Thursday, 2 February 2017
JANE AUSTEN'S 'SENSE AND SENSIBILITY': PUSHING THE STORY ALONG
The story of Sense and Sensibility begins by explaining how the old bachelor Dashwood tied up his whole estate for the benefit of a four-year-old boy whose 'imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise' made a greater impression on him than 'the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters.' So the root cause of trouble in Sense and Sensibility is a will not based on sense. There are similarly troubling financial arrangements in the other Jane Austen novels, of course.
There are two parallel stories. The first concerns Elinor's relationship with Edward Ferrars, complicated by his ingenuous engagement at the age of nineteen to Lucy Steele. The other is Marianne's relationship with Colonel Brandon, complicated by her infatuation with Willoughby. The story moves from Sussex to Devon and to London (January to early April), on to Somerset (in April) and back to Devon, with sufficient time in each location for the girls to encounter people who advance or impede their progress towards marriage.
Coincidental meetings, carefully devised events and words let slip are all devices by which the story is moved along. An example is Marianne's serious illness at Cleveland caused by walking through wet grass (just a little more plausible in an age before lawn-mowers and well-surfaced footpaths). It has the effect of bringing out the best in Willoughby and also in Colonel Brandon, who shows by his concern how much he loves Marianne. And when Jane Austen comes just a little close to melodrama (in Willoughby's long protestation of his suffering now that he has lost Marianne and heard that she is dying), Willoughby says he heard the news from Sir John Middleton, who took pity on his distress and 'almost shook me by the hand, while he reminded me of an old promise about a pointer puppy'!