Sense and Sensibility Chapters 16-18

Chapter 16

Marianne knows how to have a broken heart, and she plays it to the hilt. I do believe she is upset and sad and grieving, but am I wrong in thinking that she takes this to the nth degree, and it is over the top?

I love this commentary on Mrs. Dashwood:

But Mrs. Dashwood could find explanations whenever she wanted them, which at least satisfied herself.

And this in one sentence is my trouble with the positivity movement.

Who do you side with, Elinor or Mrs. Dashwood, in whether or not to talk to Marianne about a possible engagement? I actually can’t decide. What is interesting to me in these three chapters, is that I’m finding I don’t always knee jerk agree with Elinor, and I think in previous readings, I have.

Did anyone else find it odd that when being asked whether to keep reading Hamlet, Marianne said “weeks” when someone said it would be months before Willoughby appeared again? Why is she so certain? Or is she? And does this mean they are corresponding? Or have a secret understanding? And if a secret understanding, why was she so miserable????? Or is she like Mrs. Dashwood, and she prefers to believe romantic possibilities, so even if something is over, she chooses to believe this will change?

I love that we have another foiling situation. Willoughby and Edward are so different. Marianne, of course, notices this at once. While Willoughby was attentive and passionate and made romantic addresses, Edward is cold and distant and reserved. In this circumstance, it is intereting that we are made aware that Elinor sees this sea change in Edward and is hurt by it, though being Elinor, she is really good at being circumspect.

I like that Mrs. Dashwood’s genuine concern and liking of Edward warms Edward towards all of them.

Edward, while still a pale version of the person Elinor used to know, does come rally enough to have some decent conversation. Marianne gets to wax rhapsodic on Norland and the grounds, and Elinor gets to say my favorite line of the chapter: “It is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves.” Pure gold.

When Edward asks about the Middletons, I found myself torn again. Marianne was unkind and censorious.Sir John in particular, has been especially kind to them. Yes, he has motives—he is an extrovert with a boring wife, and he does not know how to enertain himself. He needs other people around him, but he is genuinely kind and genuinely wants to make people happy.

On the other hand, Elinor’s defense of these people, was certainly civil and correct; but Marianne is right as well. Mrs. Jennings really is instrusive, and Lady Middleton is vapid, and Sir John can be rude. 

I think this is wonderful that I can see both points of view. I kind of appreciate Marianne’s honesty, though she goes too far. What do you think of what Austen is doing here with these characters, all of them? I think that she is suggesting (just as in Northanger Abbey) that people are made up of good and bad characteristics. Nobody in this novel is pure angel or pure anything. Or is that the case? (Can’t help throwing this in here. But I do believe that Austen thinks everyone has their flaws.)

Chapter 17

This chapter is so terrific. I love what we learn about these people as they talk to each other, tease each other, argue with each other.

We find out that Edward has a pushy mother (or is she? Maybe she just wants her kid to do something) and that he has been resisting. He really does seem to have serious self-confidence issues and is truly grateful that his mother seems to have given up wanting better things for him.

Thank Heaven! I cannot be forced into genius and eloquence.

He argues that he is shy and hates public speaking and doesn’t seem to know, beyond being happy, what he wants to do in life.

But eye-opening to me, as a Socialist and a person attempting to write a novel about money, is this exchange between Elinor and Marianne:

“Strange that it would!” cried Marianne. “What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?”

“Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it.”

“Elinor, for shame!” said Marianne, “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.”

“Perhaps,” said Elinor, smiling, “we may come to the same point. YOUR competence and MY wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?”

“About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than THAT.”

Elinor laughed. “TWO thousand a year! ONE is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.”

“And yet two thousand a-year is a very moderate income,” said Marianne. “A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.”

Elinor smiled again, to hear her sister describing so accurately their future expenses at Combe Magna.

“Hunters!” repeated Edward—”but why must you have hunters? Every body does not hunt.”

Marianne coloured as she replied, “But most people do.”

Notice that our romantic who could live on love, thinks she needs 2000 pounds a year. And her rationale for needing this much money is basically a large house, servants, carriages, and hunters. Yep—living on love. By the way, this is an income of over $200,000 in today’s terms. Ah, such simple views.

And naturally, hunting is what most people do. Hmmm.

In the rest of the chapter, Edward suggests how the Dashwoods would spend a fortune, and various people make observations on what they thought other people were like, but then found out that they weren’t like that at all. Elinor, for example, admits that she will sometimes judge others and find she was incorrect, by a lot.

“I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes,” said Elinor, “in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge.”

Do you agree with me that this is another message from Austen? To be careful how we judge the characters that we see? Interesting that Elinor is the one who most carefully in detailed fashion acknowledges this error in herself.

Chapter 18

Thoughts, readers of this blog? What do you make that so much time is spent on the picturesque? Edward sure seems to know a lot about how to compose a stirring picture, or at least how to comment on it, yet at the same time says outright that such things don’t interest him that much. What does that mean?

And of course, most serious of all, Edward is wearing in his ring, a lock of someone’s (Elinor’s?) hair. If hers, she did NOT give it to him. Wow.

Another example of foiling—much ado is made of Willoughby’s acquisition of a lock from the beautiful Marianne’s head. It is a whole, long, luxuriant and sexual scene. This “lock” event with Edward and Marianne’s observation is short and even curtailed. Hmmm.

So much is happening!

One thought on “Sense and Sensibility Chapters 16-18”

  1. Yes, this yarn is spinning quickly. People are both good and bad. Flaws are easily exposed to the reader and between characters and within characters’ selves. I like this.

    While I did not fault Marianne for being so depressed for so long, I found it really odd that in the following two chapters, she became less and less so to the point in Chapter 18 of having almost no signs of sadness over Willoughby’s departure. Okay there is some at the end of Chapter 18 when Edward is made aware that Marianne has feelings for a certain someone named Willoughby. So I would say in Chapter 16 Austen is giving us a whole lot of misery on Marianne’s part to show us, perhaps, that she is a bit over the top. But, grief is grief, one can easily argue.

    Austen is a complex writer and character creator.

    These chapters didn’t spin as action-oriented as the three prior, but what I enjoyed very much was the conversation between sisters and Edward about ambition and money. First, I couldn’t BELIEVE that Edward told the sisters how much he was worth. “What is your competence?” Two thousand a year…and then on and one they compare the value of life vs. the value of money. My jaw dropped at Marianne’s concepts of a simple life. But money can’t buy you love, but really, Marianne thinks so, which surprises me. Is she a romantic or not?

    Again, Austen in her complexity creates intentionally flawed characters. (How I wish the narrator in this novel weren’t quite so distant. I feel I need something to hold onto here to keep my interest in these characters and their lives.

    With Col. Brandon and Willoughby gone and Edward coming back to share with the ladies a life of non-aspiration, what is the force here, what is the source of tension? I keep turning back to the women characters. Is this going to be less of a marriage focused story than one about women growing to have their own identities? Perhaps these women will marry but they won’t marry who Austen has so far established they will likely marry. In which case, we are left to ask if we choose, “What’s the point of marriage?”

    I find this novel so much more complex in theme, and yet the prose is not that different, than NA, although, like I said I loved right from the beginning, NA’s narrator was all about drawing you in, and taking a close look at what she was saying about the people present. A more intimate narrator perhaps makes the Gothic more easily deliverable and chilling. This more distant/limited narrator (to me at least) in S&S is forcing me to navigate on my own a bit. Oh well, a good study this is to read these novels back to back.

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