted it very much when I was there six years ago.”

Marianne turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Jennings laughed heartily; and Elinor found that in her resolution to know where they had been, she had actually made her own woman enquire of Mr. Willoughby’s groom; and that she had by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham, and spent a considerable time there in walking about the garden and going all over the house.

Elinor could hardly believe this to be true, as it seemed very unlikely that Willoughby should propose, or Marianne consent, to enter the house while Mrs. Smith was in it, with whom Marianne had not the smallest acquaintance.

As soon as they left the dining-room, Elinor enquired of her about it; and great was her surprise when she found that every circumstance related by Mrs. Jennings was perfectly true. Marianne was quite angry with her for doubting it.

“Why should you imagine, Elinor, that we did not go there, or that we did not see the house? Is not it what you have often wished to do yourself?”

“Yes, Marianne, but I would not go while Mrs. Smith was there, and with no other companion than Mr. Willoughby.”

“Mr. Willoughby however is the only person who can have a right to shew that house; and as he went in an open carriage, it was impossible to have any other companion. I never spent a pleasanter morning in my life.”

“I am afraid,” replied Elinor, “that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”

“On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible (aware) of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.”

Marianne shows herself here to be a follower of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, among others, who claimed that ‘man was innately benevolent and wished others well’ (Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory, Penguin, 1999). This sensibility was probably a reaction against thinkers such as Hobbes who claimed that man is innately selfish and self-interested. In his 1711 publication, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Shaftesbury writes, ‘… no creature can maliciously and intentionally do ill (wrong), without being sensible at the same time, that he deserves ill. And in this respect, every sensible creature may be said to have conscience.’ Hence Marianne’s belief that, “we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.”

Susan Morgan, in her book In the Meantime, University of Chicago Press, 1980, writes: ‘What Marianne insists on through the conventions of sensibility is the absolute quality of her own perceptions and the infallibility of personal knowledge. Her ‘systems’ involve a concept of knowing in which truth is the same as intense feeling. … Her own definition of ‘real’ propriety is given the force of natural law.’

“But, my dear Marianne, as it has already exposed you to some very impertinent remarks, do you not now begin to doubt the discretion of your own conduct?”

“If the impertinent remarks of Mrs. Jennings are to be the proof of impropriety in conduct, we are all offending every moment of our lives. I value not her censure any more than I should do her commendation. I am not sensible (aware) of having done anything wrong in walking over Mrs. Smith’s grounds, or in seeing her house. They will one day be Mr. Willoughby’s, and —”

“If they were one day to be your own, Marianne, you would not be justified in what you have done.”

She blushed at this hint; but it was even visibly gratifying to her; and after a ten minutes’ interval of earnest thought, she came to her sister again, and said with great good humour, “Perhaps, Elinor, it WAS rather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham; but Mr. Willoughby wanted particularly to shew me the place; and it is a charming house, I assure you. — There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs; of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furniture it would be delightful. It is a corner room, and has windows on two sides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind the house, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a view of the church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that we have so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, for nothing could be more forlorn than the furniture — but if it were newly fitted up — a couple of hundred pounds, Willoughby says, would make it one of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England.”

Could Elinor have listened to her without interruption from the others, she would have described every room in the house with equal delight.

Marianne is ready to consider the possibility of having done wrong in going to Allenham. However, her justification of her action is remarkably irrational. It seems to be entirely made up of Willoughby wanting to show her Allenham, and what a lovely house it has turned out to be, with pretty rooms of a comfortable size with beautiful views. There is a slight pause in the raptures when Marianne remembers the forlorn furniture, but then the justification continues as she retails how nicely it could be done up. What this has to do with providing a good moral reason for going to look at a house without its owner’s permission or knowledge and with a young man to whom she is not engaged is not clear. Enthusiasm and pleasure seem to have overtaken right judgement.

Marianne’s justification turns to be a list of what has given her pleasure and the reasons linking the items are conjunctions such as ‘and’ and ‘but’.

Perhaps it WAS rather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham;

but Mr. Willoughby wanted particularly to shew me the place
and it is a charming house, I assure you.
There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs;
of a nice comfortable size for constant use,
and with modern furniture it would be delightful.
It is a corner room,
and has windows on two sides.
On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind the
house, to a beautiful hanging wood,
and on the other you have a view of the church and village,
and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that we have so often
admired.

I did not see it to advantage,
for nothing could be more forlorn than the furniture —

but if it were newly fitted up —
a couple of hundred pounds, Willoughby says, would make it
one of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England.”

Much of Marianne’s morning expedition infringes decorum. She has gone to Allenham alone with Willoughby, without a chaperone. Young women were nearly always chaperoned. In addition, as later events prove, this could have been unwise, as Willoughby turns out to be unreliable with young women. Then, as Elinor points out, she has gone to Allenham without an invitation from its owner. Furthermore, she and Willoughby have gone there on the assumption that he will inherit Allenham and that it will be their future home. There they make plans about some of the rooms and the furnishing that ‘would be delightful’ (Marianne is in fairyland again). Allenham Court is not Willoughby’s property, Marianne is not his fiancée, the whole enterprise takes far too much for granted. And it illustrates Marianne’s extravagant notions as regards money. £200 to do up a sitting room is a huge amount when you consider that this is almost half the Dashwood women’s current annual income.

In the introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Sense and Sensibility, Margaret Anne Doody points out that ‘In her phase of existence as a would-be hunter or accomplice of hunters, Marianne becomes greedy and predatory. She goes with Willoughby to look over the mansion of … Mrs Smith … Marianne exactly calculates the capabilities of the place for her own enjoyment, contemptuously dismissing all of Mrs Smith’s furniture – ‘nothing could be more forlorn’.

‘Never for a second here does Marianne consider that to Mrs Smith the Allenham of the present might have all the grace and emotional resonance that the Norland of her own time has for Marianne. Those who take over Norland are greedy improvers, sweeping away the life of their predecessors.

‘….Feeling as she does about Norland makes Marianne all the more culpable at Allenham…..This example of Marianne’s behaviour offers a salient instance of the untruth of her loose and Shaftesburyan supposition that feelings are sufficient moral guide, that ‘we always know when we are acting wrong’. … she … falls into very unromantic sins of insensitivity, greed, and callous calculation.

‘… Mrs Smith does not forget the solidarity with women that Marianne herself ignores in treating the owner of the house as a cypher. Mrs Smith is about to find out about Willoughby’s seduction of the unfortunate Eliza… She has the matter out with Willoughby … ‘she offered to forgive the past, if I would marry Eliza’. Willoughby treats that offer as ridiculous … But … Mrs Smith is the one matriarch who is really ‘an exemplary version of authority’.

(Margaret Anne Doody, Introduction to Sense and Sensibility, OUP, 1990)

The very fact that Willoughby is discussing new furniture with Marianne in a house he is showing her because he hopes to inherit it, makes his intention of marrying Marianne apparently very obvious. Obvious to Marianne and to her family, and obvious to their local society, as Mrs Jennings’ reaction illustrates. In fact, he does not intend any such thing: he intends to marry money.

Even though Marianne’s expedition infringes decorum, considerable blame lies at Willoughby’s door. He is making the running here, leading her astray. He is sophisticated and experienced and she is an innocent, naive sixteen-year-old. He knows that what he has done will raise questions and expectations. His is not the behaviour of a gentleman.

As so often, when Jane Austen describes landscape or setting, she does so in terms of the private and the social. Here, Marianne tells of the views – in one direction, ‘the bowling-green, behind the house, to a beautiful hanging wood’. These are for private use: the bowling-green is for the entertainment of the people living at Allenham House; the hanging wood is an example of a popular element in landscaping. Marianne continues: ‘and on the other you have a view of the church and village’ – in other words, a view that reminds you of man’s existence and duties in his social setting.

In her book, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, Marilyn Butler looks at Marianne’s behaviour from the point of view of Jane Austen’s Christianity, and the prayer she wrote. Butler quotes the prayer:

‘Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow-creatures, and the danger of our own souls…. Incline us to ask our hearts these questions oh! God, and save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity….

‘Incline us oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.’

Marilyn Butler’s analysis follows:

‘After Allenham, Marianne failed to examine her own conduct at all. She had none of the Christian’s understanding of the sinfulness of her own heart; and she showed a notable lack of Christian charity towards Colonel Brandon, Mrs. Jennings, and the Middletons. Elinor alone had exercised the self-examination prescribed for the Christian, by questioning the state of her heart in relation to Edward, and, even more, her complex and disagreeable feelings about Lucy. Elinor never had the same certainty that Edward loved her which Marianne always felt about Willoughby. ‘She was far from depending on that result of his preference of her, which her mother and sister still considered as certain.’

(Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, OUP, 1975)

Travelling in the early nineteenth century

A Gentleman, his bays harnessed to a curricle. 1806, oil by John Cordrey c. 1765-1825

Wikipedia tells us: ‘A curricle was a smart, light two-wheeled chaiseor “chariot”, large enough for the driver and a passenger and— most unusual for a vehicle with a single axle—usually drawn by a carefully matched pair of horses. It was popular in the early 19th century: its name — from the Latin curriculum, meaning “running”, “racecourse” or “chariot”[1]— is the equivalent of a “runabout” and it was a rig suitable for a smart young man who liked to drive himself, at a canter. The French liked the English-sounding term“carrick”for these vehicles. The lightweight swept body with just the lightestdashboardhung with a pair of lamps was hung from a pair of outsized swan-neck leaf springs at the rear.’

This website is a fund of information, copied out below: shannondonnelly.com/private-carraiges-of-the-english-regency (accessed 20/3/2017)

The Regency saw the pinnacle of the art of carriage driving. New technologies provided opportunities to build better carriages. In 1804, Obadiah Elliott of Lambeth invented the elliptic spring, lightening the weight and eliminating the need for perches. Samuel Hobson improved carriage shapes by lowering the wheels in 1820. At the same time, the engineer Jon Loudon McAdam introduced his process to pave roads to create a hard, smooth surface and double the speed at which carriages could travel.

During this time, carriage types flourished, and perhaps the most popular of carriages were the phaetons and curricles.

Phaetons first appeared around 1788. The young Prince of Wales popularized their use in the 1790’s. In Greek, the name means “shining”, and Phaeton was a mythical character who stole his father’s sun-chariot. The carriage was noted for being built very high over the body, with four wheels (large wheels in back and smaller wheels in the front). They sported two types of under-carriage. A high perch phaeton had a straight or sightly curved central beam that connected the two axles. The ‘superior’ crane-neck phaeton offered a heavier construction of iron with two beams and hoops which allowed the front wheels to turn. These “Highflyers”could be drawn by a pair, four or six horses. However, contemporary artists usually shown them as postillion-driver (with riders on the horse’s backs), if more than four horses were in harness.

Ladies as well as gentlemen drove phaetons, and the carriages were known as spider, park, and ladies phaetons. These were often drawn by ponies.

The curricle came into fashion in the 1800s. This was a two-wheel vehicle, built to take a pair of horses. Again, the sponsorship of the Prince of Wales (now too fat to climb into his high perch), promoted their popularity. Horses were attached to the light-weight body by harness connected pole, with a steel bar that attached to pads on the horse’s back to support the pole. The curricle offered seats for two, with a groom’s (or tiger’s) seat behind (the tiger was not the big cat, but a slang name for a small groom who could easily jump down to hold or walk the horses).

Less fortunate gentlemen had to be content with driving a gig, which remained in service from the 1780s until the 1900s. Originally, the gig was built high and given such names as the “suicide” gig, denoting popular opinion of the safety of such vehicles. However, since the groom’s seat sat three feet above that of the driver’s, the name might well be based on the opinion of those in service. Since carriages were built to custom order, there were many designs, and gentlemen often competed with each other for new innovations in their carriage designs.

By the 1800s, the big and whiskey were in common use, however, Quality did not take to them until after 1815. Both were two-wheeled vehicles that could be drawn by one horse. The whiskey got its name from the fact that it was light and easy to go ‘whisking’ along.

Many noted whips designed their own carriages, hence the Stanhope gig made in 1815 to the design of the Hon. Fitzroy Stanhope. Carriages also bore the name of their builders. The Tilbury gig of 1820 was designed and made by Tilbury the coach-builder. Unlike other gigs it had no boot, and the rib-chair body was supported entirely on seven springs, making it a popular vehicle for use on rough roads.

At the same time the suicide gig became popular, so did the cocking cart. This two-wheeled vehicle was often driven tandem, with one horse between the shafts and the lead horse attached only by harness, so you’d have one horse in front of the other. As one might infer from its name, the cocking cart offered a boot with slatted venetian blind panels on either side for carrying fighting cocks.

In 1815, Count d’Orsay (the king of fashion in London after Waterloo) sponsored the cabriolet. This was in addition to his curricle, for a rich gentleman could afford to keep multiple carriages and teams. The cabriolet was import from France, and appeared similar to the curricle but required only a single horse. Instead of providing a seat for the groom, it held a small platform on which the ‘tiger’ stood. This carriage, like the curricle, offered a hood to help protect the driver and the passenger from weather, but it still served better as a town carriage for fair weather.

Full enclosed town coaches had been is use since 1605. However, in the late 1700’s these began to evolve away from the massive vehicles that held four and which required up to six, heavy draft horses.

The sociable appeared in the 1780s. This low-hung vehicle offered a box seat for a driver and held four passengers (two facing backwards). In bad weather, a hood could be raised over the back seat, and the front seat could be folded down.

By the 1800s, the sociable had evolved into the sociable-landau and the landau. Both were usually drawn by a pair of horses, and driven with postillions or by a coachman if a box seat had been built onto the body. Hoods could be raised, front and back, so that the landau resembled a coach, or could be lowered in fine weather.

Luke Hopkinson of Holborn introduced the briska-landau, which offered seats that rose six inches then the top was put down. Canoe-landaus offered curved, shallow bodies and were sometimes called Sefton-landaus, after the Earl of Sefton. (The landau with postillions is often the carriage still used by English royalty for events where great visibility and ceremony is required, such as for weddings, reviewing the troops, or for arrivals at the Royal Ascot race meet.)

Another town coach, the barouche did not gain in popularity until its heavy body and low build had been modified. However, when Mr. Charles Buxton founded the Whip Club in 1808 (which became the Four-In-Hand Club the following spring), its members drove “…fifteen barouches and landaus with four horses to each….” to the first June meeting on a Monday in Park Lane. Because its members often drove barouches, the Whip Club sometimes came to be called the Barouche Club.

The barouche required large, ‘upstanding’ horses, with impressive action. It could be driven from the box or with postillion riders, and could accommodate a pair, four or six horses. Two passengers could be seated in the body, and a seat provided comfort for two grooms.

A private drag was the slang term for a gentleman’s private coach, and these were built for four-in-hand driving.

Copying the Mail Coach, a drag offered seats inside the coach, and on the roof for the driver and for two grooms. Gentlemen drove their drags to race meetings (for grandstand viewing), to meets of the Four-in-Hand and other sporting events. A convenient tray in the boot could even be lowered to create a table for picnics.

By 1815, the heavy travelling coach had been replaced by the traveling chariot. Two or four horses could be used with this light body vehicle, and were driven by postillions or post-boys. Some offered seats at the back for servants, all offered upholstered seats in satin or petit-point.

These vehicles also served as the post-chaise carriages which could be hired on the road at posting houses. At a cost of 1s 6d (that’s one shilling and six pence) a mile for a pair of horses, and double that for four, a post-chaise was not an economical method of travel. They earned the slang name ‘Yellow Bounder’ for the almost inevitable yellow bodies.

Until the advent of the automobile, carriages continued to flourish in type and design.

Chapters 15-18

Willoughby leaves very suddenly and inexplicably for London. Marianne is miserable. Edward Ferrars comes to stay with the Dashwoods but is in very low spirits.

Elinor and her mother find Willoughby at the cottage. He has been told by his elderly cousin at Allenham that he is to leave the house at once. He has called on Marianne to tell her that he is going back to London. Marianne is of course distraught.

Willoughby’s departure to London is very sudden and he does not attempt to enlighten the family about the reasons for it, or the likelihood of his returning to see them.

“To London! — and are you going this morning?”

“Almost this moment.”

“This is very unfortunate. But Mrs. Smith must be obliged; — and her business will not detain you from us long I hope.”

He coloured as he replied, “You are very kind, but I have no idea of returning into Devonshire immediately.

There is an obvious comparison here with Colonel Brandon’s sudden departure for London on the morning of the projected picnic (Chapter 12).

We only discover much later the different reasons for Colonel Brandon’s immediate journey to London, and Willoughby’s. Colonel Brandon goes without delay to help his ward, Eliza, whom Willoughby has seduced, and left and who is now expecting his baby imminently. Willoughby leaves so suddenly for London because his elderly cousin Mrs Smith has discovered about Eliza, and has told him she will disinherit him unless he marries her. This he refuses to do, so he is disinherited and sent from the house. He determines to woo the rich heiress, living in London, who will mend his fortunes or at least, his fortune. The comparison between the abrupt departures for London of the two men interested in Marianne highlights the contrast between them. One leaves because he refuses to have anything to do with the young woman he has seduced; one leaves to rescue her. One is concerned with money; one is concerned with the plight of a desperate young woman.

Elinor talks to her mother about the puzzling nature of the exact relationship between Marianne and Willoughby.

“I want no proof of their affection,” said Elinor, “but of their engagement I do.”

“I am perfectly satisfied of both.”

“Yet not a syllable has been said to you on the subject by either of them.”

“I have not wanted syllables where actions have spoken so plainly. Has not his behaviour to Marianne and to all of us, for at least the last fortnight, declared that he loved and considered her as his future wife, and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest relation? Have we not perfectly understood each other? Has not my consent been daily asked by his looks, his manner, his attentive and affectionate respect? My Elinor, is it possible to doubt their engagement? How could such a thought occur to you? How is it to be supposed that Willoughby, persuaded as he must be of your sister’s love, should leave her, and leave her perhaps for months, without telling her of his affection,- that they should part without a mutual exchange of confidence?”

Having let her mother know of her doubts about Willoughby’s intentions, Elinor is subjected to a volley of questions from her mother. Her mother interrogates Elinor in emotional terms; Elinor’s doubts are based on reason. Again, Austen shows us how difficult even affectionate family interactions can be.

Mrs Dashwood bombards Elinor with six rhetorical questions that demand the answer yes, in opposition to Elinor’s doubts. Starting with: ‘Has not his behaviour to Marianne and to all of us, for at least the last fortnight, declared that he loved and considered her as his future wife, and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest relation? Have we not perfectly understood each other?’ And so forth. The fact that she draws conclusions from his behaviour, not ratified by an official engagement, is what causes so much heartache. Elinor has doubts; however, when Edward is found to have done something rather similar in Chapter 22, and in Chapter 23 Elinor reflects on his behaviour, her heart tells her exactly the same as her mother is telling her now about Willoughby.

The forthright Mrs Jennings says something very similar to Elinor in Chapter 30, when Willoughby is discovered to be about to marry a very rich heiress.

Elinor, attempting to defend him, says, ‘I must do this justice to Mr. Willoughby — he has broken no positive engagement with my sister’.

“Law, my dear! Don’t pretend to defend him. No positive engagement indeed! after taking her all over Allenham House, and fixing on the very rooms they were to live in hereafter!”

David Kaufmann comments on this episode.
‘… For all Austen’s stress on the society aspects of life, she starts from the premise that we begin as and remain individuals with feelings, needs and desires that are essential personal. Individuality entails a danger and a challenge: we cannot know what goes on inside other people’s heads and hearts….If we cannot read others’ minds, we have to be able to trust their words and their actions. …

Mrs Dashwood makes an important mistake when she takes Willoughby’s actions as a sign of his engagement. She says, “I have not wanted syllables where actions have spoken so plainly”. … Silence about attachment is one thing, but about commitment in an event of such public importance as marriage, is something else entirely. Austen depicts a society in which women’s identity is determined by familial and marital connection. … Propriety, in this light, upholds the social order and individual dignity: … it … makes public what is of greatest note for social coherence.’

David Kaufmann, Law and Propriety, Sense and Sensibility: Austen on the Cusp of Modernity, ELH. (English Literary History) Vol. 59, No. 2 (Summer, 1992), pp. 385-408, The Johns Hopkins University Press

“I confess,” replied Elinor, “that every circumstance except one, is in favour of their engagement; but that one is the total silence of both on the subject, and with me it almost outweighs every other.”

Elinor balances and weighs the credibility of evidence; she evaluates the evidence and finds that Marianne and Willoughby’s ‘silence … on the subject … almost outweighs’ the rest. However, Mrs Dashwood just lists several questions and seems to think that the number of her questions outweighs Elinor’s only reason for doubt.

“How strange this is! You must think wretchedly indeed of Willoughby, if, after all that has openly passed between them, you can doubt the nature of the terms on which they are together. Has he been acting a part in his behaviour to your sister all this time? Do you suppose him really indifferent to her?”

“No, I cannot think that. He must and does love her, I am sure.”

Mrs Dashwood follows up Elinor’s doubts with two more rhetorical questions, badgering Elinor. Elinor’s response acknowledges the truth of appearances: ‘He must and does love her, I am sure.’ Appearances say that Willoughby ‘must’ love Marianne and therefore Elinor concludes that he ‘does’ and underlines her conclusion, ‘I am sure.’

“But with a strange kind of tenderness, if he can leave her with such indifference, such carelessness of the future, as you attribute to him.”

Mrs Dashwood cannot agree to differ with Elinor as to her understanding. She persists in demanding that Elinor agree with her.

“You must remember, my dear mother, that I have never considered this matter as certain. I have had my doubts, I confess; but they are fainter than they were, and they may soon he entirely done away. If we find they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed.”

Elinor, as so often, counsels giving the matter some time to resolve itself. ‘If we find they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed.’ A young woman could only write letters to and receive letters from a young man if he were her brother or her fiancé.

“A mighty concession, indeed! If you were to see them at the altar, you would suppose they were going to be married. Ungracious girl! But I require no such proof. Nothing in my opinion has ever passed to justify doubt; no secrecy has been attempted; all has been uniformly open and unreserved. You cannot doubt your sister’s wishes. It must be Willoughby, therefore, whom you suspect. But why? Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side to create alarm? can he be deceitful?”

Mrs Dashwood is still not satisfied by Elinor’s courteous refusal to agree with her. She semi-scolds Elinor: ‘”A mighty concession, indeed! If you were to see them at the altar, you would suppose they were going to be married. Ungracious girl!’

In opposing her view to Elinor’s (‘If you …But I require no such proof’), Mrs Dashwood resorts to lists again. ‘Nothing in my opinion … no secrecy … all has been…’. Supported by rhetorical questions, again listed: ‘Is he not …? Has there been …? can he be …?’ She wants to know exactly what Elinor’s reservations are; she wants Elinor to justify them. This prompts Elinor into quite a long justification of her doubts.

“I hope not, I believe not,” cried Elinor. “I love Willoughby, sincerely love him; and suspicion of his integrity cannot be more painful to yourself than to me. It has been involuntary, and I will not encourage it. I was startled, I confess, by the alteration in his manners this morning: he did not speak like himself, and did not return your kindness with any cordiality. But all this may be explained by such a situation of his affairs as you have supposed. He had just parted from my sister, had seen her leave him in the greatest affliction; and if he felt obliged, from a fear of offending Mrs. Smith, to resist the temptation of returning here soon, and yet aware that by declining your invitation, by saying that he was going away for some time, he should seem to act an ungenerous, a suspicious part by our family, be might well be embarrassed and disturbed. In such a case, a plain and open avowal of his difficulties would have been more to his honour, I think, as well as more consistent with his general character;- but I will not raise objections against any one’s conduct on so liberal a foundation, as a difference in judgment from myself, or a deviation from what I may think right and consistent.”

Elinor tries very hard to identify her suspicions of Willoughby’s integrity. Her reply to her mother is carefully reasoned, her doubts analysed. She loves Willoughby, and her suspicions are involuntary – they have raised themselves in her mind. She has noticed his altered manners, and gives examples of them, but she explains the possibility that his changed situation occasioned the alteration, and she gives examples of that, too. ‘He had just parted from my sister, had seen her leave him in the greatest affliction; and if he felt obliged, from a fear of offending Mrs. Smith, to resist the temptation of returning here soon, and yet aware that by declining your invitation, by saying that he was going away for some time, he should seem to act an ungenerous, a suspicious part by our family, be might well be embarrassed and disturbed.’ Elinor can think of better ways of conducting himself than the one he chose but she will not object to him for that reason. All this reasoning and analysis is a far cry from her mother’s impulsive convictions, couched in definitive statements backed by persuasive and self-persuading rhetorical questions.

Zelda Boyd notes: ‘David Hume argued earlier in the century that it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is,” that “oughts” occupy a separate realm derived from nonempirical premises, and Austen, in describing the way we reason, supports this. What one does is very different from what one might do, could do, or even must do. Conversely, “can” asserts global possibility without entailing its enactment. “I can call you” doesn’t mean that I do; nor does “I might call” mean that I will; not even “must” entails necessity in the actual world. “If that’s the noon whistle, it must be twelve o’clock” is a reasonable supposition, although the whistle may have gone off at eleven-thirty. Only in the mental realm of pure deduction, which exists independent of the empirical world, do “musts” hold absolutely—two and two must be four because we have priorly defined them that way, but that a man who is engaged ought to be in love is true only if we assume as the major premise that men always engage themselves honorably. Of course, that premise is not only a supposition, but one open, especially in Austen, to the gravest doubts.

‘The hypothetical and the actual, then, do not simply exist side by side in discrete realms; although distinct, they intersect, and we are constantly being asked to consider the connection (and often the disconnection) between the two. While surmising that it must be twelve o’clock because the noon whistle went off is legitimate enough, we need also ask whether the whistle went off when it ought—that is, we need to check the “ought” against the empirical question of whether it did.’

Zelda Boyd, “The Language of Supposing: Modal Auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility,” in Jane Austen: New Perspectives, Vol. 3, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier, 1983.

The writing of David Hume (1711-1776) to which Zelda Boyd refers may, I think, be the following:

Charles Pigden considers Hume’s famous claim that you can’t deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.
‘According to David Hume, his Treatise of Human Nature “fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.” Since Hume’s day his still-born baby has undergone a mighty resurrection and the murmur of commentators, whether zealots or otherwise, has risen to a continuous roar. One of the most talked-about paragraphs in that talked-about book occurs at the end of section 3.1.1, ‘Moral Distinctions Not deriv’d from Reason’:
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation,’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it … [I] am persuaded, that a small attention [to this point] wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.”

‘Hume’s idea seems to be that you cannot deduce moral conclusions, featuring moral words such as ‘ought’, from non-moral premises, that is premises from which the moral words are absent. The passage is summed up in the slogan ‘No-Ought-From-Is’ (or NOFI for short) and for many people it represents the take-home message of Hume’s moral philosophy. It is sometimes rather grandly referred to as Hume’s Law. But what exactly did he mean by it? Why did he think that his observation would ‘subvert all the vulgar systems of morality’? Is NOFI (or something like it) true? And what are the philosophical consequences?’

Website link: philosophynow.org/issues
Accessed 27 February 2017

Claudia L Johnson writes, in her introduction to the Norton Critical Edition of the novel: ‘Elinor hesitates to equate hope and knowledge; she wants formal proof – and not surprisingly so, in a novel that opens with a solemn but private, oral promise that a man who passes for respectable in the world never keeps …’.

(Claudia L Johnson ed, Sense and Sensibility, W W Norton & Company, 2002)

‘Marilyn Butler writes,
Mrs. Dashwood, …proceeding according to the same intuitional method as her second daughter, is wholly convinced of the goodness of Willoughby. When Elinor tries to argue with her, and to check instinct with the objective test of Willoughby’s behaviour, her mother protests. She rightly sees that a broader question is at issue: Elinor’s sense (stemming from the Christian tradition that man’s nature is fallible) has come into conflict with the sentimentalist’s tendency to idealize human nature. From Elinor’s caution, Mrs. Dashwood draws a universal inference. ‘You had rather take evil upon credit than good.’
(Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, OUP, 1975)

It is mainly the women in this novel who are let down by the men and who are shown to live in a perpetually precarious and dependent state. At the beginning of the novel, the Dashwood women are let down by the old gentleman and then again by John Dashwood. Edward lets down Elinor, and Willoughby lets down the second Eliza and Marianne. Colonel Brandon’s father forces the first Eliza to marry Colonel Brandon’s older brother who mistreats her and fails to help her when she is in trouble. Mrs Ferrars is the only woman to play fast and loose with power in the same way, when she turns her affections from Edward to Robert. It is true that it is also men who help dependent women: Sir John Middleton provides a cottage for the Dashwood women and Colonel Brandon helps both Elizas and Marianne.

“You speak very properly. Willoughby certainly does not deserve to be suspected. Though we have not known him long, be is no stranger in this part of the world; and who has ever spoken to his disadvantage? Had he been in a situation to act independently and marry immediately, it might have been odd that he should leave us without acknowledging everything to me at once: but this is not the case. It is an engagement in some respects not prosperously begun, for their marriage must be at a very uncertain distance; and even secrecy, as far as it can be observed, may now be very advisable.”

They were interrupted by the entrance of Margaret; and Elinor was then at liberty to think over the representations of her mother, to acknowledge the probability of many, and hope for the justice of all.

Again, how typical of Elinor. She thinks over what her mother has said. The closest she gets to agreeing with her mother is to admit the likelihood of many of her mother’s certainties and to hope for the best.

They saw nothing of Marianne till dinner-time, when she entered the room and took her place at the table without saying a word. Her eyes were red and swollen; and it seemed as if her tears were even then restrained with difficulty. She avoided the looks of them all, could neither eat nor speak, and after some time, on her mother’s silently pressing her hand with tender compassion, her small degree of fortitude was quite overcome, she burst into tears, and left the room.

This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening. She was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself. The slightest mention of anything relative to Willoughby overpowered her in an instant; and though her family were most anxiously attentive to her comfort, it was impossible for them, if they spoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which her feelings connected with him.

Marianne demonstrates a ‘violent oppression of spirits’ and is without ‘any desire of command over herself.’ She does not speak, her eyes are red and swollen, her tears are restrained only with difficulty, she cannot eat, and she leaves the room in tears. Her family are ultra-careful to avoid upsetting her, ‘were most anxiously attentive to her comfort’ but she is determined to be ‘overpowered … in an instant’. She is an ardent disciple of Romantic sensibility; it’s almost as if she is playing a part. It is as if she believes: if my feelings are strong, this is how I should behave.

Chapter 16

Marianne continues wretched after Willoughby’s departure. Edward Ferrars comes to stay with the Dashwoods.

MARIANNE would have thought herself very inexcusable had she been able to sleep at all the first night after parting from Willoughby. She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it. But the feelings which made such composure a disgrace, left her in no danger of incurring it. She was awake the whole night, and she wept the greatest part of it. She got up with a headache, was unable to talk, and unwilling to take any nourishment; giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters, and forbidding all attempt at consolation from either. Her sensibility was potent enough!

Stuart Tave condemns Marianne’s behaviour when Willoughby suddenly leaves Devon. ‘Her sensibility was potent enough!’ He writes, ‘Her conduct is not an innocent indulgence either. For one thing, it has an effect on others, giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters. For another, the effect on herself is destructive: the potency of her sensibility makes her morally impotent…’.
(Stuart M Tave, Some Words of Jane Austen, University of Chicago Press, 1973)

When breakfast was over she walked out by herself, and wandered about the village of Allenham, indulging the recollection of past enjoyment, and crying over the present reverse for the chief of the morning.

The evening passed off in the equal indulgence of feeling. She played over every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out for her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spent whole hours at the piano-forte, alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books, too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had been used to read together.

This section continues the description of Marianne’s behaviour in Chapter 15. There, Marianne was ‘feeding and encouraging’ her violent sorrow ‘as a duty’. In this chapter, Marianne is ‘unwilling to take any nourishment’ but is busy applying ‘this nourishment of grief.’ Patricia Meyer Spacks comments, ‘Marianne’s determined performance of sensibility dictates her behaviour. Her ideas about what sensibility entails emphasize the quality’s melodramatic and solipsistic potential.’ Solipsism is the quality of being self-centred or selfish. Marianne’s feelings are extreme; they are sincere but they are also modelled on Romantic and Sentimental reading.
(Patricia Meyer Spacks, Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, Harvard Univesity Press, 2013)

… but one evening, Mrs. Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume of Shakespeare, exclaimed,-
“We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it.

Edward Copeland’s notes in the CUP edition of Sense and Sensibilityread: ‘Hamlet, a play with a hero who offers an ominous model for Willoughby’s brutal and mysterious rejection of Marianne; also Ophelia, a model for Marianne’s subsequent illness and near death.’

David M Shapard notes: ‘Hamlet exercised a particular appeal to advocates of Romanticism, who identified strongly with the central character’s melancholy, tendency towards brooding reflectiveness, isolation from others, and disgust with the corrupt world around him.’

About a week later, Elinor and Marianne are out walking.

Amongst the objects in the scene, they soon discovered an animated one; it was a man on horseback riding towards them. In a few minutes they could distinguish him to be a gentleman; and in a moment afterwards Marianne rapturously exclaimed,

“It is he; it is indeed; — I know it is!” — And was hastening to meet him, when Elinor cried out,

“Indeed, Marianne, I think you are mistaken. It is not Willoughby. The person is not tall enough for him, and has not his air.”

“He has, he has,” cried Marianne, “I am sure he has! — His air, his coat, his horse. I knew how soon he would come.”

‘I knew how soon he would come’ is another example of Marianne trying to make facts bend to her wishes (as when she and Margaret went walking because she was sure it was not going to rain as she did not want it to). Marianne is in love and convinces herself that the gentleman riding towards them is Willoughby. Elinor is in love, too, and recognises the man she loves: Edward. But she does not say anything about her love to Marianne, and she also wants to screen her sister from embarrassment arising from mistaken identity.

She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne from particularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby, quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk within her: and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when [as] the voices of both her sisters were raised to detain her, a third, almost as well known as Willoughby’s, joined them in begging her to stop, and she turned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars.

He was the only person in the world who could at that moment be forgiven for not being Willoughby; the only one who could have gained a smile from her; but she dispersed her tears to smile on him, and in her sister’s happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment.

He dismounted, and giving his horse to his servant, walked back with them to Barton, whither he was purposely coming to visit them.

He was welcomed by them all with great cordiality, but especially by Marianne, who shewed more warmth of regard in her reception of him than even Elinor herself. To Marianne, indeed, the meeting between Edward and her sister was but a continuation of that unaccountable coldness which she had often observed at Norland in their mutual behaviour. On Edward’s side, more particularly, there was a deficiency of all that a lover ought to look and say on such an occasion. He was confused, seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neither rapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him by questions, and distinguished Elinor by no mark of affection. Marianne saw and listened with increasing surprise. She began almost to feel a dislike of Edward; and it ended, as every feeling must end with her, by carrying back her thoughts to Willoughby, whose manners formed a contrast sufficiently striking to those of his brother elect.

Here, Marianne welcomes Edward more warmly even than Elinor does. On a later occasion, too, Marianne will speak to Edward with a warmth he does not deserve and which everyone else in the room knows is misplaced. This is in Chapter 35, when She met him with a hand that would be taken, and a voice that expressed the affection of a sister.

“Dear Edward!” she cried, “this is a moment of great happiness! — This would almost make amends for everything!”

In both situations, Marianne’s warmth highlights Edward’s lack of openness, the fact that he is concealing something. On this occasion, ‘he was confused, seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neither rapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him by questions …’.

Both sisters are puzzled by the behaviour of the other sister with her beloved. Elinor thinks (rightly) that Marianne is too open with Willoughby; here, Marianne thinks (rightly) that there with Edward there is ‘a continuation of that unaccountable coldness which she had often observed at Norland’.

This novel makes it clear how hard it is for women to find the truth of a situation. Elinor tries to arrive at truth by reason and by what she sees. It is through Elinor that we experience the impossible search for truth, so the novel presents the lack of definite knowledge very much in women’s terms. Marianne thinks that truth is indicated by feeling. Marianne is probably so often distressed by their enforced sociability at Barton Park because there is no truth in it. Also, of course, the company at Barton Park is exceptionally boring.

Marianne may be the Romantic sister, with exaggerated sensibilities, but she is right in this instance. There is indeed ‘a deficiency of all that a lover ought to look and say,’ in Edward, because he has just come from his fiancée, Lucy. Marianne almost feels a dislike of Edward and, shortly afterwards, Elinor too is made ‘vexed and half angry’ by his ‘coldness and reserve’. Marianne is more honest about her feelings in the case of Edward than Elinor is.

“Have you been lately in Sussex?” said Elinor.

“I was at Norland about a month ago.”

“And how does dear, dear Norland look?” cried Marianne.

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting (ecstatic) sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

Marianne’s speech about the leaves at Norland is filled with Romantic and poetic words: ‘transporting’, ‘delighted’, ‘inspired.’ She is concerned with feelings, ‘sensations’, ‘delight(ed)’, ‘feelings’, and inspiration, ‘passion’ as Elinor points out, rather than with reason. Her sentences are quite short and there are many exclamation marks, highlighting her intensity. She contrasts her delight in the leaves with the point of view of tidiness: ‘no one to regard them’; ‘only … a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.’ ‘Driven … from the sight,’ almost personifies the leaves as homeless victims.

Edward Copeland, in the CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility, comments that the leaves ‘driven in showers about me by the wind’ would be ‘a familiar image from the autumnal melancholy of the literature of sensibility.’ He instances Thomson’s ‘Autumn’ and also Cowper’s ‘The Task’ with ‘Unnumbered branches waving in the blast, / And all their leaves fast flutt’ring, all at once.’

James Thomson (1699-1748), The Seasons, Autumn lines 928 – 942

O let not, aim’d from some inhuman eye,
The gun the music of the coming year
Destroy; and harmless, unsuspecting harm, 930
Lay the weak tribes, a miserable prey!
In mingled murder, fluttering on the ground.
The pale, descending year, yet pleasing still,
A gentler mood inspires; for now the leaf
Incessant rustles from the mournful grove, 935
Oft starting such as, studious, walk below,
And slowly circles thro’ the waving air.
But should a quicker breeze and the boughs
Sob, o’er the sky the leafy rain streams;
Till choak’d, and matted with the dreary shower,
The forest-walks, at every rising gale, 941
Roll wide the wither’d waste, and whistle bleak.

A very empathetic view of Marianne’s and Elinor’s feelings is given by Margaret Anne Doody in her introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition. ‘A woman meditating on dead leaves is in danger of identifying herself with powerlessness. Elinor’s … snub result(s) from her own sense that all the Dashwood women have been ‘seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off …’…. Marianne channels her sense of exile and her unhappiness with the social conditions of her life into her romantic tastes.’
(Margaret Anne Doody, Introduction to Sense and Sensibility, OUP, 1990)

It is not only Marianne whose responses are shaped by Romanticism and Sensibility. Young ladies in the real world felt similarly. Diana Sperling, amateur watercolourist, wrote to her brother Charles in 1818 about the ruins of Netley Abbey.
It is a spot where I should like to pass many hours with my pencil and drawing book, Charley by my side playing his flute and a book of reflections on the encroachment of time – it is a superb ruin … – on a lovely slope down to your rolling waves – which were washing the shore with a lulling and melancholy sound …’

“No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are.” As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing herself again, “Now, Edward,” said she, calling his attention to the prospect (view), “here is Barton Valley. Look up it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills. Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton Park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage.”

“It is a beautiful country,” he replied; “but these bottoms (valleys) must be dirty (muddy) in winter.”

“How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?”

“Because,” replied he, smiling, “among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane.”

“How strange!” said Marianne to herself, as she walked on.

Again, Marianne’s approach to the countryside is contrasted, this time with Edward’s more 18th century view of it. Edward sees the country from a practical standpoint: he notices the mud in the valleys and lanes. Marianne sees it in terms of Romantic adjectives and superlatives: ‘… be tranquil if you can’; ‘Did you ever see their (the hills’) equals?’; ‘beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage.” Her thought is that Edward would be so filled with rapture as he looks at Barton Valley that he could not remain tranquil. Edward, however, can easily remain tranquil and sees the mud. The contrast points up Marianne’s Romantic and unrealistic attitude and Edward’s, which is far more concerned with the impact of the country on the people who live there. Edward’s ideas seem to be those of Dr Johnson: ‘To prize everything according to its real use, ought to be the aim of a rational being.’ (1753)

Zelda Boyd writes: ‘Although this exchange appears to set up a clear-cut opposition between the literal and the imaginative, there is something more subtle going on: Edward is revealed to be less wooden and more fallible than one might guess. He sees the dirty road only partly, as he claims, because it’s there. In fact, he, too, selects, focusing on the dirt because Marianne doesn’t, and because he is low in spirits and in no mood to be shown the splendors of anything. So he offers his own projection to counter hers. His answer that the bottoms “must” be dirty in winter is no more an account of the actual than is her poeticizing. It is, rather, another hypothetical version, as the inferential “must” indicates.’

(Zelda Boyd: “The Language of Supposing: Modal Auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility,” in Jane Austen: New Perspectives, Vol. 3, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier, 1983, pp. 142–54.)

Marilyn Butler comments on the contrast between Edward’s approach to life and Marianne’s. ‘But he (Edward), like Elinor, approaches the arts differently from Marianne. He would be likely to concern himself more than she with the intellectual content; when he looks at a landscape, he considers questions of utility—such as whether the terrain would be good for farming—and practicality—such as whether a lane would be too muddy for walking.

‘Edward’s tastes can be considered aesthetically, as Augustan and thus in terms of contemporary landscape art old-fashioned: he has more in common with Pope than would please Marianne. But, and this is more to the novel’s purposes, they are also the tastes of a self-effacing man, who likes to apply objective criteria, independent of his own prejudices and the limitations of his knowledge. His objective approach to art resembles Elinor’s way of evaluating him. She knows enough of his background to see beyond the defects of his manner to the enduring qualities of his mind and spirit, his ‘sense’ and ‘goodness’, and both these words imply that Edward’s virtues are those of a given code of value, namely the Christian. Edward’s character, Edward’s aesthetic opinions, and Elinor’s method of assessing Edward, all have this much in common—that they are based on prescribed standards, not on subjective impulse.’

Marilyn Butler,Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, OUP, 1975

Brian Short writes of the ‘images held by the English as a whole about their countryside. In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland, is taken on a walk by the discerning brother and sister, Henry and Eleanor Tilney. Henry persuades her to see the landscape revealed to them as a painting to be interpreted and gives a lecture on the Picturesque: “in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him … He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances – sidescreens and perspectives – lights and shades …” ’.
(Brian Short, editor, The English Rural Community: Image and Analysis, CUP, 1992)

The question of mud in the late 18thand early 19thcentury was a very considerable one. This article is taken from Regency Fashion: Keeping Hems Clean on the website, Jane Austen’s World, written and edited by Vic Sanborn.https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/

‘I have often wondered how delicate muslin gowns survived the harsh laundering that was required to remove stains made from dusty floors and muddy pathways. Even the grandest ladies wearing the most expensive dresses promenaded on gravel walkways or shopped along city or village streets. How did they manage to keep their hems clean in an era when paved roads and sidewalks were almost impossible to find?


Dirt road, a view near New Cross, Deptford in Kent, 1770, artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

‘Until macadam roads became widespread, roads across most of Great Britain remained unpaved. Village roads were especially notorious for becoming muddy quagmires during rainy days. The deep ruts in this village scene, illustrated just five years before Jane Austen’s birth say it all.

‘Dresses worn by working class women stopped at or above the ankles, and for good reason! These women wore sturdy leather shoes that could withstand the dirt.


Paul Sandby drawing of two vendors, 18th c.

City streets were barely better than country roads. While sidewalks protected dress hems, roads were still made of dirt. People tossed out garbage from their windows, and horse droppings made crossings all but impassable for pedestrians.


Dirt road, detail from a print of St. George, Bloomsbury, 1776

Crossing sweepers were stationed along major intersections, sweeping a clearing for anyone willing to give a tip. Not only did horses pull carriages and wagons, but drovers led animals to market through village and city streets. The stench from their droppings must have been unbelievable.

Jane Austen mentioned wearing pattens when she lived in Steventon. These devices elevated shoes above the dirt, but by the turn of the 19th century, pattens were no longer considered fashionable and were largely worn by the working classes.

Early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I always view contemporary images for clues. Diana Sperling, painting circa 1812, created some wonderful watercolours around the topic. In the painting below, you can see how the trains of the dresses have somehow been hitched up in the back, especially with the first and third women. The man is carrying a lantern, presumably to help the party find its way home in the dark. (CB Gordon Mingay comments on this watercolour, noting the bags in which the young ladies are carrying their indoor shoes.)

Hazards of walking, by Diana Sperling (1791 – 1862)

After Elizabeth Bennet walks to Netherfield to visit her sick sister, Jane, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Bingley speak disparagingly about the state of her dress:

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.” – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8

From the image below, one can readily see why Elizabeth’s hems were in such sad shape after her long walk in fields made wet by heavy rain.

Diana Sperling

‘In Northanger Abbey, Isabella and Catherine became quickly inseparable, even calling each other by their first names in an age when only intimate friends and family could be on such terms.

‘They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together.’

‘They pinned up the trains of each others’ evening gowns to prevent tripping, but also staining, I suspect. (It must be noted that guests changed from their street shoes to dancing slippers before entering a ballroom, which probably reduced the amount of dirt trailed inside.) Nothing could stop the girls from seeing each other, not even “dirt” or muddy streets.’From: janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

“Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasant people?”
“No, not all,” answered Marianne; “we could not be more unfortunately situated.”

“Marianne,” cried her sister, “how can you say so? How can you be so unjust? They are a very respectable family, Mr. Ferrars; and towards us have behaved in the friendliest manner. Have you forgot, Marianne, how many pleasant days we have owed to them?”

“No,” said Marianne, in a low voice, “nor how many painful moments.”

This little vignette of the sisters’ reactions to the Middletons perfectly illustrates two different ways of responding to social gatherings. Marianne tells the truth as she sees it. She does not enjoy the insensitive teasing of Sir John, Mrs Jennings’ teasing mixed with surveillance, the cold snobbery of Lady Middleton. Elinor tells a different sort of truth: the Middletons have been good neighbours to them in that they have allowed them the cottage at a moderate rent and they have not neglected the newcomers. Marianne tells a personal truth; Elinor tells a social truth. The two ‘truths’ are often incompatible.

Elinor took no notice of this; and directing her attention to their visitor, endeavoured to support something like discourse with him, by talking of their present residence, its conveniences, &c., extorting from him occasional questions and remarks. His coldness and reserve mortified her severely; she was vexed and half angry; but resolving to regulate her behaviour to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure, and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection.

Chapter 17 (excerpt)

Elinor, Marianne and Edward discuss several different matters.

“What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?”

“Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”

“Elinor, for shame!” said Marianne, “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.”

“Perhaps,” said Elinor, smiling, “we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?”

“About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.”

Elinor laughed. “Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.”

“And yet two thousand a year is a very moderate income,” said Marianne. “A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.”

Elinor smiled again, to hear her sister describing so accurately their future expenses at Combe Magna.

Dr Johnson defined a competence as ‘such a fortune as, without exuberance, is equal to the necessities of life.’ Jane Austen, her sister and her mother, lived on £450 a year. Marianne’s notions of ‘a proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters’ and her thought that this is not extravagant, is completely unrealistic. All these can hardly be said to be ‘necessities of life.’ Her ideas are, of course, taken from what Willoughby thinks he needs; we were told earlier that he lived beyond his income. In Chapter 14, ‘he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained of his poverty.’

Ironically, the Romantic Marianne thinks that a considerable sum of money is only just enough to get by. And the practical Elinor thinks that half that sum would be a lot of money.

“Marianne is as steadfast as ever, you see,” said Elinor, “she is not at all altered.”

“She is only grown a little more grave than she was.”

“Nay, Edward,” said Marianne, “you need not reproach me. You are not very gay yourself.”

“Why should you think so?” replied he, with a sigh. “But gaiety never was a part of my character.”

“Nor do I think it a part of Marianne’s,” said Elinor; “I should hardly call her a lively girl – she is very earnest, very eager in all she does – sometimes talks a great deal, and always with animation – but she is not often really merry.”

“I believe you are right,” he replied, “and yet I have always set her down as a lively girl.”

“I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes,” said Elinor, “in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid, than they really are, and I can hardly tell why, or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving one’s self time to deliberate (consider carefully) and judge.”

As with Elinor’s analysis of her reasons for being unconvinced by Willoughby, she here too gives a careful definition of the difficulty of accurately understanding people. She describes her mistakes as a ‘deception’ and attributes it to not giving herself ‘time to deliberate and judge.’ Marianne and Mrs Dashwood, being much more impulsive and possibly more lazy intellectually, jump to conclusions about other people. One of the concerns of the novel is the difficulty of arriving at the truth. Sometimes this is a fault in the person perceiving; sometimes it is the fault of the person perceived.

“You have not been able, then, to bring your sister over to your plan of general civility,” said Edward to Elinor, “Do you gain no ground?”

“Quite the contrary,” replied Elinor, looking expressively at Marianne.

“My judgment,” he returned, “is all on your side of the question; but I am afraid my practice is much more on your sister’s. I never wish to offend, but I am so foolishly shy, that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural awkwardness. I have frequently thought that I must have been intended by nature to be fond of low company, I am so little at my ease among strangers of gentility!”

“Marianne has not shyness to excuse any inattention of hers,” said Elinor.

“She knows her own worth too well for false shame,” replied Edward. “Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy.”

“But you would still be reserved,” said Marianne, “and that is worse.”

Edward started – “Reserved! Am I reserved, Marianne?”

“Yes, very.”

“I do not understand you,” replied he, colouring. “Reserved! – how, in what manner? What am I to tell you? What can you suppose?”

Marianne is not always wrong. In this instance, she has perceived a quality in Edward that is all too true. We do not discover the reason for his unusual reserve until some time later. He has just come from visiting the Steele sisters, the younger of whom he has been engaged to for four years and is now repenting of it.

Elinor looked surprised at his emotion; but trying to laugh off the subject, she said to him, “Do not you know my sister well enough to understand what she means? Do not you know she calls every one reserved who does not talk as fast, and admire what she admires as rapturously as herself?”

Edward made no answer. His gravity and thoughtfulness returned on him in their fullest extent – and he sat for some time silent and dull.

Chapter 18 (extract)

More conversations involving the sisters and Edward.

Edward has just been to the village to see to his horse (at Barton Cottage there is no stabling for a horse, so Edward has stabled his mount in the village).

Edward returned to them with fresh admiration of the surrounding country; in his walk to the village he had seen many parts of the valley to advantage; and the village itself, in a much higher situation than the cottage, afforded a general view of the whole, which had exceedingly pleased him. This was a subject which ensured Marianne’s attention; and she was beginning to describe her own admiration of these scenes, and to question him more minutely on the objects that had particularly struck him, when Edward interrupted her by saying, “You must not enquire too far, Marianne; remember I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country,- the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug,- with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility – and I daresay it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brushwood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque.”

Edward’s admires the countryside in a very practical mid-18th century way: he sees it as a place useful to man. He draws attention to the ‘fine timber’ in the woods, the ‘rich meadows’ that will have cattle and sheep in them, and the ‘neat farm houses’ (not poetic and Romantic hovels). He is teasing Marianne for her taste in the picturesque, when he accuses himself of using all the wrong adjectives to describe the countryside surrounding Barton Cottage. He is also, sensitively, talking about something that he knows will interest her, even if they disagree.

David M Shapard writes: ‘The closer actual scenes from nature resembled these paintings (of Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa), the more likely they were to be called picturesque. In the late eighteenth century the concept grew in popularity and took on further connotations in the hands of certain writers. They identified the picturesque as one of the three main categories of natural beauty, along with the beautiful, used to refer to what was gentle and delicate and harmonious, and the sublime, used to refer to what was vast and overwhelming. The picturesque was used for scenery characterized by irregularity, roughness, and variation, features not fitting into either of the other categories. These ideas had many links with the cult of sensibility and the growing Romanticism of the same period; picturesque scenery was often celebrated for the Romantic emotions it provoked.’
(David M Shapard, The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, Anchor Books, 2011)

Man and Nature

The most famous work of the poet Thomson (1700 – 1748), ‘The Seasons’, shows a sense of relationship between the country and the town, man and nature. Civilisation is a process of co-operation. According to him:

All is the gift of Industry, – whate’er
Exalts, embellishes, and renders life
Delightful.

Goldsmith, who was a poet and prose writer as well as a playwright, writes with typical eighteenth-century appreciation of the relationship between man and nature. He admires the improved and cultivated landscape.

This habitation, though provided with all the conveniences of air, pasturage, and
water, is but a desert place, without human cultivation.

An History of the Earth and Animated Nature

Arthur Young, secretary of the new Board of Agriculture, expresses similar sentiments. Evidently experiencing a horror of wild and waste country, he describes Norfolk in 1768.

All the country … was a wild sheepwalk before the spirit of improvement seized
the inhabitants … instead of boundless wilds and uncultivated wastes inhabited by
scarce anything but sheep, the country is all cut into enclosures, cultivated … richly
manured, well peopled, and yielding a hundred times the produce.

A Six Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales

A hundred years earlier, in 1657, Joshua Poole typifies this bleak view of any uncultivated landscape. In his poet’s handbook, English Parnassus, the adjectives he suggests for mountains are ‘barren’, ‘forsaken’, ‘melancholy’ and ‘pathless’. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1747 was still seeing Wales as ‘a dismal region, generally ten months buried in snow and eleven in clouds.’ The mountains of 1657 and the Wales of 1747 did not conform to the eighteenth-century desire for order and co-operation.

But already in 1739, new perceptions were emerging – perceptions that with hindsight we would call Romantic. Crossing the Alps, the poet, Thomas Gray, wrote in a letter, ‘Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff but is pregnant with religion and poetry.’ Edmund Burke wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and The Beautiful(1757). He praised ‘ideas elevating, awful (awe-inspiring) and of a magnificent kind.’ The Lake District and the Peak District were popular with tourists. James Pilkington wrote, in A View of the Present State of Derbyshire (1789): ‘Perhaps no country … can boast of finer scenes.’ And William Gilpin, in 1786, had written Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, on several parts of England; particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland.

William Gilpin watercolour, late 1780s showing the hazy background effects that were thought to improve scenes and to which Edward alludes: ‘indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere’.
from: http://www.earthworks.org/sublime/Gilpin/index.html

“I am afraid it is but too true,” said Marianne; “but why should you boast of it?”

“I suspect,” said Elinor, “that to avoid one kind of affectation, Edward here falls into another. Because he believes many people pretend to more admiration of the beauties of nature than they really feel, and is disgusted with such pretensions, he affects greater indifference and less discrimination in viewing them himself than he possesses. He is fastidious and will have an affectation of his own.”

“It is very true,” said Marianne, “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.”

“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect (view)which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”

Marianne looked with amazement at Edward, with compassion at her sister. Elinor only laughed.

When Edward mentions crooked, twisted, blasted trees, he is referring to that conoisseur of the picturesque, William Gilpin. Gilpin wrote: ‘What is more beautiful than an old tree with a hollow trunk/ or with a dead arm, a drooping bough, or a dying branch?’ (1791)

The article from which I have copied excerpts below, is “Enamoured of the Picturesque at a Very Early Age”: William Gilpin and Jane Austen. It is to be found at: austenonly.com

‘Marianne Dashwood’s preference for blasted trees in Sense and Sensibilityis surely based on Gilpin’s passages in his book, Remarks on Forest Scenery.

‘In this book he goes into the minutest detail of the picturesque nature of trees. His comments on the preference in the landscape for blasted trees ignore the practicalities required of the farmer or forestry men, all in the name of the “picturesque”:

The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. In some scenes it is almost essential. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye and ideas if wildness and desolation are required, what more suitable accompaniment can be imaged than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed and leafless; shooting its peeled white branches thwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm…..’

‘No wonder Edward Ferrars, speaking with his creator’s voice perhaps, is able to demolish Marianne and Gilpin’s fancy by the timely intervention of some sound practical principles:

I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”Sense and SensibilityChapter 18

‘I ought to remark that Jane Austen was not alone in finding Gilpin unintentionally amusing. He was ridiculed rather mercilessly as Dr Syntax in a series of three books, Dr Syntax’s Three Tours: in Search of the Picturesque, Consolation and a Wife.These books were written by William Coombe and illustrated (without mercy) by Thomas Rowlandson.’

If you want to see quite a few of Rowlandson’s cartoons and the accompanying doggerel, go to

tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/tour-of-doctor-syntax

‘Gilpin also valued banditti as an essential element in the picturesque. Here is Rowlandson’s version of Dr Syntax finding that banditti (or highwaymen) were not too much fun in real life. Anne Radcliffe paints a very Romantic picture of banditti in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).’

from: austenonly.com

Jane Austen’s focus on the lovely countryside surrounding Barton Cottage tends to illustrate Marianne’s and Edward’s characters. The different ways in which they respond to it illuminate their dispositions.

The subject was continued no farther; and Marianne remained thoughtfully silent, till a new object suddenly engaged her attention. She was sitting by Edward, and in taking his tea from Mrs. Dashwood, his hand passed so directly before her as to make a ring, with a plait of hair in the centre, very conspicuous on one of his fingers.

“I never saw you wear a ring before, Edward,” she cried. “Is that Fanny’s hair? I remember her promising to give you some. But I should have thought her hair had been darker.”

Again, it is Marianne who is the perceptive sister, noticing the new ring that Edward is wearing. And again, what she has noticed hints at a secret of Edward’s (it is a ring that Lucy Steele has just given him). The secret involves Edward in an evasion of the truth. Marianne feels much distressed at what she has said and the upset it has caused, but in fact it is not she, but Edward who, through his deceit, is the cause of future distress. He has not been as open as Marianne always is.

Edward’s ring with its lock of Lucy Steele’s hair is the parallel to Marianne’s allowing Willoughby the intimacy of cutting off a lock of her hair. In that instance, too, it is the man who is the deceiver.

The ring containing a lock of the lady’s hair is a reference to Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’ of 1714. However, ironically, whereas in that poem the ‘rapacious hand’ of the Baron has seized the lock, poor Edward has had the ring and its lock foisted upon him by Lucy. He has been the opposite of ‘rapacious’.

Marianne spoke inconsiderately what she really felt — but when she saw how much she had pained Edward, her own vexation at her want of thought could not be surpassed by his. He coloured very deeply, and giving a momentary glance at Elinor, replied, “Yes; it is my sister’s hair. The setting always casts a different shade on it, you know.”

Elinor had met his eye, and looked conscious (slightly guilty) likewise. That the hair was her own, she instantaneously felt as well satisfied as Marianne; the only difference in their conclusions was, that what Marianne considered as a free gift from her sister, Elinor was conscious must have been procured by some theft or contrivance unknown to herself. She was not in a humour, however, to regard it as an affront, and affecting to take no notice of what passed, by instantly talking of something else, she internally resolved henceforward to catch every opportunity of eyeing the hair, and satisfying herself, beyond all doubt, that it was exactly the shade of her own.

Edward’s embarrassment lasted some time, and it ended in an absence of mind still more settled. He was particularly grave the whole morning. Marianne severely censured herself for what she had said; but her own forgiveness might have been more speedy, had she known how little offence it had given her sister.

Edward, though not as flamboyant in his deception of Elinor as Willoughby is of Marianne, is also guilty of duplicity. He is already engaged to another woman, whose hair he is wearing in this ring. He therefore has to tell a lie when Marianne questions him about the hair in the ring. He has allowed himself to show considerable affection towards Elinor when he has no right to do so.

It often seems as if Marianne indulges her feelings and Elinor disciplines hers. However, Marianne is very sensitive to others; here she is acutely aware of the way her thoughtless and impulsive speech has caused Edward pain. ‘Marianne spoke inconsiderately what she really felt — but when she saw how much she had pained Edward, her own vexation at her want of thought could not be surpassed by his.’

When Willoughby was with them, it was Elinor who saw and wondered about the nature of the relationship between him and Marianne. Now Edward is with them, it is Marianne who notices. We do not know what she wonders about – except that she is surprised at the lack of emotion between her sister and Edward. Whereas we are often inside Elinor’s mind, we are never inside Marianne’s. This is partly because the novel is filtered through Elinor’s point of view, and partly because Marianne hides nothing: what is inside her mind is known to everyone.

Willoughby’s dialogue

Willoughby is often portrayed through description rather than through dialogue. Much of the description is admiring as it details the way that Marianne and her mother see him. However, a focus on what he actually says gives a somewhat different impression.

The first time we hear Willoughby speak is in Chapter 10, and he speaks in dispraise of Colonel Brandon. Even when Elinor criticises his observations, he continues them at some length.

“Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”

“That is exactly what I think of him,” cried Marianne.

“Do not boast of it, however,” said Elinor, “for it is injustice in both of you.
He is highly esteemed by all the family at the Park, and I never see him myself without taking pains to converse with him.”

Even at the very end of the conversation, Willoughby persists in having the last word, and he does so in a fashion that pre-empts further discussion. Although the reasons he gives are nonsense, they fulfil the desired intention: they preclude rational argument and they therefore silence the opposition. They also display Willoughby’s wit. They also, rather more revealingly, show Willoughby as the centre of attention in the arguments, however wittily couched, and disclose his dislike of a good man.

‘You shall find me as stubborn as you can be artful. I have three unanswerable reasons for disliking Colonel Brandon: he has threatened me with rain when I wanted it to be fine; he has found fault with the hanging of my curricle, and I cannot persuade him to buy my brown mare. If it will be any satisfaction to you, however, to be told that I believe his character to be in other respects irreproachable, I am ready to confess it. And in return for an acknowledgment, which must give me some pain, you cannot deny me the privilege of disliking him as much as ever.”

We do not hear Willoughby again until Chapter 12, when he offers Marianne one of his horses as a present. When Marianne, advised by Elinor, refuses the offer, Willoughby oversteps convention again. In Chapter 10 he did so by bad-mouthing Colonel Brandon. This time he does so by addressing Marianne by her Christian name, as if he was engaged to her, which he is not. He also speaks of Marianne forming her ‘own establishment in a more lasting home’ and the horse he wants to give her being ready for her there. Yet, later, it turns out that this means nothing. It is another of his substance-less fantasies, worded with seeming sincerity.

She was faithful to her word; and when Willoughby called at the cottage, the same day, Elinor heard her express her disappointment to him in a low voice, on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side impossible. His concern however was very apparent; and after expressing it with earnestness, he added in the same low voice — “But, Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you.”

In Chapter 13, Colonel Brandon has to depart for London at a moment’s notice. This means that a projected picnic has to be cancelled. Again, Willoughby finds fault with Colonel Brandon, inventing a reason for Brandon’s sudden departure. Invention, or indulgence in projects which are fantasies, seem to be Willoughby’s stock in trade. In this extract, Colonel Brandon is the first to speak.

“I wish it could be so easily settled. But it is not in my power to delay my journey for one day!”

“If you would but let us know what your business is,” said Mrs. Jennings, “we might see whether it could be put off or not.”

“You would not be six hours later,” said Willoughby, “if you were to defer your journey till our return.”

“I cannot afford to lose one hour.” —

Elinor then heard Willoughby say in a low voice to Marianne, “There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one of them. He was afraid of catching cold, I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out of it. I would lay fifty guineas the letter was of his own writing.”

“I have no doubt of it,” replied Marianne.

Instead of going on the picnic, therefore, Willoughby drives Marianne to visit the house he hopes to inherit, without letting its owner know. This is another hope in prospect without present substance, like the proposed horse for Marianne. That evening at supper, Mrs Jennings tells him that she knows where he went. Willoughby attempts to defend himself by accusing her of not knowing that they had gone out in his curricle. However, he is defeated by Mrs Jennings.

Mrs. Jennings sat on Elinor’s right hand; and they had not been long seated, before she leant behind her and Willoughby, and said to Marianne, loud enough for them both to hear, “I have found you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning.”

Marianne coloured, and replied very hastily, “Where, pray?” —

“Did not you know,” said Willoughby, “that we had been out in my curricle?”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determined to find out where you had been to. I hope you like your house, Miss Marianne. It is a very large one I know, and when I come to see you, I hope you will have new-furnished it, for it wanted it very much, when I was there six years ago.”

Marianne turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Jennings laughed heartily; and Elinor found that in her resolution to know where they had been, she had actually made her own woman enquire of Mr. Willoughby’s groom, and that she had by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham, and spent a considerable time there in walking about the garden and going all over the house. Elinor could hardly believe this to be true, as it seemed very unlikely that Willoughby should propose, or Marianne consent, to enter the house while Mrs. Smith was in it, with whom Marianne had not the smallest acquaintance.

Willoughby’s behaviour, unfortunately, adversely affects Marianne. She agrees with him is his criticism of Colonel Brandon: “That is exactly what I think of him,” cried Marianne. She is ready to accept his indecorous gift of a horse. She goes with him to Allenham without anyone else to regularize the expedition, and is persuaded by him to think about refurbishing it when it not hers to do so. Some critics seem to think that his cutting off a piece of her hair means more than this, though I doubt it. Still, it is a liberty that she should not have allowed. Willoughby certainly tempts her into behaviour and thought that is not of the high standards of the rest of her family.

Juliet McMaster writes: ‘Willoughby is the actual seducer of Miss Williams, and the potential seducer of Marianne. In his energetic pursuit of Marianne he coolly waits to see how far he can go in engaging her love, without getting himself entangled. … The means in his power are considerable. He has the initial advantage of their close physical contact at the outset … And Marianne is closer to being the victim of a seducer than any other heroine, for we learn enough of her readiness for illicit encounters and clandestine journeys, like the trip to Allenham, to suppose that she is in real danger. I take the scene of the rape of the lock, as described to Elinor by Margaret, to be an emblem of things possibly to come … The tumbled hair, the reluctantly granted boon, the kissing and triumphant appropriation of the lock all suggest that Marianne might yield to seduction: her principle, since she asserts that the pleasantness of an occupation is evidence of its propriety, would hardly save her from Miss Williams’ fate.’
Juliet McMaster, Jane Austen on Love, ELS Editions, 1978

The penultimate study of Willoughby during his stay in Devonshire, is in Chapter 14. On this occasion, he is extolling the virtues of Barton Cottage in characteristically exaggerated form. Is he flattering his hostess? Or is this a way of telling her how happy her kindness and welcome at Barton Cottage have made him? Or is it charming and meaningless flummery? Jane Austen does preface the episode with the word ‘seemed’, suggesting appearance rather than reality.

One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon had left the country, his heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood’s happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect with him.

“What!” he exclaimed — “Improve this dear cottage! No — that I will never consent to.
Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded.”

“Do not be alarmed,” said Miss Dashwood, “nothing of the kind will be done; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it.”

“I am heartily glad of it,” he cried. “May she always be poor, if she can employ her riches no better.”

“Thank you, Willoughby. But you may be assured that I would not sacrifice one sentiment of local attachment of yours, or of any one whom I loved, for all the improvements in the world. Depend upon it that whatever unemployed sum may remain, when I make up my accounts in the spring, I would even rather lay it uselessly by than dispose of it in a manner so painful to you. But are you really so attached to this place as to see no defect in it?”

“I am,” said he. “To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable, and were I rich enough, I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan of this cottage.”

“With dark narrow stairs, and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose,” said Elinor.

“Yes,” cried he in the same eager tone, “with all and everything belonging to it; — in no one convenience or in convenience about it, should the least variation be perceptible. Then, and then only, under such a roof, I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been at Barton.”

“I flatter myself,” replied Elinor, “that even under the disadvantage of better rooms and a broader staircase, you will hereafter find your own house as faultless as you now do this.”

“There certainly are circumstances,” said Willoughby, “which might greatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim on my affection, which no other can possibly share.”

Mrs. Dashwood looked with pleasure at Marianne, whose fine eyes were fixed so expressively on Willoughby, as plainly denoted how well she understood him.

“How often did I wish,” added he, “when I was at Allenham this time twelvemonth, that Barton Cottage were inhabited! I never passed within view of it without admiring its situation, and grieving that no one should live in it. How little did I then think that the very first news I should hear from Mrs. Smith, when I next came into the country, would be that Barton cottage was taken! and I felt an immediate satisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience from it, can account for. Must it not have been so Marianne?” speaking to her in a lowered voice. Then continuing his former tone, he said, “And yet this house you would spoil, Mrs. Dashwood! You would rob it of its simplicity by imaginary improvement! and this dear parlour, in which our acquaintance first began, and in which so many happy hours have been since spent by us together, you would degrade to the condition of a common entrance, and everybody would be eager to pass through the room which has hitherto contained within itself more real accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomest dimensions in the world could possibly afford.”

Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration of the kind should be attempted.

“You are a good woman,” he warmly replied. “Your promise makes me easy. Extend it a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you will always consider me with the kindness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me.”

The promise was readily given, and Willoughby’s behaviour during the whole of the evening declared at once his affection and happiness.

Willoughby’s fantastic exaggerations are shown up for what they are by Elinor’s matter of fact realism. When Willoughby indulges in hyperbole in his protests against any alteration to the cottage (‘Not a stone must be added … not an inch…’), Elinor replies, ‘Do not be alarmed,” said Miss Dashwood, “nothing of the kind will be done; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it.”. She does the same a little further on, when Willoughby fantastically claims, ‘Were I rich enough, I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan of this cottage.” Elinor mocks him. “With dark narrow stairs, and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose,” said Elinor. She pops the balloon of his showy fiction.

Willoughby’s reply demonstrates his misconception of what makes for true happiness. He appears to think that the look of a house can make you happy. ‘Then, and then only, under such a roof, I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been at Barton.” Lindsay Duguid comments that Willoughby, like other ‘unworthy characters’ in the novel, speaks ‘in praise of cottages, as if (he) could, by mere money, attain the domestic harmony of Barton.’ (TLS Jane Austen TLS 2017) Willoughby’s essentially shallow nature is demonstrated in his assumption that happiness is something that can be commodified. He has no understanding that the happiness he finds in Barton Cottage derives from family relationships; it cannot be literally constructed by builders.

The rhapsody continues as Willoughby depicts future impossibilities. ‘There certainly are circumstances,” said Willoughby, “which might greatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim on my affection, which no other can possibly share.” This is presumably designed to suggest that when Marianne joins him at Combe as his wife, Combe will be dear to him. However, Barton is the place where he met Marianne and which therefore has ‘one claim on my affection.’ In thus describing Combe, Willoughby uses verbs which, upon closer inspection, show that this picture is as insubstantial as all the rest. ‘There … are circumstances … which might greatly endear it (Combe) to me.’ ‘Might’ is a conditional verb which undermines the assurance of ‘certainly’. And ‘this place will always have one claim on my affection’ is as far in the future as the horse that he proposed Marianne should accept. It is not a present certainty, even if he shores up its plausibility with ‘which no other can possibly share.’

Willoughby continues to express himself in high-flown rhetorical terms. ‘How often did I wish,” … How little did I then think …’. And he accuses Mrs Dashwood in rhetorical flourishes, ’This house you would spoil … you would rob it … you would degrade …’ and he ends this paragraph with more hyperbole in describing the sitting-room as having, ‘…more real accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomest dimensions in the world could possibly afford.”

It is not only through rhetoric that Willoughby impresses Mrs Dashwood and Marianne; it is also through the warmth in his voice. His last remark is perhaps nearest the truth, ‘you will always consider me with the kindness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me.’ Even then, the promise he claims from these affectionate women is one that he extracts from them without taking responsibility for his behaviour towards them, even as he praises their behaviour towards him.

From the outset, Marianne has expressed herself in a rhetorically extravagant and Romantic fashion. In Chapter 3, she unburdened her feelings to her mother on the subject of Edward’s lacklustre reading. ‘Oh mama! how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!’ This is a far cry from Elinor’s habitually moderate expression and rationally antithetically structured sentences. But it is very similar to the way Willoughby speaks. It is no wonder that Marianne immediately recognized in him a soulmate. Unfortunately, whereas Marianne’s hyperbole and excess stem from her youth and her beliefs, Willoughby’s, whether consciously or not, are a construct.

Since I am not a fan of Willoughby, I tend to see in this example of his dialogue everything that I most dislike. His rhetorical flourishes, spoken for maximum impact, the fantastic (not to say ridiculous) nature of what he says, reveal him as a person without substance. He is an attention seeker (next morning he depicts himself as ‘a poor dependant cousin’) who revels in the spotlight, who favours style over substance. But his words are frequently meaningless, or worse, untrue. What he said of Colonel Brandon, for example, though worthy of Oscar Wilde in the wit of a well-turned phrase, was untrue. ‘Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.” When he took Marianne round Allenham, it was to create the impression of himself as an eligible bachelor about to inherit a substantial house. But he took her there unchaperoned and without the knowledge of the owner of Allenham. So his actions as well as his words, although showy, seem to have something questionable about them: his words about Colonel Brandon were unkind; his expedition with Marianne to Allenham was indecorous.

Elinor is the character who shows Willoughby’s words and actions for what they are: misguided, not to say wrong. She takes trouble to turn Marianne’s thoughts back into more moral and considerate channels, although she can have no impact on Marianne’s feelings.

In reality, Willoughby, underneath all the eloquent purple prose, is a ruthless fortune-hunter. He loves to create an impression, to be the centre of attention, to indulge himself regardless of the consequences, to show off. But that’s all it is: show. For a young woman like Marianne, who thinks that people only say what they truly believe, this has the makings of near tragedy.

The final vignette of Willoughby is in Chapter 15, when he suddenly leaves for London with no expectation of seeing them again despite invitations from Mrs Dashwood. He briefly depicts himself as the victim of a powerful relation: ‘Mrs. Smith has this morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor dependant cousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just received my dispatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham.’ He will give no reason for his sudden departure, he does not deal openly with them, ‘his colour increased; and with his eyes fixed on the ground he only replied, “You are too good.” And a little later, “My engagements at present,” replied Willoughby confusedly, “are of such a nature — that — I dare not flatter myself” –. They hear nothing from him once he has left.

” …. I am now suffering under a very heavy disappointment!”

“Disappointment!”

“Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you. Mrs. Smith has this morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor dependant cousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just received my dispatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by way of exhilaration I am now come to take my farewell of you.”

“To London! — and are you going this morning?”

“Almost this moment.”

“This is very unfortunate. But Mrs. Smith must be obliged; — and her business will not detain you from us long I hope.”

He coloured as he replied, “You are very kind, but I have no idea of returning into Devonshire immediately. My visits to Mrs. Smith are never repeated within the twelvemonth.”

“And is Mrs. Smith your only friend? Is Allenham the only house in the neighbourhood to which you will be welcome? For shame, Willoughby. Can you wait for an invitation here?”

His colour increased; and with his eyes fixed on the ground he only replied, “You are too good.”

Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise. Elinor felt equal amazement. For a few moments every one was silent. Mrs. Dashwood first spoke.

“I have only to add, my dear Willoughby, that at Barton cottage you will always be welcome; for I will not press you to return here immediately, because you only can judge how far that might be pleasing to Mrs. Smith; and on this head I shall be no more disposed to question your judgment than to doubt your inclination.”

“My engagements at present,” replied Willoughby confusedly, “are of such a nature — that — I dare not flatter myself” —

He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished to speak, and another pause succeeded. This was broken by Willoughby, who said with a faint smile, “It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy.”

So when we hear Willoughby speak, he is either criticising a good neighbour behind his back (twice), overstepping the boundaries of etiquette (speaking to Marianne as if they were engaged; visiting a house he hopes to inherit and discussing how it would look when it is nicely done up – but without its owner’s knowledge or permission), indulging in ridiculous exaggeration which must be meaningless, or failing to be open with the family that has been so kind to him. What he does not say is much more important: he does not ask Marianne to marry him, although he behaves towards her, in public, in a manner that makes everyone including Marianne think that that must be his intention.

There is much description of Willoughby, sometimes from the narrator and sometimes through the eyes of other characters. We first learn what Mrs Dashwood and Elinor’s reactions are when he carries Marianne into the house in Chapter 9.

Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance,he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful, that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs. Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.

She thanked him again and again; and with a sweetness of address which always attended her, invited him to be seated. But this he declined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Dashwood then begged to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby, and his present home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would allow him the honour of calling to-morrow to inquire after Miss Dashwood. The honour was readily granted, and he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of an heavy rain.

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions.

Willoughby’s appearance is what immediately impresses the family upon their first sight of him. Their ‘admiration… sprung from his appearance‘, his ‘manner so frank and so graceful … his person, which was uncommonly handsome…his manly beautyand more than common gracefulness… his exterior attractions.’ It’s all appearance. We wait for the substance and it never emerges.

In the next chapter, we see much more of Willoughby.

Willoughby, on his side, gave every proof of his pleasure in their acquaintance, which an evident wish of improving it could offer. He came to them every day. To inquire after Marianne was at first his excuse; but the encouragement of his reception, to which every day gave greater kindness, made such an excuse unnecessary before it had ceased to be possible by Marianne’s perfect recovery. She was confined for some days to the house: but never had any confinement been less irksome. Willoughby was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners. He was exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart; for, with all this, he joined not only a captivating person, but a natural ardour of mind, which was now roused and increased by the example of her own, and which recommended him to her affection beyond everything else.

His society became gradually her most exquisite enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted.

In Mrs. Dashwood’s estimation, he was as faultless as in Marianne’s; and Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted her sister, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want of caution which Elinor could not approve, in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.

Willoughby’s superficial qualities are quickly evident: ‘good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners…. a captivating person …’ (that’s to say, he’s very attractive, exuding pheronomes). However, Elinor observes, ‘In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety’.

Chapter 12

As Elinor and Marianne were walking together the next morning the latter communicated a piece of news to her sister, which, in spite of all that she knew before of Marianne’s imprudence and want of thought, surprised her by its extravagant testimony of both. Marianne told her, with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in Somersetshire, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman. Without considering that it was not in her mother’s plan to keep any horse — that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride it, and after all, build a stable to receive them — she had accepted the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.

Willoughby’s actions here overstep the boundaries of propriety. To give a young woman such a present as a horse presupposes a relationship that, so far as is known, does not exist formally. Furthermore, he has apparently not considered the difficulties and expense entailed in catering for such a present. The Dashwoods have very little money and no stable. He has thus breached several social codes in a way that shows him to be careless of the consequences of his behaviour. Elinor then hears Margaret’s account of the way Willoughby has acquired a lock of Marianne’s hair.

“But indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne’s. I am almost sure it is, for I saw him cut it off. Last night after tea, when you and mama went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and presently he took up her scissars and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper, and put it into his pocket-book.”

Again, Willoughby has contravened the dictates governing the behaviour of eligible young men towards young women. His actions towards Marianne in private suggest feelings that have not been ratified officially and formally in a public relationship. They suggest everything and turn out to mean nothing.

In Chapter 13, after the picnic has had to be abandoned, everyone decides to go for drives around the countryside.

When Sir John returned, he joined most heartily in the general regret on so unfortunate an event; concluding however by observing, that as they were all got together, they must do something by way of being happy; and after some consultation it was agreed, that although happiness could only be enjoyed at Whitwell, they might procure a tolerable composure of mind by driving about the country. The carriages were then ordered; Willoughby’s was first, and Marianne never looked happier than when she got into it. He drove through the park very fast, and they were soon out of sight; and nothing more of them was seen till their return, which did not happen till after the return of all the rest. They both seemed delighted with their drive, but said only in general terms that they had kept in the lanes, while the others went on the downs.

Willoughby has driven Marianne ‘about the country’ without a chaperone. That evening, Mrs Jennings reveals that she knows where Willoughby and Marianne have gone – to Allenham, the house that Willoughby is probably going to inherit when his cousin, the elderly Mrs Smith, dies. It then becomes clear that Willoughby took Marianne there without the permission or the knowledge of his cousin.

She blushed at this hint; but it was even visibly gratifying to her; and after a ten minutes’ interval of earnest thought, she came to her sister again, and said with great good humour, “Perhaps, Elinor, it wasrather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham; but Mr. Willoughby wanted particularly to shew me the place; and it is a charming house I assure you. There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs; of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furniture it would be delightful. It is a corner room, and has windows on two sides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind the house, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a view of the church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that we have so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, for nothing could be more forlorn than the furniture, — but if it were newly fitted up — a couple of hundred pounds, Willoughby says, would make it one of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England.”

Willoughby has infringed yet more codes of conduct. He has led Marianne to believe that she will live at Allenham as his wife, and has encouraged her to imagine how the rooms would look with modern furniture.

Chapter 14

Elinor, though she felt really interested in the welfare of Colonel Brandon, could not bestow all the wonder on his going so suddenly away, which Mrs. Jennings was desirous of her feeling; for besides that the circumstance did not in her opinion justify such lasting amazement or variety of speculation, her wonder was otherwise disposed of. It was engrossed by the extraordinary silence of her sister and Willoughby on the subject, which they must know to be peculiarly interesting to them all. As this silence continued, every day made it appear more strange and more incompatible with the disposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge to her mother and herself, what their constant behaviour to each other declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.

She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately in their power; for though Willoughby was independent, there was no reason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John at about six or seven hundred a year; but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained of his poverty. But for this strange kind of secrecy maintained by them relative to their engagement, which in fact concealed nothing at all, she could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory to their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes entered her mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough to prevent her making any inquiry of Marianne.

Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, than Willoughby’s behaviour. To Marianne it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover’s heart could give, and to the rest of the family it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. The cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home; many more of his hours were spent there than at Allenham; and if no general engagement collected them at the park, the exercise which called him out in the morning was almost certain of ending there, where the rest of the day was spent by himself at the side of Marianne, and by his favourite pointer at her feet.

We are given much of the description of Willoughby and his intentions or otherwise towards Marianne through Elinor. She puzzles over the ‘extraordinary silence of her sister and Willoughby’; ‘every day made it appear more strange and more incompatible with the disposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge to her mother and herself, what their constant behaviour to each other declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.’ There seems to the clear-thinking Elinor a very odd discrepancy between ‘their … behaviour to each other’ and their failure to ‘openly acknowledge’ in public recognition what their relationship is. Elinor’s thoughts continue: ‘this strange kind of secrecy maintained by them relative to their engagement, which in fact concealed nothing at all, she could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory to their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes entered her mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough to prevent her making any inquiry of Marianne.’

Willoughby’s behaviour is clear but he says nothing to make his intentions clear. His behaviour makes it appear what his intentions are, but the words to make the matter clear are lacking. And it is the words that would ratify the intentions signaled by his behavior. ‘Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, than Willoughby’s behaviour. To Marianne it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover’s heart could give, and to the rest of the family it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. The cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home.’ Jane Austen uses words like ‘nothing could be more expressive of attachment … than Willoughby’s behaviour.’ He behaves like ‘a son and a brother.’ Then the ominous word ‘seemed’ appears (and seeming has characterised his behaviour, too): ‘the cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home.’

In Chapter 15, Elinor considers Willoughby’s behaviour again.

Elinor’s uneasiness was at least equal to her mother’s. She thought of what had just passed with anxiety and distrust. Willoughby’s behaviour in taking leave of them, his embarrassment, and affectation of cheerfulness, and, above all, his unwillingness to accept her mother’s invitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover — so unlike himself, greatly disturbed her. One moment she feared that no serious design had ever been formed on his side; and the next that some unfortunate quarrel had taken place between him and her sister; the distress in which Marianne had quitted the room was such as a serious quarrel could most reasonably account for, though when she considered what Marianne’s love for him was, a quarrel seemed almost impossible.

Elinor sees that Willoughby has displayed behaviour ‘unlike a lover’ in leaving them. He has been embarrassed, he has not accepted her mother’s invitation to him to visit them. She still wonders, indeed fears ‘that no serious design had ever been formed on his side.’ Everything, we later realise, has been appearance. Willoughby has never committed himself. (He refuses, we are told much later, to commit himself to Eliza in marriage, and he even considers the possiblity of marrying Marianne when he is married to his heiress, in the event of the heiress dying. He does not seem to believe in commitment.)

There seems to me to be a clear distinction in this novel between characters who acquire things – usually money – as a form of security and those who are heedless of financial security, and who value relationships. Willoughby provides a particularly clear illustration of the first category. In Chapter 14, Willoughby was declaring his unshakable attachment to Barton Cottage and those, particularly one of those, who lived there. In the very next chapter, he leaves for London without explaining himself, and Elinor learns much later (Chapter 44) that he left in order to engage himself to the heiress, Miss Grey. The juxtaposition and jarring contrast between the hyperbolic declaration one evening and the cold reality the next morning of betrothing himself to an heiress he did not love whose fortune he would legally become possessed of upon their marriage, makes a shocking point.

It is a point that is insisted upon throughout the novel. The characters can almost be divided into those who are acquisitive but emotionally cold and those who value relationships. Willoughby values Miss Grey’s fortune over Marianne’s love and the domestic happiness he professed to hold in such high regard. Even when he first comes upon Marianne, he is described as a hunter, a predator. We later learn that the pregnant Eliza has been left in his wake. In the opening chapter of the novel, Fanny Dashwood, who was already possessed of a very rich husband, came immediately upon her father-in-law’s death to install herself in the house of which she was now the legal mistress. The fact that it contained her father-in-law’s grieving widow and daughters whose home it had been for ten years was immaterial. (In this instance, Fanny disregarded familial relationships rather than those of a lover.) Lucy Steele, who will appear in Chapter 21, professes, with considerably less charm than Willoughby has at his disposal, to be dotingly fond of the Middletons and their children. This gives her the entrée to a smarter and richer society than she would otherwise mix with. In addition, in Chapter 22 she demonstrates her determination to secure Edward (her financial security). When she realises that she can secure his much richer brother, she does so. Feelings, although she dwells on them as powerfully as she is able (which is not very), are absent. Financial security and social status are what she requires and acquires. Sir John Middleton is certainly kind to the Dashwood women in letting them have Barton Cottage, but his relationship with his wife seems non-existent, as the antithetically expressed description of the Middletons in Chapter 7 makes clear. (‘Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children…’.)

Jane Austen signals her dislike of the coldly acquisitive way of living by making almost all her acquisitive characters very unlikeable. They are unlikeable because they are actively unkind: Willoughby towards Marianne, Fanny towards all the Dashwood women, Lucy Steele towards Elinor, and Mrs Ferrars towards almost everybody. (Mrs Ferrars is not acquisitive, but she cruelly defends her powerful position; she takes away rather than gives.) In her next novel, Pride and Prejudice, Austen presents in a much more understanding fashion Charlotte Lucas’s decision to acquire financial security by marrying the unspeakable Mr Collins. It seems that in Sense and Sensibility she is more interested in exploring the techniques by which the acquirers acquire, and the misery they dispense. In Pride and Prejudice, she looks at some of the reasons behind the need for acquiring some form of security and the compromises and drawbacks it may entail.

In contrast, many of the characters value relationships over financial security. Edward, Colonel Brandon, Mrs Jennings, Mrs Dashwood and our two heroines all consider their relationships with others more important than money. And in fact, in many instances, they don’t find their security in relationships until the very end. This is conspicuously so in the case of Elinor and Marianne, whose uncertainty in emotional matters causes such misery. Colonel Brandon, although this is not dwelt upon, is evidently unhappy that Marianne prefers Willoughby to him. Edward is unhappy that he has to honour his engagement to Lucy. Mrs Dashwood’s widowhood opens the novel, although again her feelings are not dwelt upon at length. I have included Mrs Jennings because, in valuing relationships, she, like the others, gives rather than acquires. She gives hospitality to Elinor and Marianne in London, and continued care of them both in London and at Cleveland. Edward happily forgoes (gives up, to continue the giving idiom) his inheritance as his mother’s heir, to marry Elinor. Colonel Brandon gives his attention, affection and help to Marianne and to the two Elizas and in addition, gives his living to Edward who is looking for a parish. Mrs Dashwood gives affection and hospitality to all who come to Barton, especially Willoughby and Edward. None of these characters is interested in money or in acquisition, although you could say that Jane Austen cheats by giving her heroines husbands who are not only loving but are also rich enough to provide for their wives.

A footnote to the sins of the cold-hearted acquisitive characters is their addiction to meaningless hyperbole. Either that, or tired cliché. Marianne, of course, exaggerates constantly, but this I think is because she subscribes wholeheartedly to Romanticism, and also because she is very young and naïve. In her speech, exaggeration gives us an insight into her youth and into her character. The cold-hearted characters deploy exaggeration as a means to an end. Look at Willoughby, speaking of Barton Cottage, ‘To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable …’ (Chapter 14). He is masking his cold feelings and building a construct of a Romantic man. Lucy Steele tells Elinor that she is engaged to Edward, ‘the man on who all my happiness depends’ (Chapter 22), to warn Elinor off him. Fanny describes a miniscule amount of money given to the Dashwood women as being ‘a prodigious increase to their fortunes’ (Chapter 2) in order to persuade her husband not to give away his money to his sisters. Mrs Ferrars says of the heiress, Miss Morton, ‘But she does everything well.’ (Chapter 34) This is in disparagement of Elinor’s talents and to warn her off Edward. Empty-headed Sir John tries to persuade Elinor and Marianne that they will enjoy meeting the Steele sisters. His exaggerated clichés reveal his dearth of information, as he calls the Steeles, ‘the sweetest girls in the world’ (Chapter 21).

We know that Jane Austen disliked clichéd exaggeration from a letter she wrote to her niece, Anna. Anna was a budding writer and sent her aunt what she had written for inspection. On one occasion, Jane Austen replied: ‘ Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a ‘vortex of Dissipation’. I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression;–it is such thorough novel slang–and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened.’ (September 28, 1814) I would guess that Jane Austen dislikes exaggeration for at least two reasons: it is a careless and undefined and meaningless mode of expression, and Austen is always careful to define her meaning most carefully. It also denotes a carelessness about feelings, a tendency to invent them when they are not there, to disguise a want of feeling. All too often, exaggeration is used as a form of attack masquerading as civility.

Ironically, hyperbole does not mask lack of feeling and lack of sincerity. It reveals it.

The cold-hearted acquirers are either defending their acquisitions or seeking to acquire them in the manner of a predator and its prey. Thus, in Chapter 2, Fanny and John Dashwood are defending their enormous wealth against the smallest diminution; later, Mrs Ferrars defends her empire of status founded on wealth against all but the heiress, Miss Morton. Lucy Steele defends her acquired future security, Edward Ferrars, against Elinor. In all these cases, the defence is achieved with maximum unkindness. Lucy Steele and that other notable acquirer, Willoughby, are both shown in action. Lucy shows us how a clever and determined young woman moves up the rungs of the social and financial ladder as she ingratiates herself with the Middletons. Willoughby is depicted as he uses his manly charm on an impressionable young woman. Both Lucy and Willoughby are quick to move from one acquisition to the next more financially profitable one. Lucy dumps Edward and marries Robert (apprising Edward of this change in her circumstances only when she writes to him as Mrs Ferrars); Willoughby dumps Marianne and marries Miss Grey. They are both opportunists and act regardless of the emotional consequences of their actions on those they discard. (Although, ironically, Lucy’s swift exchange of Edward for Robert brings about ‘deliverance’ for Edward. Lucy, however, had retained her hold on Edward for reasons of financial security whereas Edward continued his unhappy engagement to her for reasons of honour. Their contrasting motives form a part of their characterisation.)

When Willoughby wishes to define himself still more favourably in Marianne’s eyes, he does so in material terms: he shows her round Allenham. When he quantifies domestic happiness, he does so by saying he would pull Combe down and rebuild it as Barton Cottage. He sees life in terms of material things, rather than relationships. When he leaves Marianne to marry Miss Grey, he does so because he wants Miss Grey’s money to finance his desire for things (‘ I had always been expensive,’ he says in Chapter 44.)

Austen further defines the contrast between the cold-hearted acquirers and those whose wealth is their affection for one another in her ending to the novel. Those conspicuously successful in acquisition, Lucy Steele and Fanny Dashwood, are consigned to endless hostility in their near relationship to each other. Their lives are filled with ‘jealousies and ill-will’ and ‘frequent domestic disagreements.’ Elinor and Edward, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, by contrast, live as close neighbours in ‘constant communication’ born of their ‘strong family affection’.

Chapter 19

Edward leaves the Dashwoods. Mrs Jennings’ younger daughter, Mrs Palmer, and her husband come to stay at Barton Park.

EDWARD remained a week at the cottage; he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Dashwood to stay longer; but, as if he were bent only on self-mortification, he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height. His spirits, during the last two or three days, though still very unequal, were greatly improved – he grew more and more partial to the house and environs- never spoke of going away without a sigh – declared his time to be wholly disengaged – even doubted to what place he should go when he left them – but still, go he must. Never had any week passed so quickly – he could hardly believe it to be gone. He said so repeatedly; other things he said, too, which marked the turn of his feelings, and gave the lie to his actions. He had no pleasure at Norland; he detested being in town; but either to Norland or London he must go. He valued their kindness beyond any thing, and his greatest happiness was in being with them. Yet, he must leave them at the end of a week, in spite of their wishes and his own, and without any restraint on his time.

Edward’s behaviour is unaccountable. The way in which Jane Austen sets out the clauses and sentences underlines this fact. None of it adds up.

he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Dashwood to stay longer; but,
he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height.

he grew more and more partial to the house and environs
– never spoke of going away without a sigh –
declared his time to be wholly disengaged –
even doubted to what place he should go when he left them –
but still, go he must.

He had no pleasure at Norland; he detested being in town;
but either to Norland or London he must go.

He valued their kindness beyond any thing, and his greatest happiness was in being with them.
Yet, he must leave them at the end of a week, in spite of their wishes and his own…

In fact, Edward’s behaviour is in some respects like Willoughby’s. Willoughby gave his greatest praise of Barton Cottage and its family on the evening before his sudden departure in Chapter 14. Being Willoughby, he expresses himself in exaggerated terms, but even so, his affection for the cottage and the Dashwoods is clear.
‘His heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him,’ and, ‘To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable…’. Edward’s feelings are related by the narrator rather than conveyed in dialogue, but their import, although muted by the narrative, is similar to Willoughby’s.

Elinor’s reactions to Edward’s conduct are quite different from her sister’s, in that she is much quieter. She is also ‘disappointed’, ‘vexed’ and ‘sometimes displeased’ with his behaviour, when Marianne had no reason to disbelieve Willoughby. However, she, like her sister, seeks comfort in believing what is not true about her suitor. In fact, whereas Marianne had been encouraged by Willoughby to believe in him, and still did so when he left, Elinor in the face of discouraging behaviour on the part of Edward, invents a complete fiction in order to exonerate him.

Elinor placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to his mother’s account; and it was happy for her that he had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to her, as to be the general excuse for every thing strange on the part of her son. Disappointed, however, and vexed as she was, and sometimes displeased with his uncertain behaviour to herself, she was very well disposed on the whole to regard his actions with all the candid allowances and generous qualifications, which had been rather more painfully extorted from her, for Willoughby’s service, by her mother. His want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Ferrars’s dispositions and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporising (playing for time) with his mother. The old well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all. She would have been glad to know when these difficulties were to cease, this opposition was to yield,- when Mrs. Ferrars would be reformed, and her son be at liberty to be happy. But from such vain wishes she was forced to turn for comfort to the renewal of her confidence in Edward’s affection, to the remembrance of every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him while at Barton, and above all, to that flattering proof of it which he constantly wore round his finger.

Elinor deceives herself with her ideas and assumptions about Edward just as much as Marianne does with her ideas about Willoughby. If you summarise her thoughts, they are somewhat wayward.

  • Edward’s behaviour is his mother’s fault – luckily Elinor does not know Mrs Ferrars, so in her mind, his mother can be the excuse.
  • She makes allowances for his behaviour, just as she had been made to do about Willoughby.
  • His behaviour can be attributed to Mrs Ferrar’s plans for him. (Elinor’s argument is not advancing: she’s repeating herself.)
  • Mrs Ferrars is the cause of his ‘fettered inclination’.
  • Edward’s behaviour can be explained by the usual family difficulties: duty against will (inclination), parent against child.
  • When would Mrs Ferrars be reformed and her son be at liberty?
  • She is comforted by the ‘renewal of her confidence in Edward’s affection’ and above all, ‘to that flattering proof of it which he constantly wore round his finger.’

This is not the careful reasoning that we are accustomed to from Elinor. In fact, it’s almost up there with Marianne planning the new furnishings for the sitting room at Allenham. Austen’s crowning irony is the mention of the ‘flattering proof’ of ‘Edward’s affection’ in the ring he wears. This turns out later to have been a present to him from Lucy Steele. Elinor is right that Edward’s inclination is fettered, but although it is to some extent fettered by his mother, it is much more fettered by the engagement to Lucy Steele he now regrets. The description of Edward as a prisoner to his duty is strongly worded.

Elinor is blaming Edward’s mother for the aspects of his conduct that she cannot understand, and thus making allowances for Edward that have no foundation. However, her feelings are described in a quiet way and we tend to overlook the fact that she is indulging in self-deception.

Even if she deceives herself, Elinor is sophisticated enough to draw conclusions – even if they are the wrong conclusions – from what she notices about Edward’s behaviour.

This desponding turn of mind, though it could not be communicated to Mrs. Dashwood, gave additional pain to them all in the parting, which shortly took place, and left an uncomfortable impression on Elinor’s feelings especially, which required some trouble and time to subdue (bring under control). But as it was her determination to subdue it, and to prevent herself from appearing to suffer more than what all her family suffered on his going away, she did not adopt the method so judiciously employed by Marianne, on a similar occasion, to augment and fix her sorrow, by seeking silence, solitude, and idleness. Their means were as different as their objects, and equally suited to the advancement of each.

In this early novel, Jane Austen is much more explicit in her portrayal of Elinor and in her opinion of Elinor’s behaviour than in her later novels where the reader is left to draw conclusions. Here Austen both describes what Elinor does in order to discipline herself and draws our attention to the contrast with Marianne’s actions on the sudden departure of Willoughby. She also spells out for us through a series of contrasts between the sisters why Elinor’s behaviour is so much better, morally, than Marianne’s: ‘her mother and sisters were spared much solicitude (concern, anxiety) on her account.’ Marianne, on the other hand, was aiming to ‘augment (increase) and fix her sorrow, by seeking silence, solitude, and idleness’. Marianne’s ‘idleness’ (you can hear Austen’s disapproval) is in contrast to Elinor ‘busily employ(ing) herself the whole day’. Her solitude is the opposite of Elinor’s appearing ‘to interest herself almost as much as ever in the general concerns of the family’. Elinor’s grief is not lessened, but at least it does not grow, in contrast to Marianne’s augmenting and fixing of hers.

Elinor, again, is silent: she does not communicate her thoughts to her family.

Elinor sat down to her drawing-table as soon as he was out of the house, busily employed herself the whole day, neither sought nor avoided the mention of his name, appeared to interest herself almost as much as ever in the general concerns of the family; and if, by this conduct, she did not lessen her own grief, it was at least prevented from unnecessary increase, and her mother and sisters were spared much solicitude on her account.

Such behaviour as this, so exactly the reverse of her own, appeared no more meritorious to Marianne, than her own had seemed faulty to her. The business of self-command she settled very easily:- with strong affections it was impossible, with calm ones it could have no merit. That her sister’s affections were calm, she dared not deny, though she blushed to acknowledge it; and of the strength of her own, she gave a very striking proof, by still loving and respecting that sister, in spite of this mortifying conviction.

Again, Jane Austen directs our attention to what she wants us to notice. This time it is the way she wishes us to interpret Marianne’s understanding of her sister’s behaviour. Marianne thinks that Elinor’s feelings cannot be as strong as her own; she has no thought of ‘self-command’ and thinks well of herself for ‘still loving and respecting that sister.’ To what extent we are supposed to judge Marianne is left unclear. Are we invited to condemn her, or to excuse her behaviour as that of a very young woman almost exclusively concerned with herself?

Elinor is behaving in a fashion recommended by eighteenth-century moralists. In his Sermons ‘On the Government of the Heart’, Blair makes these recommendations: ‘Avoid particularly all such objects as are apt to excite passions which you know to predominate within you. As soon as you find the tempest rising, have recourse to every proper method, either of allaying its violence, or of escaping to a calmer shore.’ (Quoted in the CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility) Hugh Blair was a prominent Presbyterian clergyman and the first Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Edinburgh University. He published five volumes of sermons between 1777 and 1801 that were exceedingly popular. In fact, by 1790 the first two volumes of his sermons had gone through 15 editions and were translated into several European languages.

You can discover more about him in the article ‘Hugh Blair, the sentiments and preaching the enlightenment in Scotland ‘by Stewart J Brown in the Intellectual History Review 2016, vol 26 No 3.
The link is tandfonline.com
Accessed 20 November 2016

Without shutting herself up from her family, or leaving the house in determined solitude to avoid them, or lying awake the whole night to indulge meditation, Elinor found every day afforded her leisure enough to think of Edward, and of Edward’s behaviour, in every possible variety which the different state of her spirits at different times could produce, – with tenderness, pity, approbation, censure, and doubt. There were moments in abundance, when, if not by the absence of her mother and sisters, at least, by the nature of their employments, conversation was forbidden among them, and every effect of solitude was produced. Her mind was inevitably at liberty; her thoughts could not be chained elsewhere; and the past and the future, on a subject so interesting, must be before her, must force her attention, and engross her memory, her reflection, and her fancy.

Elinor doesn’t require physical solitude – ‘shutting herself up … or leaving the house …’ because she has command of her feelings. But she doesn’t seem to have command of her mind. However, having said that ‘her mind was … at liberty’ (even if she is with her mother and sister), Austen then states that

the past and the future, on a subject so interesting, must be before her, must force

her attention, and engross (absorb) her memory, her reflection, and her fancy.

This is slightly confusing. Elinor can only think of one thing: ‘a subject so interesting’ – that is, Edward. From her memory, she replays what has happened, she reflects, she indulges her fancy. The repeated verbs ‘must’ are very forceful. It doesn’t sound as if her mind is entirely at liberty, if she ‘must’ think of one topic and one topic only, unless Austen intends us to understand that she is at liberty to be engrossed by that one topic. Whereas usually her thoughts are claimed – Austen says ‘chained’ – elsewhere by her mother and sisters. Perhaps we should recognise that the emphatic ‘must’ reveals a young woman deeply in love, however composed she appears.

‘Chained’ is a very strong word, implying a prisoner’s chains, and it repeats the image earlier in the chapter of Edward being fettered. It is a rare metaphor in Austen, who does not often use figurative language. If your thoughts are usually ‘chained elsewhere’ it suggests that the claims of your family and acquaintance are a form of enforced imprisonment, not a pleasure. In fact, as Elinor is the one responsible for her family, the implication is that this duty of responsibility is a form of imprisonment.

This constant awareness of her own duty to her family may explain Elinor’s assumption that Edward suffers from similar family chains, ‘fettered inclination’. ‘The old well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all. She would have been glad to know when these difficulties were to cease, this opposition was to yield, – when Mrs. Ferrars would be reformed, and her son be at liberty to be happy.’ He, too, she thinks, suffers from ‘duty against will (will being what he wants to do).’ In Elinor’s thoughts, Austen uses the same word, ‘liberty’ to describe what Edward must desire as she uses of Elinor when her mind is at liberty’. ‘Liberty to be happy’ versus being ‘fettered’. Two prison metaphors in one chapter suggest that an existence defined by duty is extremely confining. And the concept of family opposition that has to yield is almost a vision of battle. And Austen’s novels are thought to deal with trivia! And some critics of the novel think that Elinor has no feelings.

From a reverie (daydream) of this kind, as she sat at her drawing-table, she was roused one morning, soon after Edward’s leaving them, by the arrival of company. She happened to be quite alone. The closing of the little gate, at the entrance of the green court in front of the house, drew her eyes to the window, and she saw a large party walking up to the door. Amongst them were Sir John and Lady Middleton, and Mrs. Jennings, but there were two others, a gentleman and lady, who were quite unknown to her. She was sitting near the window; and as soon as Sir John perceived her, he left the rest of the party to the ceremony of knocking at the door, and stepping across the turf, obliged her to open the casement to speak to him, though the space was so short between the door and the window as to make it hardly possible to speak at one without being heard at the other.
“Well,” said he, “we have brought you some strangers. How do you like them?”

Is it being hypersensitive to think that to be invaded by a large party of people without any notice is an imposition on the Dashwoods? It’s true that in the days before easy communication, an unexpected visit would have been more likely, but the Middletons live very near the Dashwood family and could have warned them. Sir John, rather than abide by ‘the ceremony of knocking at the door’, further violates Elinor’s privacy by wanting to talk to her through the window. This lack of respect towards the Dashwoods again underlines the position and vulnerability of women in a patriarchal society who are not well off.

“Hush! they will hear you.”

“Never mind if they do. It is only the Palmers. Charlotte is very pretty, I can tell you. You may see her if you look this way.”

As Elinor was certain of seeing her in a couple of minutes, without taking that liberty, she begged to be excused.

“Where is Marianne? Has she run away because we are come? I see her instrument is open.”

“She is walking, I believe.”

They were now joined by Mrs. Jennings, who had not patience enough to wait till the door was opened before she told her story. She came hallooing to the window, “How do you do, my dear? How does Mrs. Dashwood do? And where are your sisters? What! all alone! you will be glad of a little company to sit with you. I have brought my other son and daughter to see you. Only think of their coming so suddenly! I thought I heard a carriage last night, while we were drinking our tea, but it never entered my head that it could be them. I thought of nothing but whether it might not be Colonel Brandon come back again; so I said to Sir John, I do think I hear a carriage; perhaps it is Colonel Brandon come back again-”

Mrs Jennings is as invasive as Sir John, coming ‘hallooing to the window’ and telling Elinor that she ‘will be glad of a little company.’ However, as the novel continues, it becomes evident that Mrs Jennings has a heart of gold even if she is not very imaginative and far too talkative (rather like Miss Bates in Emma).

Elinor was obliged to turn from her, in the middle of her story, to receive the rest of the party: Lady Middleton introduced the two strangers; Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret came down stairs at the same time, and they all sat down to look at one another, while Mrs. Jennings continued her story as she walked through the passage into the parlour, attended by Sir John.

Austen draws our attention to the minutiae of the obligations of polite interaction with others, no matter how much they have intruded upon you. You must graciously receive visitors who have arrived at your front door and somehow achieve this while being in receipt of Mrs Jennings’s very repetitive ‘story’ delivered through the casement window, and of all Sir John’s comments.

Mrs. Palmer was several years younger than Lady Middleton, and totally unlike her in every respect. She was short and plump, had a very pretty face, and the finest expression of good humour in it that could possibly be. Her manners were by no means so elegant as her sister’s, but they were much more prepossessing. She came in with a smile, smiled all the time of her visit, except when she laughed, and smiled when she went away. Her husband was a grave looking young man of five or six and twenty, with an air of more fashion and sense than his wife, but of less willingness to please or be pleased. He entered the room with a look of self-consequence, slightly bowed to the ladies, without speaking a word, and, after briefly surveying them and their apartments, took up a newspaper from the table, and continued to read it as long as he stayed.

Stalemate’, 1835, etching by George Cruikshank (1792 – 1878)
Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu: presented by Gordon H Brown, 1972 Gallery website: christchurchartgallery.org.nz

Mr Palmer bows to the ladies when he is introduced; this is the etiquette of the time. The ladies would curtsey slightly in acknowledgement. However, after this nod in the direction of manners, he ‘took up a newspaper from the table, and continued to read it as long as he stayed.’ This excludes him from any possibility of conversation, and seems to be the early nineteenth-century equivalent of getting out your mobile phone. George Cruikshank’s etching, ‘Stalemate’ perfectly illustrates Mr Palmer’s approach to mingling with the other people in the room.

Sir John had been very urgent with them all to spend the next day at the Park. Mrs. Dashwood, who did not choose to dine with them oftener than they dined at the cottage, absolutely refused on her own account; her daughters might do as they pleased. But they had no curiosity to see how Mr. and Mrs. Palmer ate their dinner, and no expectation of pleasure from them in any other way. They attempted, therefore, likewise, to excuse themselves; the weather was uncertain, and not likely to be good. But Sir John would not be satisfied,- the carriage should be sent for them, and they must come. Lady Middleton, too, though she did not press their mother, pressed them. Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer joined their entreaties,- all seemed equally anxious to avoid a family party; and the young ladies were obliged to yield.

The modal auxiliary verbs are increasing in intensity – what Austen describes as Sir John being very ‘urgent’. Austen moves from ‘Sir John would not be satisfied, – the carriage should be sent for them, and they must come.’ The verbs increase in pressure: from ‘would’ to ‘should’ to ‘must’; the modal auxiliaries of obligation to an imperative ‘must’. It’s yet another intrusion: the first was physical – Sir John addressing Elinor through the window instead of the front door. This time, Sir John perpetrates a verbal imposition. His demands are reinforced by Mrs Jennings and her daughter: ‘Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer joined their entreaties’. The Dashwoods are outgunned, and outnumbered: ‘the young ladies were obliged to yield.’ The obligations of etiquette force them, in almost military terms, ‘to yield.’ Another social skirmish; it may look like a drawing-room but it is actually a battlefield.

“Why should they ask us?” said Marianne, as soon as they were gone. “The rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the park whenever any one is staying either with them or with us.”

“They mean no less to be civil and kind to us now,” said Elinor,” by these frequent invitations than by those which we received from them a few weeks ago. The alteration is not in them, if their parties are grown tedious and dull. We must look for the change elsewhere.”

Jane Austen here gives us two very understandable and equally valid responses to the visit and invitation that the Dashwoods have just endured. Marianne calls attention to the difficulties in being beholden to a generous benefactor; Elinor equally judiciously realises that it is she and Marianne whose feelings towards Sir John have changed. We should not be misled into thinking that Elinor’s responses are always right and Marianne’s always mistaken. Sometimes they are both right.

Chapter 20

Conversation with Mrs Palmer.

As the Miss Dashwoods entered the drawing-room of the park the next day, at one door, Mrs. Palmer came running in at the other, looking as good humoured and merry as before. She took them all most affectionately by the hand, and expressed great delight in seeing them again.

“I am so glad to see you!” said she, seating herself between Elinor and Marianne, “for it is so bad a day I was afraid you might not come, which would be a shocking thing, as we go away again to-morrow. We must go, for the Westons come to us next week, you know. It was quite a sudden thing our coming at all, and I knew nothing of it till the carriage was coming to the door, and then Mr. Palmer asked me if I would go with him to Barton. He is so droll! He never tells me anything! I am so sorry we cannot stay longer; however we shall meet again in town (London) very soon, I hope.”

They were obliged to put an end to such an expectation.

“Not go to town!” cried Mrs. Palmer, with a laugh; “I shall be quite disappointed if you do not. I could get the nicest house in the world for you, next door to ours, in Hanover-square. You must come, indeed. I am sure I shall be very happy to chaperon you at any time till I am confined, if Mrs. Dashwood should not like to go into public.”

They thanked her, but were obliged to resist all her entreaties.

Much of Sense and Sensibility is concerned with feelings, and much of it also concerned with the difficulties of (wo)man in society. Not high society, or constantly being at a party, but the eighteenth-century conception of man as a social animal. This chapter portrays both concerns. We have seen Marianne’s intense feelings, modelled on her reading of Romantic literature and the sentimental novel. This may or may not make them genuine; we have been told in Chapter 16 that she would have thought herself ‘very inexcusable’ if she had slept during the night after Willoughby’s sudden departure. The consequence of her behaviour is that she is careless of ‘giving pain every moment to her mother and sisters’ (Chapter 16). It is largely for this lack of consideration towards her social unit, the family, as well as for the harmful effect on herself, that Austen invites the reader’s censure of Marianne’s self-indulgent response. Elinor, on the other hand, is very self-disciplined; after Edward’s unsatisfactory visit and his departure, she busies herself, trying to ‘subdue’ uncomfortable impressions and, although her own grief is not lessened, ‘her mother and sisters were spared much solicitude on her account.’ (Chapter 19)

At the beginning of this chapter, Mrs Palmer’s feelings towards Elinor and Marianne appear to be very friendly and positive. She is, the narrator tells us, ‘most affectionate’ and expresses ‘great delight.’ She declares herself to be ‘most disappointed’ if they do not come to London, where she lives. However, her subsequent conversation renders this description of her feelings – in spite of all the superlatives – meaningless. People can claim to have feelings that are actually non-existent, or are really the opposite of what they profess. Willoughby, when he first met Marianne, was apparently charming and charmed by her, but in fact intended only to amuse himself with her company while he stayed with his aunt. Mrs Palmer’s vapid conversation and ‘great delight at seeing them again’ is perhaps a comic and unimportant version of Willoughby’s protestations.

Mrs Palmer’s preposterous ideas (‘I could get the nicest house in the world for you, next door to ours, in Hanover-square. You must come, indeed.’) may also be a ridiculous and comic version of Elinor’s unfounded notions about Edward: that his behaviour towards her is prompted by his mother’s treatment of him. The notion of the Dashwood women spending some time in a house in Hanover-square reveals Mrs Palmer’s complete lack of awareness: their reduced circumstances would not allow them to think of such a thing. The clash of hypothetical ideas with harsh reality is insensitive, and reminiscent of Willoughby’s proposed present of a horse without taking into consideration the extra drain on finances it would entail.

The Palmers’ restless existence highlights by contrast the Dashwoods’ enforced fixedness in one place. Again, when the Dashwood sisters arrive at Cleveland, the Palmers’ house, the Palmers leave in case Marianne’s illness is infectious. They seem to be constantly on the move. Their unsettled way of life is reflected in Mrs Palmer’s mind, which seems equally chaotic. This provides another contrast with the Dashwood sisters who have much more profound minds.

The rest of the company soon dropt in.

“I am afraid, Miss Marianne,” said Sir John, “you have not been able to take your usual walk to Allenham to-day.”

Marianne looked very grave and said nothing.

“Oh! don’t be so sly (secretive) before us,” said Mrs. Palmer: “for we know all about it, I assure you; and I admire your taste very much, for I think he is extremely handsome. We do not live a great way from him in the country, you know, — not above ten miles, I dare say.”

“Much nearer thirty,” said her husband.

“Ah! well! there is not much difference. I never was at his house; but they say it is a sweet, pretty place.”

“As vile a spot as I ever saw in my life,” said Mr. Palmer.

Marianne remained perfectly silent, though her countenance betrayed her interest in what was said.

“Is it very ugly?” continued Mrs. Palmer — “then it must be some other place that is so pretty, I suppose.”

Marianne suffers intensely at Willoughby’s absence. To have Sir John and Mrs Palmer teasing her in public is an agony. ” …you have not been able to take your usual walk to Allenham to-day.” “Oh! don’t be so sly before us.” Mrs Palmer continues this teasing, in her description of Willoughby’s house, which turns out to be completely inaccurate. Their relative poverty renders the Dashwoods unable to travel unless other people offer them the means to do so; they have therefore to rely on other people’s version of places and events for information. In such ways does Austen construct an understanding of the circumstances of her protagonists.

The trite and senseless conversation (arguments about established facts being always particularly tedious) is comic, but serves a more serious function too.

We do not live a great way from him in the country, you know, — not above ten miles, I dare say.”

“Much nearer thirty,” said her husband.

“Ah! well! there is not much difference. I never was at his house; but they say it is a sweet, pretty place.”

“As vile a spot as I ever saw in my life,” said Mr. Palmer.

This provides a ridiculous, exaggerated version of Elinor’s search for the truth as she ponders Edward’s and Willoughby’s behaviour.

Of Mr Palmer, Patricia Meyer Spacks writes: ‘Mr Palmer has little function in the novel’s plot. His effort to make himself opaque, however, mirrors the conduct of those more fully responsible for the web of feeling and action that structures the narrative. Colonel Brandon conceals his relation to the two Elizas and his consequent duel with Willoughby; Willoughby conceals his financial calculations and, for a time, his engagement to another woman; Edward conceals his alliance with Lucy. Nor do the women – even apparently artless Marianne – prove more transparent to the novel’s other characters. Marianne conceals the lack of formal commitment between her and Willoughby; Elinor conceals her putative lover’s commitment elsewhere.’
(Patricia Meyer Spacks, ‘The Novel’s Wisdom: Sense and Sensibility’, Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century Novels, University of Chicago Press, 1990)

When they were seated in the dining room, Sir John observed with regret that they were only eight altogether.

“My dear,” said he to his lady, “it is very provoking that we should be so few. Why did not you ask the Gilberts to come to us to-day?”

“Did not I tell you, Sir John, when you spoke to me about it before, that it could not be done? They dined with us last.”

“You and I, Sir John,” said Mrs. Jennings, “should not stand upon such ceremony.”

“Then you would be very ill-bred,” cried Mr. Palmer.

“My love, you contradict everybody,” said his wife with her usual laugh. “Do you know that you are quite rude?”

“I did not know I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred.”

“Aye, you may abuse me as you please,” said the good-natured old lady, “you have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you.”

Charlotte laughed heartily to think that her husband could not get rid of her, and exultingly said, she did not care how cross he was to her, as they must live together. It was impossible for any one to be more thoroughly good-natured or more determined to be happy than Mrs. Palmer. The studied indifference, insolence, and discontent of her husband gave her no pain: and when he scolded or abused her, she was highly diverted.

This passage dramatises the difficulties of being both truthful and courteous in society. It also illustrates the distress occasioned by other people’s relentless insensitivity.

Lady Middleton adheres strictly to the letter of etiquette: she has not invited their neighbours the Gilberts to dinner because it is the Gilberts’ turn to invite the Middletons. Mr Palmer says that it would be ill-bred to ignore such rules of etiquette. He compounds his rudeness by insulting Mrs Jennings in front of her daughters, her other son-in-law and herself: “I did not know I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred.” Mr Palmer seems to think that a neglect of the formalities of etiquette, in addition to coming from a very slightly lower stratum of society constitutes ill-breeding. Ironically, of course, the accusation rebounds upon himself, since it is the height of bad manners to insult Mrs Jennings in this way and in public.

This short episode serves to highlight by contrast the very high standard of behaviour, thoughts and feelings exercised by the Dashwoods. It is true that Marianne indulged her sorrow at Willoughby’s departure, but she was sincerely distressed to think that she had upset Edward by her mention of his ring: ‘but when she saw how much she had pained Edward, her own vexation at her want of thought could not be surpassed by his.’ (Chapter 18) We have already witnessed Elinor’s attempts not to upset her family by grieving over Edward’s strange behaviour after his departure.

‘Charlotte laughed heartily to think that her husband could not get rid of her’, and is ‘exulting’. This is indeed true. Whilst technically possible for wealthy men to divorce their wives, it was very rare for them to do so because they had to go through the ecclesiastical courts and it cost a great deal of money. It would also have been social suicide. Divorce courts were not established until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857; before that, divorce was governed by the Ecclesiastical Court and Canon Law of the Church of England.

Elinor was again obliged to decline her (Mrs Palmer’s) invitation; and by changing the subject, put a stop to her entreaties. She thought it probable that as they lived in the same country (neighbourhood), Mrs. Palmer might be able to give some more particular account of Willoughby’s general character, than could be gathered from the Middletons’ partial acquaintance with him, and she was eager to gain from any one, such a confirmation of his merits as might remove the possibility of fear for Marianne. She began by inquiring if they saw much of Mr. Willoughby at Cleveland, and whether they were intimately acquainted with him.

“Oh! dear, yes; I know him extremely well,” replied Mrs. Palmer — “Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him for ever in town. Somehow or other, I never happened to be staying at Barton while he was at Allenham. Mama saw him here once before; — but I was with my uncle at Weymouth. However, I dare say we should have seen a great deal of him in Somersetshire, if it had not happened very unluckily that we should never have been in the country together. He is very little at Combe, I believe; but if he were ever so much there, I do not think Mr. Palmer would visit him, for he is in the opposition you know, and besides it is such a way off. I know why you inquire about him, very well; your sister is to marry him. I am monstrous glad of it, for then I shall have her for a neighbour you know.”

“Upon my word,” replied Elinor, “you know much more of the matter than I do, if you have any reason to expect such a match.”

“Don’t pretend to deny it, because you know it is what everybody talks of. I assure you I heard of it in my way through town.”

“My dear Mrs. Palmer!”

“Upon my honour I did. — I met Colonel Brandon Monday morning in Bond Street, just before we left town, and he told me of it directly.”

“You surprise me very much. Colonel Brandon tell you of it! Surely you must be mistaken. To give such intelligence (information) to a person who could not be interested in it, even if it were true, is not what I should expect Colonel Brandon to do.”

“But I do assure you it was so, for all that, and I will tell you how it happened. When we met him, he turned back and walked with us; and so we began talking of my brother and sister, and one thing and another, and I said to him, ‘So, Colonel, there is a new family come to Barton Cottage, I hear, and mama sends me word they are very pretty, and that one of them is going to be married to Mr. Willoughby, of Combe Magna. Is it true, pray? for of course you must know, as you have been in Devonshire so lately.'”

Elinor is trying to find out more about Willoughby, hoping to hear for Marianne’s sake that he is more to be trusted and relied upon than she fears. Mrs Palmer, however, puts a different construction on Elinor’s enquiries. For all her stupidity, Mrs Palmer has a certain instinctive canniness that is very unsettling to the decorous and vulnerable Elinor. ‘I know why you inquire about him, very well; your sister is to marry him.’ Even more upsetting is Mrs Palmer’s assertion that ‘it is what everybody talks of.’ However, her claim that she heard the news from Colonel Brandon to some extent undermines the likely accuracy of her information. As Elinor knows, Colonel Brandon is the last person to pass on gossip. Mrs Palmer may introduce many of her statements with ‘I assure you…’ but that does not make them believable.

The notion that everyone in London society is talking of Marianne and Willoughby who have met in far away Devon, shows how fast gossip travels and also how easily a young woman’s reputation can be compromised.

“And what did the Colonel say?”

“Oh! — he did not say much; but he looked as if he knew it to be true, so from that moment I set it down as certain. It will be quite delightful, I declare! When is it to take place?”

“Mr. Brandon was very well, I hope.”

Elinor tries to get Mrs Palmer off the subject of Marianne and Willoughby’s marriage by interesting her in another topic – Colonel Brandon’s health.

“Oh! yes, quite well; and so full of your praises, he did nothing but say fine things of you.”

“I am flattered by his commendation. He seems an excellent man; and I think him uncommonly pleasing.”

“So do I. — He is such a charming man, that it is quite a pity he should be so grave and so dull. Mama says he was in love with your sister too. I assure you it was a great compliment if he was, for he hardly ever falls in love with anybody.”

“Is Mr. Willoughby much known in your part of Somersetshire?” said Elinor.

“Oh! yes, extremely well; — that is, I do not believe many people are acquainted with him, because Combe Magna is so far off; but they all think him extremely agreeable, I assure you. Nobody is more liked than Mr. Willoughby wherever he goes, and so you may tell your sister. She is a monstrous lucky girl to get him, upon my honour; not but that he is much more lucky in getting her, because she is so very handsome and agreeable, that nothing can be good enough for her. However, I don’t think her hardly at all handsomer than you, I assure you; for I think you both excessively pretty, and so does Mr. Palmer too I am sure, though we could not get him to own it last night.”

Mrs Palmer is using fashionable slang when she calls Marianne a ‘monstrous lucky girl to get him,’ monstrous meaning very or exceedingly. ‘Excessively’ is also fashionable slang and means the same thing. She shares Sir John’s notion of a young woman being out to catch or ‘get’ an eligible man, when she describes Marianne as ‘lucky … to get him.’ The inside of Mrs Palmer’s mind is both vacuous and confused. Her grammar is disastrous: always a bad sign in Jane Austen’s characters. She assures Elinor in the most garbled fashion, ‘I don’t think her (Marianne) hardly at all handsomer than you’. Then ‘so does Mr Palmer too,’ says the same thing twice. Her speech is larded with the words, ‘I assure you,’ although most of her facts seem to be fiction.

Facts are at a premium in Mrs Palmer’s discourse. Every time she makes a statement, her next sentence contradicts what she has just stated. It’s comic but also obscures the possibility of arriving at the truth.

“Is Mr. Willoughby much known in your part of Somersetshire?” said Elinor.

“Oh! yes, extremely well; — that is, I do not believe many people are acquainted with him, because Combe Magna is so far off; but they all think him extremely agreeable, I assure you.’

Chapter 21

The Miss Steeles come to stay at Barton Park.

The Palmers returned to Cleveland the next day, and the two families at Barton were again left to entertain each other. But this did not last long; Elinor had hardly got their last visitors out of her head — had hardly done wondering at Charlotte’s being so happy without a cause, at Mr. Palmer’s acting so simply (foolishly) with good abilities, and at the strange unsuitableness which often existed between husband and wife, before Sir John’s and Mrs. Jennings’s active zeal (energy, enthusiasm) in the cause of society procured her some other new acquaintance to see and observe.

In a morning’s excursion to Exeter, they had met with two young ladies, whom Mrs. Jennings had the satisfaction of discovering to be her relations, and this was enough for Sir John to invite them directly to the Park, as soon as their present engagements at Exeter were over. Their engagements at Exeter instantly gave way before such an invitation, and Lady Middleton was thrown into no little alarm on the return of Sir John, by hearing that she was very soon to receive a visit from two girls whom she had never seen in her life, and of whose elegance, — whose tolerable gentility even, she could have no proof; for the assurances of her husband and mother on that subject went for nothing at all. Their being her relations too, made it so much the worse; and Mrs. Jennings’s attempts at consolation were therefore unfortunately founded, when she advised her daughter not to care about their being so fashionable, because they were all cousins and must put up with one another.

After the non-relationship of the Palmers’ marriage, we are given another, and different, non-relationship. By relationship, I mean closeness, understanding of each other, and feeling for each other, by which criteria the Palmers’ marriage is almost non-existent except in a legal sense. Now we meet the Steele sisters. They provide even more torment within the elegant setting of an upper middle class drawing-room than the Palmers did. In Chapter 22, Lucy is to drop the bombshell of her long-standing engagement to Edward, thus supposedly nullifying Elinor’s relationship with Edward. Edward, it slowly emerges, is bound by his honour as a gentleman who has given his word to Lucy. But Lucy uses this engagement as a powerful weapon again Elinor. It does not appear to be a relationship. She attempts, through her engagement, to undo the existence of a relationship between Elinor and Edward. They may not be engaged, but they share a closeness, understanding and feeling for each other that is stronger than the prior engagement Edward has entered into. This is why Lucy has to fight so hard for her engagement to Edward. Bound by what is expected of him as a gentleman, Edward must give priority to his word, especially if it is known more widely than simply between himself and Lucy. There is another level of accountability to which Edward must adhere: social presure.

Gentility (deriving from the French word, gentil – well-born) means having the manners of a well-born person, grace, refinement, the personality of one who is well-born. It means speaking, dressing and having the manners that a member of a reasonably good social class would do. Elegance, however, refers to a particular grace of mind and refinement of taste that few possess. Anne Elliot, in Persuasion, has it. Lady Middleton is alarmed not by the work involved in having two guests so suddenly – her servants would do all the work. But she is worried about their social class. As Mrs Jennings’s daughter, she does not come from a particularly high social class, and her anxiety on the subject of her guests’ breeding reveals her vulgar awareness of this fact. She has climbed, through her marriage, to the rank of Lady Middleton, hence her strict observance of the exact requirements of social etiquette without any understanding of elegance of feeling. ‘Their (the Steele sisters) being her relations too, made it so much the worse.’ Because, if they are not refined, it will reveal her family’s lack of social standing. Her mother is, therefore, no help at all when she advises her daughter not to worry about the Steeles being so fashionable. Mrs Jennings is unwittingly offending Lady Middleton by pointing out that she is not fashionable, and therefore the Miss Steeles will have to put up with her, when she sees herself as putting up with them.

As it was impossible however now to prevent their coming, Lady Middleton resigned herself to the idea of it with all the philosophy of a well-bred woman, contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject five or six times every day.

Irony: Lady Middleton is not well-bred and has no ‘philosophy’; she is entirely idle and cannot be bothered to do anything.

The young ladies arrived, their appearance was by no means ungenteel or unfashionable. Their dress was very smart, their manners very civil, they were delighted with the house and in raptures with the furniture, and they happened to be so doatingly fond of children that Lady Middleton’s good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had been an hour at the Park. She declared them to be very agreeable girls indeed, which for her ladyship was enthusiastic admiration. Sir John’s confidence in his own judgment rose with this animated praise, and he set off directly for the cottage to tell the Miss Dashwoods of the Miss Steeles’ arrival, and to assure them of their being the sweetest girls in the world. From such commendation as this, however, there was not much to be learned; Elinor well knew that the sweetest girls in the world were to be met with in every part of England, under every possible variation of form, face, temper, and understanding. Sir John wanted the whole family to walk to the Park directly and look at his guests. Benevolent, philanthropic man! It was painful to him even to keep a third cousin to himself.

Austen introduces the Steeles in terms of negatives: ‘their appearance was by no means ungenteel or unfashionable’. This is not very promising. It is also surprisingly generalised and undefined – Austen is usually so definitive. I suspect that to highlight their being genteel – or at least, not ungenteel – is already advertising a quality that they are eager to promote and that is not something that would be noticed in the social circles to which they aspire as it would be taken for granted.

Austen lists the attributes that the Steele sisters are eager to advertise with their ‘very civil’ manners (meaning, not civil at all but merely exaggeratedly flattering). Their attributes are all completely superficial (dress and manners) and insincere (‘delighted’, ‘in raptures’, ‘doatingly fond’). ‘Their dress was very smart, their manners very civil, they were delighted with the house and in raptures with the furniture, and they happened to be so doatingly fond of children that Lady Middleton’s good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had been an hour at the Park.’ The list that undermines the so-called ‘civil manners’ goes like this:
Their dress was very smart,
their manners very civil,
they were delighted with the house
and in raptures with the furniture,
and they happened to be so doatingly fond of children that Lady Middleton’s good opinion was engaged in their favour before they had been an hour at the Park.

And what has furniture to do with arousing raptures? The alleged feelings are completely out of place when applied to furniture! And the Miss Steeles are obviously very quick to see what will ingratiate them with their new hostess: ‘they happened to be so doatingly fond of children …’. All the words are so wildly effusive that they cannot be sincere – ‘delighted’, ‘in raptures’, ‘ so doatingly fond’. Their strategy works instantly: Lady Middleton is completely taken in by it ‘before they had been an hour at the Park.’ Lucy Steele, who must have been the author of the strategy for cultivating Lady Middleton’s approval, is evidently much cleverer than her hostess. Lady Middleton thinks that she is being conspicuously magnanimous to her socially inferior guests but in fact she is being imposed upon and exploited. The spectacular success of Lucy’s strategy is illustrated when we learn that ‘Lady Middleton declared them to be very agreeable girls indeed’. She makes an absolute statement and one that must be an accepted truth at the Park from then on.

Incidentally, ‘admiring the house and the furniture’ gives the thumbs-down to the Steeles. The CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility tells us that this is ‘a vulgar practice on conversing about the material possessions of others that Austen (also) gives to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice…. In contrast, Elizabeth Bennet looks out of the windows of Pemberley after only “slightly surveying” Mr Darcy’s dining-parlour.’ (Sense and Sensibility edited by Edward Copeland, CUP, 2006)

I think there is another aspect of this apparently artless description of the Steeles that is there for the delight of the careful reader. As Austen wrote to her sister on the publication of Pride and Prejudice, January 29, 1813: ‘I do not write for such dull Elves As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.’ (She is adapting a quotation from Walter Scott’s Marmion.) Lady Middleton had been alarmed about the ‘elegance … tolerable gentility even’ of the Steeles, her prospective guests. In other words, she is worried that they will not be of a socially high class. However, her good opinion of them is engaged before ‘they had been an hour at the Park.’ During this hour, they have been busily revealing their lack of class with all this rapture over the furniture and admiration of the house. However, Lady Middleton, however aware she is of her title, is not of a lofty enough class herself to notice these social solecisms. The joke is on her.

Although Austen does not spell it out, it becomes clear why Lucy is so assiduously ensuring a long stay at the Park for herself and her sister. She is a social climber, and at the Park she is much more likely to meet and be able to mix with members of a higher class than her own. This may enable her to marry well – and in fact, she does so at the end of the novel, although her prolonged visit at the Park does not directly contribute to her choice of husband. A young woman without helpful parents who is determined to marry well must engineer as many opportunities for herself as possible to avoid a life of relative indigence – not a course of action that Austen recommends. But it is a course of action that she understands, when she describes Charlotte Lucas’s engagement to the insufferable Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Another proof of Lucy Steele’s success in imposing upon the Middletons is illustrated when Sir John ‘set off, directly for the cottage’ furnished with the declared certainty of the Miss Steeles being ‘very agreeable girls indeed’. Lucy will immediately be able to mix with another family from a higher social world than her own. In transit between the Park and the cottage, Sir John improves upon his news of the Miss Steeles: ‘to assure them (Elinor and Marianne) of their (the Steeles) being the sweetest girls in the world’. Elinor makes her own translation of his news: ‘there was not much to be learned; Elinor well knew that the sweetest girls in the world were to be met with in every part of England, under every possible variation of form, face, temper, and understanding’.

Elinor is far more intelligent than the Middletons. Even though she has not yet met the Steeles, she knows that Sir John’s hyperbolic description, ‘the sweetest girls in the world’, must be meaningless. By contrast, Lady Middleton, however, immediately took their so-called sweetness at face value.

“Do come now,” said he — “pray come — you must come — I declare you shall come. — You can’t think how you will like them. Lucy is monstrous (extremely) pretty, and so good humoured and agreeable! The children are all hanging about her already, as if she was an old acquaintance. And they both long to see you of all things, for they have heard at Exeter that you are the most beautiful creatures in the world; and I have told them it is all very true, and a great deal more. You will be delighted with them, I am sure. They have brought the whole coach full of playthings for the children. How can you be so cross (opposed to Sir John’s wishes) as not to come? Why they are your cousins, you know, after a fashion. You are my cousins, and they are my wife’s, so you must be related.”

You can see why Sir John’s conversation is such a trial to Marianne (she told Edward earlier that they could not ‘be more unfortunately situated’), and presumably to Elinor too although she does not admit it. First of all he puts intolerable pressure on Elinor and Marianne. ‘Do come now,” said he — “pray come — you must come — I declare you shall come.’ What he says about the Steeles is exaggerated to the point of being meaningless. The Steele sisters allegedly ‘long’ to see the Dashwoods and the Dashwoods will be ‘delighted’ by his new guests. The Dashwood girls are ‘the most beautiful creatures in the world.’ The new guests have brought ‘the whole coach full of playthings for the children’ (that was a clever move on Lucy’s part, calculatedly ingratiating herself). When this description of his new guests does not win over Elinor and Marianne, he resorts to questions that are a form of emotional blackmail, pressuring them to comply with his invitation. ‘How can you be so cross as not to come?’ And then he comes up with the most illogical equation ever: ‘You are my cousins, and they are my wife’s, so you must be related.’

But Sir John could not prevail (persuade them). He could only obtain a promise of their calling at the Park within a day or two, and then left them in amazement at their indifference (lack of interest), to walk home and boast anew of their attractions to the Miss Steeles, as he had been already boasting of the Miss Steeles to them.

When their promised visit to the Park and consequent introduction to these young ladies took place, they found in the appearance of the eldest, who was nearly thirty, with a very plain and not a sensible face, nothing to admire; but in the other, who was not more than two or three and twenty, they acknowledged considerable beauty; her features were pretty, and she had a sharp, quick eye, and a smartness of air, which though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person. Their manners were particularly civil, and Elinor soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when she saw with what constant and judicious (well-judged, showing good sense) attentions they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton. With her children they were in continual raptures, extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring (complying with, falling in with) all their whims (sudden wishes); and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate (annoyingly persistent)demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of whatever her ladyship was doing, if she happened to be doing anything, or in taking patterns of some elegant new dress, in which her appearance the day before had thrown them into unceasing delight. Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles (weakness), a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious (greedy, grasping) of human beings, is likewise the most credulous (gullible); her demands are exorbitant (excessive); but she will swallow anything; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring, were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent incroachments (intrusions)and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissars stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.

Austen does make her evaluation of the Steele sisters abundantly clear. Their version of ‘sense’ is in ‘making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton.’ It has no basis in sincerity or integrity. In the free indirect discourse that describes their remarks, superlatives abound: ‘continual raptures’, ‘extolling’ (praising very highly), ‘admiration’, ‘unceasing delight.’ ‘Sense’ accumulates a variety of meanings in the course of this novel, and one of them, as here, is serving one’s own self-interest as the Steeles are doing. So sense is what you use if you want something for yourself: you do what it takes.

The description of Lady Middleton as a woman and a mother is hardly admiring. The Steeles praise what she is doing ‘if she happened to be doing any thing’. She is ‘rapacious’ in ‘pursuit of praise for her children,’ her ‘demands are exorbitant’ and she is ‘credulous’, ‘will swallow any thing.’ The Miss Steeles can afford to display ‘excessive affection and endurance’ towards Lady Middleton’s children without their strategy being seen through. Lady Middleton’s lack of perception extends to surprise at Elinor and Marianne’s failure to join in playing with her children. She describes as ‘monkey tricks’ and ‘playful(ness)’ the children taking Miss Steele’s handkerchief and throwing it out of the window and violently pinching her fingers.

“John is in such spirits to-day!” said she, on his taking Miss Steele’s pocket handkerchief, and throwing it out of the window — “He is full of monkey tricks.”

And soon afterwards, on the second boy’s violently pinching one of the same lady’s fingers, she fondly observed, “How playful William is!”

“And here is my sweet little Annamaria,” she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes; “And she is always so gentle and quiet — Never was there such a quiet little thing!”

David M Shapard comments on the little girl’s name, Annamaria. ‘Over the last century female names ending in ‘a’, which marked them as not being traditional English names… had grown significantly in popularity. Their use in Jane Austen is sometimes a mark of pretension on the part of the family, and the double name of Annamaria, virtually the only such in Austen, is probably meant to signal Lady Middleton’s affectation.’ How helpful it is to realise that Annamaria is Marianne the other way around, I am not sure.

But unfortunately, in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship’s head-dress slightly scratching the child’s neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother’s consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and everything was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar-plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress, last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected. She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother’s arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.

Lady Middleton’s motherly embraces of her little daughter involve a pin scratching the child’s neck. (Is this an image of her essential coldness and prickliness?) The result is an escalation in the already considerable noise: ‘violent screams’ followed by ‘scream(ing) and sobb(ing)’. Lady Middleton and her new guests exhibit ‘alarm’ in ‘so critical emergency,’ as the ‘agonies of the little sufferer.’ The Steeles are evidently continuing their successful tactic of exaggerated response.

Deidre Shauna Lynch comments: ‘Throughout her work, Austen is concerned not just with the sound of the round character’s inner voice but also with noise. She concerns herself with the noise emitted by what I will call her culture’s copy machines.’
(The Economy of Character, University of Chicago Press 1998).

“Poor little creature!” said Miss Steele, as soon as they were gone. “It might have been a very sad (unfortunate)accident.” (Sad can simply be an intesifier.)

“Yet I hardly know how,” cried Marianne, “unless it had been under totally different circumstances. But this is the usual way of heightening alarm, where there is nothing to be alarmed at in reality.”

“What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is,” said Lucy Steele.

Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell. She did her best when thus called on, by speaking of Lady Middleton with more warmth than she felt, though with far less than Miss Lucy.

“And Sir John, too,” cried the elder sister, “what a charming man he is!”

Here, too, Miss Dashwood’s commendation being only simple and just, came in without any éclat. She merely observed that he was perfectly good-humoured and friendly.

“And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine children in my life. I declare I quite doat upon them already, and indeed I am always distractedly fond of children.”

“I should guess so,” said Elinor with a smile, “from what I have witnessed this morning.”

The Steele sisters make bland and generally acceptable remarks. “What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is,” “And Sir John, too,” cried the elder sister, “what a charming man he is!” However, the Dashwood sisters tell the truth, Marianne absolutely, and Elinor so far as she can in a censorious society. It is obvious that Lady Middleton is very far from being ‘sweet’ and Sir John, although generous, is hardly ‘charming’ and neither are his children. ‘Charming’ seems to be a hold-all word meaning precisely nothing. It is therefore difficult for the truthful and intelligent Dashwoods to reply and it is possible that the sharp Lucy Steele has already realised that they are unlikely to agree with her observation about Lady Middleton. Lucy Steele delights in causing distress and making mischief, and it is typical of her that she should say something that causes Elinor awkwardness. She is also, astutely, creating for herself a social persona as the more appreciative guest at Barton Park; more appreciative than Elinor and Marianne. Her astuteness will take her a long way; all the way to marrying the newly-invented-as-heir to the Ferrars fortune, Robert Ferrars.

Austen writes, ‘Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell.’ This has often been read as a criticism of Marianne for being self-indulgent in refusing to say what she does not feel. And it is entirely in character: ‘impossible’ is an absolute, or extreme word in a society that makes constant compromises. It is a word with Romantic connotations in its extremity. As a consequence, ‘upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies… always fell.’ The extent of the burden Elinor carries for her sister is made clear: ‘the whole task’, ‘always fell.’ However, it can also be a criticism of polite society: only fiction is acceptable or, as Austen puts it, ‘telling lies when politeness required it’. Reality is to be avoided. At its worst, perhaps only meaninglessness is acceptable. Perhaps Mrs Palmer’s description of her husband as ‘so pleasant’ is an extreme and entertaining example of this sort of fiction. But it is a constant hazard of almost any interaction involving Marianne that Elinor must negotiate a compromise between truth and untruth. Elinor has to rescue the situation, socially speaking.

Perhaps this compromise that Elinor is forced into is a serious version of Lucy’s constant modification of her elder sister’s remarks. Miss Steele tends to make vulgar comments about beaux, which Lucy has frequently to correct in order to give a better social impression of herself, and in order to distance herself from her sister in people’s perceptions. The distance is aimed at making Lucy appear socially superior to her sister and thus more attractive to potential acquaintance. While Elinor is rescuing Marianne (and the situation), Lucy is dumping her sister in it in order to aggrandise herself.

This novel is a comedy of manners, entertaining the reader by its criticism of the follies of polite society, of its rules and of the behaviour of its members. If only words like ‘charming’ are acceptable in this society, if the truth is anathema, it does not say much for the content of conversation in the best social circles. Conversation will be allowable only if it is meaningless: this does not seem much of a recommendation, more of a criticism of or satire on its self-imposed limitations.

Margaret Anne Doody, in her introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the novel sees this social subjugation of the truth almost as a detective story. She writes, ‘the novel tells two stories … we have to go through one to get to the other. This … exhibits the structure of the detective story… There must be the story of the crime (hidden) and the story of the detection.’ Margaret Doody calls this the ‘stifling of the truth’. She writes, ‘To come to understand the novel’s understory, the mysteries to be uncovered (like Eliza’s fate, Willoughby’s bastard, Edward’s entrapment), is to come to understand the second story, to the possibilities of what is usually subjugated, glossed over, or ignored in polite society.’ (pp xli – xliii)
(Margaret Anne Doody, Introduction to Sense and Sensibility, OUP, 1990)

A similarly difficult question arises in Pride and Prejudice. (It pertains also to Sense and Sensibility, but is raised in Chapter 17 simply in terms of what constitutes a ‘competence’.) This is the vexed issue of marrying a poor man because you love him versus the necessity of marrying a rich man in order to have enough to live on in reasonable or considerable comfort. It seems to be a matter as insoluble as that of telling the truth versus not offending in polite society. As Elizabeth Bennet says to her aunt, Mrs Gardiner,
‘Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his (Wickham) marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary.’ (Chapter 27)

In Sense and Sensibility, the conversation goes thus. Marianne asks,
“What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?”
“Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”
“Elinor, for shame!” said Marianne, “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.”

There is not really an answer to either question. ‘Where does discretion end and avarice begin?’ and ‘it was impossible … to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell.’ Perhaps there is no answer? Or perhaps the answer lies in your personality or your understanding of morality.

“I have a notion,” said Lucy, “you think the little Middletons rather too much indulged; perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is so natural in Lady Middleton; and for my part, I love to see children full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and quiet.”

“I confess,” replied Elinor, “that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence.”

Lucy is very clever. She has indeed noticed – how could she not? – the appalling behaviour of the Middleton children, but she manages to shift this socially unacceptable perception onto Elinor and away from herself. ‘I have a notion,’ said Lucy, ‘you think the little Middletons rather too much indulged.’ Elinor cannot take refuge in the fiction of enjoying the children unless she tells a lie. Lucy, however, has no such qualms and gifts herself with exaggerated tolerance: “I cannot bear them (children) if they are tame and quiet.’

A short pause succeeded this speech, which was first broken by Miss Steele, who seemed very much disposed for conversation, and who now said rather abruptly, “And how do you like Devonshire, Miss Dashwood? I suppose you were very sorry to leave Sussex.”

In some surprise at the familiarity of this question, or at least of the manner in which it was spoken, Elinor replied that she was.

“Norland is a prodigious beautiful place, is not it?” added Miss Steele.

“We have heard Sir John admire it excessively,” said Lucy, who seemed to think some apology necessary for the freedom of her sister.

“I think every one must admire it,” replied Elinor, “who ever saw the place; though it is not to be supposed that any one can estimate its beauties as we do.”

“And had you a great many smart (stylish, fashionable) beaux there? I suppose you have not so many in this part of the world; for my part, I think they are a vast (huge, great) addition always.”

“But why should you think,” said Lucy, looking ashamed of her sister, “that there are not as many genteel young men in Devonshire as Sussex?”

“Nay, my dear, I’m sure I don’t pretend to say that there an’t. I’m sure there’s a vast many smart beaux in Exeter; but you know, how could I tell what smart beaux there might be about Norland? and I was only afraid the Miss Dashwoods might find it dull at Barton, if they had not so many as they used to have. But perhaps you young ladies may not care about the beaux, and had as lief (soon, gladly) be without them as with them. For my part, I think they are vastly (hugely) agreeable, provided they dress smart and behave civil. But I can’t bear to see them dirty and nasty. Now, there’s Mr. Rose at Exeter, a prodigious smart young man, quite a beau, clerk to Mr. Simpson, you know, and yet if you do but meet him of a morning, he is not fit to be seen. I suppose your brother was quite a beau, Miss Dashwood, before he married, as he was so rich?”

“Upon my word,” replied Elinor, “I cannot tell you, for I do not perfectly comprehend the meaning of the word. But this I can say, that if he ever was a beau before he married, he is one still, for there is not the smallest alteration in him.”

“Oh! dear! one never thinks of married mens being beaux — they have something else to do.”

“Lord! Anne,” cried her sister, “you can talk of nothing but beaux; — you will make Miss Dashwood believe you think of nothing else.” And then to turn the discourse, she began admiring the house and the furniture.

Beaux are sweethearts. The elder Miss Steele always seems to manage to talk about beaux, and it is not only vulgar to inquire about men and the Dashwood sisters’ love lives, but to mention sweethearts, and to use such a vulgar word as ‘beaux’. Lucy Steele’s constant correction of her sister stems partly from her wish to distance herself from the unsuitable content of her conversation and the words she uses (ungrammatical in the extreme as well as vulgar) but is also an attempt to cover up the obviously ungenteel origins of her family. Lucy is anxious to make her way in upper middle class society, hence the flattery of Lady Middleton, and Miss Steele is a considerable drawback in this attempt.

his specimen(example) of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, and as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.

Not so the Miss Steeles. They came from Exeter, well provided with admiration for the use of Sir John Middleton, his family, and all his relations, and no niggardly (mean, small) proportion (part) was now dealt out to his fair cousins, whom they declared to be the most beautiful, elegant, accomplished and agreeable girls they had ever beheld, and with whom they were particularly anxious to be better acquainted. And to be better acquainted therefore, Elinor soon found was their inevitable lot (fate); for as Sir John was entirely on the side of the Miss Steeles, their party (side, group) would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of intimacy must be submitted to, which consists of sitting an hour or two together in the same room almost every day. Sir John could do not more; but he did not know that any more was required; to be together was, in his opinion, to be intimate, and while his continual schemes for their meeting were effectual, he had not a doubt of their being established friends.

The Miss Steeles arrived at Barton Park ‘well provided with admiration for the use of’ the Middletons. Jane Austen makes it sound as if ‘admiration’ is a commodity or currency rather than a feeling. Indeed, in the case of the Miss Steeles, this is exactly what ‘admiration’ is, since it is not admiration at all, but flattery. It is ‘for the use’ of the family they are staying with, and it buys their hosts’ approval. They dole it out liberally; ‘no niggardly proportion was now dealt out to his fair cousins (Marianne and Elinor)’. Although Austen uses the word ‘proportion’, one could almost substitute the word portion. Here is yet another example of an element in social gatherings that Marianne and Elinor abhor: the Steeles’ false currency taken as genuine by the Middletons.

Marianne and Elinor must suffer the consequences of Sir John’s being so easily impressed. The Steeles declare ‘his fair cousins … to be the most beautiful, elegant, accomplished and agreeable girls they had ever beheld, and with whom they were particularly anxious to be better acquainted. And to be better acquainted therefore, Elinor soon found was their inevitable lot…’. The repetition caused by the inverted sentence structure reveals the inescapable nature of the Middletons’ gatherings: the Dashwoods are forced to be ‘better acquainted’ with the Steeles. The position of ‘Elinor soon found’ in the middle of the clause, shows how she is hemmed in on either side by ‘to be better acquainted’ and ‘was her inevitable lot.’ The positioning of the words mirrors her imprisonment in this uncomfortable social situation. ‘To be better acquainted’ is an example of the passive infinitive – it focuses the reader’s attention on the person most unwillingly experiencing the action.

We, as readers, are given a brief experience of this ‘inevitable lot’ endured by Marianne and Elinor. We read of their ‘sitting an hour or two together in the same room almost every day’, ‘be together’, ‘be intimate’, and ‘continual schemes for their meeting’. Marianne and Elinor cannot escape this: ‘that kind of intimacy must be submitted to’. Jane Austen writes of it in the passive voice: it is something that the sisters suffer. It gets worse as Sir John shares, in his jocular way, ‘whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins’ situations in the most delicate particulars (details).’

Jane Austen’s vocabulary here is suggestive of something perilously close to a battle. She writes: ‘as Sir John was entirely on the side of the Miss Steeles, their party (side, group) would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of intimacy must be submitted to…’. This could be for comic effect, as, for instance, Fielding describes Tom Jones’ supper with Mrs Waters in military terms. It could also convey the pressure applied by men on women to force them to comply with men’s wishes – even such banal wishes as those applying to the Middletons’ drawing-room. Or perhaps it portrays Elinor and Marianne’s position as victims in the battle for a little space for themselves.

The social pressure exerted on the Middletons’ unwilling guests is conveyed through the verbs as well as through the imagery. The verbs move from ‘as Sir John was‘ to ‘their party would be‘ to the final, unwished for ‘that … intimacy must be submitted to.’ We are in a mind that clearly sees cause and effect; probably that mind is our elegant narrator’s rather than Elinor’s. It weighs up the evidence: ‘as Sir John was entirely on the side of …’. It then moves to the conditional sense of the verb: ‘their party would be’, and arrives inescapably at the unpalatable conclusion, ‘intimacy must be submitted to.’ Elinor and Marianne seem perpetually to be in a state of reacting. It is Sir John and soon it will be Lucy Steele who are proactive.

However, Elinor is not passive in her response. She may be forced to submit, but she is a clear-sighted tactician and a survivor. She sees that there is no alternative to the enforced company of the Miss Steeles in the drawing-room at Barton Park, so she endures it. There is no point in resisting it any further. However, in the next chapter, the proactive Lucy Steele is to assert her engagement to Edward Ferrars. Again, Elinor weighs up the evidence, and sees that there really is an engagement between the two. Her acceptance of this is not in the least passive, even though it is self-disciplined. She does not yield in the face of Lucy Steele’s bullying tactics. Elinor is made of stern stuff; considerably sterner stuff than her sister.

I am not sure how severely Sir John is being censured for his lack of feeling towards his guests in this chapter. After all, he did make his cottage available for the Dashwoods when they had nowhere to live. And he frequently includes them in his family circle, although that is largely to please himself. Here is Sir John in action: ‘Sir John could do no more; but he did not know that any more was required; to be together was, in his opinion, to be intimate, and while his continual schemes for their meeting were effectual, he had not a doubt of their being established friends.’ The most damning part of this description is, ‘he did not know that any more was required.’ Sir John has no understanding of friendship, of interest, of relationship. He just wants people to be together.

Perhaps the question is not so much, is Sir John being criticised, as, why does anyone want to ascend to these ranks of society when all they achieve is embarrassment, humiliation, boredom and difficulty in maintaining some level of politeness. Put into such contrast with their neighbours, the delightfulness of the Miss Dashwoods is all the more evident.

To do him justice, he did everything in his power, to promote their unreserve, by making the Miss Steeles acquainted with whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins’ situations in the most delicate particulars, — and Elinor had not seen them more than twice, before the eldest of them wished her joy on her sister’s having been so lucky as to make a conquest of a very smart beau since she came to Barton.

“‘Twill be a fine thing to have her married so young, to be sure,” said she, “and I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome. And I hope you may have as good luck yourself soon, — but perhaps you may have a friend in the corner (in reserve) already.”

Where to start with the horrors of Miss Steele’s discourse? It would not enter the heads of either Elinor or Marianne to consider it a ‘fine thing’ to be married very young. To describe Willoughby labelled approvingly as ‘quite a beau’ (sweetheart and also a dandy) and ‘prodigious’ (slang for extremely) handsome is not only vulgar but praising Willoughby as a life’s partner for all the wrong reasons. What delicate and right-thinking woman would choose a husband simply for his handsome looks and his taste in fine clothes? (Yes, I know, every 18-year-old in the world, but this is Austen…) What sort of priorities does Miss Steele have if she considers marriage a matter of ‘good luck’? To have ‘a friend in the corner’ is another vulgar phrase, meaning, a man in reserve for help, which again reveals a view of marriage not shared by the Dashwoods.

Poverty of language and ideas is another aspect of what Miss Steele has to say and reflects the emptiness of her mind. She is like Mrs Palmer in this respect, except that she is more vulgar. One of her favourite words, other than ‘beaux’ is ‘vastly’ (‘vast addition’, ‘vastly agreeable’). Also, you can scarcely accuse her of possessing a butterfly mind like Mrs Palmer’s which flitted from thing to thing. Miss Steele’s mind is wholly focused on beaux.

To some extent inSense and Sensibility and to a much greater extent in Pride and Prejudice, Austen reveals character through conversation, rather than through direct narrative exposition. In this respect, her novels are dramatic.

Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more nice (careful, scrupulous) in proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward, than he had been with respect to Marianne; indeed it was rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since Edward’s visit, they had never dined together, without his drinking to her best affections with so much significancy, and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F — had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor.

The Miss Steeles, as she expected, had now all the benefit of these jokes, and in the eldest of them they raised a curiosity to know the name of the gentleman alluded to, which, though often impertinently expressed, was perfectly of a piece with her general inquisitiveness into the concerns of their family. But Sir John did not sport long with the curiosity which he delighted to raise, for he had at least as much pleasure in telling the name, as Miss Steele had in hearing it.

“His name is Ferrars,” said he, in a very audible whisper; “but pray do not tell it, for it’s a great secret.”

“Ferrars!” repeated Miss Steele; “Mr. Ferrars is the happy man, is he? What! your sister-in-law’s brother, Miss Dashwood? a very agreeable young man to be sure; I know him very well.”

Sir John’s lack of perception and understanding means that he not only forces the Miss Dashwoods to spend much time with the Miss Steeles. In addition, he passes on all the most ‘delicate particulars’ (details) of gossip regarding the Dashwoods. Thus, Marianne’s relationship with Willoughby and Elinor’s fondness of someone beginning with F are the subject of ‘countless jokes’. Thus does Jane Austen illustrate the torment suffered by the sensitive Elinor and Marianne in a social exchange that is forced upon them. Because they are the recipients of his generosity, living in his cottage, and because they are women, they are powerless.

We are told: ‘he (Sir John) had at least as much pleasure in telling the name, as Miss Steele had in hearing it.’ He has no sensitivity or awareness of feelings but enjoys titbits of gossip.

“His name is Ferrars,” said he, in a very audible whisper; “but pray do not tell it, for it’s a great secret.”

Sir John’s intrusion into Elinor’s private life in his conversation as he retails this snippet of gossip to the Miss Steeles is on a par with his intrusion into her private home when he comes shouting to her window with the Palmers and Mrs Jennings in Chapter 19. He has no conception of the distinction between public and private.

Sir John is, I think, not presented as being malicious, but rather completely oblivious of the existence of feelings. The torture to Marianne and Elinor at being forced to be at the Middletons’ house can be imagined. They are subjected to a form of social helplessness that Jane Austen makes horribly clear. ‘And to be better acquainted therefore, Elinor soon found was their inevitable lot; for as Sir John was entirely on the side of the Miss Steeles, their party would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of intimacy must be submitted to, which consists of sitting an hour or two together in the same room almost every day.’ The Dashwoods, female recipients of Sir John’s generosity in the matter of having somewhere to live, must now submit to his wishes. ‘Must be submitted to’ is expressed in the passive voice: it underlines the fact that the girls have absolutely no say in what they do or are forced to endure. ‘Inevitable lot’ further stresses this.

The Dashwood women’s lack of power or choice in their social timetable here is further highlighted by the way Austen describes Sir John’s next movements in the active voice. ‘Sir John could do no more; and ‘To do him justice, he did everything in his power …’. In this patriarchal society, it is most the men who do; the women suffer the consequences.

Intimacy and intimate are words with rather different connotations today. Jane Austen would have meant to day with inmost thoughts and feelings; close acquaintance and association; closely connected by friendship or personal knowledge characterised by familiarity. So Sir John is conflating being related (as he thinks) and being intimate without any regard to the compatibility of the Steeles and the Dashwoods or even manners. He tells the Steeles all about the ‘most delicate particulars (details)‘ of his cousins’ lives.

“How can you say so Anne?” cried Lucy, who generally made an amendment to all her sister’s assertions. “Though we have seen him once or twice at my uncle’s, it is rather too much to pretend to know him very well.”

Elinor heard all this with attention and surprise. “And who was this uncle? Where did he live? how came they acquainted?” She wished very much to have the subject continued, though she did not chuse to join in it herself; but nothing more of it was said, and, for the first time in her life, she thought Mrs. Jennings deficient either in curiosity after petty information, or in a disposition to communicate it. The manner in which Miss Steele had spoken of Edward, increased her curiosity; for it struck her, as being rather ill-natured, and suggested the suspicion of that lady’s knowing, or fancying herself to know, something to his disadvantage. But her curiosity was unavailing, for no farther notice was taken of Mr. Ferrars’s name by Miss Steele when alluded to or even openly mentioned by Sir John.

Chapter 22

Lucy Steele tells Elinor that she has been engaged to Edward Ferrars for four years.

Marianne, who had never much toleration for anything like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts(talent), or even difference of taste from herself, was at this time particularly ill-disposed, from the state of her spirits, to be pleased with the Miss Steeles, or to encourage their advances; and to the invariable coldness of her behaviour towards them, which checked every endeavour at intimacy on their side, Elinor principally attributed that preference of herself which soon became evident in the manners of both, but especially of Lucy, who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or of striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frank communication of her sentiments.

Chapter 21 had ended with Elinor and Marianne having no say in their doings at the Park. This chapter opens by voicing a very sustained and definite declaration of the sisters’ thoughts and feelings! Ironically, it is a much more detailed and truthful – you could say ‘intimate’ and certainly honest – account than polite society can allow. All Marianne can do in the drawing-room at the Park is sit with the Steeles and say extremely little. With his usual talent for misunderstanding, Sir John takes silence to mean assent.

As usual, Marianne’s disinclination to be polite to or have anything much to do with the Miss Steeles rebounds upon Elinor, who therefore has to put up with their unwelcome company. Marianne exhibits ‘invariable coldness’ towards them. Elinor thus endures their non-stop attentions, especially those of Lucy, ‘who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or of striving to improve their acquaintance.’ The frequent verbs ‘missed’, ‘engaging’, ‘striving’, show Lucy’s unceasing energies in seeing more of the luckless Elinor. It becomes evident that improving their acquaintance does not necessarily mean becoming closer friends. Indeed, Lucy’s version of improving acquaintance seems to mean, making her situation clear and warning Elinor off Edward. In fact, unimproving their acquaintance.

‘Vulgarity’ which is so intolerable to Marianne, means being unrefined or coarse. It is a word that had only recently come into being (1774). Originally the vulgar were the common people (1577) coming from the Latin ‘vulgaritas’, the mass or multitude.

Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and amusing; and as a companion for half an hour Elinor frequently found her agreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education, she was ignorant and illiterate, and her deficiency of all mental improvement, her want of information in the most common particulars, could not be concealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her constant endeavour to appear to advantage. Elinor saw, and pitied her for, the neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so respectable; but she saw, with less tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy, of rectitude, and integrity of mind, which her attentions, her assiduities, her flatteries at the Park betrayed; and she could have no lasting satisfaction in the company of a person who joined insincerity with ignorance; whose want of instruction prevented their meeting in conversation on terms of equality, and whose conduct towards others, made every shew of attention and deference towards herself perfectly valueless.

Jane Austen’s beautifully balanced antithetical eighteenth century prose makes even very long sentences immediately clear.

Elinor saw, and pitied her for, the neglect of abilities which education

might have rendered so respectable;

but she saw, with less tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy, which her attentions, her assiduities,

of rectitude, and integrity of mind, her flatteries at the Park betrayed;

and she could have no lasting satisfaction in the company of a person

who joined insincerity with ignorance;

whose want of instruction prevented their

meeting in conversation on terms of equality,

and whose conduct towards others, made every

shew of attention and deference towards

herself perfectly valueless.

Elinor’s conflicting views of Lucy are set out in a balanced and antithetical style typical of eighteenth-century prose: ‘saw, and pitied her for ….’, ‘but she saw, with less tenderness of feeling …..’. Elinor is very fair in not blaming Lucy for her lack of education, which is not her fault. It is the lack of refinement that she cannot bear, the’thorough want of delicacy.’ Much more detail is given about the unattractive aspects of Lucy, however, than of her good qualities. Alliteration joins Lucy’s ‘insincerity with ignorance’ and ‘her attentions, her assiduities’. Her behaviour seems dictated by ‘flatteries’, ‘shew of attention and deference.’ In other words, Lucy’s conduct is aimed at constructing a charming persona in the eyes of others, hence its insincerity. It is, of course, another contrast to the conduct of the Dashwood sisters to add to that formed by Mrs Jennings’ daughters. Lucy is well-named Steele; her behaviour is hard and ruthless and by the end of the chapter she makes Elinor ‘wretched’.

This chapter is the last in Volume I. It draws a further comparison in the situation of the sisters: now they are each made wretched by the man of their choice.

Sense and Sensibilityis full of sisters: Elinor and Marianne, Lady Middleton and Mrs Palmer, Anne and Lucy Steele. Brothers will soon be added, Robert and Edward Ferrars. The only close family feelings, however, are those in the Dashwood family. Family relationships are a central theme, indeed the novel opened with the Dashwood women being coldly and meanly treated by the girls’ half-brother.

“You will think my question an odd one, I dare say,” said Lucy to her one day as they were walking together from the park to the cottage — “but, pray, are you personally acquainted with your sister-in-law’s mother, Mrs. Ferrars?”

It is very difficult for a young woman to have any privacy in this society. Therefore, one of the only occasions for a private talk is when Lucy and Elinor are walking from the Middletons’ to Barton Cottage.

Elinor did think the question a very odd one, and her countenance expressed it, as she answered that she had never seen Mrs. Ferrars.

“Indeed!” replied Lucy; “I wonder at that, for I thought you must have seen her at Norland sometimes. Then perhaps you cannot tell me what sort of a woman she is?”

“No,” returned Elinor, cautious of giving her real opinion of Edward’s mother, and not very desirous of satisfying, what seemed impertinent curiosity — “I know nothing of her.”

“I am sure you think me very strange, for inquiring about her in such a way;” said Lucy, eyeing Elinor attentively as she spoke; “but perhaps there may be reasons — I wish I might venture; but however I hope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to be impertinent.”

Elinor made her a civil reply, and they walked on for a few minutes in silence. It was broken by Lucy, who renewed the subject again by saying with some hesitation —

“I cannot bear to have you think me impertinently curious. I am sure I would rather do anything in the world than be thought so by a person whose good opinion is so well worth having as yours. And I am sure I should not have the smallest fear of trusting you; indeed I should be very glad of your advice how to manage in such an uncomfortable situation as I am; but however there is no occasion to trouble you. I am sorry you do not happen to know Mrs. Ferrars.”

Lucy tries flattery. ‘I am sure I would rather do anything in the world than be thought so by a person whose good opinion is so well worth having as yours.’ If you count the number of times she says ‘I’, you will run out of fingers to tot it up on.

Lucy initiates all the conversation. Elinor keeps putting a stop to it, ‘Elinor made her a civil reply …’. But Lucy is very persistent, and keeps restarting it: ‘they walked on for a few minutes in silence. It was broken by Lucy, who renewed the subject again.’ To this extent she is controlling or dictating what they talk about.

“I am sorry I do not,” said Elinor in great astonishment, “if it could be of any use to you to know my opinion of her. But really, I never understood that you were at all connected with that family, and therefore I am a little surprised, I confess, at so serious an inquiry into her character.”

“I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all wonder at it. But if I dared tell you all, you would not be so much surprised. Mrs. Ferrars is certainly nothing to me at present — but the time maycome — how soon it will come must depend upon herself — when we may be very intimately connected.”

She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one side glance at her companion to observe its effect on her.

“Good heavens!” cried Elinor, “what do you mean? Are you acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be — — ?” And she did not feel much delighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.

“No;” replied Lucy, “not to Mr. Robert Ferrars — I never saw him in my life; but,” fixing her eyes upon Elinor, “to his elder brother.”

Lucy’s sharpness is revealed in her constant piercing glances at Elinor to see the reaction to her carefully constructed revelations. We are told that she is, ‘eyeing Elinor attentively as she spoke’, and that she appears to be ‘amiably bashful’, an appearance undermined by ‘with only one side glance at her companion to observe its effect on her.’ Then she speaks, ‘fixing her eyes upon Elinor’. With the disclaimer, ‘If I dared tell you all,’ she immediately proceeds to do just that.

She acts and speaks to Elinor, just as she does with Lady Middleton, in order to obtain results. When she speaks to Lady Middleton, it is to be approved of and to prolong her stay at the Park. Now she speaks to Elinor in order to stake her prior claim to Edward Ferrars.

What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment, that would have been as painful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of the assertion attended it. She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement, unable to divine the reason or object of such a declaration; and though her complexion varied, she stood firm in incredulity, and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon.

At this point in the conversation, Elinor is so astounded that she betrays something of her feelings to Lucy. ‘She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement.’ A few minutes later, she takes care to betray nothing, and thus to stand her ground.

“You may well be surprised,” continued Lucy; “for to be sure, you could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars must seem so odd that it ought to be explained. And I do not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased when he knows I have trusted you, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of all your family, and looks upon yourself and the other Miss Dashwoods quite as his own sisters.” — She paused.

Lucy only tells a part of the truth here. ‘I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars must seem so odd that it ought to be explained.’ It may well be true that her engagement to Edward has been ‘a great secret’, but she is telling Elinor about it in order to warn her off Edward, not because she relies on Elinor’s secrecy or because she feels her questions about Mrs Ferrars should be explained. As she does not, later in the novel, appear to be fond of Edward, we may need to remember that in Chapter 3 we were told, Edward Ferrars was the eldest son of a man who had died very rich.’

Lucy’s dialogue – almost monologue – is not very logical. It is all cobbled together with words like ‘for’ and ‘and’. When Lucy wants to impress Elinor with the truth of some detail, she dresses it up in hyperbole or superlatives. This unfortunately has the effect of making it less believable, and merely clichéd.

“You may well be surprised,” continued Lucy; “for to be sure, you could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars must seem so odd that it ought to be explained. And I do not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased …’

Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing herself to speak, and to speak cautiously, she said with a calmness of manner which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude — “May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?”

“We have been engaged these four years.”

“Four years!”

“Yes.”

Elinor, though greatly shocked, still felt unable to believe it.

“I did not know,” said she, “that you were even acquainted till the other day.”

“Our acquaintance, however, is of many years’ date. He was under my uncle’s care, you know, a considerable while.”

“Your uncle!”

“Yes; Mr. Pratt. Did you never hear him talk of Mr. Pratt?”

“I think I have,” replied Elinor, with an exertion of spirits, which increased with her increase of emotion.

The very short sentences here and the exclamation marks, “Four years!” “Your uncle!” betray Elinor’s tension. Also her shocked repetition of the key words in Lucy’s speech.

“We have been engaged these four years.”

“Four years!”
“He was under my uncle’s care, you know, a considerable while.”

“Your uncle!”

“He was four years with my uncle, who lives at Longstaple, near Plymouth. It was there our acquaintance begun, for my sister and me was often staying with my uncle, and it was there our engagement was formed, though not till a year after he had quitted as a pupil; but he was almost always with us afterwards. I was very unwilling to enter into it, as you may imagine, without the knowledge and approbation of his mother; but I was too young and loved him too well to be so prudent as I ought to have been. — Though you do not know him so well as me, Miss Dashwood, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible he is very capable of making a woman sincerely attached to him.”

Wow! That’s a stab in the ribs for Elinor! A palpable hit! ‘Though you do not know him so well as me, Miss Dashwood, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible he is very capable of making a woman sincerely attached to him.’ Apparently Elinor does not know Edward as well as Lucy does. And Lucy is quite right in telling Elinor that Edward is capable of making Elinor sincerely attached to him.’ Lucy’s phraseology suggests that women are helpless when it comes to being made attached to a man. As later events prove, Lucy is not sincerely attached to him, but to social and financial advancement. Lucy here demonstrates her capacity for intentionally giving pain, especially to her rival.

Edward was being prepared for university entrance with Lucy’s uncle (Jane Austen’s father did something very similar in teaching students to add to his clergyman’s income).

“Certainly,” answered Elinor, without knowing what she said; but after a moment’s reflection, she added with revived security of Edward’s honour and love, and her companion’s falsehood — “Engaged to Mr. Edward Ferrars! — I confess myself so totally surprised at what you tell me, that really — I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some mistake of person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars.”

“We can mean no other,” cried Lucy smiling. “Mr. Edward Ferrars, the eldest son of Mrs. Ferrars of Park Street, and brother of your sister-in-law, Mrs. John Dashwood, is the person I mean; you must allow that Iam not likely to be deceived as to the name of the man on who all my happiness depends.”

“We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars.”
“We can mean no other,” cried Lucy smiling.
Lucy’s exact repetition of what Elinor has said underlines her malice: ‘We cannot mean’ instantly counteracted by ‘We can mean’. Lucy’s smile reveals her triumph at having indisputably won that round and caused Elinor pain.

Lucy stresses that she must be right: ‘you must allow that Iam not likely to be deceived as to the name of the man on who all my happiness depends.’ ‘You must allow’ translates as I cannot possibly be wrong.

Mrs Ferrars has a very grand address, Park Street in London. It is a very exclusive Mayfair address, running parallel to Park Lane. Lucy would be really soaring into moneyed society if she married Mrs Ferrars’ elder son.

“It is strange,” replied Elinor, in a most painful perplexity, “that I should never have heard him even mention your name.”

“No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care has been to keep the matter secret. — You knew nothing of me or my family, and therefore there could be no occasion for ever mentioning my name to you; and as he was always particularly afraid of his sister’s suspecting anything, that was reason enough for his not mentioning it.”

She was silent. — Elinor’s security sunk; but her self-command did not sink with it.

“It is strange,” replied Elinor, in a most painful perplexity, “that I should never have heard him even mention your name.”
“No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care has been to keep the matter secret.’

Lucy is now becoming more punchy. She directly contradicts Elinor’s ‘It is strange’ with ‘it was not strange.’ And she adds, cuttingly, ‘You knew nothing of me’, highlighting Elinor’s total ignorance of the facts despite seeing so much of Edward.

Eventually, Lucy renders poor Elinor speechless.

Austen’s eighteenth-century style makes Elinor’s ‘affections’ sound very ‘calm’ (Marianne’s words). The phrases, ‘revived security of Edward’s honour and love, and her companion’s falsehood’ and ‘a most painful perplexity.’ The eighteenth century respect for moderation (as opposed to the extremes of the Romantic movement that followed) was reflected in a use of abstract nouns. These are actually to do with passionate feelings of ‘security’, ‘honour’, ‘love’ and ‘perplexity’ but as abstract nouns any sense of the extreme is absent. Hence Marianne’s feelings always seem much more vivid and ardent; they are more extreme and less self-disciplined.

“Four years you have been engaged,” said she with a firm voice.

“Yes; and Heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. Poor Edward! It puts him quite out of heart.” Then taking a small miniature from her pocket, she added, “To prevent the possibility of mistake, be so good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice to be sure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person it was drew of. — I have had it above these three years.”

Another stab of the dagger: Elinor now has to look at a miniature of her beloved Edward, appropriated by another, inferior and unpleasant woman. And Lucy is advertising her intimacy with Edward by calling him ‘Edward’. Elinor calls him by the correct name for a young woman to use in referring to a young man, Mr Ferrars. In fact, even married couples called each other Mr X and Mrs X when they talked to each other so Lucy is betraying her vulgarity in calling Mr Ferrars ‘Edward’.

“To prevent the possibility of mistake, be so good as to look at this face.’ Look at Lucy here: she’s really glorying in her victory over Elinor. ‘To prevent the possibility of mistake’ underlines her certainty; ‘be so good as to look’ is a command couched as an invitation, and then, the final agony, forcing Elinor to look at Edward’s beloved face. Elinor can hardly bear to do so; ‘She returned it almost instantly.’

She put it into her hands as she spoke, and when Elinor saw the painting, whatever other doubts her fear of a too hasty decision, or her wish of detecting falsehood might suffer to linger in her mind, she could have none of its being Edward’s face. She returned it almost instantly, acknowledging the likeness.

“I have never been able,” continued Lucy, “to give him my picture in return, which I am very much vexed at, for he has been always so anxious to get it! But I am determined to sit for it the very first opportunity.”

“You are quite in the right;” replied Elinor calmly. They then proceeded a few paces in silence. Lucy spoke first.

Elinor is using all the self-command at her disposal, not to reveal to Lucy any of the distress that Lucy’s information and manner of imparting it are causing her. This self-command both maintains Elinor’s dignity in the face of misery and constitutes a very effective defence against Lucy’s barbs.

Lucy is still controlling the conversation. She drops the bombshell, and Elinor is reeling. Lucy does all the talking; Elinor is hardly capable of speech. And twice now Lucy has broken the silence between them, instigating more speech of which she is in control.

“I am sure,” said she, “I have no doubt in the world of your faithfully keeping this secret, because you must know of what importance it is to us not to have it reach his mother; for she would never approve of it, I dare say. I shall have no fortune, and I fancy she is an exceeding proud woman.”

“I certainly did not seek your confidence,” said Elinor; “but you do me no more than justice in imagining that I may be depended on. Your secret is safe with me; but pardon me if I express some surprise at so unnecessary a communication. You must at least have felt that my being acquainted with it could not add to its safety.”

Another strong rebuttal on Elinor’s part: ‘I certainly did not seek your confidence’ (your telling me your secret). It suggests that Lucy was committing a social solecism in imposing such a confidence on Elinor, whom she does not know well. Elinor follows this with a mild stricture: ‘but pardon me if I express some surprise at so unnecessary a communication.’ ‘Pardon me’ is a polite way of saying, ‘I’m going to say it anyway’, or, ‘No offence, but’. And she points out that Lucy didn’t need to say any of this. The more people who know a secret, the less secret and safe it is. ‘You must at least have felt that my being acquainted with it could not add to its safety.’ Elinor, effectively, is pointing out the lack of logic in Lucy’s alleged reason for telling her of the four-year engagement and implying that she is well aware of the ulterior reason.

As she said this, she looked earnestly at Lucy, hoping to discover something in her countenance, — perhaps the falsehood of the greatest part of what she had been saying; but Lucy’s countenance suffered no change.

When Elinor ‘looks earnestly at Lucy’ she wants to read the truth. When Lucy looks covertly at Elinor, it is to see if her hurtful speech is having the desired impact. One woman desires truth; the other power.

“I was afraid you would think I was taking a great liberty with you,” said she, “in telling you all this. I have not known you long to be sure, personally at least, but I have known you and all your family by description a great while; and as soon as I saw you, I felt almost as if you was an old acquaintance. Besides, in the present case, I really thought some explanation was due to you after my making such particular inquiries about Edward’s mother; and I am so unfortunate, that I have not a creature whose advice I can ask. Anne is the only person that knows of it, and she has no judgment at all; indeed she does me a great deal more harm than good, for I am in constant fear of her betraying me. She does not know how to hold her tongue, as you must perceive; and I am sure I was in the greatest fright in the world t’other day, when Edward’s name was mentioned by Sir John, lest she should out with it all. You can’t think how much I go through in my mind from it altogether. I only wonder that I am alive after what I have suffered for Edward’s sake these last four years. Everything in such suspense and uncertainty, and seeing him so seldom — we can hardly meet above twice a-year. I am sure I wonder my heart is not quite broke.”

Here she took out her handkerchief; but Elinor did not feel very compassionate.

Lucy is quite sharp enough to realise that she has overstepped the mark in terms of allowable etiquette. ‘I was afraid you would think I was taking a great liberty with you.’ So she explains, rather as if she were working out a geometric theorem, why she has done so. It reads rather as if she is digging a hole for herself and would be well advised to stop. (1) I haven’t known you long. (2) I feel as if I have known you a long time. (3) I’d asked about Mrs Ferrars and I had to give you the reason for my asking. (4) I am so unfortunate. (5) My sister Anne has no judgement. (6) My sister Anne does more harm than good. She can’t keep a secret. (7) You can’t think how much I endure. (8) I can’t imagine how I am still alive after all I’ve suffered. (9) For Edward (sharp reminder). (10) Tears and handkerchief.

As logic this does not stand up. Pythagoras would be unconvinced. The logic is tied together with pseudo-connectives: ‘but’, ‘as soon as,’ Besides’, ‘and’, ‘indeed’, ‘for’. But these peter out and are replaced by the handkerchief. The logic is also laced with an attempt at feelings: ‘I felt’, ‘I am so unfortunate’, ‘fear’, ‘How much I go through’, ‘I have suffered’, ‘I wonder my heart is not quite broke.’ They too are entirely unconvincing, hence Elinor’s lack of compassion when the handkerchief is brandished. It’s all about ‘I’. And then out comes the handkerchief to make sure Elinor pities her and to illustrate the suffering.

Lucy is here affecting the language of the heroine of sensibility. ‘You can’t think how much I go through in my mind from it altogether. I only wonder that I am alive after what I have suffered for Edward’s sake these last four years. Everything in such suspense and uncertainty, and seeing him so seldom — we can hardly meet above twice a-year. I am sure I wonder my heart is not quite broke.’ It is, of course, nothing to do with sensibility and everything to do with getting what she wants.

“Sometimes,” continued Lucy, after wiping her eyes, “I think whether it would not be better for us both, to break off the matter entirely.” As she said this, she looked directly at her companion. “But then at other times I have not resolution enough for it. I cannot bear the thoughts of making him so miserable, as I know the very mention of such a thing would do. And on my own account too — so dear as he is to me — I don’t think I could be equal to it. What would you advise me to do in such a case, Miss Dashwood? What would you do yourself?”

“Pardon me,” replied Elinor, startled by the question; “but I can give you no advice under such circumstances. Your own judgment must direct you.”

Lucy administers another agonising prod at the wound she has inflicted on Elinor. She looks carefully at Elinor to see if she reacts to the notion of herself and Edward breaking off their engagement. Presumably she perceives no reaction, because she tries harder. ‘What would you advise me to do in such a case, Miss Dashwood? What would you do yourself?’ She asks the question twice, to double its impact on the truthful Elinor, so that Elinor cannot duck the answer. And Lucy knows Elinor to be truthful; she has already noticed Elinor’s dislike of noisy unruly children. What a horrible miserable question for Elinor to be forced to answer. However, she is more than equal to the diplomacy required.

It is characteristic of Elinor’s rectitude and elegance of mind that she is as ‘startled’ by the indelicacy of Lucy’s asking her for advice as by the catastrophe – for her – of the engagement.

“To be sure,” continued Lucy, after a few minutes silence on both sides, “his mother must provide for him some time or other; but poor Edward is so cast down about it! Did not you think him dreadful low-spirited when he was at Barton? He was so miserable when he left us at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think him quite ill.”

“Did he come from your uncle’s then, when he visited us?”

“Oh! yes; he had been staying a fortnight with us. Did you think he came directly from town?”

Lucy is exulting in her superior knowledge and power over the socially higher-class Elinor: ‘Did you think ….?’ with its implicit gloating.

“No,” replied Elinor, most feelingly sensible of every fresh circumstance in favour of Lucy’s veracity; “I remember he told us, that he had been staying a fortnight with some friends near Plymouth.” She remembered, too, her own surprise at the time, at his mentioning nothing farther of those friends, at his total silence with respect even to their names.

“Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?” repeated Lucy.

We did indeed, particularly so when he first arrived.”

“I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. — Poor fellow! — I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;” taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly shewing the direction to Elinor. “You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. — He was tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible.”

Elinor saw that it was his hand (writing), and she could doubt no longer. The picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward’s gift; but a correspondence between them by letter, could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a few moments, she was almost overcome — her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

Another blow: Lucy triumphantly shows Elinor an example of Edward’s handwriting in a letter to Lucy. Only engaged couples might write to one another, so this gives further proof to Elinor of Edward’s commitment to his promise to Lucy.

Elinor is ‘almost overcome’ by her feelings, ‘she could hardly stand’. She has to ‘struggle’ against the ‘oppression of her feelings’. Oppression means heaviness (as in heavy hearted), though it can also mean cruelty – she has been cruelly treated.

“Writing to each other,” said Lucy, returning the letter into her pocket, “is the only comfort we have in such long separations. Yes, Ihave one other comfort in his picture; but poor Edward has not even that. If he had but my picture, he says he should be easy. I gave him a lock of my hair set in a ring when he was at Longstaple last, and that was some comfort to him, he said, but not equal to a picture. Perhaps you might notice the ring when you saw him?”

And another hammer-blow. Lucy now gleefully mentions the ring that Edward has recently been wearing and which Marianne noticed. It contains a lock of her hair. And she doesn’t allow Elinor to escape in silence: ‘Perhaps you might notice the ring when you saw him?’ She has cornered Elinor into giving an answer in which Elinor will have to concede defeat.

“I did;” said Elinor, 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 (confused, and defeated).

Elinor’s feelings, in contrast to Lucy’s, are severe. She endures ‘an emotion and distress beyond anything she had ever felt before. She was mortified, shocked, confounded.’

Fortunately for her they had now reached the cottage, and the conversation could be continued no farther. After sitting with them a few minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched (utterly miserable).

A conversation between two young women in polite society turns out to be a battlefield, and Lucy has won despite her inferiority revealed in every sentence.

The blurb on the back of the 2014 Penguin Classics edition of Sense and Sensibility, mentions ‘rigid social convention’. Much of the novel details the way that characters who are clever enough to do so manoeuvre their way around social convention while allegedly adhering to it. This chapter is an excellent example of Lucy Steele’s superficial compliance with the code, while in fact violating it at every turn. For instance, Lucy apparently confides in Elinor, while in reality attacking her and warning her off Edward. ‘She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one side glance at her companion to observe its effect on her.’ Even Lucy’s body language complies with the social convention, ‘she looked down … amiably bashful’ with only the swift side glance to betray her true intention.

It always seems that Marianne is the spontaneous, passionate, deep feeling sister. Elinor is so self-disciplined, has such self-control. But if you read this conversation carefully, you will see how much Elinor suffers. As Austen says: ‘Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched.’ ‘Wretched’ means very miserable. Whereas Marianne would be all feelings and Romantically wretched behaviour, Elinor proceeds to think – though somewhat irrationally – as well as feel in the next chapter.

Chapter 23 (Volume II, Chapter 1)

Elinor thinks over Lucy Steele’s revelation. She resolves to find another opportunity of speaking to Lucy.

However small Elinor’s general dependence on Lucy’s veracity (truthfulness; trustworthiness) might be, it was impossible for her on serious reflection to suspect it (the truthfulness) in the present case, where no temptation could be answerable to (required to explain) the folly of inventing a falsehood of such a description. What Lucy had asserted to be true, therefore, Elinor could not, dared not longer doubt; supported as it was too on every side by such probabilities and proofs, and contradicted by nothing but her own wishes. Their opportunity of acquaintance in the house of Mr. Pratt was a foundation for the rest, at once indisputable and alarming; and Edward’s visit near Plymouth, his melancholy state of mind, his dissatisfaction at his own prospects, his uncertain behaviour towards herself, the intimate knowledge of the Miss Steeles as to Norland and their family connections, which had often surprised her, the picture, the letter, the ring, formed altogether such a body of evidence, as overcame every fear of condemning him unfairly, and established as a fact which no partiality could set aside, his ill-treatment of herself. Her resentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas, other considerations soon arose. Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blameable, highly blameable, in remaining at Norland after he felt her influence over him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he had injured her, how much more had he injured himself! If her case were pitiable, his was hopeless. His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She might in time regain tranquillity; but he, what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele? could he, were his affection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her — illiterate, artful, and selfish?

In the opening to the chapter, Austen moves inside Elinor’s mind. She shows us that Elinor is by no means without feelings. Elinor is alone, thinking wretchedly. Even in her misery, ‘it was impossible for her on serious reflection…’ How characteristic of Elinor, at this excruciatingly painful juncture, to reflect seriously and, judging from the length of the paragraph, in great detail. This is Elinor’s coping mechanism; whereas when Marianne sees Willoughby at the ball, to Elinor’s distress, ‘the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed.’ (Chapter 28) Marianne wants to go to Willoughby then and there but Elinor says, ‘No, my dearest Marianne, you must wait. This is not a place for explanations.’ Typically, she recommends time and distance to Marianne. Here she gives time to her thoughts.

Austen shows us Elinor’s thoughts and feelings through free indirect discourse. She has been credited with introducing this way of writing; however, it seems likely that ‘for her internal styles’ as Jane Spencer describes them, she has precursors. Spencer writes: ‘Samuel Richardson (was) her great eighteenth-century precursor in the representation of the inner life, … even within his first-person style Richardson included early free indirect discourse.

‘Frances Burney .. in Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796) … developed ways of incorporating internal presentation into third-person narrative. … Sometimes thought is given dramatic immediacy by being directly quoted. … At other times, thought is rendered in free indirect discourse …’. However, Austen certainly made herself mistress of the method. Jane Spencer concludes that Austen achieved ‘a flexible combination of psychonarration and free indirect discourse that transformed Burney’s, Radcliffe’s, and Smith’s early attempts into a sustained and sympathetic inside view.’ (Jane Spencer, ‘Narrative Technique: Austen and Her Contemporaries’ in A Companion to Jane Austen ed Claudia L Johnson and Clara Tuite, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

At first Elinor’s thoughts are set out with conspicuous logic. The formal patterning and structure in the sentences that convey her thoughts and feelings parallel the way she adheres to the conventions and manners required by the social code. It’s as if her outward self-command is the fruit of her inner structured and disciplined reasoning. But then, as we progress through this long paragraph, the language becomes more emotional and the logic begins to look less like objective, clear-sighted logic and more like love.

Just as she uses the formal conventions of rhetoric to form an argument, to figure out her thoughts, Elinor also relies upon a formal structure to her manners to give strength to her self-command. Marianne, however, prefers to abandon these structures in favour of instant spontaneous expression.

Elinor’s thoughts about what Lucy has told her are at first set out in a very objective way, but surely not a way that demonstrates indifference. ‘…it was impossible for her on serious reflection to suspect it (the truthfulness) in the present case, where no temptation could be answerable to (required to explain) the folly of inventing a falsehood of such a description.’ The underlined phrases are almost legalistic.

I have tried to show here the logic in the patterns and antitheses of Elinor’s thoughts.

What Lucy had asserted to be true, therefore,

Elinor could not,

dared not longer doubt;

supported as it was too by such probabilities and proofs, and

on every side

contradicted by nothing but her own wishes.

Some of Austen’s sentences seem extremely long to us nowadays. ‘Their opportunity of acquaintance in the house of Mr. Pratt was a foundation for the rest, at once indisputable and alarming; and Edward’s visit near Plymouth, his melancholy state of mind, his dissatisfaction at his own prospects, his uncertain behaviour towards herself, the intimate knowledge of the Miss Steeles as to Norland and their family connections, which had often surprised her, the picture, the letter, the ring, formed altogether such a body of evidence, as overcame every fear of condemning him unfairly, and established as a fact which no partiality could set aside, his ill-treatment of herself.’ However, the structure of this long sentence is remarkably lucid.
Elinor’s mind neatly lists the evidence:

Edward’s visit near Plymouth,
his melancholy state of mind,
his dissatisfaction at his own prospects,
his uncertain behaviour towards herself,
the intimate knowledge of the Miss Steeles as to Norland and their family

connections, which had often surprised her,

the picture,
the letter,
the ring,
formed altogether such a body of evidence

Elinor, on this occasion, looks the facts squarely in the face and draws this correct and very painful conclusion: ‘established as a fact which no partiality could set aside, his ill-treatment of herself.’ The list itemises the evidence in a very formal manner, again ending in an almost legalistic phrase ‘such a body of evidence.’ And the listing makes the evidence seem more incontrovertible. At this point, she is listing pronouns as well as items: ‘his’, ‘his’ is repeated again and again. Everything is focused on ‘him’; not ‘the melancholy state of mind’ but ‘his melancholy state of mind’. Even if it sounds impersonal, it’s all about ‘him’.

Having arrived at this unpalatable conclusion, she considers further the information Lucy Steele has given her.
‘Her resentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas, other considerations soon arose. Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that.’

The breaks in the sentence follow the journey of her feelings; however moderate the abstract nouns sound, ‘resentment’ and ‘indignation’ are strong feelings.
Her resentment of such behaviour (she means, Edward’s behaviour towards her at Norland),
her indignation at having been its dupe (victim of deception),
for a short time made her feel only for herself;
but other ideas, other considerations soon arose.
There are few repetitions of ‘her’; it only takes a very short time before she begins questioning – ‘but other ideas, other considerations’ – a determined attempt at rationalisation of the situation. Determined, because ‘other’ is repeated. No wallowing in self-pity and tears and sinking onto chairs for Elinor.

So at this point she begins asking herself questions, and they are all questions that find a favourable answer in her heart.
Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her?
Had he feigned(pretended to have) a regard (esteem, high opinion) for her which he did not feel?
Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart?
And her heart tells her:
No.
These sound almost like rhetorical questions, as if Elinor is making a speech and the audience is her heart, which of course gives her the answer she expects. But, actually, she can’t know that for sure; she can’t know that the answer is ‘No.’ She’s deceiving herself with this certainty.
whatever it (Edward’s feelings) might once have been,
she could not believe it such at present.
His affection was all her own.
She could not be deceived in that.
These are modal verbs, ‘might’, ‘could not believe’, ‘could not be deceived’. Modal verbs indicate likelihood, ability, permission and obligation. So here, it’s likelihood. Likelihood that Edward’s feelings are for her, not Lucy. Modal verbs are known as helping verbs because they help the main verb – here, ‘believe’ and ‘be deceived’. Elinor is helping herself to be convinced that ‘His affection was all her own,’ a very absolute statement, worthy of Marianne, who would say, I feel this, therefore it’s true. The hoped-for likelihood is emphasised by ‘she could not’ being repeated. And Elinor contrasts what Edward’s feelings perhaps were in the past, ‘might once have been’, with what they must be now, ‘at present’. The contrast makes the wished for answer sound all the more definite, but logically, it isn’t definite.

The sentences and other punctuation show us the steps her mind and feelings are taking as she resolutely considers matters. Is she manufacturing for herself an assertion from mere hopes? Her feelings are couched in logical terms but actually they’re not in the least logical.

So the next step is to see whether she is right in thinking that Edward really did, does, love her.
Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland;
it was not an illusion of her own vanity.
He certainly loved her.
These are a series of statements and absolutes worthy of Marianne. She lists the witnesses individually, ‘Her mother, sisters, Fanny’, so it’s redundant for her to say ‘all’ – she’s using the word ‘all’ to add force to her belief that she is loved. People can attest to this as a fact. And she adds the intensifier, ‘certainly’, to assure herself that ‘he certainly loved her.’ The brevity of the sentence makes it seem definitive.

What a softener of the heart was this persuasion (being convinced of this fact)!

How much could it not tempt her to forgive!
‘What a’ and ‘How much’ are intensifiers, plus the semi-rhetorical question format of these two sentences. Together, these make for emotional reassurance. The exclamation marks suggest her pleasure in the thought.

She examines the case against Edward.

He had been blameable, highly blameable, in remaining at Norland after he felt her influence over him to be more than it ought to be.

In that, he could not be defended;

She does concede his culpability here. But immediately her good sense (hello? don’t you mean your love for him, Elinor? surely this is free indirect discourse) comes to his rescue.

but if he had injured her,

how much more had he injured himself!

The telltale emotive phrase, ‘how much’ again.

If her case were pitiable, his was hopeless.

The antithetical nature of this sentence tips the balance of feeling towards Edward’s predicament. Only a woman in love could arrive at this conclusion.

His imprudence had made her miserable for a while;

but it seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise.

This is another antithetically constructed sentence, again tilting the feelings in favour of Edward. Her misery ‘for a while’ is set against ‘all chance of ever being otherwise (than miserable)’ for Edward.

She might in time regain tranquillity;

but he, what had he to look forward to?

‘He, what had he …?’ The repeated ‘he’ is the give away word this time.

Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele?

Ah, the crunch question.

‘… could he, were his affection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her — illiterate, artful, and selfish?’

‘Could he ever be tolerably happy ….?’ and ‘could he, were his affection for herself …..be satisfied? repeat the implied lack of likelihood (with the modal verb, the rhetorical questions and the repetition) that Edward could be happy with Lucy. In fact, she has somehow made Lucy the villain by the end of the sentence: ‘illiterate, artful, and selfish?’ She is demeaning Lucy and therefore making her own claims more likely to win Edward, as being much better suited to him. Elinor has exonerated Edward and made Lucy the villain, whereas in fact it is Edward who should never have attached her, since he was already engaged to Lucy when he met Elinor. He may not have been illiterate and artful, but he has certainly been selfish (as he later admits) in spending so much time with Elinor at Norland.

It seems that Elinor was not being old-fashioned and backward looking in conforming to rules of rhetoric based on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. If you look up Rhetoric on Wikipedia, you will find:
In the 18th century, rhetoric assumed a more social role, initiating the creation of new education systems. “Elocutionschools” arose (predominantly in England) in which females analyzed classic literature, most notably the works of William Shakespeare, and discussed pronunciation tactics.
(Edwards, Paul C. “Elocution and Shakespeare: An Episode in the History of Literary Taste.” Shakespeare Quarterly 35.3 (1984): 305–14. JSTOR. Web. 21 February 2010. JSTOR.org) Accessed on 19th November 2016

This knowledge of rhetoric and application of it to her own life reflects Elinor’s education and social class, the education of a young woman of the upper middle class.

In Pride and Prejudiceand Emma, Jane Austen is concerned with the education of the heart of the heroine. The nearly perfect sister Jane in Pride and Prejudice) is in the subplot; the flawed sister who has much to learn is the protagonist. Thus Elizabeth Bennet’s journey of the heart is frequently noted. For example, when Lydia announces that Wickham is no longer interested in the heiress, Mary King, we are told Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings.

“But I hope there is no strong attachment on either side,” said Jane.
“I am sure there is not on his. I will answer for it, he never cared three straws
about her — who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?”
Elizabeth was shocked to think that, however incapable of such coarseness of
expression herself, the coarseness of the sentiment was little other than her own
breast had formerly harboured and fancied liberal!

This quotation illustrates Austen’s very exacting concept of decorum: it involves right thoughts stemming from right feelings (what Elizabeth here calls sentiment). Thus, her heart has previously harboured exactly the feelings that Lydia has just voiced, even if she herself would never have divulged them aloud. That her heart no longer harbours such sentiments is an indication of her heart’s journey towards true decorum.

However, in Sense and Sensibility, Austen does not appear to foreground the education of the heart in the same way. Marianne, it is true, learns to behave differently and to model herself on Elinor. She does so in about a page and a half, quite late on in the novel. But in this novel, and, in a more complex way, in Mansfield Park and Persuasion, Austen’s protagonist is the good character. Or, almost completely good. Elinor thinks:

Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele? could he, were his affection
for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed
mind, be satisfied with a wife like her — illiterate, artful, and selfish?

The question keeps nagging away at Elinor with the repeated ‘could he’: ‘Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele? could he ….?’ She tries to take his love for her out of the equation, ‘were his affection for herself out of the question’ and then reconsiders it. She thinks of all his good qualities: his ‘integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind’. The answer is obvious. Elinor can either be wretched at the prospect of her beloved’s future misery with Lucy, or pleased that only she can make him happy. But these avenues are not explored, though I think the prospect of their existence is raised.

Elinor is not castigated by the narrator for such thoughts, such judgements of Lucy. Indeed, they are proved to be a most exact assessment of her. By the end of the novel, ‘artful’ Lucy has married Robert Ferrars and made her way into Mrs Ferrars’ good books. And perhaps Elinor’s assessment of Lucy as ‘illiterate, artful, and selfish’ stems from her concealed anger towards Lucy. Lucy has just been extremely unpleasant towards her, so Elinor retaliates, mentally and emotionally. Marianne expresses herself in wild grief and expressions of extreme emotion; Elinor expresses her feelings within her thoughts, by making Lucy the villain of the piece.

This puzzling lack of congruity in the novel is perhaps one reason why people often find it unsatisfactory. Elinor seems to be venting her anger and distress at Edward’s deception of her, at Lucy. You would expect Austen to signal that, ideally, she should not be angry, should not demonise Lucy. And yet, Elinor is allowed to do so without incurring her author’s disapproval; indeed, she is vindicated. Lucy is indeed everything that Elinor thinks her. The only aspect of Lucy that Elinor has overlooked – and she is not castigated for neglecting it – is that Lucy’s situation is more perilous than at first appears. Edmund, despite his lack of occupation and demands on his time, has not shown much enthusiasm for visiting her, and is evidently not very committed to the engagement. This becomes even clearer in London, when he visits Elinor several times, but not Lucy.

But perhaps Austen’s focus in Sense and Sensibility, in making Elinor her point of view and protagonist rather than Marianne, is that of the suffering experienced under the appearance of perfect decorum. (Austen explores this again with Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and with Anne Elliot in Persuasion.) And, for Elinor, the mixed motives for aiming towards that decorum. The laudable motive is not to make others suffer with you, but here is another motive, that of self-preservation. This leads Elinor to appear cheerful in order to preserve some respite and refuge from the constant intrusions and attacks upon her suffering made by well-meaning but insensitive family and acquaintance.

Elinor seems to be trying to find, or even impose on the few facts that she knows, some certainty for herself in a very uncertain world. All these modal verbs, these ‘mights’ and ‘coulds’ and ‘could nots’ show her to be juggling a world she hopes for with the unsatisfactory and uncertain world she is presented with. There seems to be a quiet desperation in her thoughts and feelings as she searches for some conviction somewhere. Edward Ferrars and Willoughby are keeping secrets – it leaves the women very uncertain as to how to interpret their actions and whether there is any emotional security to be found.

Marilyn Butler looks at the effect of the free indirect discourse that takes us into Elinor’s mind.
‘The most interesting feature of the character of Elinor, and a real technical achievement of Sense and Sensibility, is that this crucial process of Christian self-examination is realized in literary terms. Elinor is the first character in an Austen novel consistently to reveal her inner life. The narrative mode of Sense and Sensibilityis the first sustained example of ‘free indirect speech’, for the entire action is refracted through Elinor’s consciousness asNorthanger Abbeycould not be through the simple-minded Catherine’s. Other technical changes necessarily follow. Dialogue is far less important in Sense and Sensibility, since the heroine is not so much in doubt about the nature of external truth, as concerned with the knowledge of herself, her passions, and her duty. Judging by the narrative mode alone, Sense and Sensibilityis, like Mansfield Parkafter it, an introspective novel. And yet it is clearly important to recognize that both are introspective only within closely defined limits. The inner life led by Elinor, and later by Fanny, is the dominant medium of the novel, but it is entirely distinct from the irrational and emotional states which the post-Romantic reader thinks of as ‘consciousness’.’

(Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, OUP, 1975)

The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him to everything but her beauty and good nature; but the four succeeding years — years, which if rationally spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must have opened his eyes to her defects of education: while the same period of time, spent on her side in inferior society and more frivolous pursuits, had perhaps robbed her of that simplicity (naturalness), which might once have given an interesting character (characteristic, quality) to her beauty.

‘The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him to everything but her beauty and good nature’. Dear Elinor! She is not being remotely objective here. She is making huge allowances for Edward. The word ‘naturally’ is a complete giveaway and ‘youthful’ too is very generous. She is the same age as Edward was then: nineteen. She continues in her entirely biased assessment of Edward’s situation. ‘… but the four succeeding years — years, which if rationally spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must have opened his eyes to her defects of education.’ The telling word here is ‘must’. There’s no ‘must’ about it except in Elinor’s heart. ‘Must’ reveals Elinor’s admiration of Edward’s understanding and her own dislike of Lucy. The only concession she is willing to give to Lucy is that of a ‘simplicity, which might once have given an interesting character (nature) to her beauty.’ And ‘perhaps robbed her of that simplicity’. While she says ‘must’ (a very definite word) when thinking of Edward, she’s only willing to give a faint possibility to Lucy’s charm. The supposedly cold and perfect Elinor is being anything but.

If, in the supposition of his seeking to marry herself, his difficulties from his mother had seemed great, how much greater were they now likely to be, when the object of his engagement was undoubtedly inferior in connections, and probably inferior in fortune to herself! These difficulties, indeed, with an heart so alienated from Lucy, might not press very hard upon his patience; but melancholy was the state of the person, by whom the expectation of family opposition and unkindness, could be felt as a relief!

Elinor does not know, but is supposing as an indisputable fact, that Edward has ‘an heart so alienated from Lucy.’ And she keeps condemning Lucy, who now in Elinor’s mind is ‘undoubtedly inferior in connections, and probably inferior in fortune to herself!’ Doesn’t the exclamation mark give Elinor away?

In her love for him, Elinor manages to make Edward sound pitiable, as if he has been the victim of Lucy.

As these considerations occurred to her in painful succession, she wept for him more than for herself. Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem, she thought she could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow, command herself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from her mother and sisters. And so well was she able to answer her own expectations, that when she joined them at dinner only two hours after she had first suffered the extinction of all her dearest hopes, no one would have supposed from the appearance of the sisters, that Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her for ever from the object of her love, and that Marianne was internally dwelling on the perfections of a man, of whose whole heart she felt thoroughly possessed, and whom she expected to see in every carriage which drove near their house.

Elinor is ‘Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem…’ The repeated ‘done nothing’ ‘done nothing’ shows Elinor using the same phrase for herself and Edward thus equating their circumstances and feelings. And arguably, he ironically did ‘do nothing’ because he failed to tell her he was engaged to Lucy. It’s more true than she intends. Instead of exonerating Edward, as she here intends, she is actually accusing him. Perhaps both senses can be present”? Perhaps Elinor’s heart is more ambivalent about Edward’s behaviour than she is willing to admit.

Elinor then resorts to military language: she sustains a ‘heavy blow’ and she has to ‘guard every suspicion of the truth from her mother and sisters,’ and ‘command herself’ well enough to do this. She’s mounting a military operation to prevent anyone from discovering her dilemma, and in order to survive. Marianne sought solitude to indulge her grief; Elinor seeks solitude in the midst of the unavoidable company of her family by arming herself so as not to reveal her misery. This is made clearer in the next section. ‘Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her for ever from the object of her love, and that Marianne was internally dwelling on the perfections of a man, of whose whole heart she felt thoroughly possessed…’. Both sisters are doing the same thing, although their outward appearance is very different. Elinor is mourning ‘in secret’ and Marianne is ‘internally dwelling’ though in a much more obvious fashion. But in doing the same thing, the sisters are doing it in their own, very different, ways.

Eighteenth century antithetical patterning again illustrates Elinor’s twin pillars of support and consolation.
‘Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to merit her present unhappiness and consoled by the belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem…’

The necessity of concealing from her mother and Marianne, what had been entrusted in confidence to herself, though it obliged her to unceasing exertion, was no aggravation of Elinor’s distress. On the contrary, it was a relief to her, to be spared the communication of what would give such affliction to them, and to be saved likewise from hearing that condemnation of Edward, which would probably flow from the excess of their partial (biased in her favour) affection for herself, and which was more than she felt equal to support.

From their counsel or their conversation she knew she could receive no assistance; their tenderness and sorrow must add to her distress, while her self-command would neither receive encouragement from their example nor from their praise. 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 (wounding, piercing) and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.

Again, we get the feeling of the rigour Elinor applies to her feeling and behaviour. ‘self-command’, ‘stronger alone’, ‘supported her’, ‘firmness … unshaken’, ‘appearance … invariable’: her self-control is unyielding, but lonely – she is ‘stronger alone.’ She reverts to the Elinor we originally knew. But her strength is mostly in her appearance; in truth, her ‘regrets’ are ‘poignant.’ However, her rigour is not only a matter of self-discipline and of not causing concern to others. She cultivates it also in order that she may avoid more misery. Her family are of no help to her, emotionally: ‘their tenderness and sorrow must add to her distress’.

Patricia Mayer Spacks comments: ‘This is possibly the sort of passage that an early critic had in mind when, in The British Critic (1812) he suggested “that readers – particularly women readers – may benefit from reading this novel because its author presents ‘sober and salutary maxims for the conduct of life, exemplified in a very pleasing and entertaining narrative.'” (Laurence W Mazzeno, Jane Austen: Two Centuries of Criticism Camden House 2011). Mayer Spacks also cites David Kaufmann: ‘Given her powerlessness in relation to Edward and Lucy, she can only exert control over herself.’ It’s the only kind of autonomy (independence) available to Elinor.

(David Kaufmann, ‘Law and Propriety, Sense and Sensibility: Austen on the Cusp of Modernity, English Literary History, 1992

A paragraph or so earlier, Elinor was marshalling her family members as witness for the defence in the case of Edward loves Elinor, not Lucy. But now, she is disallowing their opinions, which – comically, ironically, but also sympathetically – undermines her ever having considered them as witness for the defence. Again, Austen shows us Elinor’s inconsistency. By this means, Austen reminds us that she is, after all, only a nineteen year old, deeply in love, not the apparently indifferent, ultra-responsible person who has the role of mother of the family.

Much as she had suffered from her first conversation with Lucy on the subject, she soon felt an earnest wish of renewing it, and this for more reasons than one. She wanted to hear many particulars of their engagement repeated again, she wanted more clearly to understand what Lucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him, and she particularly wanted to convince Lucy, by her readiness to enter on the matter again, and her calmness in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested in it than as a friend, which she very much feared her involuntary agitation, in their morning discourse, must have left at least doubtful. That Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her, appeared very probable; it was plain that Edward had always spoken highly in her praise, not merely from Lucy’s assertion, but from her venturing to trust her on so short a personal acquaintance, with a secret so confessedly and evidently important. And even Sir John’s joking intelligence must have had some weight. But indeed, while Elinor remained so well assured within herself of being really beloved by Edward, it required no other consideration of probabilities to make it natural that Lucy should be jealous; and that she was so, her very confidence was a proof. What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there be, but that Elinor might be informed by it of Lucy’s superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him in future? She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of her rival’s intentions, and while she was firmly resolved to act by her as every principle of honour and honesty directed, to combat her own affection for Edward and to see him as little as possible; she could not deny herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy that her heart was unwounded. And as she could now have nothing more painful to hear on the subject than had already been told, she did not mistrust her own ability of going through a repetition of particulars with composure.

She wanted to hear many particulars (details) of their engagement repeated again, she wanted more clearly to understand (doesn’t she mean know rather than understand here; isn’t she deceiving herself? There’s not much to understand.) what Lucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him, and she particularly wanted to convince Lucy, by her readiness to enter on the matter again, and her calmness in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested in it than as a friend, which she very much feared her involuntary agitation, in their morning discourse, must have left at least doubtful.

Elinor longs to know more. ‘She wanted’ is repeated three times.

That Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her, appeared very probable; it was plain that Edward had always spoken highly in her praise. I don’t think the logic works here. ‘… appeared very probable’ suddenly becomes ‘it was plain’, although it’s true that the subject of the first is Lucy and the second is Edward. But both the probability of Lucy’s jealousy and the plainness of Edward’s praise of her in fact add to her conviction that she not Lucy is the woman Edward loves.

‘She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of her rival’s intentions ….’. In which case, why does she want more clearly to understand? Come on, Elinor; this doesn’t add up.

But it was not immediately that an opportunity of doing so could be commanded, though Lucy was as well disposed as herself to take advantage of any that occurred; for the weather was not often fine enough to allow of their joining in a walk, where they might most easily separate themselves from the others; and though they met at least every other evening either at the Park or cottage, and chiefly at the former, they could not be supposed to meet for the sake of conversation. Such a thought would never enter either Sir John or Lady Middleton’s head, and therefore very little leisure was ever given for general chat, and none at all for particular discourse. They met for the sake of eating, drinking, and laughing together, playing at cards or consequences, or any other game that was sufficiently noisy.

The enforced social gatherings at the Park sound, as Austen said of Lady Catherine’s gatherings in Pride and Prejudice, ‘superlatively stupid.’ ‘….they could not be supposed to meet for the sake of conversation. Such a thought would never enter either Sir John or Lady Middleton’s head … They met for the sake of eating, drinking, and laughing together, playing at cards’ all this meaningless activity – the present participles make it perpetually ongoing and busy without there being any substance to the encounters. Especially since Sir John thinks that this constitutes intimacy.

One or two meetings of this kind had taken place, without affording Elinor any chance of engaging Lucy in private, when Sir John called at the cottage one morning, to beg in the name of charity, that they would all dine with Lady Middleton that day, as he was obliged to attend the club at Exeter, and she would otherwise be quite alone, except her mother and the two Miss Steeles. Elinor, who foresaw a fairer opening for the point she had in view, in such a party as this was likely to be, more at liberty among themselves under the tranquil and well-bred direction of Lady Middleton than when her husband united them together in one noisy purpose, immediately accepted the invitation; Margaret, with her mother’s permission, was equally compliant, and Marianne, though always unwilling to join any of their parties, was persuaded by her mother, who could not bear to have her seclude herself from any chance of amusement, to go likewise.

The young ladies went, 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 one novelty of thought or expression, and nothing 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 with the removal of the tea-things. The card-table was then placed, and Elinor 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 it.”

This hint was enough; Lucy recollected herself instantly and replied, “Indeed you are very much mistaken, Lady Middleton; I am only waiting to know whether you can make your party without me, or I should have been at my fillagree already. I would not disappoint the little angel for all the world; and if you want me at the card-table now, I am resolved to finish the basket after supper.”

“You are very good, I hope it won’t hurt your eyes — will you ring the bell for some working candles? My poor little girl would be sadly disappointed, I know, if the basket was not finished to-morrow, for though I told her it certainly would not, I am sure she depends upon having it done.”

Lucy directly drew her work table near her and reseated herself with an alacrity and cheerfulness which seemed to infer that she could taste no greater delight than in making a fillagree basket for a spoilt child.

Lady Middleton proposed a rubber of casino to the others. No one made any objection but Marianne, who, with her usual inattention to the forms of general civility, exclaimed, “Your ladyship will have the goodness to excuse me— you know I detest cards. I shall go to the pianoforte; I have not touched it since it was tuned.” And without farther ceremony, she turned away and walked to the instrument.

Lady Middleton looked as if she thanked heaven that she had never made so rude a speech.

“Marianne can never keep long from that instrument you know, ma’am,” said Elinor, endeavouring to smooth away the offence; “and I do not much wonder at it, for it is the very best-toned pianoforte I ever heard.”

A perfect example of ‘upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell.’ (Chapter 21)

Elinor has to smooth the feathers that Marianne ruffles with her abrupt manner and prioritisation of her own wishes over those of her hostess. She has forgotten that she is a guest.

Susan Morgan writes: ‘Often, in the company of the Middletons, the Palmers, or the John Dashwoods, Marianne simply does not speak at all. When she does she is usually rude. … She has selected the ways she presents herself, and with choice must come responsibility.’

(Susan Morgan, ‘Polite Lies: the Veiled Heroine of Sense and Sensibility,’ Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31, 1976)

The remaining five were now to draw their cards.

“Perhaps,” continued Elinor, “if I should happen to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Lucy Steele, in rolling her papers for her; and there is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible, I think, for her labour singly, to finish it this evening. I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share in it.”

“Indeed I shall be very much obliged to you for your help,” cried Lucy, “for I find there is more to be done to it than I thought there was; and it would be a shocking thing to disappoint dear Annamaria after all.”

Lucy evidently understands Elinor’s code for ‘this might enable us to talk to one another.’ In the super-constrained world of polite society, you have to make contrivances even to be able to have a chance of conducting any sort of meaningful conversation. Otherwise the women have to subscribe to the communal ‘insipidity’ that constitutes social gatherings such as this.

A similar point is made in Persuasion. The very intelligent heroine, Anne Elliot, thinks little of her grand relations.

‘Lady Russell confessed that she had expected something better; but yet “it was an acquaintance worth having”; and when Anne ventured to speak her opinion of them to Mr. Elliot, he agreed to their being nothing in themselves, but still maintained that, as a family connexion, as good company, as those who would collect good company around them, they had their value. Anne smiled and said —

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently; “that is not good company; that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education, and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company; on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin Anne shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious.’ (Persuasion Chapter 16)

Mary Wollstonecraft and many others held that men and women could not be good friends because women lacked the education necessary to sustain an interesting conversation. Wollstonecraft argued for friendship within marriage – a friendship implying intellectual capacity in women. (Vindication of the Rights of Women 1792)

Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments concerning true marriage as a friendship more nearly of equals and her criticisms of female education are still being echoed 77 years later in J S Mills’ The Subjection of Women 1869 which became the bible of late 19th century feminism.

(Gail Cunningham The New Woman and the Victorian Novel, Barnes & Noble Books, 1978).

“Oh! that would be terrible indeed,” said Miss Steele “Dear little soul, how I do love her!”

“You are very kind,” said Lady Middleton to Elinor: “and as you really like the work, perhaps you will be as well pleased not to cut in till another rubber, or will you take your chance now?”

Elinor joyfully profited by the first of these proposals, and thus, by a little of that address which Marianne could never condescend to practise, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the same time. Lucy made room for her with ready attention, and the two fair rivals were thus seated side by side at the same table, and with the utmost harmony engaged in forwarding the same work. The pianoforte, at which Marianne, wrapt up in her own music and her own thoughts, had by this time forgotten that anybody was in the room besides herself, was luckily so near them that Miss Dashwood now judged, she might safely, under the shelter of its noise, introduce the interesting subject, without any risk of being heard at the card-table.

‘Condescend’ implies that Marianne considers herself above strategy, because she believes in Romantic spontaneity, the importance of the individual. Elinor’s ‘address’ and joy at profiting from it, shows how difficult it is for two women to have a conversation like this and still appear polite to the others in the drawing-room who are playing cards. Ideally, they should be watching the card players, not having a tête-a-tête.

Elinor and Lucy are ‘… seated side by side … at the same table, and with the utmost harmony engaged in forwarding the same work.’ The appearance and reality clash horribly. To all appearances, for the sake of the requirements of Lady Middleton’s drawing-room, Lucy and Elinor are ‘seated side by side’ sharing ‘the same table’ seemingly in ‘utmost harmony’ and engaged in ‘the same work.’ In fact they are ‘rivals’; they are battling for emotional – or, particularly in Lucy’s case, financial – survival.

Marianne is ‘wrapt up in her own music and her own thoughts’ and has forgotten that anyone else is there. This is another example of Romantic solipsism, underlined by the repeated words ‘her own’. She is not aware of anyone else. Elinor is all too aware of everyone else, which is what makes it so difficult to have a conversation that won’t be overheard.

In fact, both Elinor and Marianne are seeking the same thing: a space in which they can do what they want to do, instead of being constrained by the suffocating ‘insipidity’ of Lady Middleton’s drawing-room. Marianne wants to play the piano and Elinor wants to talk to Lucy Steele. However, they arrive at what they want to do in very different ways. Neither way is entirely commendable. Marianne states her wish plainly, without regard to her hostess’s wishes. In so doing, she provokes and offends her hostess. Elinor uses ‘address’(resourcefulness) which Marianne would probably condemn as devious, to attain her ends.

As to whether ‘address’ should be condemned probably depends on how far you are prepared to take resourcefulness. Elinor takes it as far as engineering an opportunity to talk to Lucy in order to find out more about Lucy’s relationship with the man Elinor loves. Lucy takes resourcefulness a great deal further when she engineers a friendship with Fanny Dashwood. She takes it further still when she pulls off her marriage to Robert Ferrars and then manages to win round Mrs Ferrars so as to have herself accepted as an indispensable daughter-in-law. The fact that, in order to do so, she has to ditch her fiancé, Edward, troubles her not at all. Presumably, both Elinor and Lucy Steele resort to ‘address’ in order to survive. But their definitions of survival differ. Whereas Elinor is looking for a brief breathing-space in the suffocating tedium of Lady Middleton’s drawing-room, Lucy is looking for security: a rich husband to provide an establishment of her own and social status. Thackeray portrayed a young woman with similar ambitions in Vanity Fair (1848): Becky Sharp.

Chapter 24 (Volume II, Chapter 2)

Elinor talks to Lucy Steele.

In a firm, though cautious tone, Elinor thus began —

“I should be undeserving of the confidence you have honoured me with, if I felt no desire for its continuance, or no farther curiosity on its subject. I will not apologize therefore for bringing it forward again.”

This is code for, Come on, tell me a bit more. It is dressed up in words that are superficially very acceptable: ‘underserving of the confidence you have honoured me with…’. The readers and critics who dislike Elinor would accuse her here of being thoroughly disingenuous. What have ‘undeserving’ and ‘you have honoured me’ got to do with Lucy’s gratuitously stabbing and brutal attack on Elinor in their last conversation? In Chapter 22, Elinor said to Lucy, ‘Your secret is safe with me; but pardon me if I express some surprise at so unnecessary a communication.’ This seems rather different from ‘undeserving of the confidence you have honoured me with.’ On the other hand, Elinor wants to find out more in a society where the truth is particularly difficult to come by. So what else is she to do? And she has to outmanoeuvre her shrewd opponent. It is not only the truth that is hard to come by; even to choreograph drawing-room circumstances so that she and Lucy can speak to each other undisturbed is hard enough. It has involved careful orchestration: working on the little girl’s basket together and having their conversation masked by Marianne’s playing of the piano near which they are both sitting. Whereas Elinor has used ‘address’ to find out as much as she can from talking to Lucy Steele, Marianne is using the piano in order to cut herself off from everyone else in the room and express her feelings.

“Thank you,” cried Lucy warmly, “for breaking the ice; you have set my heart at ease by it; for I was somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I told you that Monday.”

Lucy is certainly Elinor’s equal in the art of subtext. But she is also leaving Elinor to initiate the next step. In their previous conversation, she did all the initiating. She told Elinor what she wished her to know in their last conversation; this time it is up to Elinor to find out more. So although it looks as if Austen is simply repeating herself, with two long conversations between Elinor and Lucy, in fact she is doing quite different things in each conversation. In the first (Chapter 22), she introduced a new element into the plot, into our perception of Edward, and into our awareness of Elinor’s feelings.

“Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me,” and Elinor spoke it with the truest sincerity, “nothing could be farther from my intention, than to give you such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust that was not honourable and flattering to me?”

Elinor is indeed sincere in saying “nothing could be farther from my intention, than to give you such an idea.” She has done her very best to conceal from Lucy the pain that Lucy’s account of her engagement to Edward has given her. However, she is less than sincere in asking rhetorically about the flattering ‘motive for the trust’ the Lucy has allegedly reposed in her. ‘Could you have a motive …?’ can only be answered, truthfully, by the monosyllable: yes. In this respect, it’s an attack on Lucy.

“And yet I do assure you,” replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full of meaning, “there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manner, that made me quite uncomfortable. I felt sure that you was angry with me; and have been quarrelling with myself ever since, for having took such a liberty as to trouble you with my affairs. But I am very glad to find it was only my own fancy, and that you do not really blame me. If you knew what a consolation it was to me to relieve my heart by speaking to you of what I am always thinking of every moment of my life, your compassion would make you overlook everything else, I am sure.”

Lucy wants to undermine Elinor’s apparent composure and resist the attack. She tells Elinor, in effect, that she has not succeeded in concealing her distress. ‘I do assure you,” replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full of meaning, “there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manner.’ And, in case she has not made herself clear, she repeats the charge: ‘I felt sure that you was angry with me…’. And she renews the act of the suffering fiancée: ‘what a consolation it was to me to relieve my heart … what I am always thinking of every moment of my life’. This is a sort of emotional blackmail. Lucy is presenting herself as suffering and therefore Elinor has to extend compassion towards her. It is unfortunate for Lucy that her powers of expression are so inferior to Marianne’s. She exaggerates, just as Marianne does, but the effect is lamentable: ‘what I am always thinking of every moment of my life.’ It is not helped by her ungrammatical choice of words: ‘I felt sure that you was angry with me.’

“Indeed I can easily believe that it was a very great relief to you, to acknowledge your situation to me, and be assured that you shall never have reason to repent it. Your case is a very unfortunate one; you seem to me to be surrounded with difficulties, and you will have need of all your mutual affection to support you under them. Mr. Ferrars, I believe, is entirely dependent on his mother.”

Elinor responds with a conspicuous lack of compassion, in that her summary of Lucy’s situation is articulated in a factual, not an emotional, fashion. ‘Your case is a very unfortunate one; you seem to me to be surrounded with difficulties, and you will have need of all your mutual affection to support you under them.’ She also expresses herself in a series of very rhetorically unexciting statements underlining how singularly unfortunate Lucy’s situation is:
your case is a very unfortunate one;
you seem to me to be surrounded with difficulties, and
you will have need of all your mutual affection to support you under them.
Then she dangles another statement that is actually a question in front of Lucy. ‘Mr. Ferrars, I believe, is entirely dependent on his mother.’ If you take it as a statement, it further underlines Lucy’s hapless circumstances. If you take it as a question, it is a clever move on Elinor’s part. She wants to discover whether her theory about Edward’s dependence on his mother is accurate.

“He has only two thousand pounds of his own; it would be madness to marry upon that, though for my own part I could give up every prospect of more without a sigh. I have been always used to a very small income, and could struggle with any poverty for him; but I love him too well to be the selfish means of robbing him, perhaps, of all that his mother might give him if he married to please her. We must wait, it may be for many years. With almost every other man in the world, it would be an alarming prospect; but Edward’s affection and constancy nothing can deprive me of, I know.”

Lucy continues to pull out all the emotional stops, relying on the vocabulary of sensibility. ‘It would be madness …without a sigh…. could struggle with any poverty for him … I love him too well … Edward’s affection and constancy nothing can deprive me of, I know.’ In fact, of course, she doesn’t rely on Edward’s affection at all, hence her attack on Elinor. Anthony Mandal writes: ‘(She) use(s) language as a social tool employing the contemporary discourse of sensibility to hide (her) mercenary nature and grasping ambitions.’ (‘Language’ Jane Austen in Context CUP 2005) Lucy persists in calling Edward by his Christian name, thus flaunting their engagement. Elinor refers to him, very properly, as Mr Ferrars.

“That conviction must be everything to you; and he is undoubtedly supported by the same trust in yours. If the strength of your reciprocal attachment had failed, as between many people and under many circumstances it naturally would during a four years’ engagement, your situation would have been pitiable indeed.”

Elinor is quite capable of firing back at Lucy. To detail the failure of an attachment and to make explicit Lucy’s situation as a result, is scarcely kind. ‘If the strength of your reciprocal attachment had failed, as between many people and under many circumstances it naturally would during a four years’ engagement, your situation would have been pitiable indeed.’ It’s true that Elinor is not certain of Edward’s lack of interest in Lucy, but she has persuaded herself into believing it must be so.

Lucy here looked up; but Elinor was careful in guarding her countenance from every expression that could give her words a suspicious tendency.

“Edward’s love for me,” said Lucy, “has been pretty well put to the test, by our long, very long absence since we were first engaged, and it has stood the trial so well, that I should be unpardonable to doubt it now. I can safely say that he has never gave me one moment’s alarm on that account from the first.”

Lucy fires back, point for point on the matter of the long engagement and the ‘very long absence since we were first engaged.’ Edward’s love, she claims, has been ‘put to the test… has stood the trial … has never gave me alarm …’and as a clincher ‘from the first.’ The assertiveness is clear in the repeated construction of the clauses and the final ‘from the first’.

Elinor hardly knew whether to smile or sigh at this assertion.

Lucy went on. “I am rather of a jealous temper, too, by nature, and from our different situations in life, from his being so much more in the world than me, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion, to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had been the slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met, or any lowness of spirits that I could not account for, or if he had talked more of one lady than another, or seemed in any respect less happy at Longstaple than he used to be. I do not mean to say that I am particularly observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such a case I am sure I could not be deceived.”

“All this,” thought Elinor, “is very pretty; but it can impose upon (deceive) neither of us.”

“But what,” said she, after a short silence, “are your views? or have you none but that of waiting for Mrs. Ferrars’s death, which is a melancholy and shocking extremity? Is her son determined to submit to this, and to all the tediousness of the many years of suspense in which it may involve you, rather than run the risk of her displeasure for a while by owning the truth?”

Elinor is having another prod here, to see if any more information is forthcoming. Lucy had tried to bring the conversation to a triumphant conclusion in announcing that she was ‘sure I could not be deceived’ so it is now incumbent upon Elinor to restart the dialogue. She does so by asking about Lucy’s hopes for the future and whether she is prepared to wait for Mrs Ferrars to die before marrying Edward. She also outlines the two unsatisfactory alternatives open to Lucy. These are either ‘all the tediousness of the many years of suspense’ or ‘the risk of her (Mrs Ferrars’s) displeasure’. Elinor is stressing Lucy’s bleak prospects: in other words, she is fighting back after Lucy’s apparent victory in the previous conversation (Chapter 22).

“If we could be certain that it would be only for a while! But Mrs. Ferrars is a very headstrong, proud woman, and in her first fit of anger upon hearing it, would very likely secure everything to Robert; and the idea of that, for Edward’s sake, frightens away all my inclination for hasty measures.”

Lucy is very accurate in her prediction of what Mrs Ferrars would do if she learned of Edward’s engagement to her.

“And for your own sake too, or you are carrying your disinterestedness beyond reason.”

Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.

No wonder Lucy is silent: she has been rumbled.

“Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?” asked Elinor.

“Not at all — I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother — silly and a great coxcomb.”

“A great coxcomb!” repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had caught those words by a sudden pause in Marianne’s music. — “Oh! they are talking of their favourite beaux, I dare say.”

“No, sister,” cried Lucy, “you are mistaken there, our favourite beaux are not great coxcombs.”

“I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood’s is not,” said Mrs. Jennings, laughing heartily; “for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behaved young men I ever saw. But as for Lucy, she is such a sly little creature, there is no finding out who she likes.”

“Oh!” cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round at them, “I dare say Lucy’s beau is quite as modest and pretty-behaved as Miss Dashwood’s.”

Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip, and looked angrily at her sister. A mutual silence took place for some time. Lucy first put an end to it by saying in a lower tone, though Marianne was then giving them the powerful protection of a very magnificent concerto —

“I will honestly tell you of one scheme which has lately come into my head, for bringing matters to bear; indeed I am bound to let you into the secret, for you are a party concerned. I dare say you have seen enough of Edward to know that he would prefer the church to every other profession. Now, my plan is that he should take orders as soon as he can, and then through your interest, which I am sure you would be kind enough to use out of friendship for him, and I hope, out of some regard to me, your brother might be persuaded to give him Norland living; which I understand is a very good one, and the present incumbent not likely to live a great while. That would be enough for us to marry upon, and we might trust to time and chance for the rest.”

Lucy now dreams up another twist of the rack. Elinor is to be the means of procuring a living (a parish and vicarage) at Norland for Edward and Lucy.

“I should be always happy,” replied Elinor, “to shew any mark of my esteem and friendship for Mr. Ferrars; but do not you perceive that my interest on such an occasion would be perfectly unnecessary? He is brother to Mrs. John Dashwood — that must be recommendation enough to her husband.”

“But Mrs. John Dashwood would not much approve of Edward’s going into orders.”

“Then I rather suspect that my interest (involvement) would do very little.”

Elinor is clever enough to get out of that little scheme for her misery.

They were again silent for many minutes. At length Lucy exclaimed with a deep sigh —

“I believe it would be the wisest way to put an end to the business at once by dissolving the engagement. We seem so beset with difficulties on every side, that though it would make us miserable for a time, we should be happier perhaps in the end. But you will not give me your advice, Miss Dashwood?”

“No,” answered Elinor, with a smile which concealed very agitated feelings, “on such a subject I certainly will not. You know very well that my opinion would have no weight with you, unless it were on the side of your wishes.”

“Indeed, you wrong me,” replied Lucy with great solemnity; “I know nobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe, that if you was to say to me, ‘I advise you by all means to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars, it will be more for the happiness of both of you,’ I should resolve upon doing it immediately.”

Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward’s future wife, and replied, “this compliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject, had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high; the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferent person.”

Lucy’s ‘great solemnity’ as she delivers herself of this lie about putting an end to her engagement if Elinor told her to, does not deceive Elinor for a moment. Elinor decides to return the insult with another fiction designed to make Lucy blush with its lack of truth: ‘dividing two people so tenderly attached ‘.

“‘Tis because you are an indifferent person,” said Lucy, with some pique, and laying a particular stress on those words, “that your judgment might justly have such weight with me. If you could be supposed to be biassed in any respect by your own feelings, your opinion would not be worth having.”

Lucy retorts with another lie: ‘you are an indifferent person’ meaning that Elinor has no feeling for Edward.

Elinor thought it wisest to make no answer to this, lest they might provoke each other to an unsuitable increase of ease and unreserve; and was even partly determined never to mention the subject again. Another pause therefore of many minutes’ duration, succeeded this speech, and Lucy was still the first to end it.

“Shall you be in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?” said she with all her accustomary complacency.

“Certainly not.”

“I am sorry for that,” returned the other, while her eyes brightened at the information, “it would have gave me such pleasure to meet you there! But I dare say you will go for all that. To be sure, your brother and sister will ask you to come to them.”

Lucy now changes tack. She is just as untruthful as before. When Elinor tells her she will not be going to London during the winter, Lucy replies, ‘”I am sorry for that,” … while her eyes brightened at the information.’ Austen ensures that we understand the lie. The only reason Lucy had asked Elinor about the likelihood of her being in London was to ensure that she would not have any competition in London, and gloatingly to rub in the fact that she would have Edward to herself. ‘But I only go for the sake of seeing Edward.’

“It will not be in my power to accept their invitation if they do.”

“How unlucky that is! I had quite depended upon meeting you there. Anne and me are to go the latter end of January to some relations who have been wanting us to visit them these several years! But I only go for the sake of seeing Edward. He will be there in February; otherwise London would have no charms for me, I have not spirits for it.”

Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the first rubber, and the confidential discourse of the two ladies was therefore at an end, to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, for nothing had been said on either side, to make them dislike each other less than they had done before; and Elinor sat down to the card table with the melancholy persuasion that Edward was not only without affection for the person who was to be his wife, but that he had not even the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage, which sincere affection on her side would have given, for self-interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man to an engagement, of which she seemed so thoroughly aware that he was weary.

Is Elinor justified in concluding that ‘self-interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man to an engagement, of which she seemed so thoroughly aware that he was weary.’ Or is she deluding herself?

So the chapter ends with three paragraphs that are not dialogue, gradually distancing the reader from the dramatic close-up of Elinor and Lucy’s duel. First, Elinor returns to the card-table with her thoughts. In the last two paragraphs, we are given a narrative summary of Lucy’s attempts to reintroduce the subject and to display Edward’s attentions to her in the form of a letter. Elinor is adept in the art of self-preservation and is able to defend herself against being drawn in to any such conversations as they are ‘dangerous to herself.’ The final paragraph details the success of Lucy Steele in achieving a long visit at Barton Park.

From this time the subject was never revived by Elinor; and when entered on by Lucy, who seldom missed an opportunity of introducing it, and was particularly careful to inform her confidante, of her happiness whenever she received a letter from Edward, it was treated by the former with calmness and caution, and dismissed as soon as civility would allow; for she felt such conversations to be an indulgence which Lucy did not deserve, and which were dangerous to herself.

The visit of the Miss Steeles at Barton Park was lengthened far beyond what the first invitation implied. Their favour increased, they could not be spared; Sir John would not hear of their going; and in spite of their numerous and long arranged engagements in Exeter, in spite of the absolute necessity of their returning to fulfil them immediately, which was in full force at the end of every week, they were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the Park, and to assist in the due celebration of that festival which requires a more than ordinary share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim its importance.

This conversation between the ‘fair rivals’ differs from their earlier one in Chapter 22. Then, Lucy dropped the bombshell of her long engagement to Edward, taking Elinor entirely by surprise. Now they are fighting on a more equal footing, and can attack or withdraw at will. Elinor has directed a hefty offensive at Lucy, making clear how unpromising her prospects are.

In Elinor’s half of the plot, two women want one man; in Marianne’s half of the plot, two men want one woman. Perhaps Willoughby cannot properly be said to want Marianne, as he wants money more, but then, neither can Lucy be properly said to want Edward, especially once his inheritance has disappeared.

Lucy Steele is by far the most unpleasant rival in Jane Austen’s novels. Miss Bingley can scarcely be described as a very successful rival to Darcy’s affections in Pride and Prejudice; Emma briefly perceives Harriet as the rival to Mr Knightley’s affections that she has herself promoted, and Louisa Musgrove is an unwitting rival to Captain Wentworth’s affections. Mary Crawford is the most dangerous rival, and Fanny suffers as much as Elinor does. However, Mary is unaware that Fanny loves Edmund, and Edmund does not, at this point, love Fanny. But Lucy flaunts Edward’s apparent affection for her whenever she can: ‘Lucy, who seldom missed an opportunity …. was particularly careful to inform her confidante, of her happiness whenever she received a letter from Edward…’.

Edward is perhaps the most invisible hero in the novels. In the later novels, Jane Austen fleshes out her heroes and presents them as desirable and deserving of the heroine’s hand. Mr Darcy is much more in the foreground of Pride and Prejudice; Edmund is present most of the time in Mansfield Park, as is Mr Knightley in Emma and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. Maybe the fact that we see so little of Edward, that he does so little and that he is so inarticulate when we do see him, contributes to his unconvincing status. At least Mr Darcy brings about Lydia’s marriage to Wickham; Edmund looks after Fanny when she is little; Mr Knightley looks after everybody and Captain Wentworth looks out for Anne when she is tired after a long walk, or is burdened by the unwelcome attentions of her little nephew. Edward’s only contribution is to destroy the scissors-case.

Chapter 28 (Volume II, Chapter 6)

Chapters 25 – 27: Mrs Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to stay with her in London, and they go in early January. Once they are in London, Marianne writes to Willoughby and expects to hear from him, but no letter arrives. Colonel Brandon calls on them, having heard that Marianne is engaged to Willoughby. Elinor tells him that there is no engagement between the two. In Chapter 28, Elinor and Marianne go to a grand social gathering where they see Willoughby.

Elinor and Marianne are now staying with Mrs Jennings in her London house. This is in one of the streets ‘near Portman-square’. Edward Copeland, editor of the CUP Sense and Sensibility, notes that this is an ‘address of great respectability. Mrs Jennings lives in Berkeley Street, located near Portman Square, not in aristocratic and ultra-fashionable Mayfair like the more socially ambitious characters in Sense and Sensibility. The widow of a successful merchant, she chooses Berkeley Street, located north of Oxford Street, as an address favoured by respectable gentry and successful professionals’. p 470. Probably readers of Jane Austen’s novels nowadays do not pick up the social implications of the addresses and types of houses mentioned, but they are all a part of Austen’s character portrayal, and reveal a considerable amount of information about the characters’ priorities.

The narrative has switched its focus from Elinor’s wretchedness and verbal duels with Lucy, to Marianne’s wretchedness over Willoughby. First, when he does not appear and, in this chapter, when he does. If Willoughby has been markedly absent while they have been in London, Colonel Brandon has been remarkably present. In Chapter 26 he was described as visiting them and being ‘thoughtful and silent’. On a first readingthe next chapter gives us the privacy of the, this probably sounds like the usual boring Colonel Brandon. In fact, however, as Janet Todd makes clear, ‘By the time he encounters Marianne in London, Brandon knows of Willoughby’s seduction and betrayal of his ward Eliza, and he joins the two women (Marianne and Eliza)… a second reading of Sense and Sensibility modifies our judgement. It allows the reader to discern that much of Brandon’s gravity comes from his inner debate on whether to speak out and (probably uselessly) warn Marianne or conceal for her sake what he knows of the man she loves. This awareness makes Marianne’s contempt for him more painful.’
(Janet Todd, The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen, CUP 2015)

Map

For a look at a map of London made in 1804, go to
http://mapco.net/wallis1804/wallis.htm

Another very good website for an almost contemporary map of London is ,a
ph.ucla.edu

It will enable you to see in high resolution Cary’s New and Accurate Plan of London and Westminster 1818.

To see what Elinor and Marianne might have been wearing for a fashionable evening occasion, you can look at several websites reproducing images of contemporary fashion. Here are some images from the many good websites on the subject.

Ball Dress, Ackerman’s Repository, May 1809

from regency-clothing.blogspot

Ball Dress, white satin slip, under a crepe dress, made to fit the figure very exactly, cut open in front, and bound all round with white satin ribbon and a row of beads, linked together in front with bands of beads loosely suspended at distances; short sleeves the same. Fan richly spangled. Pearl necklace, with diamond clasp in front; ear-rings and bracelets to suit. White shoes striped in scarlet or blue. Hair in ringlets on the forehead, and lightly turned up behind with a diamond comb. Petticoats very short.

This website, regency-clothing.blogspot has lovely images and detailed descriptions of the fabrics and fashions.

Evening Dress Ackermann’s Repository, July 1817 (a little later than Sense and Sensibility)

Evening Dress, Ackermann’s Repository, May 1817

La Belle Assemblée, June 1811, “Parisian Ball Dress”

This image is to be found on candicehern.com
She writes:
‘This print is especially striking in its lively movement, showing what a ball dress would have actually looked like when dancing. Besides the beautiful dress, I love the complicated hairdo, with twists of pearls and a gold comb, which we are allowed to see much better from this rear view. The suggestion of a dance movement also allows a glimpse of the clocked stockings.
‘Note also how loosely the gloves fit. This is very typical in English evening dress, where the glove is above the elbow in length, but is not tight at the top. Instead it is allowed to loosely fall down the arm, sometimes below the elbow. Generally, long gloves were tied on at the top, but it seems to have been the fashion at this time to tie them very loosely, or perhaps not at all.

‘The print is described in the magazine as follows:
“A frock of white crape, ornamented with white satin in a leaf pattern, the bottom of the dress trimmed with pale French roses and a plaiting of green and root-coloured ribband mixed; short bell sleeves; Persian fringed sash; long white kid gloves; stockings much embroidered; the hair plaited, and twisted with a double row of pearls.”
‘This print is another example of a British publication “borrowing” a print from the popular French publication Journal des Dames et des Modes. Copyright laws were pretty loose, and almost non-existent between countries, so almost every ladies’ magazine in England made liberal use of the fashion prints from this Parisian magazine.’

This article is featured in: Regency Collections ~ Within Collections: Fashion Prints, Full Dress on the website candicehern

Ladies’ Headwear, Ackermann’s Repository, 1809 from regency-clothing.blogspot

Regency Era Ladies Headwear – June 1809 Ackermann’s Repository Fashionable Head-Dresses No 1 – Wimple, or hood of transparent gauze bordered with silver. No 2 – Silver net dress cap lined with purple silk; silver cord and tassels. No 3 – Yellow silk walking-bonnet, with straw flower. No 4 – Promenade head-dress of lilac silk, with short lace veil. No 5 – Dress hat of cerulean blue, bound with pearls and trimmed with silver; white feathers tipped with blue.

The excellent website, janeaustensworld has a section on Regency Fashion: The Muslin and Net Period, with contemporary illustrations of the most fashionable evening dress. The link is janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/regency-fashion-the-muslin-and-net-period

Very highly recommended for every sort of information and contemporary illustration of the world of Sense and Sensibility is Regency World at candicehern.com
The link is candicehern.com/regency-world/

Nothing occurred during the next three or four days, to make Elinor regret what she had done in applying to her mother; for Willoughby neither came nor wrote. They were engaged about the end of that time to attend Lady Middleton to a party, from which Mrs. Jennings was kept away by the indisposition of her youngest daughter; and for this party, Marianne, wholly dispirited, careless of her appearance, and seeming equally indifferent whether she went or staid, prepared, without one look of hope, or one expression of pleasure. She sat by the drawing room fire after tea, till the moment of Lady Middleton’s arrival, without once stirring from her seat, or altering her attitude, lost in her own thoughts and insensible of her sister’s presence: and when at last they were told that Lady Middleton waited for them at the door, she started as if she had forgotten that any one was expected.

The chapter opens with stasis: nothing is happening. Marianne ‘sat by the drawing fire … without once stirring from her seat, or altering her attitude.’ The next paragraph is somewhat active; there are lots of rather unexciting verbs conveying the string of insignificant nothings that have to happen at a social gathering.

They arrived in due time at the place of destination, and as soon as the string of carriages before them would allow, alighted, ascended the stairs, heard their names announced from one landing-place to another in an audible voice, and entered a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When they had paid their tribute of politeness by curtseying to the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and take their share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add. After some time spent in saying little and doing less, Lady Middleton sat down to Casino, and as Marianne was not in spirits for moving about, she and Elinor, luckily succeeding to chairs, placed themselves at no great distance from the table.

Austen does not exactly recommend a large fashionable London party as an entertainment. Elinor and Marianne ‘entered a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When they had paid their tribute (evidence, demonstration) of politeness by curtseying to the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and take their share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add.’ All the fashionable surroundings and company are undermined by Austen’s wry observation ‘and insufferably (unbearably) hot.’ Mingling in the elegant crowd simply translates as taking ‘their share of the heat and inconvenience.’

Being allowed ‘to mingle in the crowd’ is only permissible if a guest has first paid ‘tribute’ which is usually payment made by a kingdom to another as a sign of dependence. So this ‘tribute of politeness’ shows the dependence of Elinor and Marianne upon the patronage of their hostess for the honour of such an entertainment.

Austen makes this fashionable party sound even more sterile by her style in depicting it. She simply lists what has to happen at a magnificent London social gathering. The list includes either the verbs on the social agenda (‘alighted’, ‘ascended’, ‘heard’, ‘entered’ etc) or a damning description of the discomfort – including a lack of anywhere to sit down or anything to do.

  • as soon as the string of carriages before them would allow, alighted,
  • ascended the stairs,
  • heard their names announced from one landing-place to another in an audible voice, and
  • entered a room splendidly lit up,
  • quite full of company, and
  • insufferably hot.
  • When they had paid their tribute of politeness by curtseying to the lady of the house,
  • they were permitted to mingle in the crowd,
  • and take their share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add.
  • After some time spent in saying little and doing less, Lady Middleton sat down to Casino, and
  • she (Marianne) and Elinor, luckily succeeding to chairs,
  • placed themselves at no great distance from the table (where the card game is taking place).

As always, Austen is concerned by the truth of the heart’s feelings and affections towards other people, and not at all by appearance, be it magnificent or humble. In Persuasion, the Harvilles immediately invite into their tiny lodgings the party of friends who have visited Lyme.

‘On quitting the Cobb, they all went indoors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many. Anne had a moment’s astonishment on the subject herself; but it was soon lost in the pleasanter feelings which sprang from the sight of all the ingenious contrivances and nice arrangements of Captain Harville, to turn the actual space to the best possible account, to supply the deficiencies of lodging-house furniture, and defend the windows and doors against the winter storms to be expected. The varieties in the fitting-up of the rooms, where the common necessaries provided by the owner, in the common indifferent plight, were contrasted with some few articles of a rare species of wood, excellently worked up, and with something curious and valuable from all the distant countries Captain Harville had visited, were more than amusing to Anne: connected as it all was with his profession, the fruit of its labours, the effect of its influence on his habits, the picture of repose and domestic happiness it presented, made it to her a something more, or less, than gratification. (Chapter 11)

In fact, despite the grandeur of the London party, it is uncomfortable and there is nothing to do and no-one to speak to. Elinor and Marianne simply sit near the table where Lady Middleton is playing cards. Whereas in Persuasion, the surprisingly successful contrivances and arrangements of Captain Harville make the lodgings ‘the picture of repose and domestic happiness.’ Anne is with ‘new friends … who invite from the heart.’ It is a very different picture from the barren discomfort and magnificence of the London scene in Sense and Sensibility.

Austen is surely making the same point in Chapter 14 of Sense and Sensibility, when Willoughby seems ‘more than usually open to every feeling of attachment’. He says to Mrs Dashwood, ‘Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you will always consider me with the kindness which has made every thing belonging to you so dear to me.’ It is true that Willoughby is prone to Romantic hyperbole, but at this point he is, I think, speaking the truth. He is exaggerating when he says that he would pull down his own house and rebuild it as the Dashwoods’ cottage, but he has certainly found affection and friendliness in a humble cottage. He is sensitive enough to know the value of it, even though he relinquishes it for money. He tells Elinor much later, when Marianne may be dying, ‘I went, left all that I loved…’.

They had not remained in this manner long, before Elinor perceived Willoughby, standing within a few yards of them, in earnest conversation with a very fashionable looking young woman. She soon caught his eye, and he immediately bowed, but without attempting to speak to her, or to approach Marianne, though he could not but see her; and then continued his discourse with the same lady. Elinor turned involuntarily to Marianne, to see whether it could be unobserved by her. At that moment she first perceived him, and her whole countenance glowing with sudden delight, she would have moved towards him instantly, had not her sister caught hold of her.

The splendid but uncomfortable rooms are the setting for a shocking, most agonising discovery. Willoughby has chosen this fashionable society life and the riches of the heiress whom he is to marry over Marianne’s love. He is, it will become apparent, engaged to ‘a very fashionable looking young woman’ who is far from pleasant but exceedingly rich. He has sacrificed the riches of love to riches of a financial variety. In Chapter 14, we were told ‘Willoughby was independent but there was no reason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John at about six or seven hundred a year, but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal.

Elinor has physically to restrain Marianne, in the same way as she so often counsels emotional restraint and moderation.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, “he is there — he is there — Oh! why does he not look at me? why cannot I speak to him?”

“Pray, pray be composed,” cried Elinor, “and do not betray what you feel to everybody present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet.”

This, however, was more than she could believe herself, and to be composed at such a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne, it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience, which affected every feature.

At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started up, and pronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand to him. He approached, and addressing himself rather to Elinor than Marianne, as if wishing to avoid her eye, and determined not to observe her attitude, inquired in a hurried manner after Mrs. Dashwood, and asked how long they had been in town. Elinor was robbed of all presence of mind by such an address, and was unable to say a word. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed. Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed in a voice of the greatest emotion, “Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?”

The pace here increases very suddenly with a proliferation of verbs. ‘She started up … pronouncing his name .. held out her hand … He approached and addressing himself … wishing to avoid … determined not to observe her attitude, inquired … asked…..’

Both sisters, in their different ways, are overcome by Willoughby’s behaviour. Elinor is unable to speak and as for Marianne, ‘the feelings … were instantly expressed… in a voice of the greatest emotion.’ Even Elinor’s usual politeness fails here at this juncture. When she heard Lucy’s revelation of her engagement to Edward she at least managed to maintain some semblance of conversation. But now ‘Elinor was robbed of all presence of mind …. and was unable to say a word.’ The passive voice ‘Elinor was robbed’ highlights her helplessness in this entirely unexpected situation. There are no conventions of etiquette to resort to in this disaster. Marianne is always spontaneous but Elinor can usually summon some element of social decorum.

‘But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed. Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed in a voice of the greatest emotion, “Good God! Willoughby….’ We probably don’t realise nowadays how intense all this is – Austen is our elegant eighteenth-century-style narrator. The fact that Marianne goes ‘crimson…’ (later, she’s ‘dreadfully white’) makes her extreme emotion public in this most public of places. Then ‘she exclaimed’ so she’s speaking quite loudly, with an exclamation mark. And three direct questions, in quite accusing syntax: ‘have you not …? will you not ….?’ Expressions such as “Good God!’ and a little later, ‘for heaven’s sake…’ are bordering on the unacceptable for an upper middle class lady at an extremely smart party. But Marianne is in ‘the wildest anxiety’ and all she can say do is repeat Willoughby’s name again and again. Nobody else exists for her.

An article by Rachel Dodge, (May 24, 2017) in the excellent website, Jane Austen’s World, tells us the meaning, lost to us now, of Willoughby’s refusal to return Marianne’s offered shaking of hands.

‘Shaking hands was generally used between men of the same social class. However, Olsen says that “women could choose to shake hands, even with a man, though conduct books indicated that this was a favour to be distributed with care”. We see in Sense and Sensibility that Marianne has become accustomed to granting this favour to Willoughby (and is hurt by his apparent indifference) when she holds out her hand to him and cries: “Will you not shake hands with me?” when they see one another at a party in London. When she first sees him, he merely bows “without attempting to speak to her, or to approach.” After spending so much time together, he is incredibly uncomfortable and acts as though they do not know each other as well as they do. Austen uses this scene to reveal to the reader that Willoughby’s feelings and intentions toward Marianne have changed abruptly.’

janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/author/janeaustensworld

(Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008)

He could not then avoid it, but her touch seemed painful to him, and he held her hand only for a moment. During all this time he was evidently struggling for composure. Elinor watched his countenance and saw its expression becoming more tranquil. After a moment’s pause, he spoke with calmness.

Words associated with struggle and pain permeate the lines: Marianne is in an ‘agony’, her touch seems ‘painful’ to Willoughby and he is ‘struggling for composure.’ Elinor is rendered speechless.

“I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley Street last Tuesday, and very much regretted that I was not fortunate enough to find yourselves and Mrs. Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope.”

“But have you not received my notes?” cried Marianne in the wildest anxiety. “Here is some mistake, I am sure — some dreadful mistake. What can be the meaning of it? Tell me, Willoughby — for heaven’s sake, tell me, what is the matter?”

He made no reply; his complexion changed and all his embarrassment returned; but as if, on catching the eye of the young lady with whom he had been previously talking, he felt the necessity of instant exertion, he recovered himself again, and after saying, “Yes, I had the pleasure of receiving the information of your arrival in town, which you were so good as to send me,” turned hastily away with a slight bow and joined his friend.

Loss of activity again: Willoughby’s colour changes but he turns away from them.

Marianne, always spontaneously truthful, longs to understand: ‘What can be the meaning of it?’, ‘What is the matter?” Willoughby will not reply and turns hastily away. The novel, as has often been noted, is full of painful secrets. The next brief paragraph outlines Marianne’s pain.

The ‘meaning of it’ is that, like Lucy Steele, Willoughby intends to marry money. Whereas Lucy is scheming, Willoughby achieves his ends through charm.

Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable to stand, sunk into her chair, and Elinor, expecting every moment to see her faint, tried to screen her from the observation of others, while reviving her with lavender water.

“Go to him, Elinor,” she cried, as soon as she could speak, “and force him to come to me. Tell him I must see him again — must speak to him instantly. — I cannot rest — I shall not have a moment’s peace till this is explained — some dreadful misapprehension or other. — Oh go to him this moment.”

Marianne starts and finishes her speech with commands to Elinor ‘go to him … Oh go to him.’ Fractured speech betrays the intensity of her feelings and the repeated ‘must’. There’s a sense of her helplessness, physically, mentally and emotionally.

“How can that be done? No, my dearest Marianne, you must wait. This is not a place for explanations. Wait only till to-morrow.”

As always, Elinor counsels waiting.

With difficulty, however, could she prevent her from following him herself; and to persuade her to check her agitation — to wait, at least, with the appearance of composure — till she might speak to him with more privacy and more effect, was impossible; for Marianne continued incessantly to give way in a low voice to the misery of her feelings, by exclamations of wretchedness. In a short time Elinor saw Willoughby quit the room by the door towards the staircase, and telling Marianne that he was gone, urged the impossibility of speaking to him again that evening, as a fresh argument for her to be calm. She instantly begged her sister would entreat Lady Middleton to take them home, as she was too miserable to stay a minute longer.

Marianne concedes power to her emotions. /Marianne continued incessantly to give way in a low voice to the misery of her feelings, by exclamations of wretchedness.’

This whole paragraph conveys tormented feelings that can scarcely be contained within a semblance of grammatical expression. You could say that the shipwreck of Marianne’s emotions is conveyed through the shipwreck of the grammar.

On the one side are Elinor’s efforts at some form of restraint:

With difficulty, however, could she prevent her from following him herself;

and to persuade her to check her agitation —

to wait, at least, with the appearance of composure —

till she might speak to him with more privacy and more effect, was impossible;

On the other side is Marianne’s agony.

… for Marianne continued incessantly to give way in a low voice

to the misery of her feelings,

by exclamations of wretchedness.

Elinor continues to attempt to curb Marianne’s outpouring of grief.

In a short time Elinor saw Willoughby quit the room by the door towards the staircase, and

telling Marianne that he was gone,

urged the impossibility of speaking to him again that evening,

as a fresh argument for her to be calm.

However, all Marianne can think of is to get Elinor to beseech their means of transport (Lady Middleton) for instant removal to a place of solitude. Everything has to be done at once: ‘instantly’, ‘a minute longer.’ Everything is a superlative: ‘too miserable to stay’.

She instantly begged

her sister would entreat Lady Middleton to take them home, as

she was too miserable to stay a minute longer.

Even when she is describing a scene of such misery, Austen can to modern ears sound somewhat detached. I think this is the effect of her eighteenth-century style, in which the words chosen for passionate feeling are abstract nouns. This tends to give a sense of moderation to the feelings expressed, which is exactly what the eighteenth-century rational mind admired. So we have ‘agitation’, ‘composure’, ‘misery’, ‘wretchedness’, ‘impossibility’. Marianne’s ‘wretchedness’ is a reminder of Elinor’s situation at the end of Chapter 22, after the conversation with Lucy during which she learned of Lucy’s engagement to Edward. She was then ‘at liberty to think and be wretched’ and that wretchedness was described at length at the beginning of Chapter 23. Thus Austen parallels the emotional situations of the sisters very precisely. Both are in love with men engaged to somebody else.

In the last of her novels, too, Austen portrays tumultuous feelings through tumultuous sentences. Anne Elliot, tired after a long walk, is invited to go home in Admiral Croft’s gig. Captain Wentworth, the man she deeply loves but whom she has not seen for many years, is staying in the neighbourhood and is one of the party walking.

Captain Wentworth, without saying a word, turned to her, and quietly obliged her to be assisted into the carriage.

Yes; he had done it. She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her

there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of

her fatigue, and his resolution to give her rest. She was very much affected by the

view of his disposition towards her, which all these things made apparent. This

little circumstance seemed the completion of all that had gone before. She

understood him. He could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling. Though

condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment,

though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he

could not see her suffer without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder

of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged,

friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not

contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew

not which prevailed.

Her answers to the kindness and the remarks of her companions were at first

unconsciously given. They had travelled half their way along the rough lane

before she was quite awake to what they said. (Persuasion, Chapter 10)

‘Yes; he had done it.’This breathless emotion heralds an outpouring of thoughts and feelings that come tumbling helter-skelter onto the page, and are followed by a dreamlike state of unawareness to the outside world.

Lady Middleton, though in the middle of a rubber (part of a card game), on being informed that Marianne was unwell, was too polite to object for a moment to her wish of going away, and making over her cards to a friend, they departed as soon as the carriage could be found. Scarcely a word was spoken during their return to Berkeley Street. Marianne was in a silent agony, too much oppressed even for tears; but as Mrs. Jennings was luckily not come home, they could go directly to their own room, where hartshorn (smelling salts) restored her a little to herself. She was soon undressed and in bed, and as she seemed desirous of being alone, her sister then left her, and while she waited the return of Mrs. Jennings, had leisure enough for thinking over the past.

That some kind of engagement had subsisted between Willoughby and Marianne, she could not doubt; and that Willoughby was weary of it, seemed equally clear; for however Marianne might still feed her own wishes, she could not attribute such behaviour to mistake or misapprehension of any kind. Nothing but a thorough change of sentiment could account for it. Her indignation would have been still stronger than it was, had she not witnessed that embarrassment which seemed to speak a consciousness of his own misconduct, and prevented her from believing him so unprincipled as to have been sporting with the affections of her sister from the first, without any design that would bear investigation. Absence might have weakened his regard, and convenience might have determined him to overcome it, but that such a regard had formerly existed she could not bring herself to doubt.

Elinor’s thoughts, as always, are much more reasoned and measured, even when she feels as strongly as she does here on behalf of her beloved sister.

As for Marianne, on the pangs which so unhappy a meeting must already have given her, and on those still more severe which might await her in its probable consequence, she could not reflect without the deepest concern. Her own situation gained in the comparison; for while she could esteem Edward as much as ever, however they might be divided in future, her mind might be always supported. But every circumstance that could embitter such an evil seemed uniting to heighten the misery of Marianne in a final separation from Willoughby — in an immediate and irreconcileable rupture with him.

Elinor considers both Willoughby and Marianne. She is deeply concerned for her sister, whose ‘pangs’ she has witnessed and which can only get worse. She feels acutely for ‘the misery of Marianne’ because of the inevitable ‘final separation from Willoughby’ that the future must hold for her. The pain of Marianne’s future is accentuated in a repetition of what must happen: ‘an immediate and irreconcileable rupture with him.’ The words ‘immediate’, ‘irreconcileable’ and ‘rupture’ carry all the agony of something absolute and conclusive. The emotion is conveyed in superlatives, making even more impact coming as they do from Elinor: ‘so unhappy a meeting’ , ‘… every circumstance that could embitter such an evil seemed uniting to heighten the misery of Marianne in a final separation from Willoughby.’ ‘Evil’ is a very forceful word indeed for Jane Austen.

Elinor still clings to the entirely self-deceiving ‘support’ that she thinks her mind must always receive from the fact that she can ‘esteem Edward as much as ever.’ Surely this is wholly wishful thinking?

Zelda Boyd comments: ‘…. everyone is caught to varying degrees within the circle of his or her suppositions.

‘Consider, for example, how everyone in Sense and Sensibility handles one of the central questions in the book: Is Marianne engaged to Willoughby? No one seems to find it legitimate to cut the Gordian knot by asking Marianne how things stand. Elinor believes it is her mother’s place to ask; Mrs. Dashwood feels that to ask would be an intrusion; Mrs. Jennings and Sir John simply assume an engagement; and Colonel Brandon is far too tactful to inquire—although perhaps he prefers speculation to certain knowledge.

‘Elinor, for one, works hard to shape her limited bits of information into a reasonable hypothesis and is the first to suspect that Marianne is not assured of Willoughby. After Willoughby’s public rebuff, Elinor ponders the affair.

‘That some kind of engagement has subsisted … she could not doubt … however Marianne might still feed her own wishes she could not…. Nothing but a … change of sentiment could account for it … absence might have weakened his regard, and convenience might have … overcome it, but that such a regard had … existed she could not bring herself to doubt.

‘As for Marianne on the pangs, which so unhappy a meeting must … have given her, and … on those … which might await her … she could not reflect without deepest concern.

‘Elinor is quite correct in her suppositions; a change has taken place, and Marianne’s suffering is real enough. Nevertheless, Elinor clings to a mistaken assumption in order to judge her sister less harshly, and both her sympathy and her inferences are founded on a false premise—that there was an engagement—a premise she surely knows enough of her sister’s impetuous nature to question. She doesn’t because she is reasoning less about the real Marianne than about what ought to be the case, supposing Marianne’s behavior to be justified.’

Zelda Boyd: “The Language of Supposing: Modal Auxiliaries in Sense and Sensibility,” in Jane Austen: New Perspectives, Vol. 3, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier, 1983, pp. 142–54.

This chapter details the public scene; the next chapter gives us the privacy of the sisters’ bedroom and Marianne’s feelings there.

SS Chapter 29 (Volume II, Chapter 7)

Marianne is heart-broken. Willoughby writes to her and returns her letters.

This is a chapter of desperation and desolation. The setting is cold, gloomy and dark. The sisters evidently share a bedroom in Mrs Jennings’ house. This is the private space in which Marianne expresses her distress, as opposed to the very public fashionable party of the evening before.

Before the house-maid had lit their fire the next day, or the sun gained any power over a cold, gloomy morning in January, Marianne, only half dressed, was kneeling against one of the window-seats for the sake of all the little light she could command from it, and writing as fast as a continual flow of tears would permit her. In this situation, Elinor, roused from sleep by her agitation and sobs, first perceived her; and after observing her for a few moments with silent anxiety, said, in a tone of the most considerate gentleness,

“Marianne, may I ask?” —

“No, Elinor,” she replied, “ask nothing; you will soon know all.”

The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said, lasted no longer than while she spoke, and was immediately followed by a return of the same excessive affliction. It was some minutes before she could go on with her letter, and the frequent bursts of grief which still obliged her, at intervals, to withhold her pen, were proofs enough of her feeling how more than probable it was that she was writing for the last time to Willoughby.

Marianne’s suffering pervades the prose: ‘a continual flow of tears’, ‘agitation and sobs’, ‘desperate calmness’, ‘excessive affliction’, ‘bursts of grief’. Her suffering is couched in words of excess that imply the lack of restraint endorsed by Romanticism, words such as ‘desperate’, ‘excessive’, ‘bursts’ and a little later in the chapter, ‘torrent’.

Elinor paid her every quiet and unobtrusive attention in her power; and she would have tried to sooth and tranquillize her still more, had not Marianne entreated her, with all the eagerness of the most nervous irritability, not to speak to her for the world. In such circumstances, it was better for both that they should not be long together; and the restless state of Marianne’s mind not only prevented her from remaining in the room a moment after she was dressed, but requiring at once solitude and continual change of place, made her wander about the house till breakfast time, avoiding the sight of everybody.

Austen describes Marianne’s anguish as a ‘sort of desperate calmness’ and this oxymoron conveys the ‘nervous irritability’ that Marianne suffers: a misery that will not allow her to sit still. With her ‘restless state of … mind’ she requires ‘at once solitude and continual change of place’. The ‘nervous irritability’ of which Austen writes is explained in Edward Copeland’s CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility. It is ‘a condition sometimes brought on by a “dubious or adverse return” of love, and described by Dr John Lettsome in his introductory essay to William Falconer’s Dissertation on the Influence of the Passions upon Disorders of the Body (1791): ‘expressed by deep involuntary sighs; every incident that excites emotion … makes the heart palpitate, and suffuses the faces with faint blushes…’ (Sense and Sensibility CUP 2006 page 474).

At breakfast she neither ate nor attempted to eat anything; and Elinor’s attention was then all employed, not in urging her, not in pitying her, nor in appearing to regard her, but in endeavouring to engage Mrs. Jennings’s notice entirely to herself.

Elinor does the best she can to distract Mrs Jennings from Marianne’s behaviour and her continuous exertions are represented by a list of the things she would like to be doing but refrains from: ‘Elinor’s attention was then all employed, not in urging her, not in pitying her, nor in appearing to regard her, but in endeavouring to engage Mrs. Jennings’s notice entirely to herself.’ She is trying to shield Marianne.

As this was a favourite meal with Mrs. Jennings, it lasted a considerable time, and they were just setting themselves, after it, round the common working table, when a letter was delivered to Marianne, which she eagerly caught from the servant, and, turning of a death-like paleness, instantly ran out of the room. Elinor, who saw as plainly by this, as if she had seen the direction, that it must come from Willoughby, felt immediately such a sickness at heart as made her hardly able to hold up her head, and sat in such a general tremor as made her fear it impossible to escape Mrs. Jennings’s notice. That good lady, however, saw only that Marianne had received a letter from Willoughby, which appeared to her a very good joke, and which she treated accordingly, by hoping, with a laugh, that she would find it to her liking. Of Elinor’s distress, she was too busily employed in measuring lengths of worsted for her rug, to see anything at all; and calmly continuing her talk, as soon as Marianne disappeared, she said —

“Upon my word, I never saw a young woman so desperately in love in my life! Mygirls were nothing to her, and yet they used to be foolish enough; but as for Miss Marianne, she is quite an altered creature. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, he won’t keep her waiting much longer, for it is quite grievous to see her look so ill and forlorn. Pray, when are they to be married?”

Elinor’s love of her sister and closeness to her is strongly portrayed. She sees Marianne’s ‘death-like paleness’ as she ‘instantly ran out of the room.’ Elinor realises that the letter ‘must come from Willoughby’. Austen writes that Elinor ‘felt immediately such a sickness at heart as made her hardly able to hold up her head, and sat in such a general tremor…’. Her physical symptoms almost parallel those of her sister.

The appalling situation is intensified by Mrs Jennings’ cheerful unconsciousness of it, ‘Pray, when are they to be married?’

Elinor, though never less disposed to speak than at that moment, obliged herself to answer such an attack as this, and, therefore, trying to smile, replied, “And have you really, ma’am, talked yourself into a persuasion of my sister’s being engaged to Mr. Willoughby? I thought it had been only a joke, but so serious a question seems to imply more; and I must beg, therefore, that you will not deceive yourself any longer. I do assure you that nothing would surprise me more than to hear of their being going to be married.”

“For shame, for shame, Miss Dashwood! How can you talk so! Don’t we all know that it must be a match — that they were over head and ears in love with each other from the first moment they met? Did not I see them together in Devonshire every day, and all day long? And did not I know that your sister came to town with me on purpose to buy wedding clothes? Come, come, this won’t do. Because you are so sly about it yourself, you think nobody else has any senses; but it is no such thing, I can tell you, for it has been known all over town this ever so long. I tell everybody of it and so does Charlotte.”

“Indeed, ma’am,” said Elinor very seriously, “you are mistaken. Indeed, you are doing a very unkind thing in spreading the report, and you will find that you have, though you will not believe me now.”

Elinor is being very accusing here. She repeats the word indeed, ‘Indeed, ma’am … indeed,’ and she repeats the second person pronoun ‘you’ several times. ‘…you are mistaken. Indeed, you are doing a very unkind thing in spreading the report, and you will find that you have, though you will not believe me now’. This is as near as Elinor gets to blaming Mrs Jennings for spreading gossip about Marianne and Willoughby based only on what she has inferred and imagined.

Mrs. Jennings laughed again, but Elinor had not spirits to say more, and eager at all events to know what Willoughby had written, hurried away to their room, where, on opening the door, she saw Marianne stretched on the bed, almost choked by grief, one letter in her hand, and two or three others lying by her. Elinor drew near, but without saying a word; and seating herself on the bed, took her hand, kissed her affectionately several times, and then gave way to a burst of tears, which at first was scarcely less violent than Marianne’s. The latter, though unable to speak, seemed to feel all the tenderness of this behaviour, and after some time thus spent in joint affliction, she put all the letters into Elinor’s hands; and then covering her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony. Elinor, who knew that such grief, shocking as it was to witness it, must have its course, watched by her till this excess of suffering had somewhat spent itself, and then turning eagerly to Willoughby’s letter, read as follows: —

Again, the sisters’ shared grief is stressed. Elinor ‘saw Marianne stretched on the bed, almost choked by grief…’, ‘Elinor … then gave way to a burst of tears, which at first was scarcely less violent than Marianne’s’, ‘… after some time thus spent in joint affliction…’. Then comes Marianne’s near-scream which echoes through the book: ‘covering her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony.’ Patricia Meyer Spacks comments, ‘In both tone and substance, this statement comes as a shock. It strikes a different note from the narrator’s usually poised … tone. Until her reception of Willoughby’s letter, Marianne has often performed her sensibility … Now sensibility has become raw feeling…’.

(Patricia Meyer Spacks, ed, Sense and Sensibility An Annotated Edition, Harvard University Press, 2013, p 226).

Stuart Tave observes that Marianne’s early excess of sensibility affects the reader’s sympathy for her now when she really is in agony over Willoughby’s behaviour in London. ‘She has left herself with almost no room for emotion adequate to serious grief.’

(Stuart M Tave,Some Words of Jane Austen, University of Chicago Press, 1973)

Bond Street, January.

MY DEAR MADAM, — I have just had the honour of receiving your letter, for which I beg to return my sincere acknowledgments. I am much concerned to find there was anything in my behaviour last night that did not meet your approbation; and though I am quite at a loss to discover in what point I could be so unfortunate as to offend you, I entreat your forgiveness of what I can assure you to have been perfectly unintentional. I shall never reflect on my former acquaintance with your family in Devonshire without the most grateful pleasure, and flatter myself it will not be broken by any mistake or misapprehension of my actions. My esteem for your whole family is very sincere; but if I have been so unfortunate as to give rise to a belief of more than I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself for not having been more guarded in my professions of that esteem. That I should ever have meant more you will allow to be impossible, when you understand that my affections have been long engaged elsewhere, and it will not be many weeks, I believe, before this engagement is fulfilled. It is with great regret that I obey your commands of returning the letters, with which I have been honoured from you, and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed on me.

I am, dear Madam,

Your most obedient

humble Servant,

JOHN WILLOUGHBY.

Willoughby’s letter is cold, dismissive and full of untruths, when he writes: ‘I am quite at a loss to discover …’. We discover much later that it was dictated to him by Sophia Grey, the heiress to whom he has become engaged. Her vitriol on this occasion can be compared to that of Lucy Steele when she warned Elinor off Edward Ferrars, her fiancé, in Chapter 22. Similarly, Marianne’s reaction to Willoughby’s letter may be compared to Elinor’s reaction to Lucy’s news, in Chapter 23.

To take up a few details in Willoughby’s infamous letter. The word ‘former’ purports untruthfully to distance him from the events of the summer. And then, the sentence, ‘But if I have been so unfortunate as to give rise … I shall …’ – Willoughby (at the dictation of Sophia Grey) here leaves his possibly inappropriate behaviour open to conditionality and doubt: ‘if I have been … I shall…’. And, appallingly, ‘That I should ever have meant more you will allow to be impossible.’ Willoughby is blaming Marianne for any possible interpretation of his behaviour that is now proved mistaken as his ‘affections have long been engaged elsewhere.’

Critics bring more details to notice. In ‘Good, Bad, and Ugly Letters in Sense and Sensibility’ 2011 Peter Sabor writes: ‘the formulaic “Your most obedient humble Servant,” (was) typically used for business letters and correspondence between strangers.’ This is a further insult to Marianne, whom Willoughby had addressed by her Christian name, whose lock he had cut off, whose company he had sought.

(from jasna.org/persuasions)

Juliet McMaster remarks that ‘the style, as responding to Marianne’s frank and generous note in which she shows she is unwilling to believe ill of him, is heartless, insulting’ and ‘the ending is even worse than the beginning: “It is with great regret that I obey your commands of returning the letters, with which I have been honoured from you, and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed on me.” … This piece of Marianne’s body stands for the body itself. To write that she “obligingly bestowed” it is to suggest something like prostitution. This from a man who writes of “honour”! It is an unforgivable composition.’ (I have been unable to find where Professor McMaster wrote this.)

The letter is followed by three paragraphs detailing Elinor’s response to Willoughby’s behaviour.

With what indignation such a letter as this must be read by Miss Dashwood, may be imagined. Though aware, before she began it, that it must bring a confession of his inconstancy, and confirm their separation for ever, she was not aware that such language could be suffered (permitted; possible) to announce it! nor could she have supposed Willoughby capable of departing so far from the appearance of every honourable and delicate feeling — so far from the common decorum of a gentleman, as to send a letter so impudently cruel: a letter which, instead of bringing with his desire of a release any professions of regret, acknowledged no breach of faith, denied all peculiar affection whatever — a letter of which every line was an insult, and which proclaimed its writer to be deep in hardened villainy.

For the usually composed Elinor, this seems almost over the top. She can presumably vent feelings on behalf of her sister that she will not admit to for herself. Essentially, Willoughby is condemned because he has not behaved as a gentleman should. So far from possessing ‘every honourable and delicate feeling’ as he had originally appeared to do, he has sent ‘a letter … impudently cruel.’ He has ‘acknowledged no breach (breaking a code of conduct) of faith, denied all peculiar (particular) affection whatever’, has written a letter ‘of which every line was an insult’ and, concludes Elinor, he must be ‘deep in hardened (confirmed, inveterate) villainy.’

Austen disapproved of cliché. She wrote to her niece Anna: ‘ Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a ‘vortex of Dissipation’. I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression; – it is such thorough novel slang – and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened.’
(Letter to Anna Austen, September 28, 1814)

So to describe Elinor’s reaction to Willoughby as ‘deep in hardened villainy,’ must mean either that Elinor is overreacting on her sister’s behalf, or that what Keats was later to call ‘the holiness of the heart’s affections’ has been flagrantly and offensively contravened. After all, Willoughby has led Marianne to believe, both by his speech and his actions (showing her over the house he hoped to inherit) that he intends to marry her. And she is a very young woman, innocent and vulnerable. Gentlemen could and did flirt with experienced older ladies, but to behave as Willoughby has done with such a young woman was considered indefensible.

She paused over it for some time with indignant astonishment; then read it again and again; but every perusal only served to increase her abhorrence of the man, and so bitter were her feelings against him, that she dared not trust herself to speak, lest she might wound Marianne still deeper by treating their disengagement, not as a loss to her of any possible good, but as an escape from the worst and most irremediable of all evils, a connection, for life, with an unprincipled man, as a deliverance the most real, a blessing the most important.

Elinor’s total condemnation of Willoughby continues, as she considers the letter with ‘indignant astonishment’. The OED defines indignation as ‘anger mingled with scorn or contempt’. Each time she rereads the letter, ‘her abhorrence (hatred, loathing) of the man’ increases. Austen describes Elinor’s feelings as ‘so bitter … against him’. Finally she realises that perhaps this letter provides Marianne with ‘an escape from the worst and most irremediable (impossible to put right) of all evils (catastrophes), a connection (marriage), for life, with an unprincipled (immoral and unscrupulous) man’. This, in Austen’s habitually moderate language, is extreme. Elinor considers a marriage with Willoughby in superlatives of horror: ‘the worst and most irremediable of all evils.’ And the horror lies in his morally corrupt behaviour: he is ‘unprincipled.’ In the next paragraph, she considers ‘the depravity of that mind’, depravity meaning moral corruption. (In fact, the owner of the depraved mind was Sophia Grey, but Willoughby was ready to write to her dictation, such was his determination to own her considerable fortune when he married her.)

In her earnest meditations on the contents of the letter, on the depravity of that mind which could dictate it, and, probably, on the very different mind of a very different person, who had no other connection whatever with the affair than what her heart gave him with everything that passed, Elinor forgot the immediate distress of her sister, forgot that she had three letters on her lap yet unread, and so entirely forgot how long she had been in the room, that when on hearing a carriage drive up to the door, she went to the window to see who could be coming so unreasonably early, she was all astonishment to perceive Mrs. Jennings’s chariot, which she knew had not been ordered till one. Determined not to quit Marianne, though hopeless of contributing, at present, to her ease, she hurried away to excuse herself from attending Mrs. Jennings, on account of her sister being indisposed. Mrs. Jennings, with a thoroughly good-humoured concern for its cause, admitted the excuse most readily, and Elinor, after seeing her safe off, returned to Marianne, whom she found attempting to rise from the bed, and whom she reached just in time to prevent her from falling on the floor, faint and giddy from a long want of proper rest and food; for it was many days since she had any appetite, and many nights since she had really slept; and now, when her mind was no longer supported by the fever of suspense, the consequence of all this was felt in an aching head, a weakened stomach, and a general nervous faintness. A glass of wine, which Elinor procured for her directly, made her more comfortable, and she was at last able to express some sense of her kindness, by saying —

“Poor Elinor! How unhappy I make you!”

Uncharacteristically, Elinor loses herself in another world; a world in which she absents herself from her surroundings and meditates earnestly upon this letter, the man who has sent it and the beloved sister to whom it has been sent. The extremely long sentence in which Jane Austen describes this absorption in the situation of others is, as always, expressed in perfectly balanced phrases.

In her earnest meditations on the contents of the letter, on the depravity of that mind which could dictate it, and, probably, on the very different mind of a very different person, who had no other connection whatever with the affair than what her heart gave him with everything that passed, Elinor forgot the immediate distress of her sister, forgot that she had three letters on her lap yet unread, and so entirely forgot how long she had been in the room, that when on hearing a carriage drive up to the door, she went to the window to see who could be coming so unreasonably early, she was all astonishment to perceive Mrs. Jennings’s chariot, which she knew had not been ordered till one.

Elinor has much to think about. Her meditations lead her to forget about anything else.

meditations on the contents of the letter,

on the depravity of that mind which could dictate it, and, probably,

on the very different mind of a very different person, who had no other connection whatever with the affair than what her heart gave him with everything that passed,

Elinor forgot the immediate distress of her sister,

forgot that she had three letters on her lap yet unread, and

so entirely forgot how long she had been in the room …

She is startled when sounds from the outside, everyday world impinge upon her consciousness in the form of ‘Mrs. Jennings’s chariot, which she knew had not been ordered till one.’

“I only wish,” replied her sister, “there were anything I could do which might be of comfort to you.”

This, as everything else would have been, was too much for Marianne, who could only exclaim, in the anguish of her heart, “Oh! Elinor, I am miserable indeed,” before her voice was entirely lost in sobs.

Elinor could no longer witness this torrent of unresisted grief in silence.

“Exert yourself, dear Marianne,” she cried, “if you would not kill yourself and all who love you. Think of your mother; think of her misery while you suffer; for her sake you must exert yourself.”

Elinor characteristically counsels exertion in order to spare others.

“I cannot, I cannot,” cried Marianne; “leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me; but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer.”

“Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah; if you knew! And can you believe me to be so while I see you so wretched!”

“Forgive me, forgive me,” throwing her arms round her sister’s neck; “I know you feel for me; I know what a heart you have; but yet you are — you must be happy; Edward loves you — what, oh! what can do away such happiness as that?”

“Many, many circumstances,” said Elinor, solemnly.

“No, no, no,” cried Marianne wildly; “he loves you, and only you. You canhave no grief.”

“I can have no pleasure while I see you in this state.”

“And you will never see me otherwise. Mine is a misery which nothing can do away.”

Marianne unwittingly adds to Elinor’s anguish in contrasting her misery to Elinor’s supposed happiness. I think we are probably meant to notice that Marianne can think only of herself, and has no intention of doing anything other than indulging her torment. On the other hand, she is very young. “I cannot, I cannot,” cried Marianne; “leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me; but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! ….you will never see me otherwise. Mine is a misery which nothing can do away.”

“You must not talk so Marianne. Have you no comforts? no friends? Is your loss such as leaves no opening for consolation? Much as you suffer now, think of what you would have suffered if the discovery of his character had been delayed to a later period — if your engagement had been carried on for months and months, as it might have been, before he chose to put an end to it. Every additional day of unhappy confidence, on your side, would have made the blow more dreadful.”

“Engagement!” cried Marianne, “there has been no engagement.”

“No engagement!”

“No, he is not so unworthy as you believe him. He has broken no faith with me.”

Marianne’s attempt at exonerating Willoughby here is similar to Elinor’s excuses in Chapter 23 for Edward’s behaviour.

“But he told you that he loved you?”

“Yes — no — never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it had been — but it never was.”

“Yet you wrote to him?” —

“Yes — could that be wrong after all that had passed? But I cannot talk.”

Elinor said no more, and turning again to the three letters which now raised a much stronger curiosity than before, directly ran over the contents of all. The first, which was what her sister had sent him on their arrival in town, was to this effect.

“Berkeley Street, January.

“How surprised you will be, Willoughby, on receiving this! and I think you will feel something more than surprise, when you know that I am in town. An opportunity of coming hither, though with Mrs. Jennings, was a temptation we could not resist. I wish you may receive this in time to come here to-night, but I will not depend on it. At any rate I shall expect you to-morrow. For the present, adieu. M. D.”

Her second note, which had been written on the morning after the dance at the Middletons’, was in these words —

“I cannot express my disappointment in having missed you the day before yesterday, nor my astonishment at not having received any answer to a note which I sent you above a week ago. I have been expecting to hear from you, and still more to see you, every hour of the day. Pray call again as soon as possible, and explain the reason of my having expected this in vain. You had better come earlier another time, because we are generally out by one. We were last night at Lady Middleton’s where there was a dance. I have been told that you were asked to be of the party. But could it be so? You must be very much altered indeed since we parted, if that could be the case, and you not there. But I will not suppose this possible, and I hope very soon to receive your personal assurance of its being otherwise. M. D.”

The contents of her last note to him were these: —

“What am I to imagine, Willoughby, by your behaviour last night? Again I demand an explanation of it. I was prepared to meet you with the pleasure which our separation naturally produced, with the familiarity which our intimacy at Barton appeared to me to justify. I was repulsed indeed! I have passed a wretched night in endeavouring to excuse a conduct which can scarcely be called less than insulting; but though I have not yet been able to form any reasonable apology for your behaviour, I am perfectly ready to hear your justification of it. You have perhaps been misinformed, or purposely deceived, in something concerning me, which may have lowered me in your opinion. Tell me what it is, explain the grounds on which you acted, and I shall be satisfied in being able to satisfy you. It would grieve me indeed to be obliged to think ill of you; but if I am to do it, if I am to learn that you are not what we have hitherto believed you, that your regard for us all was insincere, that your behaviour to me was intended only to deceive, let it be told as soon as possible. My feelings are at present in a state of dreadful indecision; I wish to acquit you, but certainty on either side will be ease to what I now suffer. If your sentiments are no longer what they were, you will return my notes, and the lock of my hair which is in your possession. “M. D.”

That such letters, so full of affection and confidence, could have been so answered, Elinor, for Willoughby’s sake, would have been unwilling to believe. But her condemnation of him did not blind her to the impropriety of their having been written at all; and she was silently grieving over the imprudence which had hazarded such unsolicited proofs of tenderness, not warranted by anything preceding, and most severely condemned by the event, when Marianne, perceiving that she had finished the letters, observed to her that they contained nothing but what any one would have written in the same situation.

In Jane Austen’s day, a young man and a young woman did not write to each other unless they were engaged, hence Elinor’s concern over the imprudence (unwisdom) and the impropriety of their having been written at all.

“I felt myself,” she added, “to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us to each other.”

Keats wrote to his friend Benjamin Bailey, on 22nd November 1817, ‘I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty … O for a life of sensations rather than thoughts.’ Although this was written six years after the publication of Sense and Sensibility,Marianne would undoubtedly have subscribed to Keats’s beliefs.

“I can believe it,” said Elinor; “but unfortunately, he did not feel the same.”

In the perfect gentleman, feelings lead to actions; love leads to an official engagement. This is why Elinor deduces that Willoughby did not feel the same as Marianne.

Margaret Anne Doody writes: ‘Marianne’s letters to Willoughby are in her eyes absolute signals of a justified confidence; in another’s eyes, they constitute imprudent self-revelation, if not sexual looseness.’ ‘Turns of Speech and Figures of Mind’ from A Companion to Jane Austen

Goodness knows what Dr Gregory would have made of all this. Author of the famous conduct book, Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (1784), Dr Gregory enshrines the ideal that ‘a woman of delicacy’ will not even admit to herself that she is in love. ‘It is even long before a woman of delicacy dares avow to her own heart that she loves,’ and he claims that when she does admit this, ‘she feels a violence done both to her pride and her modesty. In fact, Dr Gregory advises that, even when a woman is married, ‘never … discover (make known) to him the full extent of your love.’

“He did feel the same, Elinor — for weeks and weeks he felt it. I know he did. Whatever may have changed him now (and nothing but the blackest art employed against me can have done it), I was once as dear to him as my own soul could wish. This lock of hair, which now he can so readily give up, was begged of me with the most earnest supplication. Had you seen his look, his manner, had you heard his voice at that moment! Have you forgot the last evening of our being together at Barton? The morning that we parted too! When he told me that it might be many weeks before we meet again — his distress — can I ever forget his distress!”

For a moment or two she could say no more; but when this emotion had passed away, she added, in a firmer tone —

“Elinor, I have been cruelly used, but not by Willoughby.”

Again, Marianne is excusing Willoughby’s inexcusable behaviour.

“Dearest Marianne, who but himself? By whom can he have been instigated?”

“By all the world, rather than by his own heart. I could rather believe every creature of my acquaintance leagued together to ruin me in his opinion, than believe his nature capable of such cruelty. This woman of whom he writes — whoever she be — or any one, in short, but your own dear self, mama, and Edward, may have been so barbarous to bely me. Beyond you three, is there a creature in the world whom I would not rather suspect of evil than Willoughby, whose heart I know so well?”

Elinor would not contend, and only replied, “Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions supports your spirits. It is a reasonable and laudable pride which resists such malevolence.”

“No, no,” cried Marianne, “misery such as mine has no pride. I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world. Elinor, Elinor, they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like — may resist insult, or return mortification — but I cannot. I must feel — I must be wretched — and they are welcome to enjoy the consciousness of it that can.”

“But for my mother’s sake and mine” —

“I would do more than for my own. But to appear happy when I am so miserable — Oh! who can require it?”

Again they were both silent. Elinor was employed in walking thoughtfully from the fire to the window, from the window to the fire, without knowing that she received warmth from one, or discerning objects through the other; and Marianne, seated at the foot of the bed, with her head leaning against one of its posts, again took up Willoughby’s letter, and after shuddering over every sentence, exclaimed —

“It is too much! Oh! Willoughby, Willoughby, could this be yours! Cruel, cruel — nothing can acquit you. Elinor, nothing can. Whatever he might have heard against me — ought he not to have suspended his belief? ought he not to have told me of it, to have given me the power of clearing myself? ‘The lock of hair’ (repeating it from the letter), ‘which you so obligingly bestowed on me’ — That is unpardonable. Willoughby, where was your heart, when you wrote those words? Oh! barbarously insolent! — Elinor, can he be justified?”

“No, Marianne, in no possible way.”

Marianne is quite right to ask, ‘That is unpardonable. Willoughby, where was your heart, when you wrote those words? Oh! barbarously insolent! — Elinor, can he be justified?”

“And yet this woman — who knows what her art may have been — how long it may have been premeditated, and how deeply contrived by her! — Who is she? — Who can she be? — Whom did I ever hear him talk of as young and attractive among his female acquaintance? — Oh! no one, no one — he talked to me only of myself.”

Another pause ensued; Marianne was greatly agitated, and it ended thus —

“Elinor, I must go home. I must go and comfort mama. Cannot we be gone to-morrow?”

“To-morrow, Marianne!”

“Yes; why should I stay here? I came only for Willoughby’s sake — and now who cares for me? Who regards me?”

“It would be impossible to go to-morrow. We owe Mrs. Jennings much more than civility; and civility of the commonest kind must prevent such a hasty removal as that.”

“Well, then, another day or two, perhaps; but I cannot stay here long, I cannot stay to endure the questions and remarks of all these people. The Middletons and Palmers — how am I to bear their pity? The pity of such a woman as Lady Middleton! — oh! what would he say to that!”

It is partly to shield herself from the unbearable pity of her neighbours that Elinor is so careful to command her feelings when she is in society.

Elinor advised her to lie down again, and for a moment she did so; but no attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body she moved from one posture to another, till growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all, and for some time was fearful of being constrained to call for assistance. Some lavender drops, however, which she was at length persuaded to take, were of use; and from that time till Mrs. Jennings returned, she continued on the bed quiet and motionless.

Angela Leighton writes: ‘At the start, (Marianne) is described as having an “excess” of “sensibility,” and on having to leave Norland she and her mother encourage each other “in the violence of their affliction.” Similarly, when Willoughby departs, Marianne is subject to a “violent oppression of spirits,” and a “violence of affliction,” which, the language clearly signals, are false. The idea of “violence” is usually too large for Austen’s prose to contain it, and so it is presented only as exaggerated action or emotion. Violence such as Marianne’s when Willoughby goes away is to be smilingly tolerated; Austen hedges it round with forbearing mockery. However, as Marianne’s histrionic grief torns to very real humiliation, Austen ceases to use irony against her; she ceases to point out the comic disparities between her feelings and her reactions….’. ‘Sense and Silences’ from Jane Austen: New Perspectives, ed Janet Todd, New York, Homes, 1983

Juliet McMaster observes:

‘…it is difficult to show Elinor’s control of her emotions without suggesting that they must be weaker than Marianne’s: for in that Marianne’s excesses involve free expression and vivid, immediate reaction, she is dramatically appealing, she acts herself out; whereas Elinor’s tight rein on herself makes her at first less sympathetic.

‘To compensate for this predictable difficulty, Jane Austen has shown us Marianne only from the outside, as she manifests herself to others; and this is all that is necessary, for unlike Jane Fairfax in Emma Marianne is what she appears. Hence, there is a suggestion of transparency, almost of superficiality, about her character. On the other hand, we look into Elinor, understanding from that there really is more to find in her; and indeed there is…. She, by her own acute observation of what goes on outside her, is able to find out more about other people, and of their feelings too, than Marianne with all her intuition; for Marianne sees everything through a deluding haze of her own subjectivity.’

(Juliet McMaster, ‘The Continuity of Jane Austen’s Novels’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 Vol 10 No 4 (1970) pp 723-739)

I think that Juliet McMaster’s insights are particularly interesting in relation to passages such as this:

“I cannot, I cannot,” cried Marianne; “leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me; but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happy Elinor, you cannot have an idea of what I suffer.”

“Do you call me happy, Marianne? Ah; if you knew! And can you believe me to be so while I see you so wretched!”

“Forgive me, forgive me,” throwing her arms round her sister’s neck; “I know you feel for me; I know what a heart you have; but yet you are — you must be happy; Edward loves you — what, oh! what can do away such happiness as that?”

“Many, many circumstances,” said Elinor, solemnly.

“No, no, no,” cried Marianne wildly; “he loves you, and only you. You can have no grief.”

“I can have no pleasure while I see you in this state.”

“And you will never see me otherwise. Mine is a misery which nothing can do away.”

Elinor and Marianne demonstrate two different ways of suffering, both intensely felt. Elinor’s is hidden, private and interior, but in a sense, she is more in control of it than Marianne, and also is spared other people’s gossipy voyeurism. Marianne suffers according to her creed of Sensibility / Romanticism in which she abandons herself to her suffering, allowing it to overtake her entirely, almost to the point of death. Marianne’s suffering, like her love, is very public and because it is so widely known, lays her open to the almost unbearable ‘pity’ of others. Her way of suffering does not allow of the privacy Elinor values. Marianne’s brand also involves a lot of other people in addition to her family, such as Mrs Jennings to look after her and Colonel Brandon to visit her and finally to fetch her mother.

from Chapter 30 (Volume II, Chapter 8)

Mrs Jennings gives news of Willoughby’s fiancée, Miss Grey, and describes Delaford, where Colonel Brandon lives. She thinks he would make Marianne a good husband.

Austen gives us further insight into characters through their different reactions to Willoughby’s engagement to the heiress, Miss Grey.

Elinor, who did justice to Mrs. Jennings’s kindness, though its effusions were often distressing, and sometimes almost ridiculous, made her those acknowledgments, and returned her those civilities, which her sister could not make or return for herself. Their good friend saw that Marianne was unhappy, and felt that everything was due to her which might make her at all less so. She treated her, therefore, with all the indulgent fondness of a parent towards a favourite child on the last day of its holidays. Marianne was to have the best place by the fire, was to be tempted to eat by every delicacy in the house, and to be amused by the relation of all the news of the day. Had not Elinor, in the sad countenance of her sister, seen a check to all mirth, she could have been entertained by Mrs. Jennings’s endeavours to cure a disappointment in love, by a variety of sweetmeats and olives, and a good fire. As soon, however, as the consciousness of all this was forced by continual repetition on Marianne, she could stay no longer. With an hasty exclamation of misery, and a sign to her sister not to follow her, she directly got up and hurried out of the room.

“Poor soul!” cried Mrs. Jennings, as soon as she was gone, “how it grieves me to see her! And I declare if she is not gone away without finishing her wine! And the dried cherries too! Lord! nothing seems to do her any good. I am sure if I knew anything she would like, I would send all over the town for it. Well, it is the oddest thing to me, that a man should use such a pretty girl so ill! But when there is plenty of money on one side, and next to none on the other, Lord bless you! they care no more about such things! — “

Mrs Jennings gives the necessary information on Willoughby’s heiress. He has to marry her because ‘they say he is all to pieces’ – in other words, he has run through all his money through his expensive style of living. It seems that maintaining this lifestyle is more important to him than Marianne’s love.

“The lady then — Miss Grey I think you called her — is very rich?”

“Fifty thousand pounds, my dear. Did you ever see her? a smart, stilish girl they say, but not handsome. I remember her aunt very well, Biddy Henshawe; she married a very wealthy man. But the family are all rich together. Fifty thousand pounds! and by all accounts it won’t come before it’s wanted; for they say he is all to pieces. No wonder! dashing about with his curricle and hunters! Well, it don’t signify talking, but when a young man, be he who he will, comes and makes love to a pretty girl, and promises marriage, he has no business to fly off from his word only because he grows poor, and a richer girl is ready to have him. Why don’t he, in such a case, sell his horses, let his house, turn off his servants, and make a thorough reform at once? I warrant you, Miss Marianne would have been ready to wait till matters came round. But that won’t do, now-a-days; nothing in the way of pleasure can ever be given up by the young men of this age.”

“Do you know what kind of a girl Miss Grey is? Is she said to be amiable?”

“I never heard any harm of her; indeed I hardly ever heard her mentioned; except that Mrs. Taylor did say this morning, that one day Miss Walker hinted to her, that she believed Mr. and Mrs. Ellison would not be sorry to have Miss Grey married, for she and Mrs. Ellison could never agree.”

“And who are the Ellisons?”

“Her guardians, my dear. But now she is of age and may choose for herself; and a pretty choice she has made! — What now,” after pausing a moment — “your poor sister is gone to her own room, I suppose, to moan by herself. Is there nothing one can get to comfort her? Poor dear, it seems quite cruel to let her be alone. Well, by-and-by we shall have a few friends, and that will amuse her a little. What shall we play at? She hates whist I know; but is there no round game she cares for?”

“Oh Lord! yes, that I do indeed. It must be terrible for you to hear it talked of; and as for your sister, I am sure I would not mention a word about it to her for the world. You saw I did not all dinner time. No more would Sir John nor my daughters, for they are all very thoughtful and considerate — especially if I give them a hint, as I certainly will. For my part, I think the less that is said about such things, the better, the sooner ’tis blown over and forgot. And what good does talking ever do, you know?”

“In this affair it can only do harm — more so perhaps than in many cases of a similar kind, for it has been attended by circumstances which, for the sake of every one concerned in it, make it unfit to become the public conversation. I must do thisjustice to Mr. Willoughby — he has broken no positive engagement with my sister.”

Mrs Jennings’ good heart and moral sense are shown in her reply to Elinor’s attempt at excusing Willoughby’s behaviour.

“Law, my dear! Don’t pretend to defend him. No positive engagement indeed! after taking her all over Allenham House, and fixing on the very rooms they were to live in hereafter!”

Elinor, for her sister’s sake, could not press the subject farther, and she hoped it was not required of her for Willoughby’s; since, though Marianne might lose much, he could gain very little by the inforcement of the real truth. After a short silence on both sides, Mrs. Jennings, with all her natural hilarity, burst forth again —

Mrs Jennings is convinced that Colonel Brandon is now the husband for Marianne. In order to convince Elinor of Colonel Brandon’s eligibility, she describes his establishment, Delaford. It is the traditional and perfect English country gentleman’s house and estate that Austen later describes in Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey (Emma). As such, it may be contrasted to the fashionable improvements that John Dashwood is making in landscaping Norland. Delaford is near the church and not far from the village – a part of the local community. The Middletons’ house, Barton Park, forms another contrast, being some distance from the village and neighbours, as Mrs Jennings points out: ‘ … they are forced to send three miles for their meat, and have not a neighbour nearer than your mother.’ For Austen, with her eighteenth-century view that each person and dwelling should be a part of a whole community, Delaford forms the perfect example.

As it is Mrs Jennings who is describing Delaford, the amount of food its gardens, stew-ponds and dovecotes provide is also emphasised, along with the information that she and Charlotte ‘stuffed’ themselves on mulberries when they visited! She also notes the handiness of the butcher and the neighbours, providing food and company. All this information is tangled up with Mrs Jennings’s intention to ‘spirit up the Colonel’, meaning to encourage him, together with the exhilarating proverb, ‘one shoulder of mutton, you know, drives another down,’ meaning that one thing prompts the appetite for another. Here, the idea is that Marianne, having fallen in love with Willoughby, will be all the more ready to fall in love with another man. Mrs Jennings is gloriously practical and unromantic, and how characteristic it is of her to use, in the context of love, a proverb that has to do with meat just after she has mentioned how near the butcher is to Delaford.

“Well, my dear, ’tis a true saying about an ill wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last; aye, that he will. Mind me, now, if they an’t married by Midsummer. Lord! how he’ll chuckle over this news! I hope he will come to-night. It will be all to one a better match for your sister. Two thousand a year without debt or drawback — except the little love-child, indeed; aye, I had forgot her; but she may be ‘prenticed out at small cost, and then what does it signify? Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds (fishponds), and a very pretty canal; and everything, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ’tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! ’tis a nice place! A butcher hard by in the village, and the parsonage-house within a stone’s throw. To my fancy, a thousand times prettier than Barton Park, where they are forced to send three miles for their meat, and have not a neighbour nearer than your mother. Well, I shall spirit up (encourage) the Colonel as soon as I can. One shoulder of mutton, you know, drives another down. If we can but put Willoughby out of her head!”

“Aye, if we can but do that, Ma’am,” said Elinor, “we shall do very well with or without Colonel Brandon.” And then rising, she went away to join Marianne, whom she found, as she expected, in her own room, leaning, in silent misery, over the small remains of a fire, which, till Elinor’s entrance, had been her only light.

A turnpike-road is one where a toll is collected at a toll-gate or turnpike. These tolls were used to ‘maintain and improve’ the roads so that they were fit for coaches to travel along, Ros Ballaster tells us in her notes to the Penguin Classics edition.

The contrast between Mrs Jennings’ optimism for Marianne’s future and Marianne herself is very marked. As so often in Jane Austen, it is hard to tell whether the ‘small remains of a fire’ is a realistic touch, Marianne having forgotten in her misery to ask a servant to put more coals on it, or an image of her almost extinguished spirits and the darkness of her soul.

“You had better leave me,” was all the notice that her sister received from her.

“I will leave you,” said Elinor, “if you will go to bed.” But this, from the momentary perverseness of impatient suffering, she at first refused to do. Her sister’s earnest, though gentle persuasion, however, soon softened her to compliance, and Elinor saw her lay her aching head on the pillow, and saw her, as she hoped, in a way to get some quiet rest before she left her.

In the drawing-room, whither she then repaired, she was soon joined by Mrs. Jennings, with a wine-glass, full of something, in her hand.

“My dear,” said she, entering, “I have just recollected that I have some of the finest old Constantia wine in the house, that ever was tasted — so I have brought a glass of it for your sister. My poor husband! how fond he was of it! Whenever he had a touch of his old cholicky gout, he said it did him more good than anything else in the world. Do take it to your sister.”

“Dear ma’am,” replied Elinor, smiling at the difference of the complaints for which it was recommended, “how good you are! But I have just left Marianne in bed, and, I hope, almost asleep; and as I think nothing will be of so much service to her as rest, if you will give me leave, I will drink the wine myself.”

Mrs. Jennings, though regretting that she had not been five minutes earlier, was satisfied with the compromise; and Elinor, as she swallowed the chief of it, reflected that, though its good effects on a cholicky gout were at present of little importance to her, its healing powers on a disappointed heart might be as reasonably tried on herself as on her sister.

Colonel Brandon’s gentle and thoughtful visit confirms his sensitivity to Marianne’s distress.

Colonel Brandon came in while the party were at tea, and by his manner of looking round the room for Marianne, Elinor immediately fancied that he neither expected nor wished to see her there, and, in short, that he was already aware of what occasioned her absence. Mrs. Jennings was not struck by the same thought; for, soon after his entrance, she walked across the room to the tea-table where Elinor presided, and whispered — “The Colonel looks as grave as ever you see. He knows nothing of it; do tell him, my dear.”

The contrast between Elinor’s understanding of Colonel Brandon’s serious expression and Mrs Jennings’ interpretation of it highlights his unselfishness and compassion (in complete contrast to Willoughby’s selfishness). Colonel Brandon is distressed by what the news of Willoughby’s engagement must mean for Marianne, whereas Mrs Jennings has expected him to look cheerful about his own chances with Marianne now that Willoughby is engaged to another woman.

He shortly afterwards drew a chair close to hers, and, with a look which perfectly assured her of his good information, inquired after her sister.

“Marianne is not well,” said she. “She has been indisposed all day, and we have persuaded her to go to bed.”

“Perhaps, then,” he hesitatingly replied, “what I heard this morning may be true — there may be more truth in it than I could believe possible at first.”

“What did you hear?”

“That a gentleman, whom I had reason to think — in short, that a man, whom I knew to be engaged — but how shall I tell you? If you know it already, as surely you must, I may be spared.”

Patricia Meyer Spacks notes Colonel Brandon’s ‘shift from “gentleman” to “man”‘ in Colonel Brandon’s remark: “That a gentleman, whom I had reason to think — in short, that a man, whom Iknew to be engaged…”. She adds, ‘Since Willoughby has not behaved in the way a gentleman would, the colonel considers that he is no longer entitled to be called one.’
(Patricia Meyer Spacks, Sense and Sensibility, An Annotated Edition, Harvard University Press, 2013)

“You mean,” answered Elinor, with forced calmness, “Mr. Willoughby’s marriage with Miss Grey. Yes, we do know it all. This seems to have been a day of general elucidation, for this very morning first unfolded it to us. Mr. Willoughby is unfathomable! Where did you hear it?”

“In a stationer’s shop in Pall Mall, where I had business. Two ladies were waiting for their carriage, and one of them was giving the other an account of the intended match, in a voice so little attempting concealment, that it was impossible for me not to hear all. The name of Willoughby, John Willoughby, frequently repeated, first caught my attention, and what followed was a positive assertion that everything was now finally settled respecting his marriage with Miss Grey — it was no longer to be a secret — it would take place even within a few weeks, with many particulars of preparations and other matters. One thing, especially, I remember, because it served to identify the man still more: — as soon as the ceremony was over, they were to go to Combe Magna, his seat in Somersetshire. My astonishment! — but it would be impossible to describe what I felt. The communicative lady, I learnt on inquiry, for I staid in the shop till they were gone, was a Mrs. Ellison, and that, as I have been since informed, is the name of Miss Grey’s guardian.”

“It is. But have you likewise heard that Miss Grey has fifty thousand pounds? In that, if in anything, we may find an explanation.”

“It may be so; but Willoughby is capable — at least I think” — he stopped a moment; then added in a voice which seemed to distrust itself, “And your sister — how did she — “

“Her sufferings have been very severe. I have only to hope that they may be proportionably short. It has been, it is a most cruel affliction. Till yesterday, I believe, she never doubted his regard; and even now, perhaps — but Iam almost convinced that he never was really attached to her. He has been very deceitful! and, in some points, there seems a hardness of heart about him.”

“Ah!” said Colonel Brandon, “there is, indeed! But your sister does not — I think you said so — she does not consider it quite as you do?”

“You know her disposition, and may believe how eagerly she would still justify him if she could.”

He made no answer; and soon afterwards, by the removal of the tea-things, and the arrangement of the card parties, the subject was necessarily dropped.

Mrs. Jennings, who had watched them with pleasure while they were talking, and who expected to see the effect of Miss Dashwood’s communication, in such an instantaneous gaiety on Colonel Brandon’s side as might have become a man in the bloom of youth, of hope and happiness, saw him, with amazement, remain the whole evening more serious and thoughtful than usual.

Mrs Jennings’ practical approach to life is a world away from the perception and sensitivity of Colonel Brandon, which mark him out as a soulmate for Marianne.

Chapter 31 (Volume II Chapter 9)

Colonel Brandon tells the true story of Willoughby and also his own story.

The event (what happened next) proved her conjecture right, though it was founded on injustice and error, for Colonel Brandon did come in; and Elinor, who was convinced that solicitude for Marianne brought him thither, and who saw that solicitude in his disturbed and melancholy look, and in his anxious though brief inquiry after her, could not forgive her sister for esteeming him so lightly.

“I met Mrs. Jennings in Bond Street,” said he, after the first salutation, “and she encouraged me to come on; and I was the more easily encouraged, because I thought it probable that I might find you alone, which I was very desirous of doing. My object — my wish — my sole wish in desiring it — I hope, I believe it is — is to be a means of giving comfort; — no, I must not say comfort — not present comfort — but conviction, lasting conviction to your sister’s mind. My regard for her, for yourself, for your mother — will you allow me to prove it, by relating some circumstances, which nothing but a very sincere regard — nothing but an earnest desire of being useful — -. I think I am justified — though where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?” He stopped.

Colonel Brandon, condemned by Marvin Mudrick as ‘silent and grave’ and nothing more, here displays considerable emotion. ‘My object — my wish — my sole wish in desiring it — I hope, I believe it is — is to be a means of giving comfort; — no, I must not say comfort — not present comfort — but conviction, lasting conviction to your sister’s mind.’ Here, conviction, I think, has its meaning of ‘the bringing any one to recognize the truth of what he has not before accepted; convincing.’ (Oxford English Dictionary) Colonel Brandon can hardly put together a sentence, such is the intensity of his feelings and his fear of doing wrong towards Marianne. On the other hand, it may be that he is struggling with conflicting feelings, since obviously it must bring him some measure of satisfaction to prove Willoughby’s villainy, now that his engagement to another woman is publicly known.

“I understand you,” said Elinor. “You have something to tell me of Mr. Willoughby, that will open his character farther. Your telling it will be the greatest act of friendship that can be shewn Marianne. My gratitude will be insured immediately by any information tending to that end, and hers must be gained by it in time. Pray, pray let me hear it.”

We now have several pages of backstory delivered by Colonel Brandon. In Pride and Prejudice, the backstory was supplied in a similarly unsubtle manner, in Darcy’s long letter to Elizabeth.

“You shall; and, to be brief, when I quitted Barton last October — but this will give you no idea — I must go farther back. You will find me a very awkward narrator, Miss Dashwood; I hardly know where to begin. A short account of myself, I believe, will be necessary, and it shall be a short one. On such a subject,” sighing heavily, “I can have little temptation to be diffuse.”

He stopt a moment for recollection, and then, with another sigh, went on.

“You have probably entirely forgotten a conversation — (it is not to be supposed that it could make any impression on you) — a conversation between us one evening at Barton Park — it was the evening of a dance — in which I alluded to a lady I had once known, as resembling, in some measure, your sister Marianne.”

“Indeed,” answered Elinor, “I have not forgotten it.” He looked pleased by this remembrance, and added —

“If I am not deceived by the uncertainty, the partiality of tender recollection, there is a very strong resemblance between them, as well in mind as person — the same warmth of heart, the same eagerness of fancy and spirits. This lady was one of my nearest relations, an orphan from her infancy, and under the guardianship of my father. Our ages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years we were playfellows and friends. I cannot remember the time when I did not love Eliza; and my affection for her, as we grew up, was such, as perhaps, judging from my present forlorn and cheerless gravity, you might think me incapable of having ever felt. Hers, for me, was, I believe, fervent as the attachment of your sister to Mr. Willoughby, and it was, though from a different cause, no less unfortunate. At seventeen, she was lost to me for ever. She was married — married against her inclination to my brother. Her fortune was large, and our family estate much encumbered. And this, I fear, is all that can be said for the conduct of one, who was at once her uncle and guardian. My brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her. I had hoped that her regard for me would support her under any difficulty, and for some time it did; but at last the misery of her situation, for she experienced great unkindness, overcame all her resolution, and though she had promised me that nothing — — but how blindly I relate! I have never told you how this was brought on. We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin’s maid betrayed us. I was banished to the house of a relation far distant, and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement, till my father’s point was gained. I had depended on her fortitude too far, and the blow was a severe one — but had her marriage been happy, so young as I then was, a few months must have reconciled me to it, or at least I should not have now to lament it. This, however was not the case. My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were not what they ought to have been, and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced as Mrs. Brandon’s, was but too natural. She resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation; and happy had it been if she had not lived to overcome those regrets which the remembrance of me occasioned. But can we wonder that with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her, (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies), she should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps — but I meant to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me,” he continued in a voice of great agitation, “was of trifling weight — was nothing — to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It wasthat which threw this gloom, — even now the recollection of what I suffered — “

He could say no more, and rising hastily walked for a few minutes about the room. Elinor, affected by his relation, and still more by his distress, could not speak. He saw her concern, and coming to her, took her hand, pressed it, and kissed it with grateful respect. A few minutes more of silent exertion enabled him to proceed with composure.

“It was nearly three years after this unhappy period before I returned to England. My first care, when I did arrive, was of course to seek for her; but the search was as fruitless as it was melancholy. I could not trace her beyond her first seducer, and there was every reason to fear that she had removed from him only to sink deeper in a life of sin. Her legal allowance was not adequate to her fortune, nor sufficient for her comfortable maintenance, and I learnt from my brother that the power of receiving it had been made over some months before to another person. He imagined, and calmly could he imagine it, that her extravagance and consequent distress had obliged her to dispose of it for some immediate relief. At last, however, and after I had been six months in England, I did find her. Regard for a former servant of my own, who had since fallen into misfortune, carried me to visit him in a spunging-house, where he was confined for debt; and there, in the same house, under a similar confinement, was my unfortunate sister. So altered — so faded — worn down by acute suffering of every kind! hardly could I believe the melancholy and sickly figure before me, to be the remains of the lovely, blooming, healthful girl, on whom I had once doated. What I endured in so beholding her — but I have no right to wound your feelings by attempting to describe it — I have pained you too much already. That she was, to all appearance, in the last stage of a consumption, was — yes, in such a situation it was my greatest comfort. Life could do nothing for her, beyond giving time for a better preparation for death; and that was given. I saw her placed in comfortable lodgings, and under proper attendants; I visited her every day during the rest of her short life; I was with her in her last moments.”

Again he stopped to recover himself; and Elinor spoke her feelings in an exclamation of tender concern at the fate of his unfortunate friend.

“Your sister, I hope, cannot be offended,” said he, “by the resemblance I have fancied between her and my poor disgraced relation. Their fates, their fortunes cannot be the same; and had the natural sweet disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind, or an happier marriage, she might have been all that you will live to see the other be. But to what does all this lead? I seem to have been distressing you for nothing. Ah! Miss Dashwood — a subject such as this — untouched for fourteen years — it is dangerous to handle it at all! I will be more collected — more concise. She left to my care her only child, a little girl, the offspring of her first guilty connection, who was then about three years old. She loved the child, and had always kept it with her. It was a valued, a precious trust to me; and gladly would I have discharged it in the strictest sense, by watching over her education myself, had the nature of our situations allowed it; but I had no family, no home; and my little Eliza was therefore placed at school. I saw her there whenever I could, and after the death of my brother (which happened about five years ago, and which left to me the possession of the family property), she frequently visited me at Delaford. I called her a distant relation; but I am well aware that I have in general been suspected of a much nearer connection with her. It is now three years ago (she had just reached her fourteenth year), that I removed her from school, to place her under the care of a very respectable woman, residing in Dorsetshire, who had the charge of four or five other girls of about the same time of life; and for two years I had every reason to be pleased with her situation. But last February, almost a twelvemonth back, she suddenly disappeared. I had allowed her (imprudently, as it has since turned out,) at her earnest desire, to go to Bath with one of her young friends, who was attending her father there for his health. I knew him to be a very good sort of man, and I thought well of his daughter — better than she deserved, for, with a most obstinate and ill-judged secrecy, she would tell nothing, would give no clue, though she certainly knew all. He, her father, a well-meaning, but not a quick-sighted man, could really, I believe, give no information; for he had been generally confined to the house, while the girls were ranging over the town and making what acquaintance they chose; and he tried to convince me, as thoroughly as he was convinced himself, of his daughter’s being entirely unconcerned in the business. In short, I could learn nothing but that she was gone; all the rest, for eight long months, was left to conjecture. What I thought, what I feared, may be imagined; and what I suffered too.”

“Good heavens!” cried Elinor, “could it be! could Willoughby! —

“The first news that reached me of her,” he continued, “came in a letter from herself last October. It was forwarded to me from Delaford, and I received it on the very morning of our intended party to Whitwell; and this was the reason of my leaving Barton so suddenly, which I am sure must at the time have appeared strange to everybody, and which I believe gave offence to some. Little did Mr. Willoughby imagine, I suppose, when his looks censured me for incivility in breaking up the party, that I was called away to the relief of one, whom he had made poor and miserable; but had he known it, what would it have availed? Would he have been less gay or less happy in the smiles of your sister? No, he had already done that, which no man who can feel for another would do. He had left the girl whose youth and innocence he had seduced, in a situation of the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her, promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her.”

“This is beyond everything!” exclaimed Elinor.

“His character is now before you — expensive, dissipated, and worse than both. Knowing all this, as I have now known it many weeks, guess what I must have felt on seeing your sister as fond of him as ever, and on being assured that she was to marry him; guess what I must have felt for all your sakes. When I came to you last week and found you alone, I came determined to know the truth, though irresolute what to do when it was known. My behaviour must have seemed strange to you then; but now you will comprehend it. To suffer you all to be so deceived; to see your sister — but what could I do? I had no hope of interfering with success; and sometimes I thought your sister’s influence might yet reclaim him. But now, after such dishonourable usage, who can tell what were his designs on her? Whatever they may have been, however, she may now, and hereafter doubtless will, turn with gratitude towards her own condition, when she compares it with that of my poor Eliza, when she considers the wretched and hopeless situation of this poor girl, and pictures her to herself, with an affection for him as strong, still as strong as her own, and with a mind tormented by self-reproach, which must attend her through life. Surely this comparison must have its use with her. She will feel her own sufferings to be nothing. They proceed from no misconduct, and can bring no disgrace. On the contrary, every friend must be made still more her friend by them. Concern for her unhappiness, and respect for her fortitude under it, must strengthen every attachment. Use your own discretion, however, in communicating to her what I have told you. You must know best what will be its effect; but had I not seriously and from my heart believed it might be of service, might lessen her regrets, I would not have suffered myself to trouble you with this account of my family afflictions, with a recital which may seem to have been intended to raise myself at the expense of others.”

Elinor’s thanks followed this speech with grateful earnestness; attended too with the assurance of her expecting material advantage to Marianne, from the communication of what had passed.

“I have been more pained,” said she, “by her endeavours to acquit him than by all the rest; for it irritates her mind more than the most perfect conviction of his unworthiness can do. Now, though at first she will suffer much, I am sure she will soon become easier. Have you,” she continued, after a short silence, “ever seen Mr. Willoughby since you left him at Barton?”

“Yes,” he replied gravely, “once I have. One meeting was unavoidable.”

Colonel Brandon means by this that he and Willoughby fought a duel.

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying —

“What? have you met him to — “

“I could meet him in no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.”

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier, she presumed not to censure it.

“Such,” said Colonel Brandon, after a pause, “has been the unhappy resemblance between the fate of mother and daughter! and so imperfectly have I discharged my trust!”

“Is she still in town?”

“No; as soon as she recovered from her lying-in, for I found her near her delivery, I removed her and her child into the country, and there she remains.”

Recollecting, soon afterwards, that he was probably dividing Elinor from her sister, he put an end to his visit, receiving from her again the same grateful acknowledgments, and leaving her full of compassion and esteem for him.

Jane Austen continues to portray an upper-class society where the admirable and glossy façade does not match the reality. Supposedly, men protect ‘the weaker sex’ and treat them with gentleness, courtesy and chivalry. In reality, men frequently sideline or mistreat women or simply amuse themselves regardless of the cost to the woman. Colonel Brandon’s tale of the two Elizas illustrates the reality. The first Eliza was mistreated by her husband, the other exploited by Willoughby. The novel opened with the Dashwood women being financially sidelined by John Dashwood despite the desperate pleas of his dying father to protect his womenfolk, ‘to him Mr. Dashwood recommended with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.’ Willoughby, too, was reckless with Marianne’s reputation when he publically flouts the proprieties and behaves in a way that leads people to believe that their relationship has a serious intention. Of course, some men are always chivalrous: Colonel Brandon rescues both Elizas insofar as he can. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy goes out of his way to retrieve Lydia’s reputation.

Angela Leighton notes, ‘Austen’s purpose is not just to warn, or to emphasize Willoughby’s unregenerate nature; it is also to suggest another writing of Marianne’s story, for which her reader would have been prepared. As Marilyn Butler writes, “Mrs West, Mrs Hamilton, or the young Maria Edgeworth (all writers contemporary with Jane Austen) – would almost certainly have had Marianne seduced and killed off, after the errors of which she has been guilty”.
(Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, Clarendon Press,)

‘But an analogy between Marianne and the younger Eliza continues to link the two stories. Towards the end, the sight of Marianne laid low in sickness inevitably reminds Colonel Brandon yet again of “that resemblance between Marianne and Eliza already acknowledged, and now strengthened by the hollow eye, the sickly skin, the posture of reclining weakness, and the warm acknowledgement of peculiar obligation.” The figure of the fallen woman seems to haunt the imagination of Colonel Brandon…’
(‘Sense and Silences’ by Angela Leighton, from Jane Austen: New Perspectives ed Janet Todd, New York: Holmes, 1983)

And the figure of the fallen woman lies behind the story of Marianne as a possible story of her life from which she was mercifully preserved but to which another young woman succumbed. It also illustrates the dangers that unreliable young men posed to innocent young women and the reasons for the very strict rules that governed young people’s behaviour. There was no birth control; it was a strongly patriarchal society and the patrilineal ideal was paramount; if a young woman lost her reputation and became pregnant when she was not married, she was ostracised. Marianne did not flout the rules with the impunity that she imagined as this subplot makes clear.

Eric Eisner writes: ‘the unease and instability troubling Austen’s evocations of ordered social worlds—especially in the form of alternative or marginalized plotlines (for example, the doubled Elizas in Sense and Sensibility), or in occasions of suspense, where anxiety can be oppressively intense for characters and for the reader, and where deranging outcomes feel all too likely…. We could see the novels emphasizing forms of disconnection as much as forms of community.’
rc.umd.edu/pedagogies/commons/austen/pedagogies.commons Accessed 2 February 2017

An aspect or subplot that reflects an alternative route for the protagonist can be seen in other novels. Gilbert and Gubar note that, in Jane Eyre  (1847), Mrs Rochester is ‘in a sense her (Jane’s) own secret self’. Later in the same piece, they dub Mrs Rochester Jane’s ‘truest and darkest double.’
(The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Yale University, 1979)

Much earlier in the novel, Willoughby had implied that Colonel Brandon had served as an officer in the East in order to aggrandise himself. However, as Gillian Russell notes, ‘… as a younger son of a family whose estate is ‘much encumbered’ Brandon had little option but to pursue a military career. …For the Colonel himself, however, soldiering is associated with estrangement and suffering. While he was overseas with his regiment, his first love, Eliza, married against her will to Brandon’s brother, had fallen from virtue and it was ‘nearly three years’ before he could return to England to discover her on her death bed.’
(Gillian Russell, ‘The Army, the Navy and the Napoleonic Wars’ A Companion to Jane Austen edited by Claudia L Johnson and Clara Tuite, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Wiley-Blackwell 2012)

Chapters 32 and 33 (Volume II Chapters 10 and 11)

Chapter 32 Willoughby is married to Miss Grey. The Miss Steeles arrive in London.

Chapter 33 Elinor and Marianne visit the jeweller’s in Sackville Street.

After some opposition, Marianne yielded to her sister’s entreaties, and consented to go out with her and Mrs. Jennings one morning for half an hour. She expressly conditioned, however, for paying no visits, and would do no more than accompany them to Gray’s in Sackvill Street, where Elinor was carrying on a negociation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels of her mother.

Thomas Gray, a goldsmith and jeweller, had a shop at 41-2 Sackville Street, Piccadilly from about 1798 – 1825. As well as going there to buy jewellery or have a piece made up to your instructions, you could go to such a shop to have your jewels reset in a more fashionable, up-to-date style. However, it seems likely that Elinor was selling the jewels to raise a little money. Her relative poverty makes all the more conspicuous by contrast the arrogance and insensitivity of Robert Ferrars and John Dashwood in flaunting their wealth.

When they stopped at the door, Mrs. Jennings recollected that there was a lady at the other end of the street on whom she ought to call; and as she had no business at Gray’s, it was resolved, that while her young friends transacted their’s, she should pay her visit and return for them.

On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hopes of exciting his politeness to a quicker dispatch. (She hoped that he would get a move on.) But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, — all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, — he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion.

The young man giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself is revealed in a later chapter to be Robert Ferrars. His behaviour over the toothpick-case, his neglect of the two ladies waiting for him to finish his business, and the few ‘very broad stares’ that he gives them before he leaves the jewellers, are enough to give us a portrait of him. The stares are in fact an ‘impertinent examination of their features’. Austen describes him as having a correct eye and a ‘delicacy of … taste’ – praise that is wholly ironic since it is all focused on an unnecessary luxury item, a toothpick-case, and causes him to disregard Elinor and Marianne who are waiting for him to finish his perusal of ‘every toothpick-case in the shop’. Elinor remembers his face and appearance as one of ‘sterling insignificance’, a glorious oxymoron, since sterling means genuine or excellent. Sterling also refers to true worth of money, and since Robert Ferrars is extremely interested in money, it seems just the adjective for him.

Marianne was spared from the troublesome feelings of contempt and resentment, on this impertinent examination of their features, and on the puppyism of his manner in deciding on all the different horrors of the different toothpick-cases presented to his inspection, by remaining unconscious of it all; for she was as well able to collect her thoughts within herself, and be as ignorant of what was passing around her, in Mr. Gray’s shop, as in her own bed-room.


A very unusual George III Ivory and Gold Toothpick Case made, most probably in London, circa 1780


Georgian English Gold Mounted Ivory Toothpick Case c. 1820 England

At last the affair was decided. The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment, and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care, and bestowing another glance on the Miss Dashwoods, but such a one as seemed rather to demand than express admiration, walked off with an happy air of real conceit and affected indifference.

Austen’s holds the young man up to scorn. He cannot envisage that ‘his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case’ and the ridiculous exaggeration is offered for our scrutiny.

‘On the surface, this is too explicit for irony, which operates by stimulating the reader’s inferences, whereas Elinor’s contempt is made very clear. The real irony lies deep than her feeling. Robert Ferrars … is so sure of his importance and of the deep and favourable impression he must make on two pretty young women, whereas one is thoroughly despising him and the other does not notice him at all. Jane Austen is fatalistic about this sort of character; he will remain in his self-complacence all his life, because he is impervious to criticism from anyone except such as he supposes his superiors in his style of fashion – in other words, in his own compound of arrogance and triviality.’
(Christopher Gillie, A Preface to Jane Austen, Longman Group Ltd, 1985)

Elinor lost no time in bringing her business forward, and was on the point of concluding it, when another gentleman presented himself at her side. She turned her eyes towards his face, and found him with some surprise to be her brother.

Their affection and pleasure in meeting, was just enough to make a very creditable appearance in Mr. Gray’s shop. John Dashwood was really far from being sorry to see his sisters again; it rather gave them satisfaction; and his inquiries after their mother were respectful and attentive.

More appearance. First we had the insufferable Robert Ferrars demanding admiration of his fashionable attire. Now we have John Dashwood, pleased that meeting his sisters ‘make(s) a very creditable appearance in Mr. Gray’s shop.’

Elinor found that he and Fanny had been in town two days.

“I wished very much to call upon you yesterday,” said he, “but it was impossible, for we were obliged to take Harry to see the wild beasts at Exeter Exchange: and we spent the rest of the day with Mrs. Ferrars. Harry was vastly pleased. This morning I had fully intended to call on you, if I could possibly find a spare half-hour, but one has always so much to do on first coming to town. I am come here to bespeak Fanny a seal. But to-morrow I think I shall certainly be able to call in Berkeley Street, and be introduced to your friend Mrs. Jennings. I understand she is a woman of very good fortune. And the Middletons too, you must introduce me to them. As my mother-in-law’s relations, I shall be happy to shew them every respect. They are excellent neighbours to you in the country, I understand.”

Exeter Exchange was a menagerie in the Strand. The admission charge was very high, but of course John Dashwood can easily afford it. It is noticeable that family claims, other than those of his wife and small son, come a long way down his agenda. Young Harry had to go to the zoo and he has to go to the jewellers to have a seal ring specially made for his wife before he thinks of calling on his sisters. He wants to be introduced to Mrs Jennings because she ‘is a woman of very good fortune (very rich).’

I recommend this link to The Museum of London. It has ‘an unpublished diary by Elizabeth Chivers, a resident of Regency-era Bath. Elizabeth describes a whirlwind twenty-day family trip to London in spring 1814. Elizabeth, 28, and her sister Sarah, 26, seem to have visited almost every possible London landmark. We’ve transcribed her account and illustrated it with images of London from our collections.’

museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/

“Excellent indeed. Their attention to our comfort, their friendliness in every particular, is more than I can express.”

“I am extremely glad to hear it, upon my word; extremely glad indeed. But so it ought to be; they are people of large fortune, they are related to you, and every civility, and accommodation that can serve to make your situation pleasant, might be reasonably expected. And so you are most comfortably settled in your little cottage and want for nothing! Edward brought us a most charming account of the place; the most complete thing of its kind, he said, that ever was, and you all seemed to enjoy it beyond anything. It was a great satisfaction to us to hear it, I assure you.”

Again, John Dashwood equates money with manners. The time it is the Middletons, being ‘people of large fortune’, who in his mind are sure to look out for his sisters. An ironic logic, given his huge fortune and refusal to make a reasonable amount of it theirs. He covers any lingering twinges of conscience on his part by expatiating on his sisters being ‘most comfortably settled in your little cottage and want for nothing! Edward brought us a most charming account of the place; the most complete thing of its kind, he said, that ever was, and you all seemed to enjoy it beyond anything. It was a great satisfaction to us to hear it, I assure you’. His exaggeratedly cosy version of their relatively impoverished circumstances presumably serves to soothe any disquiet on his part. ‘… most comfortably settled … want (lack) for nothing! … a most charming account …. the most complete (perfect) thing … that ever was … you all .. enjoy(ed) it beyond anything.’ Elinor can read him like a book; she feels ‘a little ashamed of her brother’ and is glad not to have to answer him.

Elinor did feel a little ashamed of her brother; and was not sorry to be spared the necessity of answering him, by the arrival of Mrs. Jennings’s servant, who came to tell her that his mistress waited for them at the door.

Mr. Dashwood attended them down stairs, was introduced to Mrs. Jennings at the door of her carriage, and repeating his hope of being able to call on them the next day, took leave.

His visit was duly paid. He came with a pretence at an apology from their sister-in-law, for not coming too; “but she was so much engaged with her mother, that really she had no leisure for going any where.” Mrs. Jennings, however, assured him directly, that she should not stand upon ceremony, for they were all cousins, or something like it, and she should certainly wait on Mrs. John Dashwood very soon, and bring her sisters to see her. His manners to them, though calm, were perfectly kind; to Mrs. Jennings, most attentively civil; and on Colonel Brandon’s coming in soon after himself, he eyed him with a curiosity which seemed to say, that he only wanted to know him to be rich to be equally civil to him.

John Dashwood’s manners seem to escalate according to the wealth of the person he is meeting. He is ‘calm’ towards his sisters, ‘most attentively civil’ to Mrs Jennings, who he knows is rich, and ready to be all over Colonel Brandon like a rash the moment he discovers Brandon ‘to be rich’.

After staying with them half an hour, he asked Elinor to walk with him to Conduit Street, and introduce him to Sir John and Lady Middleton. The weather was remarkably fine, and she readily consented. As soon as they were out of the house, his enquiries began.

Social etiquette stipulates that John Dashwood cannot simply barge into the Middletons’ house and introduce himself; he has to be introduced to them by someone who already knows them, and this is why he asks Elinor to introduce him to Sir John and Lady Middleton.

“Who is Colonel Brandon? Is he a man of fortune?”

“Yes; he has very good property in Dorsetshire.”

“I am glad of it. He seems a most gentlemanlike man; and I think, Elinor, I may congratulate you on the prospect of a very respectable establishment in life.”

“Me, brother — what do you mean?”

“He likes you. I observed him narrowly, and am convinced of it. What is the amount of his fortune?”

“I believe about two thousand a-year.”

“Two thousand a-year;” and then working himself up to a pitch of enthusiastic generosity, he added:

“Elinor, I wish, with all my heart, it were twice as much, for your sake.”

“Indeed I believe you,” replied Elinor; “but I am very sure that Colonel Brandon has not the smallest wish of marrying me.”

The first question that John Dashwood puts to Elinor about Colonel Brandon is to ask whether he is ‘a man of fortune.’ Money is his only interest.

“You are mistaken, Elinor; you are very much mistaken. A very little trouble on your side secures him. Perhaps just at present he may be undecided; the smallness of your fortune may make him hang back; his friends may all advise him against it. But some of those little attentions and encouragements which ladies can so easily give, will fix him, in spite of himself. And there can be no reason why you should not try for him. It is not to be supposed that any prior attachment on your side — in short, you know as to an attachment of that kind, it is quite out of the question, the objections are insurmountable — you have too much sense not to see all that. Colonel Brandon must be the man; and no civility shall be wanting on my part, to make him pleased with you and your family. It is a match that must give universal satisfaction. In short, it is a kind of thing that” — lowering his voice to an important whisper — “will be exceedingly welcome to all parties.” Recollecting himself, however, he added, “That is, I mean to say — your friends are all truly anxious to see you well settled, Fanny particularly, for she has your interest very much at heart, I assure you. And her mother too, Mrs. Ferrars, a very good-natured woman, I am sure it would give her great pleasure; she said as much the other day.”

Elinor would not vouchsafe any answer.

John Dashwood’s remarks about marriage reveal that he sees it as a commodity, something that you can ‘secure’ for yourself with a little effort. (Though, to be fair, this is a view of marriage that is also embraced by Lucy Steele.) ‘A very little trouble on your side secures him,’ he tells Elinor, quite failing to notice that it is Marianne whom Colonel Brandon loves. Pursuing this theme, he advises Elinor: ‘little attentions and encouragements … will fix him. … there can be no reason why you should not try for him.’ He further insults Elinor by telling her that it would be ‘a match that must give universal satisfaction … to all parties’ by which he means his mother-in-law, who does not wish Elinor to marry her son Edward. Little does he know that Edward is engaged to Lucy. The preposterous nature of the idea that Elinor would marry Colonel Brandon in order to please Mrs Ferrars seems not to have occurred to him.

John Dashwood’s idea of sense emerges. ‘It is not to be supposed that any prior attachment on your side — in short, you know as to an attachment of that kind, it is quite out of the question, the objections are insurmountable — you have too much sense not to see all that. Colonel Brandon must be the man; and no civility shall be wanting on my part, to make him pleased with you and your family.’ First he dismisses Elinor’s attachment to Edward: ‘the objections are insurmountable’; then he tells her that she has too much sense not to realise that an attachment to Edward is unthinkable. The ‘objections’ are not explicitly specified but they are, of course, money. Elinor is not rich, and money is what matters. ‘Sense’ is defined as paying attention to money. Feelings are not merely disregarded but have no place at all in the world of sense. As, unfortunately, John Dashwood illustrated in the second chapter of the novel, where ‘sense’ prevailed and his step-mother and half-sisters were sent away without feeling and without much money.

“It would be something remarkable now,” he continued, “something droll, if Fanny should have a brother and I a sister settling at the same time. And yet it is not very unlikely.”

“Is Mr. Edward Ferrars,” said Elinor with resolution, “going to be married?”

“It is not actually settled, but there is such a thing in agitation. He has a most excellent mother. Mrs. Ferrars, with the utmost liberality, will come forward, and settle on him a thousand a-year, if the match takes place. The lady is the Hon. Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton, with thirty thousand pounds. A very desirable connection on both sides, and I have not a doubt of its taking place in time. A thousand a-year is a great deal for a mother to give away, to make over for ever; but Mrs. Ferrars has a noble spirit. To give you another instance of her liberality: — The other day, as soon as we came to town, aware that money could not be very plenty with us just now, she put bank-notes into Fanny’s hands to the amount of two hundred pounds. And extremely acceptable it is, for we must live at a great expense while we are here.”

He paused for her assent and compassion; and she forced herself to say —

“Your expenses both in town and country must certainly be considerable, but your income is a large one.”

So Mrs Ferrars plans that Edward shall marry the heiress, ‘the Hon Miss Morton, only daughter of the Late Lord Morton, with thirty thousand pounds.’ John Dashwood is not the only person to view marriage as a financial transaction. In the same paragraph – for this is the way John Dashwood’s mind works and the paragraph is entirely about money, not about relationships – we learn that Mrs Ferrars has given him and his wife £200 in bank notes to cover their expenses while they are in London. This is equivalent to something of the order of £14,000 now (2017).

Elinor doesn’t allow him to get away with his complaint ‘that money could not be very plenty with us just now’. She tells him, ‘your income is a large one.’ He pays no attention.

“Not so large, I dare say, as many people suppose. I do not mean to complain, however; it is undoubtedly a comfortable one, and I hope, will in time be better. The inclosure of Norland Common, now carrying on, is a most serious drain. And then I have made a little purchase within this half year — East Kingham Farm, you must remember the place, where old Gibson used to live. The land was so very desirable for me in every respect, so immediately adjoining my own property, that I felt it my duty to buy it. I could not have answered it to my conscience to let it fall into any other hands. A man must pay for his convenience, and it has cost me a vast deal of money.”

“More than you think it really and intrinsically worth.”

“Why, I hope not that. I might have sold it again the next day, for more than I gave: but with regard to the purchase-money, I might have been very unfortunate indeed; for the stocks were at that time so low, that if I had not happened to have the necessary sum in my banker’s hands, I must have sold out to very great loss.”

Elinor could only smile.

The ‘inclosure of Norland Common’ that is such a ‘serious drain’ on John Dashwood’s purse would refer to the enclosure of common land with fences or walls. In this way, landowners claimed as their own private property, land which had hitherto been used by everybody in the community. Such enclosure was frequently carried out in the late eighteenth century, and led to considerable poverty for the rural workers who had been accustomed to pasture their animals on land that was now taken away from them. Goldsmith writes about this in ‘The Deserted Village’ (1770).

John Dashwood’s explanation of another expense incurred recently does not add up. ‘And then I have made a little purchase within this half year — East Kingham Farm, you must remember the place, where old Gibson used to live. The land was so very desirable for me in every respect, so immediately adjoining my own property, that I felt it my duty to buy it. I could not have answered it to my conscience to let it fall into any other hands. A man must pay for his convenience, and it has cost me a vast deal of money’. If it is ‘a little purchase’ then surely it cannot have cost him ‘a vast deal of money.’ Of course, calling it ‘a little purchase’ helps him to account to Elinor for his having acquired the farm, and also helps him to square it with his conscience. Presumably it is the conscience that dictates his subsequent explanation. (A) ‘The land was so very desirable for me in every respect’, (B) ‘so immediately adjoining my own property,’ and therefore (C) ‘I felt it my duty to buy it.’ And, underlining (C) ‘I could not have answered it to my conscience to let it fall into any other hands (ownership)’. Thus he acquits himself of greed.

Elinor trips him up with a verbal squib that shows she knows exactly what he is doing and how he is deceiving himself but not her. ‘More than you think it really and intrinsically worth.’ He has to admit that this is not the case, thus admitting the falsity of everything he has just said.

“Other great and inevitable expenses too we have had on first coming to Norland. Our respected father, as you well know, bequeathed all the Stanhill effects (movable property) that remained at Norland (and very valuable they were) to your mother. Far be it from me to repine (be discontented) at his doing so; he had an undoubted right to dispose of his own property as he chose. But, in consequence of it, we have been obliged to make large purchases of linen, china, etc., to supply the place of what was taken away. You may guess, after all these expenses, how very far we must be from being rich, and how acceptable Mrs. Ferrars’s kindness is.”

“Certainly,” said Elinor; “and assisted by her liberality (generosity), I hope you may yet live to be in easy circumstances.”

Another verbal squib from Elinor: ‘I hope you may yet live ….’. John Dashwood is oblivious; his response is ‘grave’ (serious) as he outlines yet more expenditure on luxuries that are designed to display his importance to the social world.

“Another year or two may do much towards it,” he gravely replied; “but however there is still a great deal to be done. There is not a stone laid of Fanny’s greenhouse, and nothing but the plan of the flower-garden marked out.”

“Where is the greenhouse to be?”

“Upon the knoll behind the house. The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for it. It will be a very fine object from many parts of the park, and the flower-garden will slope down just before it, and be exceedingly pretty. We have cleared away all the old thorns that grew in patches over the brow.”

Greenhouses were very popular at the time of Sense and Sensibility. Edward Copeland’s editorial note in the CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility reads: ‘the showy expense of Fanny’s greenhouse, which contrasts ironically with John’s pleas of poverty, also contrast sharply with the ideology of the picturesque landscape so close to Marianne’s heart. ‘Every graceless hand can fell a tree’ writes Gilpin in Forest Scenery (1791) (vol. 1, p. 305)’.
(Sense and Sensibility edited by Edward Copeland, CUP, 2006)

Elinor kept her concern and her censure to herself; and was very thankful that Marianne was not present, to share the provocation.

Having now said enough to make his poverty clear, and to do away the necessity of buying a pair of ear-rings for each of his sisters, in his next visit at Gray’s, his thoughts took a cheerfuller turn, and he began to congratulate Elinor on having such a friend as Mrs. Jennings.

“She seems a most valuable woman indeed. Her house, her style of living, all bespeak an exceeding good income, and it is an acquaintance that has not only been of great use to you hitherto, but in the end may prove materially advantageous. Her inviting you to town is certainly a vast thing in your favour; and indeed, it speaks altogether so great a regard for you, that in all probability when she dies you will not be forgotten. She must have a great deal to leave.”

John Dashwood’s verdict on Mrs Jennings is couched entirely in terms of finance, starting with his presumably unconscious use of the adjective ‘valuable’ in describing her. (‘Valuable’ applied to a person actually means ‘entitled to consideration or distinction; worthy, estimable’. Oxford English Dictionary) He has summed up ‘her house’ and ‘her style of living’ and found that they add up to ‘an exceeding good income’ which he hopes ‘may prove materially (financially) advantageous’ to his sisters. He then looks ahead to Mrs Jennings’ death and bequests, possibly leaving some money to Elinor and Marianne: ‘in all probability when she dies you will not be forgotten.’ It seems a scarcely credible way of appraising other people. But then, John Dashwood’s definition of ‘worthy’ means simply, what a person is worth (financially). Not ‘worth’ as in merit or virtue or goodness.

“Nothing at all, I should rather suppose; for she has only her jointure, which will descend to her children.”

“But it is not to be imagined that she lives up to her income. Few people of common prudence will do that; and whatever she saves, she will be able to dispose of.”

“And do you not think it more likely that she should leave it to her daughters, than to us?”

“Her daughters are both exceedingly well married, and therefore I cannot perceive the necessity of her remembering them farther. Whereas, in my opinion, by her taking so much notice of you, and treating you in this kind of way, she has given you a sort of claim on her future consideration, which a conscientious woman would not disregard. Nothing can be kinder than her behaviour; and she can hardly do all this, without being aware of the expectation she raises.”

“But she raises none in those most concerned. Indeed, brother, your anxiety for our welfare and prosperity carries you too far.”

Again, Elinor censures her half-brother (the first time she told him he had a lot of money!). This time she tells him his imagination is outrunning reason in the matter of who Mrs Jennings leaves her money to.

“Why to be sure,” said he, seeming to recollect himself, “people have little, have very little in their power. But, my dear Elinor, what is the matter with Marianne? — she looks very unwell, has lost her colour, and is grown quite thin. Is she ill?”

“She is not well, she has had a nervous complaint on her for several weeks.”

“I am sorry for that. At her time of life, anything of an illness destroys the bloom for ever! (‘bloom’ means ‘State of greatest beauty or loveliness’ – Oxford English Dictionary) Hers has been a very short one! She was as handsome a girl last September as any I ever saw, and as likely to attract the men. There was something in her style of beauty, to please them particularly. I remember Fanny used to say that she would marry sooner and better than you did; not but what she is exceedingly fond of you— but so it happened to strike her. She will be mistaken, however. I question whether Marianne now, will marry a man worth more than five or six hundred a-year, at the utmost, and I am very much deceived if you do not do better. Dorsetshire! I know very little of Dorsetshire, but, my dear Elinor, I shall be exceedingly glad to know more of it; and I think I can answer for your having Fanny and myself among the earliest and best pleased of your visitors.”

For John, Marianne’s bloom, or loveliness, is simply a commodity, something that would ‘attract the men’ and fetch her a rich man. Now she is, he thinks, unlikely to ‘marry a man worth more than five or six hundred pounds a-year at the utmost.’

Elinor tried very seriously to convince him that there was no likelihood of her marrying Colonel Brandon; but it was an expectation of too much pleasure to himself to be relinquished, and he was really resolved on seeking an intimacy with that gentleman, and promoting the marriage by every possible attention. He had just compunction enough for having done nothing for his sisters himself, to be exceedingly anxious that everybody else should do a great deal; and an offer from Colonel Brandon, or a legacy from Mrs. Jennings, was the easiest means of atoning for his own neglect.

So now we know why John Dashwood wants Mrs Jennings to leave his sisters money in her will, and Colonel Brandon to marry one of them – he thinks Elinor will be the one. ‘ … an offer from Colonel Brandon, or a legacy from Mrs. Jennings, was the easiest means of atoning for his own neglect’ (of Elinor and Marianne).

They were lucky enough to find Lady Middleton at home, and Sir John came in before their visit ended. Abundance of civilities passed on all sides. Sir John was ready to like anybody, and though Mr. Dashwood did not seem to know much about horses, he soon set him down as a very good-natured fellow: while Lady Middleton saw enough of fashion in his appearance to think his acquaintance worth having; and Mr. Dashwood went away delighted with both.

“I shall have a charming account to carry to Fanny,” said he, as he walked back with his sister. “Lady Middleton is really a most elegant woman! Such a woman as I am sure Fanny will be glad to know. And Mrs. Jennings too, an exceeding well-behaved woman, though not so elegant as her daughter. Your sister need not have any scruple (hesitation, doubt) even of visiting her, which, to say the truth, has been a little the case, and very naturally; for we only knew that Mrs. Jennings was the widow of a man who had got all his money in a low way (he means in trade); and Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars were both strongly prepossessed (inclined to think) that neither she nor her daughters were such kind of women as Fanny would like to associate with. But now I can carry her a most satisfactory account of both.”

Chapter 34 (Volume II, Chapter 12)

John and Fanny Dashwood give a grand dinner party. The guests include Elinor and Marianne, Mrs Jennings, Mrs Ferrars, the Middletons, the Steeles and Colonel Brandon.

Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband’s judgment that she waited the very next day both on Mrs. Jennings and her daughter; and her confidence was rewarded by finding even the former, even the woman with whom her sisters were staying, by no means unworthy her notice; and as for Lady Middleton, she found her one of the most charming women in the world!

Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood. There was a kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanour (outward behaviour), and a general want of understanding.

Jane Austen is very explicit here: she simply tells us that what Lady Middleton and Mrs Dashwood have in common is ‘an insipid propriety of demeanour, and a general want (lack) of understanding.’ She could scarcely be more damning.

The same manners however, which recommended Mrs. John Dashwood to the good opinion of Lady Middleton, did not suit the fancy of Mrs. Jennings, and to her she appeared nothing more than a little proud-looking woman of uncordial address, who met her husband’s sisters without any affection, and almost without having anything to say to them; for of the quarter of an hour bestowed on Berkeley Street, she sat at least seven minutes and a half in silence.

Mrs Jennings, who at the beginning of the novel seemed insensitive and somewhat vulgar, has for some time been shown to be warm-hearted and generous towards Elinor and Marianne. Her opinion of Fanny Dashwood née Ferrars endorses that of Elinor, Marianne and their mother. Mrs Jennings finds Fanny Dashwood to be ‘a little proud-looking woman of uncordial address, who met her husband’s sisters without any affection, and almost without having anything to say to them’. Mrs Jennings notices what Fanny Dashwood is ‘without’; and what she has is hardly any better, for it is simply ‘uncordial (not affectionate) address (manner of speaking / conversation)‘. For half the quarter of an hour that an introductory visit should last, Fanny Dashwood sits in silence.

Elinor wanted very much to know, though she did not chuse to ask, whether Edward was then in town; but nothing would have induced Fanny voluntarily to mention his name before her, till able to tell her that his marriage with Miss Morton was resolved on, or till her husband’s expectations on Colonel Brandon were answered; because she believed them still so very much attached to each other, that they could not be too sedulously divided in word and deed on every occasion.

It must have been difficult to find anything to say. Most topics have an embargo on them and Fanny Dashwood spends half the time in silence. Elinor cannot ask her whether Edward has come to London with his sister and Fanny will not raise the topic. Indeed, Austen tells us, Fanny would not have mentioned Edward to Elinor unless he had been safely engaged to the rich Miss Morton or unless Elinor had been safely engaged to Colonel Brandon (as John Dashwood supposed was imminent). Fanny believes that Edward is still very fond of Elinor and therefore she sees it as incumbent upon herself to ensure that they are ‘sedulously (most carefully) divided in word and deed on every occasion.’

The intelligence however, which she would not give, soon flowed from another quarter. Lucy came very shortly to claim Elinor’s compassion on being unable to see Edward, though he had arrived in town with Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood. He dared not come to Bartlett’s Buildings for fear of detection, and though their mutual impatience to meet was not to be told, they could do nothing at present but write.

Edward assured them himself of his being in town, within a very short time, by twice calling in Berkeley Street. Twice was his card found on the table, when they returned from their morning’s engagements. Elinor was pleased that he had called, and still more pleased that she had missed him.

Edward has not been to visit his fiancée, Lucy, at Bartlett’s Buildings. But he calls twice on Elinor and Marianne, although they are out on each occasion, and leaves his visiting card. He evidently wants to see Elinor a good deal more than he wishes to see his betrothed.

The Dashwoods were so prodigiously delighted with the Middletons, that though not much in the habit of giving anything, they determined to give them a dinner, and soon after their acquaintance began, invited them to dine in Harley Street, where they had taken a very good house for three months. Their sisters and Mrs. Jennings were invited likewise, and John Dashwood was careful to secure Colonel Brandon, who, always glad to be where the Miss Dashwoods were, received his eager civilities with some surprise, but much more pleasure. They were to meet Mrs. Ferrars; but Elinor could not learn whether her sons were to be of the party. The expectation of seeing her, however, was enough to make her interested in the engagement; for though she could now meet Edward’s mother without that strong anxiety which had once promised to attend such an introduction, though she could now see her with perfect indifference as to her opinion of herself, her desire of being in company with Mrs. Ferrars, her curiosity to know what she was like, was as lively as ever.

Edward Copeland, editor of the CUP edition of Sense and Sensibility, notes that Harley-street is ‘a revealing address located in a newly developed area north of Oxford Street, considered in the Regency to attract social climbers and arrivistes.’

The interest with which she thus anticipated the party, was soon afterwards increased, more powerfully than pleasantly, by her hearing that the Miss Steeles were also to be at it.

So well had they recommended themselves to Lady Middleton, so agreeable had their assiduities (close attention, flattery) made them to her, that though Lucy was certainly not elegant, and her sister not even genteel, she was as ready as Sir John to ask them to spend a week or two in Conduit Street: and it happened to be particularly convenient to the Miss Steeles, as soon as the Dashwoods’ invitation was known, that their visit should begin a few days before the party took place.

Their claims to the notice of Mrs. John Dashwood, as the nieces of the gentleman who for many years had had the care of her brother, might not have done much, however, towards procuring them seats at her table; but as Lady Middleton’s guests they must be welcome; and Lucy, who had long wanted to be personally known to the family, to have a nearer view of their characters and her own difficulties, and to have an opportunity of endeavouring to please them, had seldom been happier in her life than she was on receiving Mrs. John Dashwood’s card.

You can see here how eager Lucy is to climb in the social world. ‘Lucy was certainly not elegant, and her sister not even genteel’ but the sisters have recommended themselves to Lady Middletown through their flattery. They want to begin their stay with the Middletons absolutely as soon as possible. ‘It happened to be particularly convenient to the Miss Steeles … that their visit should begin a few days before the party took place.’ The next paragraph makes their social ascent and reason for staying with Lady Middleton even clearer. They can wangle an invitation to Mrs John Dashwood’s dinner as the guests of Lady Middleton, when they can’t do so as the nieces of Edward’s sometime tutor, Mr Pratt. ‘Their claims to the notice of Mrs. John Dashwood, as the nieces of the gentleman who for many years had had the care of her brother, might not have done much, however, towards procuring them seats at her table; but as Lady Middleton’s guests they must be welcome.’

Thus it is that Lucy ‘had seldom been happier in her life than she was on receiving Mrs. John Dashwood’s card (that is, invitation to the grand dinner party she is giving). Happiness for Lucy is an invitation to a grand upper middle class dinner party.

By contrast, we are shown Elinor’s reactions to the Steele sisters being invited to her half-brother’s dinner party. She imagines that she will see Edward and Lucy together, and ‘she hardly knew how she could bear it!’

On Elinor its effect was very different. She began immediately to determine that Edward, who lived with his mother, must be asked, as his mother was, to a party given by his sister; and to see him for the first time after all that [had] passed, in the company of Lucy! — she hardly knew how she could bear it!

These apprehensions perhaps were not founded entirely on reason, and certainly not at all on truth. They were relieved however, not by her own recollection, but by the good will of Lucy, who believed herself to be inflicting a severe disappointment when she told her that Edward certainly would not be in Harley Street on Tuesday, and even hoped to be carrying the pain still farther by persuading her, that he was kept away by that extreme affection for herself, which he could not conceal when they were together.

Lucy loses no opportunity to make her great friend Elinor miserable. ‘Lucy … believed herself to be inflicting a severe disappointment when she told her (Elinor) that Edward certainly would not be in Harley Street on Tuesday, and even hoped to be carrying the pain still farther by persuading her (Elinor), that he was kept away by that extreme affection for herself, which he could not conceal when they were together.

The important Tuesday came that was to introduce the two young ladies to this formidable mother-in-law.

“Pity me, dear Miss Dashwood!” said Lucy, as they walked up the stairs together — for the Middletons arrived so directly after Mrs. Jennings, that they all followed the servant at the same time — “There is nobody here but you, that can feel for me. I declare I can hardly stand. Good gracious! — In a moment I shall see the person that all my happiness depends on — that is to be my mother!” —

Lucy has frequently declared that her happiness depends on Edward. However, she now, probably rather more truthfully, tells Elinor (in secret, since only Elinor knows of the engagement between her and Edward) that her happiness depends on Edward’s mother. After all, if Edward’s mother dislikes her, she will do her best to break the engagement. Lucy does not know what Elinor’s half-brother John has told Elinor: that Mrs Ferrars is thinking of arranging a marriage between Edward and the rich and titled Miss Morton (heiress to £30,000).

Elinor could have given her immediate relief by suggesting the possibility of its being Miss Morton’s mother, rather than her own, whom they were about to behold; but instead of doing that, she assured her, and with great sincerity, that she did pity her, — to the utter amazement of Lucy, who, though really uncomfortable herself, hoped at least to be an object of irrepressible envy to Elinor.

In other words, Elinor knows that Mrs Ferrars may well become Miss Morton’s mother-in-law, not Lucy’s. Elinor’s unruffled calm in the face of Lucy’s hopes punctures Lucy’s aim of upsetting Elinor. Lucy had ‘hoped at least to be an object of irrepressible envy to Elinor.’

Mrs. Ferrars was a little, thin woman, upright, even to formality, in her figure, and serious, even to sourness, in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow (an unhealthy yellow): and her features small, without beauty, and naturally without expression: but a lucky (fortunate) contraction of the brow (permanent frown across her forehead) had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity (lack of character), by giving it the strong characters (qualities, marks) of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words: for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas (she was stupid); and of the few syllables that did escape her, not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she eyed with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events.

Austen here illustrates her talent for the ironically inappropriate word, a technique she uses more subtly in later novels. She describes the feature in Mrs Ferrars’ face that rescues it from insipidity as ‘lucky’, when a permanent frown is certainly not that. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas correctly perceives the unprepossessing Mr Collins as a potential husband. Seeing him from her window, she therefore sets out to meet him ‘accidentally’ in the lane; the clash between ‘set out’ and ‘accidentally’ providing the irony, and ‘accidentally’ describing the way in which their meeting will appear to Mr Collins who would not wish his future bride to behave in an indecorous fashion. In so many ways, Sense and Sensibility is an experiment for characters and characteristics of style that will appear in more polished form in later novels.

It is hard to see how this description could be bettered in its portrayal of Mrs Ferrars’ unpleasantness.

Mrs. Ferrars was a little, thin woman,
upright, even to formality, in her figure, and
serious, even to sourness, in her aspect (appearance, face).
Austen has set this description of Mrs Ferrars out in stiff short sections that seem to me to reflect Mrs Ferrars’ approach to life. It’s all very exact. She is not a ‘thin little woman’ but a ‘little, comma, thin woman’. The next two phrases are structured in an exactly similar way
upright, even to formality, in her figure, and
serious, even to sourness, in her aspect.
There is no verb in them; in fact, the only verb in the sentence is ‘was’, a dull, insipid verb with no energy in it to propel the sentence forwards. Mrs Ferrars is too consumed by uprightness and seriousness / sourness to be energetic. Austen draws our attention to the key words in the phrases through alliteration: ‘formality’ and ‘figure’; ‘serious’ and ‘sourness’. In addition, ‘serious’ and ‘sourness’ are linked by their consonance and, through the sour little hissing sibilants, to ‘aspect’. The fussy pettiness is perhaps suggested through the repeated tutting little ts: ‘upright’, ‘formality’, ‘aspect’. Even if Austen didn’t intend this, the general impression is given of extreme sourness, like a fruit you don’t want to eat.

Anthony Mandal observes that, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr Collins’s ‘ “manners were very formal” – a clear adumbration (indication) of his own psychological calcification’. Presumably, Mrs Ferrars’s formal uprightness indicates something similar; she has very few ideas and seemingly a fixedness of mind.

The next sentence is just as bad. It focuses primarily on Mrs Ferrars’s face and expression.
Her complexion was sallow (an unhealthy yellow): and
her features small,
without beauty, and naturally
without expression:
Here again Austen has highlighted ‘sallow’ and ‘small’ through the alliterated s and the repeated ll. Mrs Ferrars’s defects in the matter of beauty and expression are similarly highlighted by the repeated ‘without’. Again, there is no verb except the minimal ‘was’, and Mrs Ferrars’s sallow skin and lack of expression make you wonder if she is alive at all, or merely animated by clockwork.

The sentence continues:
but a lucky (fortunate) contraction of the brow (frown)
had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity,
by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature.
The one feature that brings this clockwork doll to life, and thus rescues it, says Austen ironically, is a ‘contraction of the brow’ that gives Mrs Ferrars’s countenance ‘strong characters of pride and ill-nature.’ Suddenly the waxwork comes to life with a frown of pride and ill-nature. The verb ‘rescue’ replaces all the times when the only verb was ‘was’. The irony works even more strongly because the rescue is from ‘the disgrace of insipidity.’ Disgrace is usually a moral term; here it is applied to a face without character, so it only refers to appearance. It therefore suggests that this is as deep as Mrs Ferrars’s application of morals gets: appearance. Anthony Mandal remarks on Austen’s way of using ‘disjunction (lack of consistency) to subvert (undermine) meaning and generate ironic gaps between appearance and reality, between the linguistic surface of statements and the moral substance of them.’
‘Language’ by Anthony Mandal, from Jane Austen in Context edited by Janet Todd, CUP, 2005)

Elinor could not now be made unhappy by this behaviour. A few months ago it would have hurt her exceedingly; but it was not in Mrs. Ferrars’s power to distress her by it now; and the difference of her manners to the Miss Steeles — a difference which seemed purposely made to humble her more — only amused her. She could not but smile to see the graciousness of both mother and daughter towards the very person — for Lucy was particularly distinguished — whom of all others, had they known as much as she did, they would have been most anxious to mortify; while she herself, who had comparatively no power to wound them, sat pointedly slighted by both. But while she smiled at a graciousness so misapplied, she could not reflect on the mean-spirited folly from which it sprung, nor observe the studied attentions with which the Miss Steeles courted its continuance, without thoroughly despising them all four.

As always, we see the situation from Elinor’s point of view. Mrs Ferrars distinguishes, that is, pays particular attention to Lucy. If only Mrs Ferrars knew that Lucy was engaged to her son, she would have been anxious to ‘mortify’ (humiliate, embarrass) her. Instead, Mrs Ferrars slights (treats without respect, insults) Elinor who has little power to make Mrs Ferrars’ life difficult. However, Mrs Ferrars’ mind is full of the idea that Edward loves Elinor, who is not rich enough to impress Mrs Ferrars, hence she slights Elinor. The further irony, eventually revealed at the end of the novel, is that Mrs Ferrars is right: Edward does love Elinor, and Mrs Ferrars is correct in insulting the young woman she considers not good enough for her son.

Mrs Ferrars, Fanny Dashwood and the Steele sisters must be some of the most unpleasant characters in Austen’s novels, although Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park is worse than all. In Emma, for example, Austen focuses more on the comedy than the unpleasantness of people such as Mrs Elton. And she is more interested in the emotional and moral education of Lizzy Bennet and of Emma, so that they would not be allowed thoroughly to despise as Elinor does here even such obnoxious characters as Mrs Ferrars and Fanny, Miss Steele and Lucy.

Lucy was all exultation on being so honourably distinguished; and Miss Steele wanted only to be teazed about Dr. Davis to be perfectly happy.

The dinner was a grand one, the servants were numerous, and everything bespoke the Mistress’s inclination for shew (display), and the Master’s ability to support it. In spite of the improvements and additions which were making to the Norland estate, and in spite of its owner having once been within some thousand pounds of being obliged to sell out at a loss, nothing gave any symptom of that indigence (poverty) which he had tried to infer from it; no poverty of any kind, except of conversation, appeared — but there, the deficiency was considerable. John Dashwood had not much to say for himself that was worth hearing, and his wife had still less. But there was no peculiar disgrace in this, for it was very much the case with the chief (most) of their visitors, who almost all laboured under (suffered from) one or other of these disqualifications for being agreeable — want (lack) of sense, either natural or improved, want of elegance, want of spirits, or want of temper.

Here is yet another scene in upper middle class society where enjoyment of any kind is conspicuously lacking. Just as the smart party at which Willoughby was present was described as insufferable, so, it seems is this. There is considerable poverty of conversation (shortly to be illustrated in the topic chosen of whose small son is taller) and of any chance of being agreeable, since hardly anyone has any sense, elegance, spirits or good temper.

Jane Austen here draws to our attention the concepts of riches and poverty, but she applies the concepts in a way that highlights the stupidity of the rich. First she teases the John Dashwoods. He has been telling Elinor of the near loss that threatened him, and the indigence staring him in the face as a result of all the improvements and additions he was making to Norland. The grand dinner, says Austen, demonstrates his ability to support the show he is putting on. However, having raised the spectre of poverty, she notes that it is present in the conversation. At this point, the words ‘not much … that was worth (a word concerned with value) … still less’ enter the description of the conversation. By the end of the paragraph, the word ‘want’ (meaning lack, but also with a monetary meaning of penury or destitution) takes over: ‘want of sense, either natural or improved, want of elegance, want of spirits, or want of temper.’ John Dashwood thought himself to be verging on indigence, and so he was, but it was in the sense of intelligence and pleasantness, not finance.

When the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room after dinner, this poverty was particularly evident, for the gentlemen had supplied the discourse with some variety — the variety of politics, inclosing land, and breaking horses — but then it was all over, and one subject only engaged the ladies till coffee came in, which was the comparative heights of Harry Dashwood, and Lady Middleton’s second son William, who were nearly of the same age.

Had both the children been there, the affair might have been determined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only was present, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides, and everybody had a right to be equally positive in their opinion, and to repeat it over and over again as often as they liked.

The parties stood thus:

The two mothers, though each really convinced that her own son was the tallest, politely decided in favour of the other.

The two grandmothers, with not less partiality, but more sincerity, were equally earnest in support of their own descendant.

Lucy, who was hardly less anxious to please one parent than the other, thought the boys were both remarkably tall for their age, and could not conceive that there could be the smallest difference in the world between them; and Miss Steele, with yet greater address, gave it, as fast as she could, in favour of each.

Elinor, having once delivered her opinion on William’s side, by which she offended Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny still more, did not see the necessity of enforcing it by any farther assertion; and Marianne, when called on for hers, offended them all by declaring that she had no opinion to give, as she had never thought about it.

A barren topic of conversation, whose son is taller, is rendered yet more uncomfortable by Mrs Ferrars and Fanny’s reactions to Elinor’s and Marianne’s contributions. Lucy cleverly steers clear of trouble by saying they are both remarkably tall. Miss Steele fibs, by saying that both are taller. The truth, offered by Elinor, is offensive, and a lack of interest (equally truthful though hardly diplomatic) offered by Marianne offends everyone.

So the conversation moves to the next offensive topic.

Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing room; and these screens, catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel Brandon for his admiration.

John Dashwood is still convinced that Colonel Brandon is the man for Elinor, hence his handing Colonel Brandon the pretty screens Elinor has painted for Fanny. A screen is a ‘frame covered with paper or cloth, or a disk or plate of thin wood, cardboard, etc. (often decorated with painting or embroidery) with a handle by which a person may hold it between his face and the fire.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

“These are done by my eldest sister,” said he; “and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well.”

This is not about the screens or whether Colonel Brandon has an interest in screens, but all about advertising Elinor’s worth as a future wife. John Dashwood is doing his best for Elinor (presumably the more so because her marriage to a reasonably wealthy man would absolve him from the sin of failing to provide for her and her family. If she were to marry Colonel Brandon, his would become the duty of providing for the Dashwood women.).

The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood; and the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor’s work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received the gratifying testimony of Lady Middleton’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her at the same time, that they were done by Miss Dashwood.

“Hum” — said Mrs. Ferrars — “very pretty,” — and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.

This is presumably Mrs Ferrars’ and Fanny’s insulting riposte to Marianne’s remark that she had not considered the relative heights of the Middleton and Dashwood children. Fanny ‘considerately’ informs her mother that Elinor painted the screens – that’s to say, bitchily did so, to prompt her mother to dislike the screens and through them, their creator. ‘Considerately’ is entirely ironic on Austen’s part and also sarcastic (a word derived from the Greek, meaning tearing flesh).

The brief paragraph describing the handing around of Elinor’s screens gives us everybody’s different reactions to them and the different reactions reflect each person’s character. Colonel Brandon, modest about his qualifications in the matter of admiring screens, warmly admires them because they have been painted by Elinor. This displays his affectionate nature. Everyone else immediately wants to see the screens that have excited this admiration, and they next receive ‘the gratifying testimony of Lady Middleton’s approbation’. As Lady Middleton has demonstrated her coldness and mindlessness throughout the novel, the word ‘gratifying’ is meaningless. What sort of person would find her approval ‘gratifying’? Only someone as mindless as herself, which certainly includes neither Elinor nor Marianne. The premise underlying any notion that Lady Middleton’s approbation is gratifying is that the praise of a titled young woman must be pleasing. Title equals importance. Fanny tells her mother that the screens were painted by Elinor, thus ensuring the opposite of Colonel Brandon’s admiration for them. Mrs Ferrars’ dislike of Elinor extends to anything she has done, just as Colonel Brandon’s admiration for Elinor extends to anything she has done. Conversely, Mrs Ferrars’ desire that her eldest son marry the heiress Miss Morton extends to praise of anything Miss Morton has done, hence, ‘But she does everything well.’

Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough, — for, colouring (blushing) a little, she immediately said,

“They are very pretty, ma’am — an’t they?” But then again, the dread of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came over her, for she presently added,

“Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton’s style of painting, ma’am? She does paint most delightfully. How beautifully her last landscape is done!”

“Beautifully indeed! But she does everything well.”

‘Perhaps Fanny thought ….’. Or ‘perhaps’ that wasn’t her motive at all. Austen reveals with exactness the agony of the stabbing that can be meted out under the guise of polite conversation. Fanny is here prompting her mother to think of Miss Morton, the heiress favoured for Edward, knowing that her mother will say something that reflects unfavourably upon Elinor. And reminding Elinor that she is not the young woman Mrs Ferrars wants for her son. However, the irony rebounds upon Mrs Ferrars, who is occupied in insulting Elinor, in ignorance of the fact that it is Lucy who is her son’s fiancée.

Marianne could not bear this. She was already greatly displeased with Mrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor’s expense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meant by it, provoked her immediately to say with warmth,

“This is admiration of a very particular kind! — what is Miss Morton to us? Who knows or who cares for her? It is Elinor of whom we think and speak.”

And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-in-law’s hands to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.

Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more stiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic (bitter attack): “Miss Morton is Lord Morton’s daughter.”

A perfect illustration of very different values: Mrs Ferrars values Miss Morton’s aristocratic birth and her considerable fortune of £30,000. Marianne loves her sister. Mrs Ferrars and Fanny both look very angry because their values have been attacked in a very direct way. Marianne disregards the social conventions and says it as it is: ‘What is Miss Morton to us? Who knows or who cares for her? It is Elinor of whom we think and speak.’ Although this angers Mrs Ferrars, it endears Marianne all the more to Colonel Brandon, who is contrasted to the Ferrars family in his reactions.

Mrs Ferrars is also angry because she loves power (as she illustrates later in her random disinheriting and reinstating of her sons). This drawing-room scene is in effect a little court, with Mrs Ferrars as absolute monarch and the others, courtiers who should be ‘anxious to please’ as Lucy Steele is. Mrs Ferrars has just exercised her power very publicly and spitefully to humiliate and insult Elinor, and Marianne has challenged this power. Jane Austen challenges it too, when Mrs Ferrars draws herself up ‘more stiffly than ever’ and ‘pronounced in retort this bitter philippic: “Miss Morton is Lord Morton’s daughter.” ‘ A retort is a retaliation, a fighting back. Mrs Ferrars’ body language here demonstrates her absolute power, and she makes not just a reply but a pronouncement which is even more of a build-up, a ‘bitter philippic’ with all its splendid history: ‘Latin word from the Greek philippikos, the name given to Demosthenes’ speeches against Philip II of Macedon, also to those of Cicero against Mark Antony.’ A philippic is a ‘bitter attack or denunciation, especially a verbal one.’ Nowadays (2017) it would be a ‘burn’. The bathos, or anticlimax, is glorious: ‘Miss Morton is Lord Morton’s daughter.’ It is one of the most banal of sentences, entirely lacking in rhetorical glory of either expression or content. And this is Mrs Ferrars’ best effort!

Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright at his sister’s audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne’s warmth, than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon’s eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what was amiable in it; the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.

Marianne’s feelings did not stop here. The cold insolence of Mrs. Ferrars’s general behaviour to her sister, seemed, to her, to foretell such difficulties and distresses to Elinor, as her own wounded heart taught her to think of with horror; and urged by a strong impulse of affectionate sensibility, she moved, after a moment, to her sister’s chair, and putting one arm round her neck, and one cheek close to hers, said in a low, but eager voice:

“Dear, dear Elinor, don’t mind them. Don’t let them make you unhappy.”

Marianne has a wounded heart and cannot bear Elinor to be made unhappy too.

She could say no more; her spirits were quite overcome, and hiding her face on Elinor’s shoulder, she burst into tears. Everybody’s attention was called, and almost everybody was concerned. Colonel Brandon rose up and went to them without knowing what he did. Mrs. Jennings, with a very intelligent “Ah! poor dear,” immediately gave her her salts; and Sir John felt so desperately enraged against the author of this nervous distress, that he instantly changed his seat to one close by Lucy Steele, and gave her, in a whisper, a brief account of the whole shocking affair.

People’s reactions reveal their characters. Colonel Brandon acts without thinking or even knowing; his instinct is to go to those in distress (as he did when he left the picnic to go to his ward seduced by Willoughby). Mrs Jennings, who is practical and motherly, produces smelling salts, and Sir John seizes upon Marianne’s tears as an opportunity to pass on the gossip about Willoughby’s engagement to Miss Grey to Lucy Steele.

In a few minutes, however, Marianne was recovered enough to put an end to the bustle, and sit down among the rest; though her spirits retained the impression of what had passed, the whole evening.

“Poor Marianne!” said her brother to Colonel Brandon in a low voice, as soon as he could secure his attention, “She has not such good health as her sister, — she is very nervous, — she has not Elinor’s constitution; — and one must allow that there is something very trying to a young woman who has been a beauty, in the loss of her personal attractions. You would not think it perhaps, but Marianne was remarkably handsome a few months ago — quite as handsome as Elinor. Now you see it is all gone.”

John Dashwood’s reaction to Marianne’s tears is equally characteristic. He can only think of her appearance, and ‘the loss of her personal attractions’. Ironically, he explains this to Colonel Brandon, the man who sees in Marianne ‘only what was amiable … the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.’

So, in social dealings, is appearance and display the only matter of importance? Is truth, or reality, prohibited? How ironic if these social events are places at which all meaningful communication is disallowed. Keeping up appearances is meaningless and frequently painful. It is especially dangerous when relationships become very close. When is the moment that appearance must be exchanged for truth, and what will that exchange cost? Willoughby’s relationship with Marianne quickly becomes very close, but because Willoughby relies so heavily on appearance, and has so many secrets (the baby to be born following his seduction of Colonel Brandon’s ward, his lack of money, his intention to marry an heiress) Marianne discovers its danger to her cost. Elinor, too, becomes close to Edward, and because he also has relied on appearance, Elinor pays the cost.

Claudia L Johnson writes in her introduction to the Norton edition of the novel: ‘Terms like “doubt,” “belief,” “conjecture,” “certainty,” and “probability” recur on every page, and characters are always making the wrong inferences. Accepting probabilities as certainties can be a dangerous business, and what is at stake finally is not propriety, but something more like survival.’ (Sense and Sensibility p xiii Norton Critical Edition W W Norton & Co, 2002)

The other factor that Jane Austen makes abundantly clear is the shallowness of many women’s conversation. Mary Wollestonecraft, in her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) argues that women are as capable of reason as are men. She writes, ‘My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.’ Surely Austen corroborates Wollestonecraft in showing Elinor (and later heroines) to be so capable of reason?

The whole business of appearance and reality is a key issue in this novel. The Dashwoods’ dinner party is a good example. People avoid truth in favour of appearance because truth is dynamite. If it explodes, it causes destruction and ruin of what is important to people – their social status, their reputations, their relationship(s), their perceptions of themselves, their survival.

So, on a social level, Lucy can’t say to Elinor, I hate you, because Edward prefers you. She wants Edward for his (and therefore her) social status. She wants him for her material security; he’s the eldest son so he will inherit the considerable family fortune and the house in Mayfair. She probably doesn’t have much feeling for him – she ditches him very quickly when it seems that Robert may serve her purposes. So she preserves the fiction that Edward prefers her by dwelling on his engagement to her and adopting the language of sensibility and feeling. She couches her attacks on Elinor in apparent civilities (this is, after all, polite upper middle class society) to score a ‘civil triumph.’ The apparent civilities preserve the fiction of the appearance of politeness in society.

Perhaps this is something that human beings have been doing for centuries? Nowadays, people post updates on Facebook that make it seem as if their lives are exciting and glamorous, masking the humdrum truth of everyday doings.

Again, on a social level, nobody can say how boring Mr and Mrs Dashwoods’ and Mrs Ferrars’ parties are because it is important that everybody preserves the appearance of the parties being an important aspect of high society life and entertainment. To Mrs Ferrars and to the John Dashwoods, giving a grand party is an important statement of social status. Guests who are invited share in this social status. Thus nobody can explode the fiction.

On a moral level, Willoughby and Edward Ferrars can’t say that they have no intention of pursuing their pleasant acquaintance with Marianne and Elinor to an honourable end, because that would be to put an end to the acquaintance with the girls whose company they are enjoying. So they let the girls make assumptions based on probability but not on fact (the men’s affection shown towards Elinor / Marianne but not an official engagement). It is all the emperor’s new clothes.

When it comes to moral appearance – Edward Ferrars and Willoughby – it is sustained because people make assumptions based on behaviour. Elinor, Marianne and Angel make assumptions about Edward, Willoughby and Tess. Elinor makes assumptions about Edward’s intentions because his attentions to her appear particular. Marianne makes assumptions about Willoughby’s intentions because he behaves so affectionately towards her, does things that suggest an engagement (such as cutting off a lock of her hair and calling her Marianne, and showing her round the house that he will probably inherit). Also he looks handsome and knows how to behave apparently like a perfect gentleman.

Chapter 35 (Volume II, Chapter 13)

Lucy visits Elinor the morning after the dinner party. Edward calls on the Dashwoods while Lucy is there, making an embarrassing meeting.

Elinor’s curiosity to see Mrs. Ferrars was satisfied. She had found in her everything that could tend to make a farther connection between the families undesirable. She had seen enough of her pride, her meanness, and her determined prejudice against herself, to comprehend all the difficulties that must have perplexed the engagement, and retarded the marriage of Edward and herself, had he been otherwise free; — and she had seen almost enough to be thankful for her own sake, that one greater obstacle preserved her from suffering under any other of Mrs. Ferrars’s creation, preserved her from all dependence upon her caprice, or any solicitude for her good opinion. Or at least, if she did not bring herself quite to rejoice in Edward’s being fettered to Lucy, she determined, that had Lucy been more amiable, she ought to have rejoiced.

She wondered that Lucy’s spirits could be so very much elevated by the civility of Mrs. Ferrars; that her interest and her vanity should so very much blind her, as to make the attention which seemed only paid her because she was not Elinor, appear a compliment to herself — or to allow her to derive encouragement from a preference only given her, because her real situation was unknown. But that it was so, had not only been declared by Lucy’s eyes at the time, but was declared over again the next morning more openly; for at her particular desire, Lady Middleton set her down in Berkeley Street on the chance of seeing Elinor alone, to tell her how happy she was.

The chance proved a lucky one, for a message from Mrs. Palmer soon after she arrived, carried Mrs. Jennings away.

“My dear friend,” cried Lucy as soon as they were by themselves, “I come to talk to you of my happiness. Could anything be so flattering as Mrs. Ferrars’s way of treating me yesterday? So exceeding affable as she was! You know how I dreaded the thoughts of seeing her; but the very moment I was introduced, there was such an affability in her behaviour as really should seem to say, she had quite took a fancy to me. Now was not it so? You saw it all; and was not you quite struck with it?” (affability is ‘readiness to converse with or be approached by others, formerly esp. when dealing with people of equal or lower status; geniality, friendliness’ Oxford English Dictionary)

“She was certainly very civil to you.”

“Civil! — Did you see nothing but only civility? I saw a vast deal more — such kindness as fell to the share of nobody but me! No pride, no hauteur, and your sister just the same — all sweetness and affability!”

As so often, Lucy initiates the conversation, and does so in a particularly unkind way. ‘My dear friend,’ cried Lucy as soon as they were by themselves, ‘I come to talk to you of my happiness.’ To call Elinor her ‘dear friend’ and then to parade her own happiness in great detail at the expense of Elinor’s happiness is scarcely the action of a dear friend. The source of Lucy’s happiness is Mrs Ferrars’s treatment of her at their meeting the day before. Lucy claims to have found ‘affability’ in Mrs Ferrars, demonstrating that, as Lucy ungrammatically phrases it, ‘she had quite took a fancy to me.’ Not satisfied with rubbing this salt into Elinor’s wounds, she then applies the insult more emphatically with two stabbing (and ungrammatical) questions that Elinor can scarcely avoid responding to. ‘Now was not it so? You saw it all; and was not you quite struck with it?’

Lucy finds Elinor’s non-committal reply inadequate: ‘She was certainly very civil to you’. She has to supply for herself all that is lacking in Elinor’s response, at the same time rubbing in the distinction between the attentions paid to herself and to Elinor. ‘Civil! — Did you see nothing but only civility? I saw a vast deal more — such kindness as fell to the share of nobody but me! No pride, no hauteur, and your sister just the same — all sweetness and affability!’ Lucy stresses Mrs Ferrars’s partiality for herself: ‘a vast deal more’, ‘such kindness … (towards) nobody but me (a dig there at Elinor). No pride, no hauteur (which means the same as pride – is Lucy underlining the lack of pride, or does she not know that pride and hauteur are synonyms?). Lucy then moves to the attentions that Elinor’s sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood, paid her, ‘all sweetness and affability.’ (Affability is friendliness, readiness to talk to people especially when they are of a lower class than the affable person. Does Lucy realise the implications of affability?)

Elinor wished to talk of something else, but Lucy still pressed her to own that she had reason for her happiness, and Elinor was obliged to go on.

“Undoubtedly, if they had known your engagement,” said she, “nothing could be more flattering than their treatment of you; but as that was not the case — “

“I guessed you would say so,” replied Lucy quickly; “but there was no reason in the world why Mrs. Ferrars should seem to like me, if she did not — and her liking me is everything. You shan’t talk me out of my satisfaction. I am sure it will all end well, and there will be no difficulties at all, to what I used to think. Mrs. Ferrars is a charming woman, and so is your sister. They are both delightful women indeed! — I wonder I should never hear you say how agreeable Mrs. Dashwood was!”

Elinor points out the false basis for Mrs Ferrars’ and Fanny Dashwood’s affability towards Lucy: that they are unaware of her engagement to Edward.

However, Lucy is ready for this, and refuses to be affected by it. In fact she emphasises her satisfaction by repeating it three times. ‘I guessed you would say so…. You shan’t talk me out of my satisfaction. I am sure it will all end well, and there will be no difficulties at all…’ Then another dig at Elinor: ‘They are both delightful women indeed! — I wonder I should never hear you say how agreeable Mrs. Dashwood was!’ The veiled attack here lies in the fact that presumably Elinor has never told Lucy how agreeable Mrs Dashwood was because Mrs Dashwood has never been agreeable to Elinor, only to Lucy.

The flaw in Lucy’s premise is, as Elinor has said but as Lucy has denied, that Mrs Ferrars and Mrs Dashwood do not know that Lucy is engaged to Edward.

To this, Elinor had no answer to make, and did not attempt any.

“Are you ill, Miss Dashwood? — you seem low — you don’t speak; — sure you an’t well.”

“I never was in better health.”

“I am glad of it with all my heart, but really you did not look it. I should be so sorry to have youill, — you, that have been the greatest comfort to me in the world! — Heaven knows what I should have done without your friendship.”

If Lucy were polite, she would not comment on Elinor’s health. She does so here not out of concern for her ‘friend’ but only to highlight Elinor’s failure to endorse her (Lucy’s) opinion of Mrs Ferrars’ and Mrs Dashwood’s behaviour.

Elinor tried to make a civil answer, though doubting her own success. But it seemed to satisfy Lucy, for she directly replied:

“Indeed I am perfectly convinced of your regard for me, and next to Edward’s love, it is the greatest comfort I have. Poor Edward! But now, there is one good thing — we shall be able to meet, and meet pretty often, for Lady Middleton’s delighted with Mrs. Dashwood, so we shall be a good deal in Harley Street, I dare say, and Edward spends half his time with his sister — besides, Lady Middleton and Mrs. Ferrars will visit now; — and Mrs. Ferrars and your sister were both so good to say more than once, they should always be glad to see me. — They are such charming women! — I am sure if ever you tell your sister what I think of her, you cannot speak too high.”

Lucy doesn’t miss an opportunity to advertise ‘Edward’s love’ for her. She also takes the opportunity to remind Elinor that she and Edward will frequently be in each other’s company, ‘for Lady Middleton’s delighted with Mrs Dashwood, so we shall be a good deal in Harley Street … and Edward spends half his time with his sister.’ She follows this cheering probability with the reminder to Elinor that ‘Mrs Ferrars and your sister (Fanny) were both so good to say more than once, they should always be glad to see me.’ However, Lucy’s eagerness to stress her growing closeness to the family of her fiancé is about to be explained in terms other than simply Lucy’s unpleasantness. It is all too clear that Edward, who comes to call on Marianne and Elinor, wishes to see Elinor but has not been to visit his fiancée, who therefore has to insist on her claim to him.

Lucy prods Elinor to tell Fanny what Lucy has said in her praise (thus cementing her relationship with Edward’s family), but this is a step too far.,

But Elinor would not give her any encouragement to hope that she should tell her sister. Lucy continued:

“I am sure I should have seen it in a moment, if Mrs. Ferrars had took a dislike to me. If she had only made me a formal curtsey, for instance, without saying a word, and never after had took any notice of me, and never looked at me in a pleasant way — you know what I mean, — if I had been treated in that forbidding sort of way, I should have gave it all up in despair. I could not have stood it. For where she does dislike, I know it is most violent.”

Lucy is not quite satisfied with Elinor’s silence, and has another try. ‘I am sure I should have seen it in a moment if Mrs Ferrars had took a dislike to me.’ Knowing that Mrs Ferrars dislikes Elinor, she then reminds Elinor of the violence of Mrs Ferrars’ dislikes. ‘For where she does dislike, I know it is most violent.’ Jane Austen is mistress of the unpleasant undercurrents below the apparent civilities of so-called polite society. There has been very little politeness in any of the society in which Elinor and Marianne have been called upon to mix.

Elinor was prevented from making any reply to this civil triumph, by the door’s being thrown open, the servant’s announcing Mr. Ferrars, and Edward’s immediately walking in.

It was a very awkward moment; and the countenance of each shewed that it was so. They all looked exceedingly foolish; and Edward seemed to have as great an inclination to walk out of the room again, as to advance farther into it. The very circumstance, in its unpleasantest form, which they would each have been most anxious to avoid, had fallen on them — They were not only all three together, but were together without the relief of any other person. The ladies recovered themselves first. It was not Lucy’s business to put herself forward, and the appearance of secrecy must still be kept up. She could therefore only look her tenderness, and after slightly addressing him, said no more.

Appearance again: ‘the appearance of secrecy must still be kept up’ although all three, Edward, Elinor and Lucy, know that each other knows about the engagement. Social exchanges are masterpieces of secrecy.

But Elinor had more to do; and so anxious was she, for his sake and her own, to do it well, that she forced herself, after a moment’s recollection, to welcome him, with a look and manner that were almost easy and almost open; and another struggle, another effort still improved them. She would not allow the presence of Lucy, nor the consciousness of some injustice towards herself, to deter her from saying that she was happy to see him, and that she had very much regretted being from home, when he called before in Berkeley Street. She would not be frightened from paying him those attentions which, as a friend and almost a relation, were his due, by the observant eyes of Lucy, though she soon perceived them to be narrowly watching her.

Elinor’s priority, however, is to welcome Edward as easily and as openly as she can manage. This requires considerable effort: ‘she forced herself … and another struggle, another effort …’. Further, Elinor will not allow the presence of Lucy to dictate her behaviour. ‘She would not allow the presence of Lucy … to deter her … She would not be frightened from paying him … attentions.’ Lucy’s eyes, as always, are ‘narrowly watching.’ There is another constraint on Elinor’s behaviour: the ‘consciousness of some injustice towards herself’ on his part. In other words, the fact that this is the first time they have met since she has learned of his engagement to Lucy, of which he has never told her. Elinor’s feelings are all towards Edward and are focused on welcoming as ‘a friend and almost a relation’.

Her manners gave some reassurance to Edward, and he had courage enough to sit down; but his embarrassment still exceeded that of the ladies in a proportion which the case rendered reasonable, though his sex might make it rare; for his heart had not the indifference of Lucy’s, nor could his conscience have quite the ease of Elinor’s.

Lucy, with a demure and settled air, seemed determined to make no contribution to the comfort of the others, and would not say a word; and almost everything that wassaid, proceeded from Elinor, who was obliged to volunteer all the information about her mother’s health, their coming to town, etc., which Edward ought to have inquired about, but never did.

Characteristically, Lucy ‘seemed determined to make no contribution to the comfort of the others…’. Equally characteristically, Edward fails to ask after the superficial details of Elinor and Marianne coming to London. His savoir faire is zilch.

Her exertions did not stop here; for she soon afterwards felt herself so heroically disposed as to determine, under pretence of fetching Marianne, to leave the others by themselves: and she really did it, and that in the handsomest manner, for she loitered away several minutes on the landing place, with the most high-minded fortitude, before she went to her sister. When that was once done, however, it was time for the raptures of Edward to cease; for Marianne’s joy hurried her into the drawing-room immediately. Her pleasure in seeing him was like every other of her feelings, strong in itself, and strongly spoken. She met him with a hand that would be taken, and a voice that expressed the affection of a sister.

The situation is already very embarrassing. However, Marianne’s entrance makes it much much worse. Marianne has no knowledge of the secrets that constrain the behaviour and conversational topics of the others, and her spontaneously affectionate and truthful words and actions highlight the difficulties of the others.

“Dear Edward!” she cried, “this is a moment of great happiness! — This would almost make amends for everything!”

Embarrassment: Edward’s visit, coinciding as it does with Lucy’s, is not a moment of great happiness. It makes it clear to Lucy that he has visited Elinor rather than herself, and it is exceedingly embarrassing to Edward that Marianne greets him as the future lover of Elinor in front of his fiancée, Lucy.

Edward tried to return her kindness as it deserved, but before such witnesses he dared not say half what he really felt. Again they all sat down, and for a moment or two all were silent; while Marianne was looking with the most speaking tenderness, sometimes at Edward and sometimes at Elinor, regretting only that their delight in each other should be checked by Lucy’s unwelcome presence. Edward was the first to speak, and it was to notice Marianne’s altered looks, and express his fear of her not finding London agree with her.

“Oh! don’t think of me!” she replied, with spirited earnestness, though her eyes were filled with tears as she spoke, “don’t think of my health. Elinor is well, you see. That must be enough for us both.”

This remark was not calculated to make Edward or Elinor more easy, nor to conciliate the good will of Lucy, who looked up at Marianne with no very benignant expression.

Marianne’s spontaneously expressed feelings articulate everything that the others are trying not to mention! ‘Elinor is well, you see. That must be enough for us both.’

There is a striking contrast in this section of the chapter, between Marianne’s sincere ‘pleasure in seeing him’, ‘kindness’, ‘speaking tenderness’, the ‘delight’ that Marianne imagines for Edward and Elinor and the ‘unwelcome presence’ of Lucy, who is ‘determined to make no contribution to the comfort of the others ‘. She may be Edward’s fiancée, but the warmth of feeling is all from the Dashwood sisters, not from Lucy.

“Do you like London?” said Edward, willing to say anything that might introduce another subject.

“Not at all. I expected much pleasure in it, but I have found none. The sight of you, Edward, is the only comfort it has afforded; and, thank Heaven! you are what you always were!”

More embarrassment. Edward both is and is not what he always was. He is engaged to Lucy, as he always was, and he is now known by Elinor to have been engaged to Lucy all the time he was at Norland, which was not known to Elinor then.

She paused — no one spoke.

“I think, Elinor,” she presently added, “we must employ Edward to take care of us in our return to Barton. In a week or two, I suppose, we shall be going; and, I trust, Edward will not be very unwilling to accept the charge.”

  Poor Edward muttered something; but what it was, nobody knew, not even himself. But Marianne, who saw his agitation, and could easily trace it to whatever cause best pleased herself, was perfectly satisfied, and soon talked of something else.

“We spent such a day, Edward, in Harley Street yesterday! So dull, so wretchedly dull! But I have much to say to you on that head, which cannot be said now.”

And with this admirable discretion did she defer the assurance of her finding their mutual relatives more disagreeable than ever, and of her being particularly disgusted with his mother, till they were more in private.

Marianne’s estimate of the day in Harley Street is in direct contrast with Lucy’s, given earlier in the chapter.

“But why were you not there, Edward? — Why did you not come?

“I was engaged elsewhere.”

“Engaged! But what was that, when such friends were to be met?”

“Perhaps, Miss Marianne,” cried Lucy, eager to take some revenge on her, “you think young men never stand upon engagements, if they have no mind to keep them, little as well as great.”

‘Engaged elsewhere’ seem an unfortunate pair of words for the luckless Edward to choose in order to explain his absence from the previous day’s party. It brings all too vividly to mind his being ‘engaged elsewhere’ now: to Lucy.

Lucy seizes the opportunity to remind Marianne that Edward is not like Willoughby, ‘… you think young men never stand upon engagements, if they have no mind to keep them.’ But Lucy’s fiancé, Edward, Lucy implies, is not like Willoughby. In fact, his actions bear some resemblance to Willoughby’s.

The love of the Dashwood sisters for each other is always made clear: Elinor is very angry on Marianne’s behalf, and presumably casts Lucy even more irretrievably in the role of villain for saying anything so hurtful.

Elinor was very angry, but Marianne seemed entirely insensible (unaware) of the sting; for she calmly replied,

“Not so, indeed; for, seriously speaking, I am very sure that conscience only kept Edward from Harley Street. And I really believe he hasthe most delicate conscience in the world; the most scrupulous in performing every engagement however minute, and however it may make against his interest or pleasure. He is the most fearful of giving pain, of wounding expectation, and the most incapable of being selfish of anybody I ever saw. Edward, it is so, and I will say it. What! are you never to hear yourself praised? Then, you must be no friend of mine; for those who will accept of my love and esteem, must submit to my open commendation.”

Yet further embarrassment. Edward has not, as two-thirds of Marianne’s auditors know, lived up to the accolade of possessing ‘the most delicate conscience in the world.’ He has not been quite ‘scrupulous’ and he has pursued ‘his interest or pleasure.’ And he has given pain and wounded expectation. He is not worthy of the praise that Marianne gives him and she is the only person present who is ignorant of this fact. No wonder that her praise is ‘so very unexhilarating to Edward, that he very soon got up to go away.’

The nature of her commendation, in the present case, however, happened to be particularly ill-suited to the feelings of two-thirds of her auditors, and was so very unexhilarating to Edward, that he very soon got up to go away.

“Going so soon!” said Marianne; “my dear Edward, this must not be.”

And drawing him a little aside, she whispered her persuasion that Lucy could not stay much longer. But even this encouragement failed, for he would go; and Lucy, who would have outstaid him had his visit lasted two hours, soon afterwards went away.

“What can bring her here so often!” said Marianne, on her leaving them. “Could she not see that we wanted her gone! How teasing to Edward!”

“Why so? — we were all his friends, and Lucy has been the longest known to him of any. It is but natural that he should like to see her as well as ourselves.”

Marianne looked at her steadily, and said, “You know, Elinor, that this is a kind of talking which I cannot bear. If you only hope to have your assertion contradicted, as I must suppose to be the case, you ought to recollect that I am the last person in the world to do it. I cannot descend to be tricked out of assurances that are not really wanted.”

She then left the room; and Elinor dared not follow her to say more, for bound as she was by her promise of secrecy to Lucy, she could give no information that would convince Marianne; and painful as the consequences of her still continuing in an error might be, she was obliged to submit to it. All that she could hope, was that Edward would not often expose her or himself to the distress of hearing Marianne’s mistaken warmth, nor to the repetition of any other part of the pain that had attended their recent meeting — and this she had every reason to expect.

The constraints imposed by the highest standards of conduct are severe. Elinor dare not follow Marianne to say any more to her for reasons that this very long sentence illustrates.

for bound as she was by her promise of secrecy to Lucy, she could give no information that would convince Marianne; and

painful as the consequences of her still continuing in an error might be, she was obliged to submit to it.

All that she could hope, was that Edward would not often expose her or himself

to the distress of hearing Marianne’s mistaken warmth, nor

to the repetition of any other part of the pain that had attended their recent meeting –

and this she had every reason to expect.

First, Elinor is ‘bound’ (shades of being chained and fettered again) by a promise, and being ‘bound’ is compared, through the patterning of the sentence structure to ‘painful as’. She is constrained by her promise, and has to suffer in silence the pain resulting from Marianne’s mistaken understanding of the situation. She is further ‘bound’ by being unable to give information to Marianne and being ‘obliged (compelled) to submit’. These constraints allow Elinor very little freedom: ‘all that she could hope…’. Her hopes are extremely limited, and further so by Edward’s tendency to blunder. This is conveyed by the modal verb, ‘would not often expose her or himself to the distress … to the … pain.’ The word ‘often’ is an interesting qualifier when applied to the socially inept Edward. He’s sure to blunder sometimes. The words ‘pain’ and ‘painful’ express the frequent unhappiness that social interactions entail.

Here we have both a societal constraint – the promise to Lucy – but also a personal constraint that Elinor has imposed upon herself – that she is going to keep her word to Lucy despite the pain this brings. Again, Jane Austen portrays the elegance and desirability of high society as a façade when we are made aware of the undercurrents of strong emotion that must be controlled if true decorum is to be maintained. It is the free indirect discourse that makes us thus privy to Elinor’s thoughts and feelings. Of course, Elinor’s keeping of her promise to Lucy is also key to the plot in that it allows Austen to explore painful misunderstandings even amongst those who are very dear to one another.

Chapter 37 (Volume III, Chapter 1)

Edward Ferrars’ and Lucy Steele’s engagement becomes known.

The bombshell in this chapter (Volume III chapter i) is Mrs Ferrars’ appalled discovery that Edward and Lucy Steele are engaged. This news is delivered by Mrs Jennings.

“Lord! my dear Miss Dashwood! have you heard the news!”

“No, ma’am. What is it?”

“Something so strange! But you shall hear it all. When I got to Mr. Palmer’s, I found Charlotte quite in a fuss about the child. She was sure it was very ill — it cried, and fretted, and was all over pimples. So I looked at it directly, and, “”Lord! my dear,”” says I, “”it is nothing in the world but the red-gum;”” and nurse said just the same. But Charlotte, she would not be satisfied, so Mr. Donavan was sent for; and luckily he happened to be just come in from Harley Street, so he stepped over directly, and as soon as ever he saw the child, he said just as we did, that it was nothing in the world but the red-gum, and then Charlotte was easy. And so, just as he was going away again, it came into my head, I am sure I do not know how I happened to think of it, but it came into my head to ask him if there was any news. So upon that, he smirked, and simpered, and looked grave, and seemed to know something or other, and at last he said in a whisper, ‘For fear any unpleasant report should reach the young ladies under your care as to their sister’s indisposition, I think it advisable to say, that I believe there is no great reason for alarm; I hope Mrs. Dashwood will do very well.'”

“What! is Fanny ill?”

“That is exactly what I said, my dear. ‘Lord!’ says I, ‘is Mrs. Dashwood ill?’ So then it all came out; and the long and the short of the matter, by all I can learn, seems to be [this]: — Mr. Edward Ferrars, the very young man I used to joke with you about (but, however, as it turns out, I am monstrous glad there never was any thing in it), Mr. Edward Ferrars, it seems, has been engaged above this twelvemonth to my cousin Lucy! — There’s for you, my dear! — And not a creature knowing a syllable of the matter except Nancy! — Could you have believed such a thing possible? — There is no great wonder in their liking one another; but that matters should be brought so forward between them, and nobody suspect it! That is strange! — I never happened to see them together, or I am sure I should have found it out directly. Well, and so this was kept a great secret, for fear of Mrs. Ferrars; and neither she nor your brother or sister suspected a word of the matter; — till this very morning, poor Nancy, who, you know, is a well-meaning creature, but no conjurer, popt it all out. ‘Lord!’ thinks she to herself, ‘they are all so fond of Lucy, to be sure they will make no difficulty about it;’ and so, away she went to your sister, who was sitting all alone at her carpet-work, little suspecting what was to come — for she had just been saying to your brother, only five minutes before, that she thought to make a match between Edward and some Lord’s daughter or other, I forget who. So you may think what a blow it was to all her vanity and pride. She fell into violent hysterics immediately, with such screams as reached your brothers ears, as he was sitting in his own dressing-room down stairs, thinking about writing a letter to his steward in the country. So up he flew directly, and a terrible scene took place, for Lucy was come to them by that time, little dreaming what was going on. Poor soul! I pity her. And I must say, I think she was used very hardly; for your sister scolded like any fury, and soon drove her into a fainting fit. Nancy, she fell upon her knees, and cried bitterly; and your brother, he walked about the room, and said he did not know what to do. Mrs. Dashwood declared they should not stay a minute longer in the house, and your brother was forced to go down upon his knees too, to persuade her to let them stay till they had packed up their clothes. Then she fell into hysterics again, and he was so frightened that he would send for Mr. Donavan, and Mr. Donavan found the house in all this uproar. The carriage was at the door ready to take my poor cousins away, and they were just stepping in as he came off; poor Lucy in such a condition, he says, she could hardly walk; and Nancy, she was almost as bad. I declare, I have no patience with your sister; and I hope, with all my heart, it will be a match in spite of her. Lord! what a taking poor Mr. Edward will be in when he hears of it! To have his love used so scornfully! for they say he is monstrous fond of her, as well he may. I should not wonder, if he was to be in the greatest of a passion! and Mr. Donavan thinks just the same. He and I had a great deal of talk about it; and the best of all is, that he is gone back again to Harley Street, that he may be within call when Mrs. Ferrars is told of it, for she was sent for as soon as ever my cousins left the house, for your sister was sure shewould be in hysterics too; and so she may, for what I care. I have no pity for either of them. I have no notion of people’s making such a to-do about money and greatness. There is no reason on earth why Mr. Edward and Lucy should not marry; for I am sure Mrs. Ferrars may afford to do very well by her son; and though Lucy has next to nothing herself, she knows better than anybody how to make the most of everything; and I dare say, if Mrs. Ferrars would only allow him five hundred a-year, she would make as good an appearance with it as anybody else would with eight. Lord! how snug they might live in such another cottage as yours — or a little bigger — with two maids and two men; and I believe I could help them to a housemaid, for my Betty has a sister out of place, that would fit them exactly.”

Here Mrs. Jennings ceased, and as Elinor had had time enough to collect her thoughts, she was able to give such an answer, and make such observations, as the subject might naturally be supposed to produce. Happy to find that she was not suspected of any extraordinary interest in it; that Mrs. Jennings (as she had of late often hoped might be the case) had ceased to imagine her at all attached to Edward; and happy above all the rest, in the absence of Marianne, she felt very well able to speak of the affair without embarrassment, and to give her judgment, as she believed, with impartiality on the conduct of every one concerned in it.

She could hardly determine what her own expectation of its event really was; — though she earnestly tried to drive away the notion of its being possible to end otherwise at last, than in the marriage of Edward and Lucy. What Mrs. Ferrars would say and do, though there could not be a doubt of its nature, she was anxious to hear; and still more anxious to know how Edward would conduct himself. For him she felt much compassion; — for Lucy very little — and it cost her some pains to procure that little; — for the rest of the party none at all.

Elinor now realises that she must tell Marianne about Edward’s engagement to Lucy.

As Mrs. Jennings could talk on no other subject, Elinor soon saw the necessity of preparing Marianne for its discussion. — No time was to be lost in undeceiving her, in making her acquainted with the real truth, and in endeavouring to bring her to hear it talked of by others, without betraying that she felt any uneasiness for her sister, or any resentment against Edward.

Elinor’s office was a painful one. — She was going to remove what she really believed to be her sister’s chief consolation, — to give such particulars of Edward, as she feared would ruin him for ever in her good opinion, — and to make Marianne, by a resemblance in their situations, which to her fancy would seem strong, feel all her own disappointment over again. But unwelcome as such a task must be, it was necessary to be done, and Elinor therefore hastened to perform it.

She was very far from wishing to dwell on her own feelings, or to represent herself as suffering much, any otherwise than as the self-command she had practised since her first knowledge of Edward’s engagement, might suggest a hint of what was practicable to Marianne. Her narration was clear and simple; and though it could not be given without emotion, it was not accompanied by violent agitation, nor impetuous grief. — That belonged rather to the hearer, for Marianne listened with horror, and cried excessively. Elinor was to be the comforter of others in her own distresses, no less than in theirs; and all the comfort that could be given by assurances of her own composure of mind, and a very earnest vindication of Edward from every charge but of imprudence, was readily offered.

But Marianne for some time would give credit to neither. Edward seemed a second Willoughby; and acknowledging as Elinor did, that she had loved him most sincerely, could she feel less than herself! As for Lucy Steele, she considered her so totally unamiable, so absolutely incapable of attaching a sensible man, that she could not be persuaded at first to believe, and afterwards to pardon, any former affection of Edward for her. She would not even admit it to have been natural; and Elinor left her to be convinced that it was so, by that which only could convince her, a better knowledge of mankind.

Her first communication had reached no farther than to state the fact of the engagement, and the length of time it had existed. Marianne’s feelings had then broken in, and put an end to all regularity of detail; and for some time all that could be done was to sooth her distress, lessen her alarms, and combat her resentment. The first question on her side, which led to farther particulars, was —

“How long has this been known to you, Elinor? has he written to you?”

“I have known it these four months. When Lucy first came to Barton Park last November, she told me in confidence of her engagement.”

At these words, Marianne’s eyes expressed the astonishment which her lips could not utter. After a pause of wonder, she exclaimed —

“Four months! — Have you known of this four months?” —

Elinor confirmed it.

“What! — while attending me in all my misery, has this been on your heart? — and I have reproached you for being happy!” —

“It was not fit that you should then know how much I was the reverse.” —

“Four months!” — cried Marianne again. — “So calm! — so cheerful! — how have you been supported?”

“By feeling that I was doing my duty. My promise to Lucy, obliged me to be secret. I owed it to her, therefore, to avoid giving any hint of the truth; and I owed it to my family and friends, not to create in them a solicitude about me, which it could not be in my power to satisfy.”

Marianne seemed much struck. —

“I have very often wished to undeceive yourself and my mother,” added Elinor; “and once or twice I have attempted it; — but without betraying my trust, I never could have convinced you.”

“Four months! — and yet you loved him!”

“Yes. But I did not love only him; — and while the comfort of others was dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt. Now, I can think and speak of it with little emotion. I would not have you suffer on my account; for I assure you I no longer suffer materially myself. I have many things to support me. I am not conscious of having provoked the disappointment by any imprudence of my own, and I have borne it as much as possible without spreading it farther. I acquit Edward of all essential misconduct. I wish him very happy; and I am so sure of his always doing his duty, that though now he may harbour (feel) some regret, in the end he must become so. Lucy does not want sense, and that is the foundation on which everything good may be built. And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant — it is not fit — it is not possible that it should be so. Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him to forget that he ever thought another superior to her.”

Howard Babb points out that, as so often, Elinor’s speech here divides sense and feeling antithetically. He maps out the divisions thus:

Sense Feeling
I am so sure of his always doing his duty, that though now he may harbour some regret,
Lucy does not want sense, and that is
the foundation on which everything

good may be built. And after all, Marianne, after all that is

bewitching in the idea of a single and

constant attachment, and all that can be

said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person,

it is not meant — it is not fit —
it is not possible that it should be so.

‘The contrast between the sisters is carried out in the matter of rhetoric as well, though each is driven at last to use the mode of the other, which again suggests that Marianne is ultimately able to discriminate and that Elinor can feel.

“If such is your way of thinking,” said Marianne, “if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, your resolution, your self-command, are perhaps, a little less to be wondered at. — They are brought more within my comprehension.”

At this juncture, Elinor expresses herself rather more forcefully than usual. She speaks with a passion worthy of Marianne. She knows very well that Lucy Steele told her about her engagement to Edward ‘with triumph.’ Elinor’s apparent indifference was assumed partly in order to rob Lucy of the pleasure of seeing Elinor miserable. Even so, Elinor tells Marianne, ‘I have had her (Lucy’s) hopes and exultation to listen to again and again.’

“I understand you. You do not suppose that I have ever felt much. For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least. It was told me, — it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought, with triumph. This person’s suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested. And it has not been only once; I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again. I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection. Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me. I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother, and have suffered the punishment of an attachment without enjoying its advantages. And all this has been going on at a time when, as you too well know, it has not been my only unhappiness. If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered now. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion; — they did not spring up of themselves; they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first, — no, Marianne. Then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely — not even what I owed to my dearest friends — from openly shewing that I was very unhappy.”

Howard Babb points out that the basic movement of this passage is straight ahead rather than antithetical, as so much of Elinor’s thinking and speaking attempts to be. This passage generates its momentum through repetition.

It was told me,
— it was … forced on me
and told me …
Here the feeling of Elinor’s suffering and endurance repetition gathers force through the repeated passive voice: ‘it was told me,’ ‘it was … forced on me’, ‘and told me.’ Elinor is repeatedly the person suffering all this telling and forcing; she is not able to avoid it. The repetition continues to the very end of the paragraph:
Nothing has proved him …
Nor has anything …

They did not …
They did not …
At times the repetition is intensified with phrases like, ‘not been only once…’ and
‘again and again…’.

Where Elinor has had some measure of control, it is very limited and the verbs are to do with suffering and conflict: ‘oppose,’ ‘contend’, ‘suffered’.
I have had to oppose
I have had … to listen
I have known
I have had to contend
and (I) have suffered …

There are some antitheses, but their effect is cumulative – they impress upon us how much Elinor has had to endure. ‘Indifferent’ is placed against ‘interest’, ‘divided … for ever’ against ‘desire the connection’, ‘suffered the punishment’ against ‘enjoying its advantages’.

This outpouring of emotion is most unlike Elinor’s characteristically self-disciplined speech and behaviour. And it is explicitly all about feeling: ‘Ever felt much’, ‘most unhappy’, ‘indifferent’, ‘interested’, ‘hopes and exultation’, ‘desire’, ‘unkindness’, ‘insolence’, ‘suffered’, ‘enjoying’, ‘unhappiness’, ‘feeling’, ‘painful’, ‘very unhappy’.

Marianne was quite subdued.

“Oh! Elinor,” she cried, “you have made me hate myself for ever. How barbarous have I been to you! — you, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be only suffering for me! — Is this my gratitude! Is this the only return I can make you? Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been trying to do it away.”

The tenderest caresses followed this confession. In such a frame of mind as she was now in, Elinor had no difficulty in obtaining from her whatever promise she required; and, at her request, Marianne engaged never to speak of the affair to any one with the least appearance of bitterness; — to meet Lucy without betraying the smallest increase of dislike to her; — and even to see Edward himself, if chance should bring them together, without any diminution of her usual cordiality. These were great concessions; — but where Marianne felt that she had injured, no reparation could be too much for her to make.

She performed her promise of being discreet to admiration. She attended to all that Mrs. Jennings had to say upon the subject, with an unchanging complexion, dissented from her in nothing, and was heard three times to say, “Yes, ma’am.” She listened to her praise of Lucy with only moving from one chair to another, and when Mrs. Jennings talked of Edward’s affection, it cost her only a spasm in her throat. Such advances towards heroism in her sister, made Elinor feel equal to anything herself.

John Dashwood arrives next morning with a further long piece of storyline. In the first part of it, we can contrast his wife, Fanny’s, alleged sufferings with those of Elinor.

The next morning brought a farther trial of it, in a visit from their brother, who came with a most serious aspect to talk over the dreadful affair, and bring them news of his wife.

“You have heard, I suppose,” said he with great solemnity, as soon as he was seated, “of the very shocking discovery that took place under our roof yesterday.”

They all looked their assent; it seemed too awful a moment for speech.

“Your sister,” he continued, “has suffered dreadfully. Mrs. Ferrars too — in short, it has been a scene of such complicated distress; but I will hope that the storm may be weathered without our being, any of us, quite overcome. Poor Fanny! she was in hysterics all yesterday. But I would not alarm you too much. Donavan says there is nothing materially to be apprehended; her constitution is a good one, and her resolution equal to anything. She has borne it all, with the fortitude of an angel! She says she never shall think well of anybody again; and one cannot wonder at it, after being so deceived! — meeting with such ingratitude, where so much kindness had been shewn, so much confidence had been placed! It was quite out of the benevolence of her heart, that she had asked these young women to her house; merely because she thought they deserved some attention, were harmless, well-behaved girls, and would be pleasant companions; for otherwise we both wished very much to have invited you and Marianne to be with us, while your kind friend there was attending her daughter. And now to be so rewarded! ‘I wish with all my heart,’ says poor Fanny in her affectionate way, ‘that we had asked your sisters instead of them.'”

Here he stopped to be thanked; which being done, he went on.

“What poor Mrs. Ferrars suffered, when first Fanny broke it to her, is not to be described. While she with the truest affection had been planning a most eligible connection for him, was it to be supposed that he could be all the time secretly engaged to another person! — such a suspicion could never have entered her head! If she suspected any prepossession elsewhere, it could not be in that quarter. ‘There, to be sure,’ said she, ‘I might have thought myself safe.’ She was quite in an agony. We consulted together, however, as to what should be done, and at last she determined to send for Edward. He came. But I am sorry to relate what ensued. All that Mrs. Ferrars could say to make him put an end to the engagement, assisted too, as you may well suppose by my arguments, and Fanny’s entreaties, was of no avail. Duty, affection, everything was disregarded. I never thought Edward so stubborn, so unfeeling, before. His mother explained to him her liberal designs, in case of his marrying Miss Morton; told him that she would settle on him the Norfolk estate, which, clear of land-tax, brings in a good thousand a-year; offered even, when matters grew desperate, to make it twelve hundred; and in opposition to this, if he still persisted in this low connection, represented to him the certain penury that must attend the match. His own two thousand pounds she protested should be his all; she would never see him again; and so far would she be from affording him the smallest assistance, that if he were to enter into any profession with a view of better support, she would do all in her power to prevent his advancing in it.”

After this prolonged piece of narrative from John Dashwood, who of course sees the entire story in terms of money, we have the comedy of everybody’s different perspectives on the dramatic events.

Here Marianne, in an ecstacy of indignation, clapped her hands together, and cried, “Gracious God! can this be possible!”

“Well may you wonder, Marianne,” replied her brother, “at the obstinacy which could resist such arguments as these. Your exclamation is very natural.”

Marianne was going to retort, but she remembered her promises, and forbore.

“All this, however,” he continued, “was urged in vain. Edward said very little; but what he did say was in the most determined manner. Nothing should prevail on him to give up his engagement. He would stand to it, cost him what it might.”

“Then,” cried Mrs. Jennings, with blunt sincerity, no longer able to be silent, “he has acted like an honest man! I beg your pardon, Mr. Dashwood, but if he had done otherwise, I should have thought him a rascal. I have some little concern in the business, as well as yourself, for Lucy Steele is my cousin, and I believe there is not a better kind of girl in the world, nor one who more deserves a good husband.”

Comedy here arises from John Dashwood’s complete misunderstanding of Marianne’s exclamation, ‘Gracious God! can this be possible!’ And from his description of Edward, who ‘would stand to it (hold to his engagement), cost him what it might.’ Whereas most of us would understand ‘cost’ in a metaphorical sense, John Dashwood understands it completely literally, in terms of money. Affectionate Mrs Jennings stands up for her cousin, saying ‘if he (Edward) had done otherwise, I should have thought him a rascal.’

John Dashwood was greatly astonished; but his nature was calm, not open to provocation, and he never wished to offend anybody, especially anybody of good fortune. He therefore replied, without any resentment —

“I would by no means speak disrespectfully of any relation of yours, madam. Miss Lucy Steele is, I dare say, a very deserving young woman, but in the present case you know, the connection must be impossible. And to have entered into a secret engagement with a young man under her uncle’s care, the son of a woman especially of such very large fortune as Mrs. Ferrars, is perhaps altogether a little extraordinary. In short, I do not mean to reflect upon the behaviour of any person whom you have a regard for, Mrs. Jennings. We all wish her extremely happy, and Mrs. Ferrars’s conduct throughout the whole, has been such as every conscientious, good mother, in like circumstances, would adopt. It has been dignified and liberal. Edward has drawn his own lot, and I fear it will be a bad one.”

Marianne sighed out her similar apprehension; and Elinor’s heart wrung for the feelings of Edward, while braving his mother’s threats, for a woman who could not reward him.

“Well, sir,” said Mrs. Jennings, “and how did it end?”

“I am sorry to say, ma’am, in a most unhappy rupture — Edward is dismissed for ever from his mothers notice. He left her house yesterday, but where he is gone, or whether he is still in town, I do not know; for we of course can make no inquiry.”

“Poor young man! — and what is to become of him?”

“What indeed, ma’am! It is a melancholy consideration. Born to the prospect of such affluence! I cannot conceive a situation more deplorable. The interest of two thousand pounds — how can a man live on it! — and when to that is added the recollection that he might, but for his own folly, within three months have been in the receipt of two thousand five hundred a-year, (for Miss Morton has thirty thousand pounds,) I cannot picture to myself a more wretched condition. We must all feel for him; and the more so, because it is totally out of our power to assist him.”

“Poor young man!” cried Mrs. Jennings, “I am sure he should be very welcome to bed and board at my house; and so I would tell him, if I could see him. It is not fit that he should be living about at his own charge now, at lodgings and taverns.”

Comedy again arises from the very different reactions to Edward’s plight. John Dashwood computes the situation entirely in terms of money. To him, ‘What is to become of him?’ means ‘the interest of two thousand pounds — how can a man live on it! … he might, but for his own folly, within three months have been in the receipt of two thousand five hundred a-year, (for Miss Morton has thirty thousand pounds). I cannot picture to myself a more wretched condition.’ Mrs Jennings, meanwhile, understands the situation in terms of where Edward is to live and what he is to eat, and she pictures him ‘at lodgings and taverns.’

Elinor’s heart thanked her for such kindness towards Edward, though she could not forbear smiling at the form of it.

“If he would only have done as well by himself,” said John Dashwood, “as all his friends were disposed to do by him, he might now have been in his proper situation, and would have wanted for nothing. But as it is, it must be out of anybody’s power to assist him. And there is one thing more preparing against him, which must be worse than all — his mother has determined, with a very natural kind of spirit, to settle that estate upon Robert immediately, which might have been Edward’s on proper conditions. I left her this morning with her lawyer, talking over the business.”

“Well!” said Mrs. Jennings, “that is her revenge. Everybody has a way of their own. But I don’t think mine would be to make one son independent because another had plagued me.”

Mrs Jennings is very practical in her concern for where Edward is to live and how he is to eat. She is also acute in her understanding of another woman’s motivation. She calls Mrs Ferrars’ actions ‘revenge’.

Marianne got up, and walked about the room.

“Can anything be more galling to the spirit of a man,” continued John, “than to see his younger brother in possession of an estate which might have been his own? Poor Edward! I feel for him sincerely.”

John Dashwood repeats himself as he considers his brother-in-law’s situation. ‘We must all feel for him; and the more so, because it is totally out of our power to assist him.’ And ‘it must be out of anybody’s power to assist him.’ And ‘Poor Edward! I feel for him sincerely.’ Apparently, John Dashwood has no idea that his repeated assertion, ‘I feel for him’ it at odds with ‘it is … out of our power to assist him.’ Given that he is a very rich young man, it must be easily within his power to assist Edward financially, if he really does feel for him. His words are meaningless.

A few minutes more spent in the same kind of effusion, concluded his visit; and with repeated assurances to his sisters that he really believed there was no material danger in Fanny’s indisposition, and that they need not therefore be very uneasy about it, he went away; leaving the three ladies unanimous in their sentiments on the present occasion, as far at least as it regarded Mrs. Ferrars’s conduct, the Dashwoods’ and Edward’s.

Marianne’s indignation burst forth as soon as he quitted the room; and as her vehemence made reserve impossible in Elinor, and unnecessary in Mrs. Jennings, they all joined in a very spirited critique (reaction, analysis) upon the party.

Chapter 38 (Volume III, Chapter 2)

A walk in Kensington Gardens

A fine and beautiful Sunday draws Mrs Jennings and Elinor to walk in Kensington Gardens – Marianne elects to stay at home for fear of meeting the Willoughbys who are again in town. In the Gardens, Miss Steele comes up to Elinor, taking her ‘familiarly by the arm’ and she delivers another slab of catch-up narrative.

First Miss Steele tells Elinor how furious Lucy was with her when she told Mrs Dashwood (Fanny) about Edward’s engagement to Lucy.

“Good gracious! I have had such a time of it! I never saw Lucy in such a rage in my life. She vowed at first she would never trim me up a new bonnet, nor do anything else for me again, so long as she lived; but now she is quite come to, and we are as good friends as ever. Look, she made me this bow to my hat, and put in the feather last night. There now, you are going to laugh at me too. But why should not I wear pink ribbons? I do not care if it is the Doctor’s favourite colour. I am sure, for my part, I should never have known he did like it better than any other colour, if he had not happened to say so. My cousins have been so plaguing me! I declare sometimes I do not know which way to look before them.”

In Miss Steele’s mind, any subject morphs almost immediately into a reference to the Doctor she fancies fancies her.

She had wandered away to a subject on which Elinor had nothing to say, and therefore soon judged it expedient to find her way back again to the first.

“Well, but, Miss Dashwood,” speaking triumphantly, “people may say what they chuse about Mr. Ferrars’s declaring he would not have Lucy, for it’s no such a thing, I can tell you; and it’s quite a shame for such ill-natured reports to be spread abroad. Whatever Lucy might think about it herself, you know it was no business of other people to set it down for certain.”

“I never heard anything of the kind hinted at before, I assure you,” said Elinor.

It seems that everybody assumed that Edward would break off his engagement to Lucy when he saw what his mother intended to do to him if he persisted in it. But he is a man of honour, and he will not break his promise to Lucy.

“Oh! did not you? But it was said, I know very well, and by more than one; for Miss Godby told Miss Sparks, that nobody in their senses could expect Mr. Ferrars to give up a woman like Miss Morton, with thirty thousand pounds to her fortune, for Lucy Steele that had nothing at all; and I had it from Miss Sparks myself. And besides that, my cousin Richard said himself, that when it came to the point, he was afraid Mr. Ferrars would be off; and when Edward did not come near us for three days, I could not tell what to think myself; and I believe in my heart Lucy gave it all up for lost; for we came away from your brothers on Wednesday, and we saw nothing of him not all Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and did not know what was become with him. Once Lucy thought to write to him, but then her spirit rose against that. However, this morning he came, just as we came home from church; and then it all came out, how he had been sent for Wednesday to Harley Street, and been talked to by his mother and all of them, and how he had declared before them all that he loved nobody but Lucy, and nobody but Lucy would he have. And how he had been so worried by what passed, that as soon as he had went away from his mothers house, he had got upon his horse, and rid into the country somewhere or other; and how he had staid about at an inn all Thursday and Friday, on purpose to get the better of it. And after thinking it all over and over again, he said it seemed to him as if, now he had no fortune, and no nothing at all, it would be quite unkind to keep her on to the engagement, because it must be for her loss, for he had nothing but two thousand pounds, and no hope of anything else; and if he was to go into orders (become a vicar), as he had some thoughts, he could get nothing but a curacy, and how was they to live upon that? — He could not bear to think of her doing no better, and so he begged, if she had the least mind for it, to put an end to the matter directly, and leave him to shift for himself. I heard him say all this as plain as could possibly be. And it was entirely for her sake, and upon her account, that he said a word about being off, and not upon his own. I will take my oath he never dropt a syllable of being tired of her, or of wishing to marry Miss Morton, or anything like it. But, to be sure, Lucy would not give ear to such kind of talking; so she told him directly (with a great deal about sweet and love, you know, and all that — Oh, la! one can’t repeat such kind of things, you know) — she told him directly, she had not the least mind in the world to be off, for she could live with him upon a trifle, and how little soever he might have, she should be very glad to have it all, you know, or something of the kind. So then he was monstrous happy, and talked on some time about what they should do, and they agreed he should take orders directly, and they must wait to be married till he got a living. And just then I could not hear any more, for my cousin called from below to tell me Mrs. Richardson was come in her coach, and would take one of us to Kensington Gardens; so I was forced to go into the room and interrupt them, to ask Lucy if she would like to go, but she did not care to leave Edward; so I just run up stairs and put on a pair of silk stockings, and came off with the Richardsons.”

“I do not understand what you mean by interrupting them” said Elinor; “you were all in the same room together, were not you?”

“No indeed! not us. La! Miss Dashwood, do you think people make love when anybody else is by? Oh! for shame? — To be sure you must know better than that.” (Laughing affectedly.) — “No, no; they were shut up in the drawing-room together, and all I heard was only by listening at the door.”

“How!” cried Elinor; “have you been repeating to me what you only learnt yourself by listening at the door? I am sorry I did not know it before; for I certainly would not have suffered you to give me particulars (details) of a conversation which you ought not to have known yourself. How could you behave so unfairly by your sister?”

Elinor’s horrified reaction to finding herself a party to information obtained by eavesdropping is similar to Elizabeth’s reaction to Lydia’s indiscretion (in Pride and Prejudice) in letting slip facts about her wedding to Wickham that were supposed to remain a secret. It is not right to hear information that should not be disseminated. Details such as this increase our sense of Elinor (and Marianne’s) merit and integrity, in contrast to the lack of it in others.

The essentials in this garbled narrative, although confused by details such as running upstairs to put on a pair of silk stockings, seem to be that Edward has told his mother that ‘he loved nobody but Lucy.’ He has then described his poverty to Lucy at considerable length, ‘for he had nothing but two thousand pounds, and no hope of anything else. … he could get nothing but a curacy, and how was they to live upon that: … so he begged, if she had the least mind for it, to put an end to the matter directly However, they must wait to be married until he got a living.

Again, the truth has not emerged. Is it ever possible to tell the truth? It turns out, much later, that Edward no longer loves Lucy and it seems, again later, that she knows this. However, he tells his mother that he does because he is not prepared to break their engagement. He is true to his promise to Lucy, even though he no longer loves her. In Emma, too, Austen notes the difficulty of ever telling the whole truth. ‘Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised…’. (Chapter 49)

Edward does seem to have dwelt somewhat upon his likely poverty. It is true that an honourable man would not hold his fiancée to an engagement when there was such a conspicuous downturn in his financial circumstances and when he could not offer her a comfortable life. It seems, however, that Edward may have hoped that Lucy would break off the engagement, thinking to do better than him, financially. As indeed she does, later, when Robert becomes a possibility.

“Oh, la! there is nothing in that. I only stood at the door, and heard what I could. And I am sure Lucy would have done just the same by me; for a year or two back, when Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together, she never made any bones of hiding in a closet, or behind a chimney-board, on purpose to hear what we said.”

Elinor tried to talk of something else; but Miss Steele could not be kept beyond a couple of minutes, from what was uppermost in her mind.

Miss Steele furnishes the reader with an update on Edward, and finally signs off, via a spotted muslin, with an optimistic invitation of herself and her sister to stay with Mrs Jennings once Elinor and Marianne have left for Devon.

“Edward talks of going to Oxford soon,” said she, “but now he is lodging at No. — , Pall Mall.

I have not time to speak to Mrs. Jennings about it myself, but pray tell her I am quite happy to hear she is not in anger against us, and Lady Middleton the same; and if anything should happen to take you and your sister away, and Mrs. Jennings should want company, I am sure we should be very glad to come and stay with her for as long a time as she likes. I suppose Lady Middleton won’t ask us any more this bout. Good-bye; I am sorry Miss Marianne was not here. Remember me kindly to her. La! if you have not got your spotted muslin on! — I wonder you was not afraid of its being torn.”

The next morning Elinor receives an unwelcome letter from Lucy.

The next morning brought Elinor a letter by the two-penny post, from Lucy herself. It was as follows: —

Bartlett’s Buildings , March. I hope my dear Miss Dashwood will excuse the liberty I take of writing to her; but I know your friendship for me will make you pleased to hear such a good account of myself and my dear Edward, after all the troubles we have went through lately, therefore will make no more apologies, but proceed to say that, thank God! though we have suffered dreadfully, we are both quite well now, and as happy as we must always be in one anothers love. We have had great trials, and great persecutions, but however, at the same time, gratefully acknowledge many friends, yourself not the least among them, whose great kindness I shall always thankfully remember, as will Edward too, who I have told of it. I am sure you will be glad to hear, as likewise dear Mrs. Jennings, I spent two happy hours with him yesterday afternoon, he would not hear of our parting, though earnestly did I, as I thought my duty required, urge him to it for prudence sake, and would have parted for ever on the spot, would he consent to it; but he said it should never be, he did not regard his mothers anger, while he could have my affections; our prospects are not very bright, to be sure, but we must wait, and hope for the best; he will be ordained shortly, and should it ever be in your power to recommend him to anybody that has a living to bestow, am very sure you will not forget us, and dear Mrs. Jennings too, trust she will speak a good word for us to Sir John, or Mr. Palmer, or any friend that may be able to assist us. — Poor Anne was much to blame for what she did, but she did it for the best, so I say nothing; hope Mrs. Jennings won’t think it too much trouble to give us a call, should she come this way any morning, ‘twould be a great kindness, and my cousins would be proud to know her. — My paper reminds me to conclude, and begging to be most gratefully and respectfully remembered to her, and to Sir John, and Lady Middleton, and the dear children, when you chance to see them, and love to Miss Marianne,

“I am, etc., etc.”

Peter Sabor writes: ‘The letter, with its third-person address to “my dear Miss Dashwood” as “her,” begins still more formally than Willoughby’s to Marianne, but then switches bewilderingly to the informal second person with the phrase “your friendship for me”. A series of grammatical solecisms follows in quick succession: “myself and my dear Edward”, “we have went through,” “Edward too, who I have told of it,” and several others. The letter is also disfigured by a plethora of clichéd phrases, such as “excuse the liberty,” “we have suffered dreadfully,” “gratefully acknowledge,” and “great kindness.” Most objectionable of all is the trite conclusion, “My paper reminds me to conclude” – and this for a letter that in Austen’s hand would fill less than half of one side of paper.’
‘Good, Bad, and Ugly’ Letters in Sense and Sensibility 2011 jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/

As soon as Elinor had finished it, she performed what she concluded to be its writer’s real design, by placing it in the hands of Mrs. Jennings, who read it aloud with many comments of satisfaction and praise.

Evidently one purpose of Lucy’s letter is to gloat. ‘I know your friendship for me will make you pleased to hear such a good account of myself and my dear Edward…’. She also trumpets their dreadful sufferings, proceeding from that to being ‘happy as we must always be in one another’s love.’ She then reverts again to the ‘great trials, and great persecutions’. Then more vaunting of her triumph at Elinor’s expense, ‘I am sure you will be glad to hear, as likewise dear Mrs. Jennings, I spent two happy hours with him yesterday afternoon’. Eventually she gets to the other aim of her letter, another twist of the knife. This is to ask Elinor to look out for a living for her and Edward: ‘should it ever be in your power to recommend him to anybody that has a living to bestow…’.

Jane Austen knew Kensington Gardens. On 25thApril 1811, when she was staying with her brother Henry in Sloane Street and correcting the proofs of Sense and Sensibility, she wrote to her sister. ‘ Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.’

The Original Picture of London by John Feltham (published 1826) contains fascinating descriptions both of Kensington Gardens and of other famous places that were evidently very different two hundred years ago. The full text of the book can be found on the excellent website, archive.org. archive.org/stream/originalpicture

Here are some extracts.

KENSINGTON PALACE AND GARDENS.

This palace was the seat of Lord Chancellor Finch,
afterwards Earl of Nottingham, but was purchased, and
made a royal residence, by William III. It is a large
irregular edifice of brick, but contains a good suite
of state apartments and some painted staircases and ceil-
ings. Among the numerous pictures in this palace are seve-
ral by Holbein, and a few by Paul Veronese, Vandyke, Guer-
cino, Giorgione, Murillo, L. da Vinci, Lely, and Kneller.
The Great Staircase leads from the principal entrance to
the palace by a long corridor, the sides of which are
painted to represent a gallery crowded with spectators, on
a grand court-day. These paintings were executed by
Kent, who has introduced portraits of himself, of Ulric, a
Polish youth, page to George I., of the Turks, Mahomet
and Mustapha, two of his attendants, and also of Peter
the Wild-boy. William and Mary, Queen Anne, George I.
and George II. made this palace their place of frequent
residence, and the last mentioned of these princes died
here. Her late Majesty resided here for some time, while
Princess of Wales. Here is a range of apartments occu-
pied by the Duke of Sussex. The late Duke of Kent was
likewise, at one period, an occupant, and his widow and
child are still resident here. Kensington palace may be
viewed by strangers, on application to the housekeeper.

The garden, or park, originally attached to the building,
and which King William greatly improved, consisted in his
time of only twenty-six acres. Queen Anne added thirty
acres, and Queen Caroline, consort to George II , ex-
tended the boundaries by the addition of two hundred
acres taken out of Hyde Park. The present circumference
of the whole grounds is about two miles and a half.

These spacious gardens were laid out from the designs
of Bridgman, Kent, and Lancelot Brown, who may be
considered as the inventors of the modern art of landscape
gardening. This delightful place is always open to the
public from six o’clock in the morning in summer, and
seven in winter, till sunset.

THE ROYAL PARKS.
St. Jameses Park was scarcely any thing but a marsh
previously to the reign of Henry Vlll.; that monarch
drained and enclosed it, when he erected the palace,
to serve as a demesne both for St. James’s and Whiter-
hall. Charles II employed Le Notre to plant the avenues,
and to make the canal, as well as the aviary adjoining the
Bird-cage Walk, which took its name from the cages
that were then hung in the trees. The canal at that
time had a decoy for water-fowl. The same prince form-
ed the MaII, the present vista so called, but which
was constructed as a smooth hollowed walk, in which to
lay at a certain game with a ball, and a kind of club cal-
ed a mall. Agreeably to that purpose, this noble walk,
which is half a mile in length, was bordered with a wood-
en screen, and bounded at one end by an iron hoop,
through which the ball was to be struck. Subsequent mo-
narchs allowed the citizens to walk in this park for their
recreation, and William III. first admitted a passage to be
made into it from Spring Gardens.

On the conclusion of peace with France, in 1814, boat-races,
illuminations, and fire-works were exhibited in this park, when
a wooden bridge, with a Chinese temple on it, was erected. The latter
was burnt by accident during the fete, and the bridge itself, becoming
unsafe, was taken down in 1820, to the great inconvenience of
the inhabitants of Westminster, to whom this communication across
the Park was very useful.

The King’s Foot-Guards parade every day, between ten
and eleven o’clock, opposite the park-front of the building
called the Horse Guards, and the fine band of music which
accompanies this spectacle renders it an attractive scene
to strangers. The canal, in the middle of this park, is a
noted place for skaiting, in frosty weather.

The Green Park, in point of fact, is a continuation
of St. James’s Park, being separated from it by an iron rail-
ing only; during the spring and summer it forms a favourite
promenade for the genteel inhabitants of the metropolis,
and, in fine weather, on every evening, and on Sundays in
particular, it is always crowded with company. At the north-east
angle of this park there is a fine piece of water, which forms at
once a beautiful embellishment and a useful reservoir. The lodge
of the deputy-ranger of St. James’s and Hyde Parks stands on
a part of the ascent from the former to the latter.

Hide Park is a royal demesne, separated from the pre-
ceding Park by the width of the street at Hyde-Park Cor-
ner. It was originally much larger than at present, hav-
ing been greatly reduced by the inclosure of Kensington
Gardens, from which, as now completed, it is separated
by a wall and a sunk fence. In 1652, it contained 620
acres, but at present it has only 395. This park, though
too bare of trees, is a spot of much natural beauty, heigh-
tened by a fine piece of water, still called the Serpentine
River, although formed into a wide, straight canal in 1750,
by enlarging the bed of a stream flowing through the park,
which, taking its rise at Hampstead, falls into the Thames
at Ranelagh. At the eastern extremity is an artificial wa
ter-fall, constructed in 1817. On the north side of this canal
are the keeper’s lodge and garden, together with a powder-
magazine, lately rebuilt. The wall, which now bounds its
north, south, and east sides, was commenced in 1726.

Hyde Park is used for the field-days of the Horse and
Foot Guards, and other troops, and for occasional grand
reviews. These exercises destroy the verdure of the park,
converting a large portion of it into a beaten and dusty
parade ; yet the reviews afford an agreeable entertainment
to the people of London, who crowd hither, in vast num-
bers, on such occasions. The barracks of the Life Guards
are on the south-west side, adjoining Knightsbridge.

The Regent’s, or Mary-le-bone Park, was formerly called
Mary-le-bone Fields ; it contains about 450 acres, which are
laid out in good taste, and has already realised a portion
of the grand improvements projected in this neighbour-
hood. Many buildings, which have been noticed elsewhere,
have been erected in this park ; and several rows, terraces,
and detached villas are now in progress. Two edifices of
a novel kind, and singular in their design and appropriation,
have been recently erected, one called the Diorama, the
other the Panorama, (the latter built for a view from St.
Pauls) accounts of which will be found in other pages of
this volume. A fine artificial river embellishes the grounds.
When completed, this park will form as beautiful an area,
either for pedestrian exercise, or for airing on horseback
or in carriages, as any in the kingdom.

Promenading, an excellent practice for all who wish to
see and be seen, as well as a most useful exercise for the
promotion of health, is a favourite amusement with the in-
habitants of London, and the fine parks just described af-
ford the most spacious theatres for this amusement. In
relation to this practice, a farther notice of Hyde Park
and Kensington Gardens, where it is chiefly exemplified,
may prove interesting. One of the most delighted scenes
attaching to this great metropolis, and that which most
displays its opulence and splendour, is formed by the company
here asembled, principally on Sunday during fa-
vourable weather, from March till the month of July. The
spacious gravelled roads, within the parks, are then cover-
ed with horsemen and carriages, (which, equally with the
pedestrians, literally promenade), from two till five o’clock
in the afternoon. A broad foot-path, running from Hyde
Park Corner to Kensington Gardens, is frequently so
crowded during the same hours, with well-dressed people
passing to, or returning from, the gardens, that it is difficult
to proceed. A noble walk, stretching from north to south,
in Kensington Gardens, near the western boundary, with its
gay company, completes the interesting scene, numbers of
people of fashion, mingled with a great multitude of well-
dressed persons of various ranks, occupying this walk for
many hours together. It has been computed, that 50,000
people have been seen at one time in this Park and Gar-
dens. Nor is the practice modern, for the spot has been
equally resorted to, for the same purpose, during the last
two hundred years.

Hyde Park is open every day in the year, to all persons,
from six in the morning till nine at night. No horseman
is excluded, nor any carriage, except hackney or stage
coaches. Five gates form its inlets, the principal of which
are Cumberland gate, at the end of Oxford Street ; Grosvenor
Gate, in Park Lane ; the gate at the western extremity of Piccadilly,
called Hyde Park Corner; and that near the entrance of the
village of Kensington. Among other improvements in
contemplation here, is the erection of a bridge over the
upper end of the Serpentine, for the purpose of forming
a free and uninterrupted communication round the park.

In the severity of winter, the Serpentine river frequently
sustains thousands on its congealed surface, who skait or
walk about in all possible directions. His late Majesty, in
consequence of the number of accidents that have occur-
red in following this amusement, gave a plot of ground on
the river’s brink, on which to erect a building for the Hu-
mane Society, a structure that inspires, at the same mo-
ment, feelings both painful and gratifying to humanity in
the visitant, when he is informed that it is a ‘ Receivings
house for persons really or apparently drowned?

Patrice Todisco, author of the website Landscape Notes, landscapenotes.com , has kindly given me permission to copy parts of his article on Kensington Gardens.

In 1689 King William III and Queen Mary II purchased Nottingham House in what was then the village of Kensington to escape the “foul air” of the city proper. William was asthmatic and he and Mary had recently undertaken a similar project at Het Loo in the Netherlands. To improve and enlarge the property they hired the preeminent architect of the time, Christopher Wren, and embarked upon a series of landscape improvements. Wren … is credited with designing 57 churches within London including St. Paul’s Cathedral.
According to The Gardens of William and Mary, written by David Jacques and Arend Jan van der Horst, the original property was 40 acres in size with a paddock and a few small gardens including a mount, a banqueting house and bowling green.
Under Mary’s direction, George London was retained to create plans for a southern garden of 12 acres with a great walk in line with the Elm Avenue. Dutch in style with clipped yews, holly and topiary, the gardens are described as “a collection of elaborate unsymmetrical parterres and wildernesses which, although smaller, were even more intricate than any bosquet at Versailles,” Kensington Palace and Gardens’ transformation from a modest country estate to a residence befitting the royal family had begun in earnest.

To facilitate William’s safe passage to Whitehall an illuminated private road was cut through the gardens and Hyde Park. The Rue de Roi or “King’s Road,” labeled as The King’s Private Road on the Schmollinger Map of 1833 became known as “Rotten Row” the name it retains to this day.

In 1702 Mary’s sister Anne became Queen.   Like Mary before her, Anne loved gardens and immediately set about enlarging Kensington’s grounds. She appropriated thirty acres of land from north of the garden in 1704 and in 1705 acquired an additional one hundred acres from Hyde Park to create a paddock for deer and antelope.

Anne commissioned landscape designers Henry Wise and George London (who had begun working on the gardens during the reign of William and Mary) to create an English-style garden within the park.  Anne built the Orangery, designed by Vanbrugh, added a sunken garden and built a mount. In 1705 Anne commissioned Wren to create a covered seating area, known as the Queen’s Alcove.

It is Queen Caroline (1683 – 1737) to whom much of the present day character of Kensington Gardens is attributed. Working with Charles Bridgeman and later William Kent Caroline continued the work of previous monarchs while transforming the landscape into a fine example of the English Garden style with “wiggly walks” and glades of trees. Caroline, who also established the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, is fondly remembered for her role in creating two of the gardens most iconic features, the Round Pond and the Long Water/Serpentine. She is memorialized in Hyde Park.
(Queen Caroline was the wife of King George II. Known as Caroline of Ansbach (a principality in Southern Germany), she moved permanently to Britain when her husband became Prince of Wales in 1714. She became Queen in 1727.)

‘During Caroline’s reign, plans developed by Charles Bridgeman, appointed Royal Gardener in 1728 (with Henry Wise), were realized. Bridgeman, a seminal figure in the development of the English Garden style, promoted the use of the ha-ha, a sunken invisible wall that allowed for uninterrupted, picturesque, landscape views. Royal Gardener for ten years Bridgeman also designed or redesigned the gardens at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, St. James and Hyde Park.

‘The plan of Kensington Gardens below, attributed to Bridgeman, dates from 1733. The Round Pond, on access with the Palace is surrounded by wilderness with “wiggly walks.”

At Kensington Gardens Bridgeman installed a ha-ha and new wall boundary with Hyde Park, developed additional gardens, and constructed the Round Pond and the Long Water or Canal also known  as the Serpentine.

At Kensington Gardens Bridgeman installed a ha-ha and new wall boundary with Hyde Park, developed additional gardens, and constructed the Round Pond and the Long Water or Canal also known  as the Serpentine.

It is also during this period that the Gardens became fashionable for promenading, first by the monarchs and court and later, on a limited basis, to the public.  According to Susan Ladsun in The English Park: Royal, Private and Public, Kensington Gardens were first opened to the public in 1733 once a week while the King and Queen were at Richmond. It would be almost one hundred years later, in 1837 during the reign of Queen Victoria that Kensington Gardens would be fully open to the public.

‘To place the concept of public access to the Royal Gardens within context it is useful to remember that the first publicly funded civic park was opened at Birkenhead, outside of Liverpool in 1847 more than one hundred years (and one American Revolution) after the public was first allowed access to Kensington Gardens.

‘The Gardens were fashionable and popular.  Upwards of 50,000 people were said to have been seen taking the air at one time in Hyde Park and the Gardens and in the winter of 1813 – 1814 more than 6,000 people, chiefly skaters were counted on the Serpentine.

Kensington Gardens by John Martin,1815, Yale Center for British Art

Kensington Gardens by John Martin,1815, Yale Center for British Art

ensington Gardens by John Martin,1815

In the guide, The picture of London for 1808 : being a correct guide to all the curiosities, amusements, exhibitions, public establishments, and remarkable objects in and near London ; with a collection of appropriate tables, two large maps, and several other engravings Kensington Gardens are described as:

“……..one of the most delightful scenes belonging to this great metropolis….. The spacious gravel roads, within the park, are, on a fine Sunday, covered with horsemen and carriages, from two till five o’clock in the afternoon. A broad foot-path, that runs from Hyde Park corner to Kensington Gardens, is frequently so crowded during the same hours, with well-dressed people passing to, or retiring from the gardens, that it is difficult to proceed.”

The Gardens did however retain an air of exclusivity with Feltham noting that:

All the doors of Kensington Gardens are open only from spring till autumn; and from eight in the morning till eight at night. There are four gates belonging to these gardens: two that open into Hyde Park, open all the year; one opening into the Uxbridge Road; and another opening into a road belonging to the king, and leading from the palace into Kensington. The last of these gates, called the Avenue Gate, is open till nine at night, all the year. No servant in livery, nor women with patterns, nor persons carrying bundles, are admitted into the gardens. Dogs are also excluded.”

‘Being well-dressed while in the Kensington Gardens was important, so much so that in the August 1807 edition of La Belle Assemblée (or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies), published between 1806 and 1837, Kensington Garden dresses were advertised.’

George F E Rudé in Hanoverian London, 1714-1808, tells us that ‘Kensington Gardens was … more exclusive…Queen Caroline had it fenced round; and it was noted in 1774 that ‘for the better regulating the company, servants are placed at the different entrances to prevent persons meanly clad from going into the garden’. (University of California Press History of London series)

Le Beau Monde, June 1808, Kensington Garden Dresses

From Regency World at Candicehern.com

The image and details on the clothes in the image are taken from: candicehern.com/regencyworld/kensington-garden-dresses-june-1808

This article is featured in: Regency Collections~ Within Collections: Fashion Prints, Walking Dresses, Gentlemen’s Fashion

Fig. No. 1 (meaning, the man on the left of the image) –Morning Walking Dress.–A dark blue double-breasted coat, with large gilt basket buttons; white India dimity waistcoat and trousers, and white silk stocking with a narrow clock; shows with strings.

Fig. No 1–Kensington Garden Dresses.–A rich India muslin dress, with a superb embossed border, worked in floss silk, white or coloured, made short,walking length; high in the neck, and drawn full round the throat with a tuban collar falling over; the sleeves are long and full, and confined tight round the wrist; whilst the back of the dress is loose and drawn to the shape. The Arabian Tunic worn with this dress is composed of India shawl work of a brighter primrose, elegantly relieved with a turban trimming wreathed with green sarsnet. The Arabian hat is a graceful melangeof the turban and gipsey forms, of a delicate straw or chip, confined under the chin, with a bow and tassels of green sarsnet. Gloves straw colour, and half boots of jade green.

Fig. No 2–A short train of white net, bound with white satin round the bottom: the back of the dress is made square and low as also the front to match, with a deep rich lace falling over; a French body of pink satin, confined close under the bosom; the sleeves are short and full, and bound with white satin to correspond with the bottom; the Catalani tippet of white lace drapery, finished at one end with a rich white lace tassel, is thrown negligently across the shoulder, whilst the other end hangs downs plain, without ornament. The Flora bonnet is made of white chip, trimmed with pink sarsnet and ornamented in front with a bunch of various coloured flowers. Necklaces of emeralds, or imitations of the same, are much worn with this dress; the gloves and shoes are of white kid.”

The Catalani tippet, which is so sheer it’s almost hard to see, is named after the famous opera singer Angelica Catalani, who had taken London by storm two years earlier.

This article is featured in: Regency Collections~ Within Collections: Fashion Prints, Walking Dresses, Gentlemen’s Fashion

If you are interested in regency fashion, there are several websites that specialise in it. The website regencyfashion.org contains a wealth of fashion plates and descriptions, including, La Belle Assemblée, Le Beau Monde, and The Lady’s Magazine.

The British Library website shows Gallery of Fashion Vol III 1796 – you can turn over the pages of the book and there is plenty of description. On the Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians section, there are several articles on Jane Austen and her time.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a section of its website called vandaimages.com. Here, you can find images and descriptions from the Gallery of Fashion, by Heideloff and Ackermann.

The website of Jane Austen’s World has several images and descriptions from La Belle Assemblée. The website is janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/la-belle-assemblee-1807

The Regency History website gives several links for La Belle Assemblée. The website is regencyhistory.net

Chapter 39 (Volume III, Chapter 3)

Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that he can offer Edward the living at Delaford, his Dorset estate.

Marianne and Elinor are to travel to Cleveland, the Palmers’ country residence in Somerset. This will enable them to make their way to their own home in Devon quite easily. However, before they leave Mrs Jennings’ house in London, Colonel Brandon visits. He tells Elinor that the living at Delaford (his estate in Dorset) has become vacant, and that he can give it to Edward. The living – the position of vicar and the house that goes with it – is in his gift, meaning that he can make the appointment of the new vicar. He is eager to do this in order to help Edward now that his family has cast him off.

“I have heard,” said he, with great compassion, “of the injustice your friend Mr. Ferrars has suffered from his family; for if I understand the matter right, he has been entirely cast off by them for persevering in his engagement with a very deserving young woman — Have I been rightly informed? — Is it so?”

Elinor told him that it was.

“The cruelty, the impolitic cruelty,” he replied, with great feeling “of dividing, or attempting to divide, two young people long attached to each other, is terrible; — Mrs. Ferrars does not know what she may be doing — what she may drive her son to. I have seen Mr. Ferrars two or three times in Harley Street, and am much pleased with him. He is not a young man with whom one can be intimately acquainted in a short time, but I have seen enough of him to wish him well for his own sake, and as a friend of yours, I wish it still more. I understand that he intends to take orders. Will you be so good as to tell him that the living of Delaford, now just vacant, as I am informed by this day’s post, is his, if he think it worth his acceptance; — but that, perhaps, so unfortunately circumstanced as he is now, it may be nonsense to appear to doubt; I only wish it were more valuable. — It is a rectory, but a small one; the late incumbent, I believe, did not make more than 200 pounds per annum, and though it is certainly capable of improvement, I fear, not to such an amount as to afford him a very comfortable income. Such as it is, however, my pleasure in presenting him to it, will be very great. Pray assure him of it.”

Elinor’s astonishment at this commission could hardly have been greater, had the Colonel been really making her an offer of his hand. The preferment, which only two days before she had considered as hopeless for Edward, was already provided to enable him to marry; — and she, of all people in the world, as fixed on to bestow it! — Her emotion was such as Mrs. Jennings had attributed to a very different cause; — but whatever minor feelings less pure, less pleasing, might have a share in that emotion, her esteem for the general benevolence, and her gratitude for the particular friendship, which together prompted Colonel Brandon to this act, were strongly felt, and warmly expressed. She thanked him for it with all her heart, spoke of Edward’s principles and disposition with that praise which she knew them to deserve; and promised to undertake the commission with pleasure, if it were really his wish to put off so agreeable an office to another. But, at the same time, she could not help thinking that no one could so well perform it as himself. It was an office, in short, from which, unwilling to give Edward the pain of receiving an obligation from her, she would have been very glad to be spared herself; — but Colonel Brandon, on motives of equal delicacy declining it likewise, still seemed so desirous of its being given through her means, that she would not on any account make farther opposition. Edward, she believed, was still in town, and fortunately she had heard his address from Miss Steele. She could undertake therefore to inform him of it, in the course of the day. After this had been settled, Colonel Brandon began to talk of his own advantage in securing so respectable and agreeable a neighbour; and then it was that he mentioned with regret, that the house was small and indifferent; — an evil which Elinor, as Mrs. Jennings had supposed her to do, made very light of, at least as far as regarded its size.

“The smallness of the house,” said she, “I cannot imagine any inconvenience to them, for it will be in proportion to their family and income.”

By which the Colonel was surprised to find that she was considering Mr. Ferrars’s marriage as the certain consequence of the presentation; for he did not suppose it possible that Delaford living could supply such an income, as anybody in his style of life would venture to settle on — and he said so.

“This little rectory can do no more than make Mr. Ferrars comfortable as a bachelor; it cannot enable him to marry. I am sorry to say that my patronage ends with this; and my interest is hardly more extensive. If, however, by any unforeseen chance it should be in my power to serve him farther, I must think very differently of him from what I now do, if I am not as ready to be useful to him then, as I sincerely wish I could be at present. What I am now doing indeed seems nothing at all, since it can advance him so little towards what must be his principal, his only object of happiness. His marriage must still be a distant good; — at least, I am afraid it cannot take place very soon. — “

This kindness on Colonel Brandon’s part towards a young couple in need of help brings particular pain to Elinor. ‘The preferment (promotion), which only two days before she had considered as hopeless for Edward, was already provided to enable him to marry; — and she, of all people in the world, as fixed on to bestow it! –‘ Colonel Brandon’s generosity means that Edward will be able to marry Lucy Steele almost at once, and Elinor is designated the person to tell him the news that will part them irrevocably. Jane Austen used this turn of events again in her first ending to Persuasion, when Anne Elliot has to hear from her former fiancé, Captain Wentworth, of his sister’s readiness to quit the Elliot family home so that she can live there with her widely-supposed prospective husband upon their marriage. On that occasion, her response prompts a renewed proposal from Captain Wentworth.
Colonel Brandon gets a very bad press from critics who do not like the way Marianne is bundled into marrying him at the end of the novel. But his feelings, speech and actions are constantly mentioned, in a quiet way, and they consistently portray him as a most aware and feeling man. Neither does he impose his ideas on other people without consultation (as, for instance, Sir John Middleton does in enforcing the proximity of Elinor and Marianne with the Miss Steeles). When he hears of Willoughby’s engagement, he comes to see Elinor at once, and with concern (Chapter 30). Now he learns that the living in his gift has just become vacant, and he immediately visits Elinor to see if this would be helpful to her friend, Mr Ferrars. Elinor’s perception of him includes ‘her esteem for the general benevolence, and her gratitude for the particular friendship, which together prompted Colonel Brandon to this act, were strongly felt, and warmly expressed. She thanked him for it with all her heart’.

Chapter 40 (excerpts)

Mrs Jennings thinks that Elinor is to marry Colonel Brandon. Edward visits, and Elinor has to tell him about Colonel Brandon’s suggestions for his career and future home.

Elinor is puzzling over how to phrase a letter to Edward apprising him of Colonel Brandon’s intentions towards him to promote his happiness, when Edward himself appears.

How she should begin — how she should express herself in her note to Edward, was now all her concern. The particular circumstances between them made a difficulty of that which to any other person would have been the easiest thing in the world; but she equally feared to say too much or too little, and sat deliberating over her paper, with the pen in her hand, till broken in on by the entrance of Edward himself.

Jane Austen describes Elinor spending a long time failing to put words to Edward on paper.

How she should begin — at which point the thoughts for the letter peter out.
how she should express herself in her note to Edward …
so Elinor starts her thought again, with the same words, ‘how she should’. Their relationship makes ‘a difficulty’ of something which is really, by contrast, ‘the easiest thing’. She still hasn’t begun to write. This time it is because ‘she … feared to say too much’ – and here Elinor’s thoughts collapse again – ‘or too little’ – so she sits, wondering what to write.

At the beginning of the last sentence, she is at least in charge of not managing to write anything, but when her deliberations are interrupted, the verb is in the passive voice, she is being acted upon by events that are beyond her control: ‘till broken in on by the entrance of Edward himself.’ As is frequently the fate of women in Austen’s novels, Elinor has to react to Edward’s sudden arrival; she has no opportunity to be proactive.

He had met Mrs. Jennings at the door in her way to the carriage, as he came to leave his farewell card; and she, after apologising for not returning herself, had obliged him to enter by saying that Miss Dashwood was above, and wanted to speak with him on very particular business.

Elinor had just been congratulating herself, in the midst of her perplexity, that however difficult it might be to express herself properly by letter, it was at least preferable to giving the information by word of mouth, when her visitor entered, to force her upon this greatest exertion of all. Her astonishment and confusion were very great on his so sudden appearance.

Elinor is, as usual, exerting herself and counting her blessings ‘congratulating herself.’ It’s pretty hard work to find a blessing, as the successive clauses demonstrate. They sort of crank themselves up.
Elinor had just been congratulating herself,
in the midst of her perplexity, that
however difficult it might be to express herself properly by letter,
it was at least preferable to giving the information by word of mouth,
when her visitor entered, to force her upon this greatest exertion of all.
‘This greatest exertion of all’ refers to giving Edward the information by word of mouth. The word ‘exertion’ is constantly associated with Elinor. It may be that all she can do, as a woman in a man’s world, is react, but it takes very great exertion on her part to react in the best possible way.

She had not seen him before since his engagement became public, and therefore not since his knowing her to be acquainted with it; which, with the consciousness of what she had been thinking of, and what she had to tell him, made her feel particularly uncomfortable for some minutes.

Again, Jane Austen stacks up with exactness the uncomfortable feelings assailing Elinor at this juncture.

She had not seen him before since his engagement became public, and therefore not

since his knowing her to be acquainted with it;

which, with the consciousness of what she had been thinking of, and

what she had to tell him,

made her feel particularly uncomfortable for some minutes.

He too was much distressed, and they sat down together in a most promising state of embarrassment. — Whether he had asked her pardon for his intrusion on first coming into the room, he could not recollect; but determining to be on the safe side, he made his apology in form as soon as he could say anything, after taking a chair.

Jane Austen here gives us a situation of particular awkwardness and embarrassment. It was difficult enough for Elinor when she had to write to Edward to tell him of Colonel’s Brandon’s offer not only of a profession but also of somewhere to live when he is married. The matter is made considerably more uncomfortable when she has to tell Edward face to face. The only indication that some element of comedy can be found in this predicament is Austen’s description of their sitting down together ‘in a most promising state of embarrassment.’ ‘Promising’ suggests potential, the very opposite of what we would expect in a meeting that seems to be entirely distressing to both parties. They are both constrained by their integrity and by social requirements to refrain from saying what they really know to be the case. But if this situation is a ‘promising state of embarrassment’, we are prompted both to sympathise with the impasse and to be entertained by codes of manners that dictate a particular conduct.

“Mrs. Jennings told me,” said he, “that you wished to speak to me, at least I understood her so — or I certainly should not have intruded on you in such a manner; though, at the same time, I should have been extremely sorry to leave London without seeing you and your sister; especially as it will most likely be some time — it is not probable that I should soon have the pleasure of meeting you again. I go to Oxford tomorrow.”

Edward’s emotions are in such turmoil that he can hardly get an articulate sentence out. His efforts at constructing something that makes sense are lamentable – the sense goes in several different directions. The general idea amidst all the jumble seems to be that he is apologising for intruding upon Elinor, that he had wanted to see her again and that he is about to leave London for Oxford. The most striking part of his attempt at communication is, ‘I should have been extremely sorry to leave London without seeing you and your sister.’ Since he is engaged to Lucy, this is quite an admission.

“You would not have gone, however,” said Elinor, recovering herself, and determined to get over what she so much dreaded as soon as possible, “without receiving our good wishes, even if we had not been able to give them in person. Mrs. Jennings was quite right in what she said. I have something of consequence (important) to inform you of, which I was on the point of communicating by paper. I am charged with a most agreeable office (duty)” (breathing rather faster than usual as she spoke.) “Colonel Brandon, who was here only ten minutes ago, has desired me to say, that, understanding you mean to take orders (become a priest), he has great pleasure in offering you the living of Delaford, now just vacant, and only wishes it were more valuable. Allow me to congratulate you on having so respectable and well-judging a friend, and to join in his wish that the living — it is about two hundred a-year — were much more considerable, and such as might better enable you to — as might be more than a temporary accommodation to yourself — such, in short, as might establish all your views of happiness.”

Elinor is searching for a way of putting into words the fact that Colonel Brandon wishes that being priest at Delaford brought in a higher income than it does, so that when Edward is vicar of Delaford he could marry Lucy and live comfortably there. Elinor has several shots at this: ‘such as might better enable you to…’, and then she tries again: ‘might be more than a temporary accommodation to yourself …’ but that doesn’t seem right either. Finally she achieves, ‘such, in short, as might establish all your views of happiness.’

Mary Lascelles notes that in what I have called a stage direction, but what is more properly called a parenthetical intrusion ‘(breathing rather faster than usual as she spoke)’, Austen is indebted to Samuel Richardson. He discovered that ‘a parenthetical phrase, most often built upon a present participle, if introduced abruptly in the midst of a speech … gives the air of eyewitness’. Fanny Burney also used this device.
(Mary Lascelles,Jane Austen and her Art, OUP 1939)

What Edward felt, as he could not say it himself, it cannot be expected that any one else should say for him. He looked all the astonishment which such unexpected, such unthought-of information could not fail of exciting (arousing); but he said only these two words –

“Colonel Brandon!”

“Yes,” continued Elinor, gathering more resolution, as some of the worst was over; “Colonel Brandon means it as a testimony (proof) of his concern for what has lately passed — for the cruel situation in which the unjustifiable conduct of your family has placed you — a concern which, I am sure, Marianne, myself, and all your friends must share; and likewise as a proof of his high esteem for your general character, and his particular approbation of your behaviour on the present occasion.”

“Colonel Brandon give me a living! — Can it be possible?”

“The unkindness of your own relations has made you astonished to find friendship any where.”

“No,” replied he, with sudden consciousness, “not to find it in you; for I cannot be ignorant that to you, to your goodness, I owe it all. I feel it — I would express it if I could — but, as you well know, I am no orator.”

“You are very much mistaken. I do assure you that you owe it entirely, at least almost entirely, to your own merit, and Colonel Brandon’s discernment of it. I have had no hand in it. I did not even know, till I understood his design, that the living was vacant; nor had it ever occurred to me that he might have had such a living in his gift. As a friend of mine, of my family, he may perhaps — indeed I know he has, still greater pleasure in bestowing it; but, upon my word, you owe nothing to my solicitation.”

Truth obliged her to acknowledge some small share in the action; but she was at the same time so unwilling to appear as the benefactress of Edward, that she acknowledged it with hesitation; which probably contributed to fix that suspicion in his mind which had recently entered it. For a short time he sat deep in thought, after Elinor had ceased to speak; — at last, and as if it were rather an effort, he said —

“Colonel Brandon seems a man of great worth and respectability. I have always heard him spoken of as such, and your brother, I know, esteems him highly. He is undoubtedly a sensible man, and in his manners perfectly the gentleman.”

It is ‘rather an effort’ for Edward to praise Colonel Brandon because he perceives him as a rival in his affections for Elinor. But decorum dictates that he cannot ask Elinor this, as it would be a betrayal of Lucy, to whom he is engaged but whom (we learn for certain at the very end of the novel) he does not love.

“Indeed,” replied Elinor, “I believe that you will find him, on farther acquaintance, all that you have heard him to be; and as you will be such very near neighbours, (for I understand the parsonage is almost close to the mansion-house), it is particularly important that he should be all this.”

Edward made no answer; but when she had turned away her head, gave her a look so serious, so earnest, so uncheerful, as seemed to say, that he might hereafter wish the distance between the parsonage and the mansion-house much greater.

Because Elinor turns away her head, the reader knows something that Elinor does not know: that Edward ‘gave her a look so serious, so earnest, so uncheerful….’. Austen has allowed us to know Edward’s love for Elinor, whereas for Elinor this is still in doubt. Sense and Sensibility, despite its very serious themes, is a comedy of manners. As the reader now knows that Edward loves Elinor, there is every hope that their story will end, as comedy always ends, in marriage.

“Colonel Brandon, I think, lodges in St. James’s Street,” said he, soon afterwards, rising from his chair.

Elinor told him the number of the house.

“I must hurry away then, to give him those thanks which you will not allow me to give you; to assure him that he has made me a very — an exceedingly happy man.”

Edward’s position as the fiancé of Lucy compels him to say something that is entirely untrue: ‘to assure him (Colonel Brandon) that he has made me a very – an exceedingly happy man.’

Elinor did not offer to detain him; and they parted, with a very earnest assurance on her side of her unceasing good wishes for his happiness in every change of situation that might befal him; on his, with rather an attempt to return the same good will, than the power of expressing it.

“When I see him again,” said Elinor to herself, as the door shut him out, “I shall see him the husband of Lucy.”

And with this pleasing anticipation, she sat down to re-consider the past, recall the words, and endeavoured to comprehend all the feelings of Edward; and, of course, to reflect on her own with discontent.

This conversation with Edward is sombre and difficult enough. The one aspect of comedy is that each misunderstands the other. Edward thinks that Colonel Brandon now intends to marry Elinor, and is jealous of him. Elinor miserably assumes that the news of Colonel Brandon’s gift of the living to him will enable Edward to marry Lucy almost at once. Austen gives the reader a hint that the future may not be as bleak as Elinor supposes when she writes, ‘this pleasing anticipation.’ She is being teasingly ironic.

When Mrs. Jennings came home, though she returned from seeing people whom she had never seen before, and of whom therefore she must have a great deal to say, her mind was so much more occupied by the important secret in her possession, than by anything else, that she reverted to it again as soon as Elinor appeared.

“Well, my dear,” she cried, “I sent you up the young man. Did not I do right? — And I suppose you had no great difficulty — You did not find him very unwilling to accept your proposal?”

“No, ma’am; that was not very likely.”

“Well, and how soon will he be ready? — For it seems all to depend upon that.”

“Really,” said Elinor, “I know so little of these kind of forms, that I can hardly even conjecture as to the time, or the preparation necessary; but I suppose two or three months will complete his ordination.”

“Two or three months!” cried Mrs. Jennings; “Lord! my dear, how calmly you talk of it! and can the Colonel wait two or three months! Lord bless me! — I am sure it would put me quite out of patience! — And though one would be very glad to do a kindness by poor Mr. Ferrars, I do think it is not worth while to wait two or three months for him. Sure, somebody else might be found that would do as well; somebody that is in orders already.”

“My dear ma’am,” said Elinor, “what can you be thinking of? — Why, Colonel Brandon’s only object is to be of use to Mr. Ferrars.”

“Lord bless you, my dear! — Sure you do not mean to persuade me that the Colonel only marries you for the sake of giving ten guineas to Mr. Ferrars!” The deception could not continue after this; and an explanation immediately took place, by which both gained considerable amusement for the moment, without any material loss of happiness to either, for Mrs. Jennings only exchanged one form of delight for another, and still without forfeiting her expectation of the first.

“Aye, aye, the parsonage is but a small one,” said she, after the first ebullition of surprise and satisfaction was over, “and very likely may be out of repair; but to hear a man apologising, as I thought, for a house that to my knowledge has five sitting rooms on the ground-floor, and I think the house-keeper told me, could make up fifteen beds! — And to you too, that had been used to live in Barton Cottage! It seemed quite ridiculous. — But, my dear, we must touch up (influence, persuade) the Colonel to do something to the parsonage, and make it comfortable for them, before Lucy goes to it.”

“But Colonel Brandon does not seem to have any idea of the living’s being enough to allow them to marry.”

“The Colonel is a ninny, my dear; because he has two thousand a-year himself, he thinks that nobody else can marry on less. Take my word for it, that, if I am alive, I shall be paying a visit at Delaford Parsonage before Michaelmas; and I am sure I sha’nt go if Lucy an’t there.”

Elinor was quite of her opinion, as to the probability of their not waiting for anything more.

Having set up a very embarrassing and awkward situation between Elinor and Edward, Austen follows it with more misunderstanding. Mrs Jennings is convinced that Colonel Brandon wants to marry Elinor, so Elinor and Mrs Jennings’ conversation is an exercise in being at cross-purposes. This can hardly be amusing to Elinor, but what must be salt in the wound of her love for Edward is Mrs Jennings’ wish that her cousin Lucy be happily settled in Delaford Vicarage with Edward. ‘But, my dear, we must touch up (influence, persuade) the Colonel to do something to the parsonage, and make it comfortable for them, before Lucy goes to it.’

Chapter 41 Elinor speaks to John Dashwood, who gives his opinion of Edward’s likely prospects.

Chapter 42 (excerpts): Elinor and Marianne travel with Mrs Jennings to Cleveland, the Palmers’ house. Marianne falls ill.

Cleveland was a spacious, modern-built house, situated on a sloping lawn. It had no park, but the pleasure-grounds were tolerably extensive; and like every other place of the same degree of importance, it had its open shrubbery, and closer wood walk; a road of smooth gravel winding round a plantation, led to the front; the lawn was dotted over with timber; the house itself was under the guardianship of the fir, the mountain-ash, and the acacia, and a thick screen of them altogether, interspersed with tall Lombardy poplars, shut out the offices.

Marianne entered the house with an heart swelling with emotion from the consciousness of being only eighty miles from Barton, and not thirty from Combe Magna; and before she had been five minutes within its walls, while the others were busily helping Charlotte shew her child to the housekeeper, she quitted it again, stealing away through the winding shrubberies, now just beginning to be in beauty, to gain a distant eminence; where, from its Grecian temple, her eye, wandering over a wide tract of country to the south-east, could fondly rest on the farthest ridge of hills in the horizon, and fancy that from their summits Combe Magna might be seen.

In such moments of precious, of invaluable misery, she rejoiced in tears of agony to be at Cleveland; and as she returned by a different circuit to the house, feeling all the happy privilege of country liberty, of wandering from place to place in free and luxurious solitude, she resolved to spend almost every hour of every day while she remained with the Palmers, in the indulgence of such solitary rambles.

This last paragraph contains sentiments that have prompted some critics to conclude that Jane Austen disapproved of sensibility. It is hard to think that the writer of Persuasion disapproved of sensibility. However, the deliberate indulgence of extreme emotion is presented as unwise. Surely the tone of this paragraph is ironic? Words such as ‘of precious, of invaluable misery’, ‘she rejoiced in tears of agony’, ‘free and luxurious solitude’, ‘the indulgence of such solitary rambles.’ The emphasis on solitude is perilous here, because solitude for Marianne involves the freedom (another dangerous word) to indulge herself. It is impossible to tell whether Austen is mocking Marianne when she describes the ‘invaluable misery’ and the rejoicing in agony. My instinct is that she is not; Austen never mocks the truly vulnerable (vide Mr Knightley’s strictures to Emma about Miss Bates’s vulnerability). However, she may be mocking the sentimental novels that provided a blueprint for such behaviour.

The consequence of such behaviour is also made clear. In the next few pages, Marianne’s wandering about in the damp brings on a very severe illness that threatens her life. This is what would happen in a sentimental novel (only Marianne would probably have died). To put it slightly differently, such behaviour as Marianne’s does not help her to survive; Elinor’s more disciplined approach, in which she is always aware of the social impact of her actions and continually exerts herself, actually enables her to survive. And to look at Marianne’s illness in another light, it is an example of a storyline that outlines an alternative that Marianne mercifully escapes. Just as she escapes the fate of the second Eliza at Willoughby’s hands, so she escapes the fate of the first Eliza, dying of an illness brought on by injudicious indulgence. But these subplots offer a dark alternative.

…… The morning was fine and dry, and Marianne, in her plan of employment abroad, had not calculated for any change of weather during their stay at Cleveland. With great surprise therefore, did she find herself prevented by a settled rain from going out again after dinner. She had depended on a twilight walk to the Grecian temple, and perhaps all over the grounds, and an evening merely cold or damp would not have deterred her from it; but an heavy and settled rain even shecould not fancy dry or pleasant weather for walking.
….. Of Edward, or at least of some of his concerns, she (Elinor) now received intelligence from Colonel Brandon, who had been into Dorsetshire lately; and who, treating her at once as the disinterested friend of Mr. Ferrars, and the kind confidante of himself, talked to her a great deal of the parsonage at Delaford, described its deficiencies, and told her what he meant to do himself towards removing them. His behaviour to her in this as well as in every other particular, his open pleasure in meeting her after an absence of only ten days, his readiness to converse with her, and his deference for her opinion, might very well justify Mrs. Jennings’s persuasion of his attachment, and would have been enough, perhaps, had not Elinor still, as from the first, believed Marianne his real favourite, to make her suspect it herself. But as it was, such a notion had scarcely ever entered her head, except by Mrs. Jennings’s suggestion; and she could not help believing herself the nicest (precise, accurate) observer of the two; she watched his eyes, while Mrs. Jennings thought only of his behaviour; and while his looks of anxious solicitude on Marianne’s feeling, in her head and throat the beginning of an heavy cold, because unexpressed by words, entirely escaped the latter lady’s observation; she could discover in them the quick feelings and needless alarm of a lover.

Two delightful twilight walks on the third and fourth evenings of her being there, not merely on the dry gravel of the shrubbery, but all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest, had — assisted by the still greater imprudence of sitting in her wet shoes and stockings — given Marianne a cold so violent, as, though for a day or two trifled with or denied, would force itself by increasing ailments on the concern of everybody, and the notice of herself. Prescriptions poured in from all quarters, and as usual were all declined. Though heavy and feverish, with a pain in her limbs, a cough, and a sore throat, a good night’s rest was to cure her entirely; and it was with difficulty that Elinor prevailed on her, when she went to bed, to try one or two of the simplest of the remedies.

Angela Leighton writes: ‘Austen teasingly implies that Marianne’s Romantic propensity for the superlative, for the “oldest” trees, the “longest and wettest” grass is rightly punished by a cold. However, as that cold develops and worsens, bringing Marianne to the brink of death, this seemingly innocuous escapade acquires connotations that are perhaps not so trivial’. (At this point, Angela Leighton reminds her readers of the occasion in Mansfield Park where Maria Bertram makes her way through the iron gate without waiting for her fiancé to fetch the key to it, prefiguring her later adulterous elopement with Henry Crawford.) ‘In the case of Marianne, the analogy to some more serious crime is totally suppressed in terms of plot, but still hinted at in the language. Once again it is her characteristic “imprudence” which urges her to cross some hidden boundary and to trespass in that territory which lies beyond the social – “where there was something more of wildness.” The boundary is internal and moral, of course, but it becomes evident in Austen’s language as the boundary to excess.’
(Angela Leighton, ‘Sense and Silences’, from Jane Austen: New Perspectives, ed Janet Todd, New York: Holmes, 1983)

Chapter 43 (Volume III, Chapter 7)

Marianne’s illness becomes very serious. Colonel Brandon goes to fetch Mrs Dashwood to Cleveland. A carriage comes to the door, and Elinor, expecting Colonel Brandon and her mother, sees Willoughby.

Mrs. Jennings, however, with a kindness of heart which made Elinor really love her, declared her resolution of not stirring from Cleveland as long as Marianne remained ill, and of endeavouring, by her own attentive care, to supply to her the place of the mother she had taken her from; and Elinor found her on every occasion a most willing and active helpmate, desirous to share in all her fatigues, and often, by her better experience in nursing, of material use.

Mrs Jennings’ ‘kindness of heart’ shows itself in the number of verbs that detail her many actions in helping Marianne and Elinor. She ‘declared … of not stirring from Cleveland … of endeavouring … to supply … to share …’. Mrs Jennings also tells Colonel Brandon to stay.

Colonel Brandon himself, with a much greater exertion, began to talk of going likewise. Here, however, the kindness of Mrs. Jennings interposed most acceptably; for to send the Colonel away while his love was in so much uneasiness on her sister’s account, would be to deprive them both, she thought, of every comfort; and therefore telling him at once that his stay at Cleveland was necessary to herself, that she should want him to play at piquet of an evening, while Miss Dashwood was above with her sister, etc., she urged him so strongly to remain, that he, who was gratifying the first wish of his own heart by a compliance, could not long even affect to demur; especially as Mrs. Jennings’s entreaty was warmly seconded by Mr. Palmer, who seemed to feel a relief to himself, in leaving behind him a person so well able to assist or advise Miss Dashwood in any emergence.

Marianne is worse, and Colonel Brandon decides to go and fetch her mother. Like Mrs Jennings, his feelings show themselves in action.

He, meanwhile, whatever he might feel, acted with all the firmness of a collected mind, made every necessary arrangement with the utmost dispatch, and calculated with exactness the time in which she might look for his return. Not a moment was lost in delay of any kind. The horses arrived, even before they were expected, and Colonel Brandon only pressing her hand with a look of solemnity, and a few words spoken too low to reach her ear, hurried into the carriage. It was then about twelve o’clock, and she returned to her sister’s apartment to wait for the arrival of the apothecary, and to watch by her the rest of the night. It was a night of almost equal suffering to both. Hour after hour passed away in sleepless pain and delirium on Marianne’s side, and in the most cruel anxiety on Elinor’s, before Mr. Harris appeared. Her apprehensions once raised, paid by their excess for all her former security; and the servant who sat up with her, for she would not allow Mrs. Jennings to be called, only tortured her more, by hints of what her mistress had always thought.

The closeness of the sisters is made very clear

Marianne’s ideas were still, at intervals, fixed incoherently on her mother, and whenever she mentioned her name, it gave a pang to the heart of poor Elinor, who, reproaching herself for having trifled with so many days of illness, and wretched for some immediate relief, fancied that all relief might soon be in vain, that everything had been delayed too long, and pictured to herself her suffering mother arriving too late to see this darling child, or to see her rational.

Elinor is miserable in the knowledge that she did not realise how serious Marianne’s illness was. The reproach to herself and her sense of her wretchedness is piled on in the structure of the sentence.

reproaching herself for having trifled (not taken seriously) with so many days of illness, and
wretched for some immediate relief, fancied
that all relief might soon be in vain,
that everything had been delayed too long, and
pictured to herself her suffering mother arriving too late to see this darling child,

or to see her rational.

Elinor watches her sister very closely for signs of deterioration or improvement.

About noon, however, she began — but with a caution a dread of disappointment, which for some time kept her silent, even to her friend — to fancy, to hope she could perceive a slight amendment in her sister’s pulse; — she waited, watched, and examined it again and again; — and at last, with an agitation more difficult to bury under exterior calmness, than all her foregoing distress, ventured to communicate her hopes. Mrs. Jennings, though forced on examination to acknowledge a temporary revival, tried to keep her young friend from indulging a thought of its continuance; and Elinor, conning over every injunction of distrust, told herself likewise not to hope. But it was too late. Hope had already entered; and feeling all its anxious flutter, she bent over her sister to watch — she hardly knew for what. Half an hour passed away, and the favourable symptom yet blessed her. Others even arose to confirm it. Her breath, her skin, her lips, all flattered Elinor with signs of amendment, and Marianne fixed her eyes on her with a rational though languid gaze. Anxiety and hope now oppressed her in equal degrees, and left her no moment of tranquillity till the arrival of Mr. Harris at four o’clock; — when his assurances, his felicitations on a recovery in her sister even surpassing his expectation, gave her confidence, comfort, and tears of joy.

Jane Austen sustains the uncertainty and tension in those who watch over Marianne, especially Elinor. The first sentence is full of hesitation, mirroring the minutest detail in Marianne’s condition. The sentence contains a mass of hesitating commas, ‘About noon, however, she began…. she waited, watched, and examined it (the pulse)…’. The uncertainty is also suggested through all the dashes: ‘ she began — but with a caution…even to her friend — to fancy … — she waited, watched, and examined it again and again; — and at last, with an agitation….’. And, of course, the meaning of the words conveys the uncertainty, too: ‘to fancy, to hope she could perceive a slight amendment … she waited, watched, and examined it again and again; – and at last .. ventured (dared)to communicate her hopes.’ Not even the stoic Elinor can quite ‘bury’ her agitation.

The tension is maintained with Mrs Jennings’ caution to Elinor that this slight improvement in Marianne may not continue. ‘Anxiety and hope now oppressed her (Elinor)… and left her no moment of tranquillity…’ until the doctor arrives and confirms Marianne’s road to recovery.

Marianne was in every respect materially better, and he declared her entirely out of danger. Mrs. Jennings, perhaps satisfied with the partial justification of her forebodings which had been found in their late alarm, allowed herself to trust in his judgment, and admitted with unfeigned joy, and soon with unequivocal cheerfulness, the probability of an entire recovery.

Elinor could not be cheerful. Her joy was of a different kind, and led to anything rather than to gaiety. Marianne restored to life, health, friends, and to her doating mother, was an idea to fill her heart with sensations of exquisite comfort, and expand it in fervent gratitude; — but it led to no outward demonstrations of joy, no words, no smiles. All within Elinor’s breast was satisfaction, silent and strong.

….

‘The night was cold and stormy. The wind roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows.’ The weather heralds a most dramatic arrival: Willoughby.

Chapter 44 (Volume III, Chapter 8)

Willoughby tells Elinor his story.

Willoughby arrives at Cleveland, having heard that Marianne is dying. He provides another long injection of back-story as he justifies himself to Elinor.

“I do not know,” said he, after a pause of expectation on her side, and thoughtfulness on his own, — “how you may have accounted for my behaviour to your sister, or what diabolical motive you may have imputed to me. — Perhaps you will hardly think the better of me, — it is worth the trial however, and you shall hear everything. When I first became intimate in your family, I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire, more pleasantly than I had ever done before. Your sister’s lovely person and interesting manners could not but please me; and her behaviour to me almost from the first, was of a kind — — It is astonishing, when I reflect on what it was, and what she was, that my heart should have been so insensible! — But at first, I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection.”

Miss Dashwood at this point, turning her eyes on him with the most angry contempt, stopt him, by saying –

“It is hardly worth while, Mr. Willoughby, for you to relate, or for me to listen any longer. Such a beginning as this cannot be followed by anything. Do not let me be pained by hearing anything more on the subject.”

“I insist on your hearing the whole of it,” he replied. “My fortune was never large, and I had always been expensive, always in the habit of associating with people of better income than myself. Every year since my coming of age, or even before, I believe, had added to my debts; and though the death of my old cousin, Mrs. Smith, was to set me free, yet that event being uncertain, and possibly far distant, it had been for some time my intention to re-establish my circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune. To attach myself to your sister, therefore, was not a thing to be thought of; — and with a meanness, selfishness, cruelty — which no indignant, no contemptuous look, even of yours, Miss Dashwood, can ever reprobate too much — I was acting in this manner, trying to engage her regard, without a thought of returning it. But one thing may be said for me, even in that horrid state of selfish vanity, I did not know the extent of the injury I meditated, because I did not then know what it was to love. But have I ever known it? — Well may it be doubted; for, had I really loved, could I have sacrificed my feelings to vanity, to avarice? — or, what is more, could I have sacrificed hers? — But I have done it. To avoid a comparative poverty, which her affection and her society would have deprived of all its horrors, I have, by raising myself to affluence, lost everything that could make it a blessing.”

“You did then,” said Elinor, a little softened, “believe yourself at one time attached to her.”

“To have resisted such attractions, to have withstood such tenderness! — Is there a man on earth who could have done it! — Yes, I found myself, by insensible degrees, sincerely fond of her; and the happiest hours of my life were what I spent with her, when I felt my intentions were strictly honourable, and my feelings blameless. Even then, however, when fully determined on paying my addresses to her, I allowed myself most improperly to put off, from day to day, the moment of doing it, from an unwillingness to enter into an engagement while my circumstances were so greatly embarrassed. I will not reason here — nor will I stop for you to expatiate on the absurdity, and the worse than absurdity, of scrupling to engage my faith where my honour was already bound. The event has proved, that I was a cunning fool, providing with great circumspection for a possible opportunity of making myself contemptible and wretched for ever. At last, however, my resolution was taken, and I had determined, as soon as I could engage her alone, to justify the attentions I had so invariably paid her, and openly assure her of an affection which I had already taken such pains to display. But in the interim — in the interim of the very few hours that were to pass, before I could have an opportunity of speaking with her in private — a circumstance occurred — an unlucky circumstance, to ruin all my resolution, and with it all my comfort. A discovery took place,” — here he hesitated and looked down. — “Mrs. Smith had somehow or other been informed, I imagine by some distant relation, whose interest it was to deprive me of her favour, of an affair, a connection — but I need not explain myself farther,” he added, looking at her with an heightened colour and an inquiring eye, “your particular intimacy — you have probably heard the whole story long ago.”

“I have,” returned Elinor, colouring likewise, and hardening her heart anew against any compassion for him, “I have heard it all. And how you will explain away any part of your guilt in that dreadful business, I confess is beyond my comprehension.”

“Remember,” cried Willoughby, “from whom you received the account. Could it be an impartial one? I acknowledge that her situation and her character ought to have been respected by me. I do not mean to justify myself, but at the same time cannot leave you to suppose that I have nothing to urge, — that because she was injured she was irreproachable; and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint. If the violence of her passions, the weakness of her understanding — I do not mean, however, to defend myself. Her affection for me deserved better treatment, and I often, with great self-reproach, recall the tenderness which, for a very short time, had the power of creating any return. I wish — I heartily wish it had never been. But I have injured more than herself; and I have injured one, whose affection for me (may I say it?) was scarcely less warm than hers; and whose mind — Oh! how infinitely superior!”

“Your indifference, however, towards that unfortunate girl — I must say it, unpleasant to me as the discussion of such a subject may well be — your indifference is no apology for your cruel neglect of her. Do not think yourself excused by any weakness, any natural defect of understanding on her side, in the wanton cruelty so evident on yours. You must have known, that while you were enjoying yourself in Devonshire, pursuing fresh schemes, always gay, always happy, she was reduced to the extremest indigence.”

“But, upon my soul, I did not know it,” he warmly replied; “I did not recollect that I had omitted to give her my direction; and common-sense might have told her how to find it out.”

“Well, sir, and what said Mrs. Smith?”

“She taxed me with the offence, at once, and my confusion may be guessed. The purity of her life, the formality of her notions, her ignorance of the world — everything was against me. The matter itself I could not deny, and vain was every endeavour to soften it. She was previously disposed, I believe, to doubt the morality of my conduct in general, and was moreover discontented with the very little attention, the very little portion of my time that I had bestowed on her, in my present visit. In short, it ended in a total breach. By one measure I might have saved myself. In the height of her morality, good woman! she offered to forgive the past if I would marry Eliza. That could not be — and I was formally dismissed from her favour and her house. The night following this affair — I was to go the next morning — was spent by me in deliberating on what my future conduct should be. The struggle was