Archive for the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ category

Follow RJA on Twitter

March 30, 2009

I will be updating my Twitter account with updates on Reading Jane Austen posts. I’m doing this not only so that people might have another option when it comes to viewing update (if a reader is Twitter-centric versus RSS-centric), but as an added way to cap off a posting.

My recent experience has been that these posts take up more time than I had originally anticipated: first there’s reading the content, then analyzing it (usually along the way), synthesizing it, writing it, and uploading it to this platform and within the boundaries of my Tools for a Close Reading of Jane Austen. And there will still be a typo or two.

Posting it on Twitter will serve as a way for me to acknowledge to myself that “I’m done!”

Not sure what Twitter is? Check out the main page here. My tweets are located here.

Would Jane Austen use Twitter?


Northanger Abbey Chapter 2: The High Feathers

March 30, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapter 2 of Northanger Abbey.

Plot Points

Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen travel to Bath, the resort city. There, they prepare for a ball, where they are disappointed by a lack of participating. Left to the periphery of the excitement, Catherine becomes bored.

Character Commentary

Chapter 2 opens with what seems to be a preemptive defense of Catherine: “it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be; that her heart was affectionate, her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind…”

The preempt may have been appropriate, for during the ball/dance she shows some considerably vain sensibilities. After experiencing the boredom of not participating in the dancing activities due to lack of a partner, Catherine overhears something flattering said about her: “She was looked at however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl.” To me, this seems to show an unflattering view of the character, regardless of the disclaimer given by Austen, perhaps part of the theme of busting up over-romanticization.

Mrs. Allen, a landowner in Wiltshire where the Morlands live, and who is traveling with Catherine to Bath, is described as having “neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner.” Furthermore, she has “good temper” and “a trifling turn of mind” and is obsessed with fashion. Her description and place in the narrative (guardian to Catherine during trip to Bath) imply that she should have some social skills, i.e., ability to facilitate Catherine’s entry into the social scene; however, she does not, as she knows nobody at the ball and laments that one couple she does know is not in attendance.

Themes and Threads

This is the only information given on the trip to the city of Bath:

“Under these unpromising Auspices, the parting took place, and the jouney began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither the robber nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occured than a fear on Mrs. Allen’s side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless.”

I notice that (1) no information is given regarding an event, and (2) the speaker goes out of her way to indicate that, in fact, nothing actually happened. Coming off of reading Sense and Sensibility, in which stuff does happen while characters are en route (if only a discussion of their moods; a measure of time is achieved). The trip is anti-heroic: there are no strong protagonists and no antagonists, and Austen is clearly aware (or expecting?) that her audience would be looking for these things. This seems to be pointed at all of the epics, gothics, and romances that deposit characters in troublesome situations, out of which a “hero” is revealed.

Out of Context

I can relate to Catherine’s feelings of awkwardness at a social event. Feeling down and then overreacting (at least in the characterizational context that Austen gives) to a change toward the positive is normal.


“… they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies.”

Sense and Sensibility 49-50: New Confidences

February 10, 2009

I have just finished the final chapters of Sense and Sensibility. This post covers my entry for those chapters, not my final comments on the novel, the methods and scope for which I have yet to determine.

Plot Points

Edward Ferrars has arrived at Barton Park, and he asks Elinor to marry him. Elinor accepts the proposal, and the two have frank discussions about their experiences and the various players in their history, particularly Robert and Lucy. Edward seeks and is given his mother’s approval, and they move to Delaford, the offer of the home there still in place from Colonel Brandon.

Shortly after, Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, having been taken in by his character and knowledge of his fondness of her, and the two Dashwood sisters end up living in close proximity at Delaford. All parties are happy.

Character Commentary

Edward Ferrars obviously takes a big part in the resolution of the story. After his proposal to Elinor and their final confidence in each other, Austen says that “His heart was now open to Elinor — all its weaknesses, all its errors confessed, and his first boyish attachment to Lucy treated with all the philosophic dignity of twenty-four.” He admits that his actions—including his engagement with Lucy—were “foolish” and that one reason he found Lucy attractive was because he had known few women, and was thus unable to see her “defects.”

Later, there is some reproachment of Edward by Elinor, and “He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistaken confidence in the force of his engagement.” Later, Austen writes, in speaking of Edward and Colonel Brandon’s newly reinforced friendship, that “Their resemblance in good principles and good sense, in disposition and manner of thinking, would probably have been sufficient to unite them in friendship, without any other attraction…” So do Elinor and Brandon see different Edwards? Not that Elinor is offended beyond marrying him, but there seem to be inconsistent views of Edward given by the combination of these two characters and the narrator.

Themes and Threads

Austen speaks of Marianne in the final chapter, when explaining her marriage to Colonel Brandon: “She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favorite maxims.” And, instead of”falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion,” she becomes a wife and patroness. “… her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.”

This marks an ending to the Marianne character as a driver of the thematic conflict in Sense and Sensibility. In a way, Elinor is shown to have won out. But is this really the case? Does the marriage of Marianne and Colonel Brandon result in a de facto victory for sense over sensibility? After all, the two sides were in a way switched, more thoroughly in the case of Marianne. (Remember that at some points late in the story, Elinor was behaving quite sensitively). I think this will require more analysis later on.

In Context

With the end of the Dashwood saga at hand, it is important that each of these young women be taken care of. To Austen’s initial readership, surely the best possible outcome for these heroines is a life of marriage. For Marianne, the reward is especially given: she is “patroness of a village” due to the wealth of her husband. From a purely economic standpoint, the Miss Dashwoods ended up in favorable hands, it seems.

Looking Ahead

I will be posting some final comments over the next few weeks as I parse through all of my posts on Sense and Sensibility to try to make sense of it all. I’ll also let you know about the next steps in Reading Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility 46-48: Exit, Willoughby; Enter, Edward

February 8, 2009

My notes from Chapters 46-48 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

Having left Cleveland after Marianne’s illness, the Dashwoods return to Barton Park, where Marianne continues to recuperate. Meanwhile, Colonel Brandon returned to his home in Delaford. Elinor first debates the propriety of, then follows through on, the retelling of Mr. Willoughby’s confession, to which Marianne reacts in an uncharacteristically calm spirit. It is generally decided—encouraged by Elinor and accepted by Marianne—that Willoughby would have been an unfortunate match for Marianne, and that the two are incompatible. Marianne conjectures that Willoughby’s problems stem from his initial error in the Eliza Williams situation.

Word is brought to Barton Park that “Mr. Ferrars is married.” The Dashwoods, especially Elinor, are disturbed by this. Elinor had thought that she would hear more from her other friends on the state of Edward and Lucy, and displays an uncharacteristic sensitivity to the affair. As a reversal of these thoughts, Edward unexpectedly arrives with news that his brother Robert had married Lucy, to which the Dashwoods are shocked.

Character Commentary

Marianne undergoes a period of self reflection in Chapter 46 that I believe is an important turning point in that character’s theme (see below). Marianne says that her illness has caused her to think seriously: “I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave. … Had I died, it would have been self-destruction.” She continues to claim that she had been unkind to many, including Mrs. Jennings, the Palmers, etc.

Marianne both claims and appears to be unencumbered by thoughts of Willoughby. Thoughts of Edward, however, seem to plague Elinor, who worries about him and reacts emotionally to thoughts of and address from Edward.

Themes and Threads

In these chapters, the attitudes of the Miss Dashwoods seem to undergo changes. Marianne’s usual oversensitivity is largely held at bay, while Elinor’s reactions and states of mind are uncharacteristically emotional. As they are exiting the carriage upon arrival at Barton Park, Elinor notices that Marianne is calm even though she’d been crying:

“In the whole of her subsequent manner, she traced the direction of a mind awakened to reasonable exertion; for no sooner had they entered their common sitting-room, than Marianne turned her eyes around it with a look of resolute firmness, as if determined at once to accustom herself to the sight of every object with which the remembrance of Willoughy could be connected.”

One problem that the Miss Dashwoods have is their now tendancy to conjecture about other people. For instance, Marianne is quick to conclude the Willoughby saga by explaining off his actions as part of or caused by his actions toward Eliza Williams, and generally writes him off as a scoundrel. Elinor is led by her imagination to new psychological and interpretive ends. In Chapter 48: “She saw them in an instant in their parsonage house…”, and “In Edward, she knew not what she saw, nor what she wished to see; … (emphases added)” Elinor imagines Edward and Lucy together, their having traveled together on a trip to her uncle’s house.

Such an imagination in Elinor causes her to overreact to external stimuli in an uncharacteristic way. She has, up to this point, been held up as strong-minded and thoughtful above being affected by emotion. But, here she is worrying about Edward and, when he arrives at Barton Park unexpectedly to relay the news that Robert had in fact been the “Mr. Ferrars” who had married Lucy, Elinor “almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.”

It seems as though the process of illness had affected Marianne, and that the process of attending to the long-term troubles of Marianne has affected Elinor.

Out of Context

I especially appreciate this line of Marianne’s as she is wanting to explore new ways to occupy her mind: “I have formed a plan, and am determined to enter on a serious course of study.” Not only does this notion make psychological sense, but I myself have used this method of distracting from either unpleasant or unwanted experiences. I’m sure that preoccupying one’s mind to escape relationship troubles is commonplace.

Looking Ahead

In the final 2 chapters, I hope to be able to determine “who” this novel is about. Throughout, Austen has shifted focus as various points, consistently between the sisters Marianne and Elinor.

Masterpiece Classic to Show Sense and Sensibility

January 31, 2009

Apparently in honor of my finishing Sense and Sensibility, PBS will be showing John Alexander’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel on February 1, 2009. The series first appeared on BBC in early 2008, but is now to be hosted by Masterpiece Classic. I haven’t yet seen the series, but I’ll be posting about my thoughts on it eventually.

Sense and Sensibility 43-45: Revelations

January 31, 2009

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.

Sense and Sensibility 41-42: Leaving London

January 29, 2009

I have just read Sense and Sensibility Chapters 41-42.

Plot Points

It is decided that Elinor and Marianne Dashwood will finally exit London. Before leaving, Elinor (but not Marianne) feels compelled to visit her step-brother, John Dashwood, and his wife, Fanny. John is surprised (as were most) by the giving of an estate to Edward Ferrars by Colonel Brandon. Elinor and John discuss the appointment, Elinor characteristically matter-of-fact about her involvement, and John characteristically suspicious and curious about the motives behind it. It is revealed that Robert Ferrars will marry Miss Morton, and Robert expressed his dissatisfaction with the Edward-Lucy match.

The party arrives at the Palmer’s estate in Cleveland. Marianne really enjoys the landscape and grounds there, and seems to be happier—though more somber—back in the country. Mr. Palmer and Colonel Brandon join them shortly after.

Character Commentary

Elinor really tends to keep her composure in awkward or socially straining situations. As she talks with Robert Ferrars, she is inadvertently implicated as having been (or would have been) a bad match—or a not enough good one—for Edward. In speaking of his distaste of Lucy Steele marrying Edward, Robert says that she is “Just the kind of girl I should suppose likely to captivate poor Edward.” I’m still trying to decode what exactly happened between Edward and Elinor, but it sure seems like Elinor captivated—at least momentarily—the attention of Edward as well.

Themes and Threads

There is a paragraph or two in early Chapter 42 when Austen is explaining the effect of exiting London on the two Miss Dashwoods. Of course, Marianne is emotionally attached to the house, and has trouble leaving: “… Nor could she leave the place in which Willoughby remained busy in new engagements, and new schemes, in which she could have no share, without shedding many tears.” As I as a reader can relate, this place in which emotional events had occured holds a special, perhaps even masochistic reflex for Marianne Dashwood. She sufferred, yet she revels in her suffering.

And right after that, Elinor’s reaction to leaving London is given: “Elinor’s satisfaction at the moment of removal was more positive. She had no such object for her lingering thoughts to fix on, she left no creature behind from whom it would give her a moment’s regret to be divided for ever…” In now-classic Elinorean fashion, the heroin is stable in this changed (in contrast to her sister) environment.

But aren’t the two situations similar if not parallel? Marianne and Elinor suffered hints at future loss pre-London, entered London with certain expectations and hopes, experienced London in a full blitz of those hopes being dashed, and are leaving London emptyhanded. So my question, and one which probably depends on whether the reader takes Austen seriously here (did Elinor really have “no such object for her lingering thoughts to fix on”?), or is Elinor not as good of a emotion repressor as we thought?

I think that this comparison shows that either (1) Elinor and Marianne really do have different ways of dealing with pain, or that (2) Elinor and Marianne had differing experiences such that one genuinely must deal with it differently than the other. Perhaps there are some options I’m leaving out.


“‘There is no doubt of your doing exceedingly well—quite as well, or better, perhaps, all things considered. Has Colonel Brandon been with you lately.'”