JMW Turner 1789, Radley Hall from South-East, top

The Novels of Jane Austen

JMW Turner 1789
Radley Hall from north-west, detail

Turner, Radley Hall from the north-west, detail

JMW Turner 1789
Radley Hall from south-east detail

Turner, Radley Hall from the south-east, detail

  "Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make YOU unhappy."
  [Marianne] could say no more ... she burst into tears ...
  "Poor Marianne!" said her brother to Colonel Brandon ... "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."
      Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility
  Volume II, Chapter 12
    [ch. 34 of 50]

Turner, Radley Hall from the South-East, cropped

Sense and Sensibility, Part 2

Theme, Character, Plot

Demonic Possession, and the Unreliable Witness ...

For the reader of good fiction, an unreliable witness can be a source of wonder and delight.  We may not understand why Sherlock Holmes feels compelled to dismiss out of hand all Dr. Watson's confused theoretical pronouncements.  But lack of understanding in no way precludes our sharing the great detective's bemused and lofty pity for his deluded henchman, even as we simultaneously sympathize with Watson's puzzlement and frustration with the purposely obtuse speculations of his brilliant but erratic friend.

Then there are cynical but amusing Novels like Voltaire's Candide, where we are perfectly cognizant that the scene described by the narrator is exactly opposite to what is happening in front of his, and our, eyes — another example of our ability to separate the various levels of narrative into their proper spheres, and to appreciate the resultant layered tapestry.

And countless other examples, depending on the purposes of the author:  whether to mystify, to titillate with innuendo, or simply to amuse.

But these are works of fiction, and the author is in control of all lies and misdirections at work in their pages.  Sense and Sensibility is likewise fiction, but here it is not the author in charge, but rather a heroine/narrator who has wrested control of both viewpoint and tone, with an effect about as trustworthy as the memoirs of a corrupt politician.  

Ce qui n'est pas clair, n'est pas français;

Antoine de Rivarol, De l'universalité de la langue française

And similarly, if the Novel is lacking even the most rudimentary elements of style, by which I mean the wit and grace and spirit and honesty usually present in the Novels of Jane Austen, it's not Austen but some imposter, concealing that which is in plain sight, muddying what should be crystal clear, and lying about the remainder.

If it weren't for the theory that each Austen Novel is meant to represent and illustrate one of the Seven Deadly Sins, with Sense and Sensibility drawing Envy from the cosmic literary hat, we'd be hard pressed to find any purposes at all in Sense and Sensibility's fifty chapters.  It appears that Envy is interested only in money and amounts and numbers, portions and proportions and percentages;  with no time for unimportant story elements like theme and characters, plot structure and overall coherence.

*   *   *   *   *


There is no Theme in Jane Austen's epistolary Novel Lady Susan, unless we are ready to accept the immodest proposition that wickedness, like virtue, is its own reward.   Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, which also began existence in letter format, is clearly meant to have a Theme, and we need only read the first few chapters to assume that Jane Austen wishes this to be a Novel of opposites, resulting in an unequivocal demonstration of the need for moderation in all things.

Unfortunately, no sooner has the reader settled in for a witty discussion of the benefits of moderation, and perils of imprudence, its purported opposite, than we discover an equal and alternate motif has been substituted in a paean to the wisdom of doing nothing:— all things come to the person who waits.  Everyone in this Novel, old and young, male and female, and varying only in degree of patience, is waiting for all things to come to him.  Or her.

All that is needed is a plot, which will enable these various persons to see their wishes come to fruition without the necessity of lifting a finger on their own behalf.  And in a series of improbable coincidences, all things do come to these people, beginning with the widowed Mrs. Dashwood as an example.  No sooner has this amiable lady decided to quit her married home, and to take her daughters to live elsewhere than:—

In this state of her [Mrs. Dashwood's] spirits, a letter was delivered to her from the post, which contained ... the offer of a small house, on very easy terms, belonging to a relation of her own ... in Devonshire.'

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I Chapter Four

In a very few weeks from the day which brought Sir John Middleton's first letter to Norland, every thing was so far settled in their future abode as to enable Mrs. Dashywood and her daughters to begin their journey. '

            Volume I Chapter Five

And so it goes, effortlessly, from one chapter to the next, as previously unknown relations in Devonshire put themselves to a great deal of inconvenience in entertaining and providing every comfort for the newly arrived and previously unknown Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters.

Pride and Prejudice sees much of its action initiated in a wholly natural fashion by Elizabeth's great friend Charlotte Lucas;  in Sense and Sensibility that role is assumed by a certain Mrs. Jennings, mother-in-law of Sir John Middleton, host and landlord of the female Dashwoods at Barton Cottage.  Elinor Dashwood's opinion of Mrs. Jennings is presented as amused contempt:—

"My objection is this; though I think very well of Mrs. Jennings's heart, she is not a woman whose society can afford us pleasure, or whose protection will give us consequence."

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume II Chapter Three [ch. 25 of 50]

'... Not a woman whose society can afford us pleasure, or whose protection will give us consquence.  By Chapter 26 (Volume II, Chapter Four), Elinor and Marianne are in London, having been invited by Mrs. Jennings to accompany her to the city, and to stay with her there;  in this way Elinor will be reunited with Edward without the necessity of any immodest contrivance on her part, or his, and Marianne's pursuit of the wayward Willoughby will be likewise facilitated.

Also in London is Lucy Steele, who has told Elinor in strictest confidence that she has been engaged to Edward for four years, and is come to town hoping to plead her case at last to Edward's mother.

Meanwhile Edward appears to be hoping that Lucy will tire of waiting and find some more willing victim — a seeming unlikely eventuality.

And Colonel Brandon waits for Marianne to experience the inevitable cold rejection from the fortune-seeking Willoughby, so that the Colonel may be enabled to provide the heartbroken girl with a constant and comforting alternative masculine presence.

Of course, Willoughby, ostensible villain of the Novel, is also waiting, fruitlessly, for his elderly female cousin at nearby Allenham to die so that he will be freed of his most pressing financial problems, and with them the necessity to marry  the rich Miss Grey and her fifty thousand pounds.

In Pride and Prejudice, as in all good fiction, the characters have been chosen to illustrate the theme, and the plot exists in order to call upon theme and characters to reveal their essence by action and reaction; by thought, and word, and deed, meticulously examined and described. 

When the theme of Sense and Sensibility seemed to be the need for moderation in all things, we had the impulsiveness of Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood as evils to be countered by the good sense of eldest daughter Elinor.   When the theme mutated into a paean to passivity, we still have Marianne to criticize and deplore whilst venerating the infallibly excellent judgment of 19-year old Elinor with her invariable counsel as to the preferability of doing nothing on one's own behalf (and of looking down one's nose at those ill-bred persons who wish to offer assistance). 

 I may be tiresome in my insistence upon the need for a clearly enunciated theme, but without it, how are we to look for the handling of an opposite?  In my opinion, the opposite to moderation in all things is not necessarily and exclusively the impetuosity of Marianne, and their mother Mrs. Dashwood.  In fact, I would suggest that the extreme passivity of Elinor, and her insistence on the preferability of doing nothing, is as much an affront to moderation as is the figurative looting and pillaging indulged in by acquisitive sister-in-law Fanny Dashwood.

*   *   *   *   *


In the previous webpage Pride and Prejudice Part One: Theme, Characters, Plot, we listed some of the characters chosen to illustrate the theme of that masterpiece.  

We began, of course, with Elizabeth and Darcy, and added Mr. Bennet and Aunt Gardiner as models of intelligence and wit.   We continued with Caroline Bingley as demonstrating wittiness despoiled by jealousy, and Mr. Wickham cunning and the art of ingratiatingness.   Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh were recommended as their stupid and/or foolish opposites, with Sir William Lucas earning an honourable mention.   Charlotte Lucas — Mrs. Collins-to-be — remains in a class apart, with eldest Bennet sister Jane, and her admirer Mr. Bingley, not necessarily as examples of this or that quality or failing, but as human beings with needs to be reckoned with.   Of course there are many, many others, neither intelligent and witty, nor stupid or silly, but well-described in all their humanity, and therefore interesting to meet in the various chapters of that great Novel.

In Sense and Sensibility we are given Elinor and Marianne Dashwood — or, rather, Marianne as viewed by elder sister Elinor which is not at all the same thing.  When Pride and Prejudice's Charlotte Lucas comments to Elizabeth that Jane is not sufficiently demonstrative of her feelings toward Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth makes light of this foretelling of danger, the subsequent action proves Charlotte correct in her misgivings, and Elizabeth wrong, a fact Elizabeth is forced to admit.  But Elinor's criticisms of Marianne — and of everyone else, for that matter — are not in service of plot, but occur merely to show the unqualified perfection of heroine/narrator in comparison with lesser mortals.

Then there is Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy, whose initial silent ponderings, described in amusing detail, are the backbone of the Novel, with the result that although heroine/narrator Elizabeth Bennet may be mystified by subsequent events, the reader is always in a position to suspect what is happening, and why.  As for Sense and Sensibility's Edward Ferrars, in only a few scant paragraphs (Volume I, Chapter Seventeen) is the Novel's supposed hero shown to be an actual human being:  charming, intelligent, playful, and witty;  the said Chapter is described at length in the following webpage under the heading Film.

Other than that fragment, which I suspect owes more to the workings of Envy than a desire to enlighten, Edward Ferrars is never encountered in the Novel other than as interpreted through the eyes of others, imposing a strong and unbridgable distance between himself and the reader.  And unlike the frenzied speculation concerning the impending arrival upon the scene of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, Edward's presence at Norland is never the subject of anticipation;  he's just there, having been

'... Introduced to their acquaintance soon after his sister's establishment at Norland, and who had since spent the greatest part of his time there ...'
    '  He was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished ... They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world ...'
    '  All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life.  Fortunately he had a younger brother who was more promising. '

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I Chapter Three

Of all the calculated cruelties inflicted by Fanny Dashwood upon her husband's stepmother and sisters, I find the unremarked presence of her brother Edward to be shocking in the extreme, particularly when contrasted with the treatment accorded her husband's family.  It is as though following the death of Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Bennet, Charlotte Collins were to invite her Lucas brothers and sisters to stay, whilst working ceaselessly to evict Mrs. Bennet and the girls. 

Perhaps Colonel Brandon offers a worthy comparison to Mr. Bingley, and the sweet but distracted widowed Mrs. Dashwood somewhat of a substitute for Aunt Gardiner, if we'd been permitted to know better — or at all — either the Colonel, or Mrs. Dashwood, or anyone else for that matter.

And while Sense and Sensibility's villain Willoughby might be said to lack some of the thorough corruptness of Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Wickham, that is because Willoughby is everywhere and nowhere, as unsubstantial as a breeze blowing across the English landscape, while Wickham is shown to be an actual human being, and an interesting and amusing and believable rogue at that.

As for the other characters, they, like Edward, and Marianne, are encountered through a purposefully curdled gaze, and come to life here and there in seeming haphazard fashion.  Colonel Brandon, for example, is forced to recount his entire history, essential to any understanding of plot, in a single constricted chapter (Volume II, Chapter Nine, ch. 31 of 50), which seems to have for its purpose more a determination to conceal rather than to reveal the salient features of his story.

Only two characters in this Novel are shown to exist for their own purposes:— (1) Fanny [Mrs. John] Dashwood, whose clinically effective means of getting rid of her husband's mother and sisters, whilst simultaneously relieving them of any portion of the fortune promised to them by her husband's father, are the overt comical highlights of the Novel, and (2) Lucy Steele, who has managed to become secretly engaged to Edward while he was a very young pupil in the home of her uncle.

Robert Ferrars, Edward's younger brother, doesn't appear until Chapter 33 (of 50), and Mrs. Ferrars, Edward and Robert's hateful mother, makes her entrance in Chapter 34, although we are told throughout the Novel of her threats to disinherit Edward should he refuse to marry the rich Miss Morton.   Of course it has already become painfully obvious that the only thing that arouses any emotion in this Novel is money, either promised or withheld, and thanks to Edward's mother and sister Fanny, usually both promised and withheld in rapid succession.

If Pride and Prejudice is a honeybee savouring the delights of the English landscape from above, then Sense and Sensibility is an immobile spider permitting its thick cobwebs to be moved aside for an instant allowing a view of the bright treasure in its nest below before covering them over once more with sticky materials that pretend to display, but never do.  And, paradoxically, even though our attention is successfully diverted from Marianne's blossoming relationship with Colonel Brandon, it's not as though Elinor is one of those funny attention-loving raconteurs who can make a trip to the dentist worth listening to;  amidst all the verbiage we learn nothing about Elinor herself, about Edward, about anything other than sharply-worded descriptions of the deficiencies of others, and the superiority of herself. 

But then, with Envy often producing a feeling of anguish, previously cited in Paul Kokosky's essay, voluntarily giving anything away to others, including even readers, must be assumed to be almost as painful as being denied that which we covet for ourselves. 

*   *   *   *   *


Ah, plot, where even the bemused Jane Austen is permitted to use her own caustic authorial voice in order to describe key story elements from a vantage point unknown to the chosen heroine/narrator.  

In Pride and Prejudice, these elements include several delightfully malicious conversations between the Bingleys and Darcy at Netherfield;   as early as Chapter Two in Sense and Sensibility, we are given an ascerbic recounting of the behind-the-scenes exploits of Fanny Dashwood, wife of the girls' half-brother John, who has determined that none of the fortune destined for her [extremely well-provided for] young son shall find its way to the Dashwood girls and their mother, no matter what may have been promised on the deathbed of John's deceased father.

Fanny's increasingly preposterous arguments may not be as amusing as the feline cajolings of Caroline Bingley, but have the virtue of being far more successful, since they meet no resistance:—

I believe you are right, my love,' [is John Dashwood's response to his wife's demand that he not bind himself to a yearly annuity] ' ... whatever I may give them occasionally will be of far greater assistance than a yearly allowance, because they would only enlarge their style of living if they felt sure of a larger income ... A present of fifty pounds, now and then, will prevent their ever being distressed for money, and will, I think, be amply discharging my promise to my father. '

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, Chapter Two

Except that this easy success robs the Novel of dramatic tension.  Once the sum has been reduced to a pittance as early as the second chapter, the reader is left with little with which to be curious, much less concerned.  If there were any suggestions that the Dashwood females suffer real, or even imagined, financial hardship in their new home at Barton Cottage — other than an offhand mention that not owning a horse and carriage, their mother Mrs. Dashwood is unable to visit friends — we might be more inclined to lasting indignation on their behalf, but sale of the family  carriage is precisely one of the economies insisted upon by busy Elinor and in which she takes great pride.

In fact, we are left with vindication not only of Fanny and her disgraceful assertion that the widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters

' will live so cheap!  ...  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; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it.  They will be much more able to give YOU something. ' [!]

— but of every common thief who salves an uneasy conscience with similar claims.

If Elinor's manifestations of envy are diffused, dissembled, distorted, and disguised in Chapter One of the pages of the Novel Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Dashwood in Chapter Five provides clear and unmistakeable evidence for something beyond envy as generally understood:—

' Mr. John Dashwood told his mother again and again how exceedingly sorry he was that she had taken a house at such a distance from Norland ... The furniture was all sent around by water. It chiefly consisted of household linen, plate, china, and books, with a handsome pianoforte of Marianne's.  Mrs. John Dashwood saw the packages depart with a sigh: she could not help feeling it hard that as Mrs. Dashwood's income would be so trifling in comparison with their own, she should have any handsome article of furniture. '

Once again Pravda's Paul Kokoski is there to show us the meaning of what it is we are seeing:—

... It is not envy but hatred to begrudge our neighbour his possessions, not because these are looked upon as a diminution of our own good, but simply because we do not want him to prosper ...
(Paragraph 9)

Paul Kokoski, Pravda, Envy: Most joyless of Seven Deadly Sins

Strong words indeed, but certainly not unearned.

One of the most interesting aspects of Pride is its dual existence at once as Deadly Sin, and virtue.  Envy has no offsetting virtue, thus furnishing no base upon which to build an enduring structure.  Diogenes Laertius, circa AD 200, quoted Antisthenes to the effect that envious people were devoured by their own disposition, just as iron is by rust

And also these additional words from Pravda's Paul Kokoski:—

The vice of envy proceeds from pride, vanity, and distorted self-love which can bear neither anything superior nor any rival. When we lack the proper humility and become convinced of our own superiority, we become saddened to see others better gifted than we are or, with no greater gifts than ours, succeed better than we do. The object of envy is chiefly some brilliant quality or virtue.
(Paragraph 4)
    Envy can be very culpable in its effects when 1) it disturbs our peace of soul, 2) it stirs within us sentiments of hatred causing us to speak ill of others, to blacken their character, to wish them evil, 3) it tends to sow discord not only between strangers but between members of the same family ...
(Paragraph 10)

Paul Kokoski, Envy: Most joyless of Seven Deadly Sins

It has long been my fancy that Pride and Prejudice is written by an entity we might call Elizabeth-and-Darcy.  The same is true of Northanger Abbey's Catherine-and-Henry.  And perhaps also Persuasion's Anne-and-Captain Wentworth.  And — most compellingly perhaps — Emma's Emma Woodhouse-and-Mr. Knightley, who can be easily pictured taking turns in one of the ambitious parlour games adored by that enterprising young lady.  Even the transcription of Mansfield Park shows evidence of the presence of both members of its deplorable couple of Fanny-and-Edmund.

But I see nothing to indicate the presence of Edward Ferrars in structure or outlook of Sense and Sensibility's disorganised and dishonest pages.  On the other hand, if Austen's Novels are considered to have been composed after the fact in whole or in part by one of her heroine/narrators, then Sense and Sensibility's Elinor Dashwood writes in full comprehension of what has occurred.

Which is to say that younger sister Marianne, so envied — so despised;  never forget that spite follows like a black dog nipping upon Envy's heels — without Marianne wanting it; indeed after having done much in her power over a two-year period to resist it;  has

... found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.
[Paragraph 16 of 23]

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume III Chapter Fourteen [ch. 50 of 50]

The mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village ...

And Elinor, so superior in every way;  and Elinor, so needful of the power conferred upon its mistress by possession of a manor estate; and Elinor has instead chosen and been chosen in return by wilfully impoverished Edward Ferrars, whose steadfast lack of ambition has released him from the tenacious clutch of Lucy Steele, thus freeing him to declare his affection for Elinor and receive her assurances of reciprocity.

Such a choice results, of course, in a life dependent upon the generosity of Colonel Brandon, Marianne's wealthy and indulgent husband.  And such plot as exists is therefore organised to prove how much more worthy than her sister is heroine/narrator Elinor Dashwood to be mistress of Delaford, Colonel Brandon's estate, containing, according to Mrs. Jennings who has been there,

"... its great garden walls covered with the finest fruit-trees in the country .. and such a mulberry tree in the corner ... a dove-cote, some delightful stew-ponds, and a very pretty canal; and ... an old yew-arbour behind the house.

    Volume II, Chapter Eight [ch. 30 of 50]

Indeed, how much more worthy to be mistress of any large and prosperous manor estate, including  Barton Park with its greatly inferior Lady Middleton; then on to Cleveland and the inferior though jovial Mrs. Parker, Lady Middleton's sister, who can be forgiven anything by Elinor except her laugh.

I find it notable that Chapter Nine's effort by the three Dashwood ladies to discover Willoughby's character from Sir John Middleton — "And what sort of young man is he?" questions Mrs. Dashwood.  "What are his pursuits, his talents, and genius?" asks Marianne.  "... Has he a house at Allenham?" inquires Elinor — and is assured by Sir John that Willoughby is set to inherit from the old lady he is visiting at Allenham Court, to whom he is related;  and has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; — concludes with the injunction to Elinor, "and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger sister ... Miss Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself."

Even before describing the warm welcome of the Dashwood ladies at Barton Park, their hosts, Sir John and Lady Middleton, have already been dismissed critically by Elinor as

... however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments ... within a very narrow compass. Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother ... these were their only resources.

She goes on:—

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.

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I Chapter Seven

How marvellous to be young, envious, and full of the sense of one's own importance.

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 ... 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 ... put an end to every discourse except what related to themselves.

        Volume I Chapter Seven

How marvellous to be sufficiently arrogant that even in the sanctity of their own homes, people you envy and despise are considered to be under an obligation not merely to entertain you with warmth, but not to dislike you heartily in return.

Though nothing could be more polite than Lady Middleton's behaviour to Elinor and Marianne, she did not really like them at all. Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could not believe them good natured ...
Their presence was a restraint both on her and on Lucy.  It checked the idleness of one, and the business of the other.  Lady Middleton was ashamed of doing nothing before them ...

        Volume II, Chapter Fourteen [ch 36 of 50]

And perhaps Lady Middleton considers Marianne's labours at the piano, and Elinor's at the drawing table, and the time spent by both in the pastime of reading, to be doing nothing?  And perhaps she prefers the company of her two older children to that of the female Dashwoods? 

And what is it precisely that Elinor thinks Lady Middleton should be attending to rather than wasting her attention on her children? Interfering in the housekeeper's running of the household?  Where is the inference that Barton Park is ill-run?  Is Lady Middleton obliged to like the visitors invited to stay by her husband, and by Mrs. Jennings her mother?  In fact, Lady Middleton does like Lucy Steele, who pretends to enjoy playing with Lady Middleton's children, to Elinor's contempt — a contempt Elinor makes no effort to conceal, and in fact seems to view with an element of pride, as showing proof of her innate superiority.

We know Elinor's dislike of children is not shared by Jane Austen, whose opinions are clearly shown in Pride and Prejudice's description of the arrival at Longbourne of Uncle and Aunt Gardiner and their four children:—

... The children, two girls of six and eight years old, and two younger boys, were to be left under the particular care of their cousin Jane, who was the general favourite, and whose steady sense and sweetness of temper exactly adapted her for attending to them in every way — teaching them, playing with them, and loving them.

Pride and Prejudice, Volume II Chapter Nineteen [ch. 42 of 61]

As for Lucy Steele, who goes to the trouble of trying to be agreeable wherever she finds herself, nothing could exceed Elinor's supercilious dismissal of that ambitious female, even before the revelation of a prior relationship with Edward.  Hiding one's feelings out of pride is admirable, it seems, while accentuating them in order to get along with others is wholly contemptible.  No reader can actually like Lucy Steele:  her grammar is atrocious;  she is ignorant, grasping, and single-mindedly determined to keep the hapless Edward hooked onto her line no matter how much he wriggles — or plays dead — in thwarted attempts to escape.  But disapproval of Lucy Steele is hardly sufficient to increase our regard for Elinor.

But of course it isn't her contempt for strangers that we notice our attention so much as the barely-concealed jealousy and envy toward younger, more vibrant, lovelier, and honest sister Marianne, that makes a mockery of the affection and solicitousness subsisting between Pride and Prejudice's Jane Bennet and her younger sister Elizabeth.  Can the reader imagine anything less likely than either of those young ladies criticizing the other as Elinor speaks of Marianne to Colonel Brandon, fully conscious that he is greatly attracted to her sister? —

... [Colonel Brandon's] 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 any body 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.'
    '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.'
    After a short pause he resumed the conversation ...

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I Chapter Eleven

At least Caroline Bingley's jealous reflections to Darcy about Elizabeth are both intelligent and funny.

In my opinion, Elinor exults in that short pause, reading into it Brandon's concurrence that Elinor herself is incapable of the type of embarrassing behaviour exhibited by the unworthy Marianne — never dreaming that Colonel Brandon is sufficiently intelligent and well-read to recognise the discordant strains of Envy when he hears them, nor that it is precisely Marianne's genuineness and spontaneity that the Colonel loves and is anxious to preserve.

A similar circumstance takes place when Edward comes to visit the Dashwood ladies in their new home at Barton, taking advantage of a warm invitation issued by Mrs. Dashwood when last we saw Edward in Chapter Five.  At first Marianne assumes that the stranger approaching is Willoughby come back, but upon seeing that it is Edward she welcomes him warmly, and

dispersed her tears to smile on HIM, and in her sister's happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment.

    Sense and Sensibility, Volume I Chapter Sixteen

Until his arrival in Chapter Sixteen, Edward exists only as seen by others, but now he is allotted an actual conversation with Marianne, thrice interrupted by comments from Elinor, words spoken to Marianne but obviously meant for Edward, particularly the last when he inquires of Marianne:—

"Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasant people?"
    "No, not at 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."
    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, etc. 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.

    Volume I Chapter Sixteen

"You have not been able 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 ... 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 ... "
    "Marianne has not shyness to excuse any inattention of hers," said Elinor.

    Volume I Chapter Seventeen

It's because we are given so little actual meaningful conversation that these encounters with Colonel Brandon and Edward attract our attention, and the pleasure Elinor takes on these occasions in overt spiteful criticism of Marianne is both distressing and impossible to ignore:—

The fault of envy manifests itself in the pain we experience upon hearing the praises of others, and in the subsequent attempt we make to depreciate this good opinion by criticising those that are thus commended.
(Paragraph 5)

Paul Kokoski, Envy: Most joyless of Seven Deadly Sins

And later we are given paragraph after insipid paragraph with Mrs. Jennings and the girls's brother John both assuming that conversations between the Colonel and Elinor signal that the two have fallen in love, while Edward is made to feel unnecessary jealousy at the Colonel's generosity on his behalf.

In any event, in spite of the efforts of the heroine/narrator, our affections in this Novel are reserved for the admittedly irritating, but warm and genuine Marianne:—

The cold insolence of Mrs. Ferrars's general behaviour to her sister, seemed, to her, to foretel such difficulties and distresses to Elinor ... 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."

Sense and Sensibility, Volume II Chapter Twelve [ch. 34 of 50]

That this behaviour occurs in a crowded room and is witnessed by almost everyone in the Novel is of no concern to this impulsive tender-hearted young lady.  And that we are permitted to witness it owes more, I suspect, to the fact of its enabling Elinor to prevail over the angry Mrs. Ferrars than of its sympathetic portrayal of Marianne.  

There's a strange complacency in Elinor's acceptance of the obvious dislike for herself harboured in the bosoms of Edward's mother and sister, as well as in Lady Middleton, wife of their kinsman and host at Barton Park.  I believe Elinor imagines that these ladies fear and dislike her because they are envious of her innate worthiness to succeed them in their position as lady of the manor, as the unfaithful spouse claims that no spouse is capable of fidelity, and the dishonest person assumes that everyone is likewise apt to walk off with the family silverware.

It may seem that Elinor Dashwood has triumphed over Jane Austen by taking over the voice of the Novel.  But the author has her own revenge, the most cursory examination revealing that the few witty portions of the Novel are comprised in the author's description of the exploits of Fanny Dashwood, including this section at the end of Volume II when Fanny is requested by husband John to invite his sisters to stay, thereby in some way complying with his dying father's request:--

' My love, I would ask them with all my heart, if it was in my power. But I had just settled within myself to ask the Miss Steeles to spend a few days with us. They are very well behaved, good kind of girls; and I think the attention is due to them, as their uncle did so very well by Edward ... I am sure you will like them; indeed you do like them, you know, very much already, and so does my mother; and they are such favourites with Harry! '
    Mr. Dashwood was convinced ...
    Fanny, rejoicing in her escape, and proud of the ready wit that had procured it, wrote the next morning to Lucy, to request her company and her sister's, for some days, in Harley Street, as soon as Lady Middleton could spare them.
    Mrs Dashwood had never been so much pleased with any young women in her life ... called Lucy by her Christian name and did not know whether she should ever be able to part with them.

Sense and Sensibility, Volume II, Chapter Fourteen [ch. 36 of 50]

One of the few actually funny and enjoyable portions of this Novel occurs when the warm welcome tendered by Fanny toward the Miss Steeles convinces Lucy's sister to admit the former's secret engagement to Fanny's brother Edward, causing an initial hysterical reaction by Fanny and her mother in comparison to which Marianne's reaction to Willoughby's public repudiation seems almost muted.

' "You have heard, I suppose," said [their brother] with great solemnity "... of the very shocking discovery that took place under our roof yesterday ... Your sister ... 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 ... 'I wish with all my heart,' says 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. '

    Volume III, Chapter One [ch. 37 of 50]

In one way it seems that the arrival of Lucy Steele at Barton Park, and her announcement of a four-year engagement to Edward, propels the story into action.   Except that to me little happens in the contrived story of this Novel until Chapter 29, when Marianne's first letter to Willoughby is given to Elinor to read.   The immediacy of the letter almost leaps from the page, it is so different from all that has gone before, and is to come after:—

"How surprised you will be, Willoughby, on receiving this, and I think you will find something more than surprise, when you know that I am in town ... I wish you may receive this in time to come here tonight."

Sense and Sensibility, Volume II, Chapter Seven [ch 29 of 50]

The recipient of such a letter would need a heart of stone to be unaffected by it, and we feel sincere sympathy for the heartbroken Marianne.  When Elinor Dashwood learns from Lucy Steele that she is secretly engaged to Edward, Elinor's only concern is to hide from her rival any hint of affection for the unfortunate Edward, even when convinced that Lucy is driven only by mercenary motives.  We are obviously expected to prefer this aptitude for deception over Marianne's genuineness and inability to pretend.

And we are also asked to believe that Elinor's failure to mention to her family Lucy's engagement to Edward is not for Elinor to save face, but because of a promise conveniently extracted by Lucy, which Elinor is honour bound to keep, just as a subsequent revelation by Lucy's sister is proven to be the fruit of eavesdropping, which Elinor is of course honour bound not to repeat.

The vice of envy proceeds from pride, vanity, and distorted self-love which can bear neither anything superior nor any rival.  When we lack the proper humility and become convinced of our own superiority, we become saddened to see others better gifted than we are or, with no greater gifts than ours, succeed better than we do.  The object of envy is chiefly some brilliant quality or virtue.
(Paragraph 4)

Paul Kokoski,, Envy: Most joyless of Seven Deadly Sins

*   *   *   *   *

In the next webpage under the heading Film, and the benign influence of the 1995 filmed version of the Novel, I even examine Elinor Dashwood with rather more sympathy, and, in fact, discuss the manner in which we ourselves might rid ourselves of the harmful effects of the Deadly Sin of Envy.

And in Fairy Tale and Myth I explain why I consider Sense and Sensibility to be at least a parody, and more justly a perversion of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the Fairy Tale chosen as most reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice.  

And finally, under the heading Happily Ever After, I suggest that perhaps the Novel does end so, at least for those protagonists who have enjoyed our sympathy.


Details of and links to all Austen-Novel Pictures are found in the Pictures 3B webpage.

This Page:— Sense and Sensibility Part Two: Theme, Character, Plot
Thumbnail, Radley Hall from the south-east JMW Turner, 1789
Title: Radley Hall from the South-East 1789
Medium: Watercolour on paper
Dimensions: support: 330 x 510 mm
Collection: Tate, Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
View by appointment at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Room
Reference: D00049, Turner Bequest III D

Thumbnail, Radley Hall from the north-west JMW Turner, 1789
Title: Radley Hall from the North-West 1789
Medium: Pen and ink and Watercolour on paper
Dimensions: support: 374 x 532 mm
Collection: Tate, Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
View by appointment at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Room
Reference: D00048, Turner Bequest III C

[March 2008, text only
    WebPage last amended October 14th, 2013]


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