For this chapter, I will be a bit discordant—my fault, not Austen’s.
Poor Elinor. She feels roped in. She is leaving her pleasant cottage with her family she cares about to go to London. She assumes it will not be that interesting as she is basically doing to babysit her sister, and what she really needs is time to grieve Edward.
Since I keep talking about Austen as a writing coach, I have to say one of the lessons I think I learned from her is my love of really long sentences. This is not something that is really appreciated today. I do love and appreciate Hemingway, and am glad for how he changed literature, but man, Austen’s beautiful prose of multiple clauses works for me.
OK, mea culpa, I was wrong about Mrs. Jennings. I think I would still find her annoying—I don’t enjoy her kind of humor—but she has been unfailingly kind to her guests. She is cheery, and she had dialed down her raillery. She also seems cognizant of Marianne’s issues and has not teased her, or Elinor. I am really appreciating Mrs. Jennings. She is more perceptive (not the right word) more compassionate? Than I thought.
Marianne throws caution to the wind and writes to Willoughby. She is made miserable, but then! The knock at the door! The manly tread and it’s it’s……..Brandon!
Oh Marianne. Oh Col. Brandon.
Marianne sinks into ennui.
Charlotte Palmer is met and there is “laughter without cause” which is the perfect way to describe her.
We have the pain of a secret engagement—Austen does a nice job of showing the difficulties when one enters into such an arrangement. There are reasons why society has rituals and expectations, and Marianne is learning a really hard lesson.
And, Marianne reveals herself even more to being incredibly selfish. She, I think, if so accused, would say she is being true to her feelings, but the fact is, she is using Mrs. Jennings, and really Elinor, as well. Her sole interest in going to London is to see Willoughby, and to hell with everyone else. I do not like Marianne right now, and the only way I can think of to cut her any kind of slack is that she is very young.
Austen shows once again the tedium of being a well-bred young woman. If anyone ever wonders why so many women of certain classes turned to writing and publishing, look no further than that there just wasn’t much to do.
A card is left by Willoughby while Marianne is out (what would have happened had she been there?!!!) and Marianne’s spirits are revived. More letters to W, but nothing in return. Marianne becomes dejected again, and Elinor is beside herself. We have a desperately important exchange after Elinor attempts, carefully, to broach the topic of the engagement:
“You are expecting a letter, then?” said Elinor, unable to be longer silent.
“Yes, a little—not much.”
After a short pause. “You have no confidence in me, Marianne.”
“Nay, Elinor, this reproach from YOU—you who have confidence in no one!”
“Me!” returned Elinor in some confusion; “indeed, Marianne, I have nothing to tell.”
“Nor I,” answered Marianne with energy, “our situations then are alike. We have neither of us any thing to tell; you, because you do not communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing.”
And they are both lying. Whoa.
Lady Middleton and Sir John are in town, so naturally, as they have been there 24 hours, Sir John has already arranged a ball with 20 people. Lady Middleton is appalled for she only has two musicians and a buffet and what will people say? My response: OFGS.
Communication and gossip remain important. Sir John has seen Willoughby! How to explain his lack of corresponsdence with Marianne?
It remains interesting to me that Elinor resists discussing the situation with Marianne. I wonder if she believes if she brings it up, the secret engagement, talking about it will make it so? That she will be unable to hide her disapproval? One of the reasons Elinor is in town is so that she can find out the truth about Willoughby, and she is a good sister. She is hoping to find out that he is a good guy and worthy of Marianne.
Col. Brandon is a constant visitor—to Elinor, and his parting words, once he finds out about the possibility of a commitment between Marianne and Willoughby are rather chilling: “to your sister I wish all imaginable happiness; to Willoughby that he may endeavour to deserve her“
Of course, all that matters in Chapter 6 is that Elinor prevails on Marianne to accompany her to the Middletons. Marianne is in disarray and low spirits, but goes…
And there is Willoughby, with a female companion. He gives the barest of recognition to Elinor. Marianne finally notices him and is enraptured, ready to leap up and run to him. Elinor, of course, holds her back. Willoughby finally pays them a too fast visit. Marianne doesn’t understand his restraint.
“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, “he is there—he is there—Oh! why does he not look at me? why cannot I speak to him?”
“Pray, pray be composed,” cried Elinor, “and do not betray what you feel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet.”
This however was more than she could believe herself; and to be composed at such a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne, it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience which affected every feature.
At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started up, and pronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand to him. He approached, and addressing himself rather to Elinor than Marianne, as if wishing to avoid her eye, and determined not to observe her attitude, inquired in a hurried manner after Mrs. Dashwood, and asked how long they had been in town. Elinor was robbed of all presence of mind by such an address, and was unable to say a word. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed. Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed, in a voice of the greatest emotion, “Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?”
He could not then avoid it, but her touch seemed painful to him, and he held her hand only for a moment. During all this time he was evidently struggling for composure. Elinor watched his countenance and saw its expression becoming more tranquil. After a moment’s pause, he spoke with calmness.
“I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley Street last Tuesday, and very much regretted that I was not fortunate enough to find yourselves and Mrs. Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope.”
“But have you not received my notes?” cried Marianne in the wildest anxiety. “Here is some mistake I am sure—some dreadful mistake. What can be the meaning of it? Tell me, Willoughby; for heaven’s sake tell me, what is the matter?”
He made no reply; his complexion changed and all his embarrassment returned; but as if, on catching the eye of the young lady with whom he had been previously talking, he felt the necessity of instant exertion, he recovered himself again, and after saying, “Yes, I had the pleasure of receiving the information of your arrival in town, which you were so good as to send me,” turned hastily away with a slight bow and joined his friend.
Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable to stand, sunk into her chair, and Elinor, expecting every moment to see her faint, tried to screen her from the observation of others, while reviving her with lavender water.
“Go to him, Elinor,” she cried, as soon as she could speak, “and force him to come to me. Tell him I must see him again—must speak to him instantly.— I cannot rest—I shall not have a moment’s peace till this is explained—some dreadful misapprehension or other.— Oh go to him this moment.”
I believe Marianne. She is truly desperate. She honestly does not understand what is happening. She is completely ruled by her emotions here. It is like she is being driven mad. She is not acting up or out; this is her deepest emotions erupting.
Willoughby isn’t a complete monster. He is clearly embarrassed, and not just by Marianne. I think he is uncomfortable with his role. In other words, he isn’t a sociopath or a mad seducer.
I have never seen an Austen film, but part of me wants to watch this scene.
Poor Marianne. Poor Elinor.
Surprisingly compassionate Lady Middleton. I would not have expected this of her. I appreciate that she takes care of the young women and aids them.
Oh Marianne. So young, so passionate, so naïve, so honest and believing others to be so.
2 thoughts on “Sense and Sensibility Vol. 2 Chapters 4-6”
“OFGS” indeed, regarding the idle Mrs. Littleton’s little life of being concerned about appearances. She is settling in as a character in my mind who isn’t going to change much, advance in her consciousness…learn lessons hard-fought, for she does not put herself out there. She is the mother of bratty children. I guess for Austen that is enough characterization. (Yes, I do agree that the compassion she shows Marianne is nice.)
More characterization ideas: WHERE IS MARGARET? I had so many hopes for her as a little sister with much to explore and learn, participating in the lives of her sisters as they grow into womanhood, but…radio silence. Margaret’s name is barely mentioned. I forget there is a Margaret, frankly. I complain about this not because I like to complain (I do, especially when I don’t see a reason for something…e.g., like Austen’s choices of character development or lack thereof in relation to plot) but because she is family who is present in all the places that Marianne and Elinor are. So whereas the Palmers come and go, for example, and the Littletons are present for fun and frivolity–social acquaintanced–sister Margaret is like a young teen ghost in the story.
More characterization ideas: What is with the Brandon/Willoughby connection??? Him appearing when Marianne was hoping expecting him to be Willoughby threw me. And wasn’t there another scene where M is spotting a man on a horse and it’s not W as she imagines but Brandon (or perhaps Edward?). Either way, Austen is deliberating surprising us by merging Willoughby with other male characters. It can only mean there is some connection between Willoughby and Brandon.
The scene when Willoughby appears at the event with his lady friend is nerve-wracking. Austen is so good at scenes of high emotional intention. Whether characters are openly expressing their emotions or trying to subdue them or somewhere in between, I feel so a part of these scenes as to make me feel a visceral connection in the moment.
I don’t know what to make of Willoughby. He certainly started out a likable character, if not heroic, but now I wonder if that was Austen setting him up to supremely disappoint her readers when the layers get peeled back and revealed are his complexities and flaws. (Clearly, he has something going on. Clearly, his love for Marianne is not so great.)
I don’t think I’ve ever been concerned about Margaret before, but this reading (maybe my third time?) has me bugged by it. Ultimately, I am OK with it, simply because she isn’t necessary to the plot. I do think she was put in to play the role you suggest. She is important to the Willoughby lock of hair scene, for example. But, I think this was not a good move on Austen’s part. I think she should have been cut. And that is coming from my now in the midst of a fourth draft of my first novel and I’m thinking about this stuff all the time. And sure, I can advice Austen on how to do things.
The guy on horseback scene you mention was disappointingly Edward (disappointing to Marianne initially anyway). 😉 And you are right–Austen loves to disappoint when it comes to romance. Don’t get me wrong–she loves romance. And she wants the right people to end up with the right people. She hates hypocrisy and any kind of lying. She hates people, especially women, to sell themselves short. Austen plays with romantic tropes and enlarges on them and destroys others. It is part of why I love her.