Monday, October 04, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 8

First, something I was remiss in not posting last time – it's Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) watching/listening to Marianne (Kate Winslet) playing the pianoforte and singing "Weep You No More Sad Fountains":





*SWOON*

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Mrs. Jennings was a widow with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to 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; and she was always anxious to get a good husband for every pretty girl.
The reference to Mrs. Jennings's "ample jointure" is a reference to the size of her estate, not to the size of her person, although there is undoubtedly a punning double meaning intended by the author here. Mrs. Jennings, although a busybody, ends up being right on the money when it comes to Brandon and Marianne, which may be the first indication we have that she is not, in fact, completely nonsensical as a character.

Marianne's thoughts on age and marriage

Once Marianne cottons on to what Mrs. Jennings is on about, she is appalled, regarding Colonel Brandon as she does at this point as a nearly decrepit older man. She makes much of his reference to an achy shoulder, declaring that he has rheumatism and asserting that 35 is too old to marry. When Elinor, hoping to point out how ridiculous Marianne is being, notes that perhaps 35-year old Brandon is too old for 17-year old Marianne, but that a 27-year old woman would be quite happy to marry him, here's what Marianne has to say:

"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."
Those of you who read along for Persuasion earlier this year may remember that Anne Elliot was 27 years old at the start of the novel. Although Sense & Sensibility was first published in 1811 when Austen was about 35, she first wrote Elinor & Marianne, an epistolary novel that was the precursor for S&S, when she was about 20-21 years old. In Pride & Prejudice, the first draft of which was composed immediately after Sense & Sensibility, Elizabeth Bennet's friend Charlotte Lucas was also 27 years old and therefore past (or nearly past) marriageable age. Perhaps it was simply the age at which one was put "on the shelf"; perhaps it was the age at which Austen and/or her sister, Cassandra, put themselves on the shelf; perhaps it was an age that seemed terribly old to young Jane but one that she re-evaluated when she reached her thirties and started revising her early novels and writing new ones, but I suspect that Anne Elliot's age is related to Marianne's sentiment here as well as to some comments made in Pride & Prejudice about poor Charlotte. But perhaps I digress.

Elinor v. Marianne on matters of the heart

In response to Marianne's assertion, Elinor essentially repeats her comment that Marianne is being silly, and will not allow that Colonel Brandon is only good for the sick bed (HEY NOW!), and then she leaves the room, whereupon Marianne comments that she believes Edward Ferrars must be ill because they've been at Barton for nearly two weeks and haven't heard from him. She then notes that Elinor isn't nearly as broken up about not seeing or hearing from Edward as Marianne thinks she ought to be. This accomplishes at least four things:

1. It reminds us of the passage of time
2. It reminds us of Elinor's affection for Edward
3. It reminds us of how unrealistically optimistic and romantic Marianne is.
4. It again points out and defines the manner in which the sisters differ one from the other: Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve; Elinor is more reserved. She is not seen to be bothered, and therefore, in Marianne's opinion, she is not actually upset. This is worth keeping in mind as the novel progresses and we start to see chinks in Elinor's armor that Marianne manages to overlook because Elinor hasn't gone Full Fainting Couch on her.

I am exceedingly tickled with the phrase "gone Full Fainting Couch" by the way. I shall endeavor to use it or another variant of "to go Full Fainting Couch" in everyday life, because it SO should be a catch-phrase, don't you think?

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