Posted tagged ‘Imagery’

Sense and Sensibility 31-32: Remembering The Mulberry Tree and Yew Arbour

January 19, 2009

Sense and Sensibility has Chapters 31-32!

Plot Points

Colonel Brandon visits the Miss Dashwoods where they are still staying in town. As usual, Marianne Dashwood is not excited about him, claiming sarcastically that “We are never safe from him.” In talking with Elinor Dashwood, Brandon conveys a story in which his friend Eliza was seduced by Mr. Willoughby, this being the reason (unknown at the time, however) that Brandon had previously exited Barton Park.

Upon hearing this, Marianne begins to be more sensitive and responsive to Colonel Brandon, though she is still sad about Willoughby’s overall actions. The other occupants of Mrs. Jennings presence (which now include the Palmers, Willingtons, and Miss Steeles, try to react to Marianne’s situation with sympathy, especially Sir John, who names Willoughby “Such a scoundrel of a fellow!”

Character Commentary

In Chapter 32, Elinor reports on Marianne’s changed demeanor: “though she [Elinor] saw with satisfaction the effect of it, in her no longer avoiding Colonel Brandon when he called, in her speaking to him, even voluntarily speaking, with a kind of compassionate respect, and though she saw her spirits less violently irritated than before; she did not see her less wretched.”

I believe this represents an evolution in Marianne as a character. It is not as if she has changed to a new attitude: she is still depressed, remember. However, there is a new understanding about her which I think goes beyond her simply thanking Brandon for presenting the information about Willoughby’s less-than-admirable behavior in the present and in the past. Perhaps she has matured a bit here?

Narratology Notes

I’ll turn once more to Austen’s narration of the story. Chapter 32 has Austen explaining Mrs. Dashwood’s reaction to the events (which have been communicated by mail as she is still at Barton Park), and Austen says plainly that to give her reaction “would be only to give a repetition of what her daughters had already felt and said…” So for the sake of perhaps not overly emphasizing the sadness of the entirety of the Dashwood family, Austen reserves the explanation of Mrs. Dashwood’s pain to her own words:

“Bad indeed must the nature of Marianne’s affliction be, when her mother could talk of fortitude! mortifying and humiliation must be the origin of those regrets, which she could wish her not to indulge!”

Later, Austen gives similar notes of exclamation, but this time they seem to be within the quotation marks of Sir John: “Such a scoundrel of a fellow! Such a deceitful dog! It was only the last time they met that he had offered him one of Folly’s puppies! and this was the end of it!”

These two passages, occuring in different narratologic contexts (one a commentary by the author; another occuring within the story itself, as a character’s words) offer an interesting look at Austen’s strategy. They are similar in every way: they involve a reprove of Willoughby’s actions; they each show the reactions of a characater; they use terms which speak of the extremes of human sense (“morifying,” “affliction,” “scroundrel,” “deceitful dog”; and they each use exclamation points!

Austen is certainly hitting home that the relevant characters are highly affected by the recent events, perhaps to form a change-inducing base for them (Marianne?). What the above passages tell me is that she will use various narration techniques to communicate this. I think there are other more subtle judgements which might be made, but I can’t think of them at the moment.

Language: Diction and Thesaur

Austen, in describing Colonel Brandon and Elinor, says that “The good understanding between the Colonel and Miss Dashwood seemed rather to declare that the honours of the mulberry-tree, the canal, and the yew arbour, would all be made over to her;” here, the implication is that a possible marriage between the Colonel and Marianne had grown dim. Austen italicizes “her” (and I hope that’s in the original) to emphasize that the next-closest wedding would more likely be between Elinor and Edward Ferrars.

This mentioning of the mulberry-tree, the canal, and the yew arbour is a look back toward a previous conversation between Mrs. Jennings’s and Elinor, in which Mrs. Jennings (extolling the good nature of Colonel Brandon) described his estate:

“Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old-fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country; and such a mulberry tree in one corner! … Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; … and, moreover, is is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ’tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! ’tis a nice place!”

This advertisement of the Colonel Brandon estate returns in the mind of Elinor at the later date of her seeing the possibility of marriage for him and her sister wanes. At first, I read the mentioning of these floral/garden images as a possible reference to youth: as these are put off, the youthfulness of all parties (especially Colonel Brandon) is decreased. After a brief, informal inquiry into the yew plant, I see that it is associated with churches (or in Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s context, marriage?), especially in England.

The Mulberry is “fast-growing when young” according to Wikipedia.


“Elinor began to find this impertinence too much for her temper; but she was saved the trouble of checking it, by Lucy’s sharp reprimand, whic now, as on many occasions, though it did not give much sweetness to the manners of one sister, was of advantage in governing those of the other.”