Sense and Sensibility 43-45: Revelations

Some notes on Sense and Sensibility Chapters 43-45. I intend to finish the book with accompanying posts within the next 2 days.

Plot Points

Marianne Dashwood becomes ill, and everyone—especially her sister Elinor—is concerned. Her illness is described to be a kind of fever. Due to wanting to avoid risk of passing the infection to their new infant child, the Palmers leave their home at Cleveland. The doctor, Mr. Harris, is summoned, but Marianne’s condition seems to worsen, and Colonel Brandon is summoned to retrieve their mother, Mrs. Dashwood. Hearing a carriage approach, Elinor thinks she’s arrived, but is shocked to find Mr. Willoughby.

Mr. Willoughby explains that he cares a great deal about the welfare of Marianne, and that their relationship at Barton was cut short due to his needing to return to Mrs. Smith to settle the issue that had been previously told to Elinor by Colonel Brandon. Mr. Willoughby’s motive is that he wanted to marry a wealthy girl, a requirement that Miss Grey fit when they met in town. Miss Grey (then his new fiance) had seen the letters between Willoughby and Marianne.

Immediately after Willoughby exits, their mother arrives, relieved to find Marianne well. She explains that she had ridden with Colonel Brandon all the way, during which he had professed his love for Marianne. Mrs. Dashwood is now convinced of the appropriateness of such a match, and glad that it is so. Elinor feels a bit of pity for Mr. Willoughby.

Character Commentary

A lot of the focus of these chapters seems to be on Elinor, and there are some moments indeed in which she seems to be uncharacteristic. Even before Willoughby arrives, Austen says that “Never in her life had Elinor found it so difficult to be calm, as a that moment [when she heard what she thought was her mother’s carriage].” Then, Mr. Willoughby tells his story, to which she is sure to have many emotions brought to the forefront.

Elinor “looked at horror at the sight of him, obeyed the first impulse of her heart in turning instantly to quit the room…” Elinor is usually the one who is calm and in control, but here the utter surprise at seeing who she probably thought she’d never see again, is too much. And during their discourse, Willoughby proclaims that “if I can, to make you hate me one degree less than you do now” is his goal. Later, this seems to have been accomplished in excess. Elinor derides him at certain points in his explanation, but after her mother does arrive and proclaim a match set between Colonel Brandon and Marianne, she seems to feel sorry for him, even to wish him success: “… Elinor withdrew to think it all over in private, to wish success to her friend, and yet, in wishing it, to feel a pang for Willoughby.”

What is Austen getting at here? Is she finally providing the thematic break-up of the sense versus sensibility paradigm which has been the focus of the analysis of the Dashwood sisters?

Narratology Notes

The sickness of Marianne seems to offer an interesting opportunity for Austen to explore the interactions of the other characters, not only in the context of her condition, but as a seeming narrative sans Marianne. When she is absent, we see the dedication of Elinor as a sister, both in her attentiveness/concern and in her reaction to the untimely arrival of Mr. Willoughby. How convenient and interesting that Marianne was not around to witness the intended revelation of Willoughby’s actions.

Style Points

The re-entry of Mr. Willoughby into the plot was truly unexpected for me, but it was the punchline which drove the scene home. Almost like opening a door to find something unexpected, the experience of the reader (if he or she has not skipped ahead with the eyes, as is sometimes the temptation) mirrors that of Elinor. The final line—even the final word—of Chapter 43 shows Willoughby at the doorstep, not Mrs. Dashwood the concerned mother, as was hyped up in the previous few paragraphs. Austen has done this before (waiting until the final line to reveal) though I cannot remember exactly where and under that circumstances.

Looking Ahead

I wil attempt to finish the book with 2 more posts: 1 ranging a bulk of chapters and another covering the last chapter.

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One Comment on “Sense and Sensibility 43-45: Revelations”

  1. Sylwia Says:

    That’s very interesting. The chapter was discussed over at Janeites some months ago, but the point you made didn’t quite come up.

    I think you’ve nailed it. It’s Elinor’s turn towards sensibility that we see here.

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