Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

One of the pleasures available to those who have read many or all of Austen's novels is the echoes of her other novels that pop up now and then. I have just finished reading Sense and Sensibility (S&S) and several of these echoes are running around inside my skull.

One of these relates to the "villains" in both S&S and Pride and Prejudice, Willoughby and Wickham. Many others have noted that last names of the two villains begin with "W." One point I hadn't read is that one of the males who would marry one of the heroines in both novels, Darcy and Col. Brandon, has had a prior confrontation with the villain, and in both cases, it was over a young woman placed in the care of the hero. In both cases, the young woman had been placed in the home of another woman who was trusted by the hero.


Another echo comes from Lucy Steele, one of the most important secondary characters of S&S. She appears to be a younger version of Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park (MP). Both carry the art of obsequious behavior to the powerful to a great degree and exhibit considerable cruelty to those either less powerful and not useful to them. Lucy flatters her way into the regard of numerous characters and manages to get free room and board for months at a time. Mrs. Norris flatters Sir Bertram while at the same time she treats Fanny, a powerless child and poor relative, with extreme cruelty.

Mrs. Norris is also one who wanders off with anything that seems to be unattached or ignored by all, including food and plants from places she visits. Lucy Steele, upon learning that the rectory is very close to Col Brandon's manor, resolves "to avail herself, at Delaford, as far as she possibly could, of his servants, his carriage, his cows, and his poultry.

Another echo of MP brings up Mary's letter to Fanny when she writes about wishing for the death of Edmund's older brother Tom, who was ill at that time. She insists that she's only thinking of the good that Edmund could do as the next Sir Bertram. I'm cynical enough to believe she's thinking more of being Lady of the Manor than of any good deeds Edmund might do.

In S&P, Willoughby bursts into the manor at Cleveland and charms Elinor into partially forgiving him and promising that she will tell his story to Marianne. Elinor now dreads telling Marianne for fear that Marianne now will never be happy with anyone else and "for a moment wished Willoughby a widower." She, of course, quickly changes her mind when she remembers Col. Brandon's constancy and devotion to Marianne.

The point is that even good people can have evil thoughts momentarily, but good people quickly reject them while others, such as Mary in MP, actually try to force such thoughts on others.

11 comments:

  1. I haven't read "Sense and Sensibility", although I've read "Pride and Prejudice", "Northanger Abby", "Persuasion" (my favorite Austen) and "Mansfield Park". I haven't been able to finish "Emma" or "Sense and Sensibility", after a number of attempts. Maybe one day....

    ReplyDelete
  2. cheryl,

    Well, it took me some time, 40 years to be exact, before I could read any Austen novel--S&S actually was the first. After that, I had no problems with any of them. My favorites also are Persuasion and MP.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ah, the W villains. Another one is William Elliot. And Frank Churchill's real last name is Weston (he's not as bad as other villains by Jane Austen but careless and rather selfish, so...).
    Probably the only exception is Wentworth.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Di,

    I had forgotten about Frank Weston and he isn't as bad, but he's not really a good choice for Jane Fairfax. I've often thought that the best pairing off would be Mr. Knightly and Jane Fairfax and that Frank and Emma deserve each other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think letting Mr Knightley marry Emma is OK. Many people here and there on the internet call him perfect (better than Mr Darcy), but he's not that great. Gets on my nerves sometimes. Throughout the book he also learns and changes.
      About Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, I think Jane Austen puts them together to make a point. At least that's what I think after reading "Emma" the 2nd time.
      Wrote a bit about it here: http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2014/01/jane-fairfax-jane-eyre-other-thoughts.html
      I also think that Jane Fairfax, although mostly in the background, is a more significant character than Emma.

      Delete
  5. I think it was obvious from early on that Austen had intended the happy couple to be Mr. Knightly and Emma.

    I would have to disagree, though, about your last point because Emma really is the most significant character as all revolves around here. That being said, I think Jane is a far more interesting character.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, I saw that from the 1st chapters, Emma and Mr Knightley.
      I know what you mean about Emma, she's the main character, the heroine, whereas Jane Fairfax only appears now and then, mostly in the background, and hardly has a voice. What I mean by saying she's more significant (I should have added "in some ways") is that the story of Jane Fairfax is a polemic against the gender inequality in England in Jane Austen's time, so from the social/ political/ feminist point of view, she has greater significance.

      Delete
    2. Di,

      Yes, in that sense I agree. She is the clearest example of the problems faced by the middle class woman with few options beyond marriage, especially if the family is not sufficiently wealthy to support her if she remains single..

      Delete
    3. Do you like "Jane Eyre"?

      Delete
    4. Di,

      Yes, the Gothic elements made it more interesting.

      Delete
    5. Ah, ok.
      Back then as a kid I liked it a lot.

      Delete