Tuesday 20 December 2011


This is the twelfth and the last guestpost in this series celebrating the Bicentenary of Sense and Sensibility (1811) . On this occasion, I'd like to thank all my guests for contributing so generously to the success of the event with their brilliant essays: Jennifer Becton, Alexa Adams, C. Allyn Pierson, Beth Pattillo, Jane Odiwe, Deb Barnum, Laurie Viera Rigler, Regina Jeffers, Lynn Shepherd, Meredith Esparza, Vic Sanborn and Laurel Ann Nattress. My gratitude to Katherine Cox, too, who created the logo for our celebration here at My Jane Austen Book Club. 

Now, to close this incredible monthly event, the lady of Austenprose,  Laurel Ann Nattress, with a thorough and delightful post about Marianne  Dashwood and her inclination to ... sensibilities. Enjoy and leave your comment as well as your e-mail address to enter the giveaway of a copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, the anthology of Austen-inspired short stories edited by Laurel Ann. The giveaway ends on December 31st and is open worldwide.

Thank you Maria for including me in your Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration. I have so enjoyed the eleven previous essays by fellow Janeites this year.

Even though Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, is now two hundred years old, it is still pertinent to today’s readers thanks to its two intriguing heroines, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood.

I especially requested to be your last contributor in your celebration because I wanted to talk about Marianne Dashwood, Jane Austen’s young, emotional and “sensible” co-heroine. She should have the last word. Can you imagine what this novel would be like without Marianne? The story would dull, dull, dull, and passionless. She is the kindling of the narrative, supplying all the high strung energy and melodrama to ignite the plot. Her elder, and more staid sister Elinor, is quite the opposite in personality, offering us all that is “sense,” decorum and practicality.

So, why did Jane Austen write about two sisters that were so divergent in how they react and view life’s challenges: Marianne, all self-indulgent, unguarded and unfiltered opinion and emotion, and Elinor, all practicality, proper decorum, and as unreadable asthe prisoner ofPignerol? If these two young ladies sound like polar opposites, then you are correct in your analysis. This intriguing combination of personalities plays off each like fire and ice, setting the scene perfectly for Austen’s between the lines social commentary on women, money and love. 

Kate Winslet as Marianne (1995)
Let’s start with the title of the novel. The meaning of sense and sensibility to modern readers might fly over their heads, but is actually a juxtaposition of terms. Today, sensibility equates to having sense, or being rationally composed and practical. In Jane Austen’s day, sensibility had an entirely opposite meaning. In fact, there was a literary genre devoted to it called the “sentimental novel”or “sensibility novel” which celebrated the “emotional and intellectual concepts of sentiment, sentimentalism, and sensibility.” This was based on the 18th-century Cult of the Sensibility: whereby genteel society  believed in the exaggerated expression of emotions. Women’s mannerisms revolved around the delicacy of their sensitive nervous system, equaling expression of feelings through blushing, swooning and crying in response to a situation. Samuel Richardson's novel Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady (1748) is a perfect example of a “sensibility novel” containing a young, innocent, virtuous, heroine who blushes, swoons and cries in response to her abuse by her family and a corrupt man who seduces her for his own entertainment. Ironically, in her usual stroke of brilliance, Austen chooses to use some of the same plot devices in Sense and Sensibilityand cleverly flip-flops them, makingMarianne a sentimental, emotional firecracker of a heroine plopped down into apractical environment fueled by money worries, the marriage market, social standing and sense.

Here are a few of my favorite Marianne quotes to exemplify my points involving: dreadful indifference, common-place notion of decorum,pleasure and regret, determining intimacy, fixed opinions, anddead leaves:

I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. Oh mama! how spiritless, how tame was Edward's manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!” Chapter 3

“Elinor,” cried Marianne, “is this fair? is this just? are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every common-place notion of decorum! I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared.” Chapter 10

“Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you? -- when learn to feel a home elsewhere? -- Oh happy house! could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! -- And you, ye well-known trees! -- but you will continue the same. -- No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! -- No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! -- But who will remain to enjoy you?” Chapter 5

“You are mistaken, Elinor,” said she warmly, “in supposing I know very little of Willoughby. I have not known him long indeed, but I am much better acquainted with him, than I am with any other creature in the world, except yourself and mama. It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy: -- it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from my brother than from Willoughby. Of John I know very little, though we have lived together for years; but of Willoughby my judgment has long been formed.”

Elinor thought it wisest to touch that point no more. She knew her sister's temper. Opposition on so tender a subject would only attach her the more to her own opinion. Chapter 12

“Perhaps, then, you would bestow it as a reward on that person who wrote the ablest defence of your favorite maxim, that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life -- for your opinion on that point is unchanged, I presume?” (Edward Ferrars)

Undoubtedly. At my time of life, opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should now see or hear anything to change them.” (Marianne Dashwood)

“Marianne is as stedfast as ever, you see,” said Elinor, “she is not at all altered.” Chapter 17

“And how does dear, dear Norland look?” cried Marianne.

Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

Oh!” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves.” Chapter 16

Marianne Dashwood – the seventeen year old middle daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood of Norland Park may be spontaneous, excessively sensible, overly romantic,  idealistic, impulsive and determined to love the a risky suitor John Willoughby – but she never loves by halves – absolving all her trying faults and blunders. Austen does eventually have her come to her “senses” and realize the err of her ways – and change, but I always feel a “sense” of loss at her transformation from wild innocent to contrite adult, choosing to marry the practical Col. Brandon by the end of the novel. I never truly believe that she does not mourn the loss of the admiration of dead leaves and other sensibilities. Like a wild mustang, breaking Marianne’s spirit, broke her charm to us. This was Austen’s bittersweet message of women’s lot in the early 1800’s. Today we have more options, but Marianne’s message still rings true today. Never love by halves. Don’t be “reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful” to your true self. Discover “everything that is worthy and amiable” in yourself and revel in it.

Author Bio

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of twenty-two Austenesque stories published by Ballantine Book in 2011, and Austenprose.com, a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington where it rains a lot. Visit Laurel Ann at her blog Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.


Sophia Rose said...

That was a good expose on Marianne and her role in the story. Thank you for the post.

Please do not enter me in the giveaway as I have already read the book.


marilyn said...

Thank you for all the insight into Marianne and "sensibility".
I would enjoy a copy of the novel eversomuch!


cyn209 said...

soooo on my WishList!!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!!!

HappyHolidays to you & yours!!

cyn209 at juno dot com

Mystica said...

Thanks for an interesting post.

A very happy Christmas to you.


Phoebe's Sisters said...

I love those Marianne quotes, but I don't really think that by gaining some "sense" she had to sacrifice all of her romantic "sensibilities". I think that Col. Brandon's tortured past would inspire her to regard him as a romantic hero. And I'm convinced that she would never give up the admiration of dead leaves. It's in her nature and I see Col. Brandon as someone who would encourage her to do so. She would be more cautious in her feelings and sentiments but never un-romantic :-))


Anonymous said...

"It was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell."
This quote is about Marianne's coldness and silence to the Misses Steel in Chapter 21.
I love it. As Elinor I have to bring forht all my tactfulness when I'm with my sister!
It's part of the charm of the spontaneous and impulsive persons!
Thank you Maria Grazia

Linda said...

Enjoyed this post, esp. the comment about the difference in the meaning of sensibility in our current society as opposed to the meaning in Austen's era. Thanks for the giveaway.

Christina said...

How interesting. I would love to read more. Please enter me into the giveaway. Thanks. :)

vagabrio (at) hotmail (dot) com

Kate Maxwell said...

I have wondered at how the term 'sensibility' has changed from our dear Jane's time to our very own. I have just finished S&S and really enjoyed it more, as well as understood it more this time around.

I would love to win a copy of JAMMDI! What a wonderful sounding collection of stories!

oreannie at yahoo dot com

Kelda said...

What an interesting post ,thank you .I'd love to read more .

Kelda said...

Oh dear I forgot to leave my email in my excitement !!Sorry!


Denise said...

I thought I already made a comment.I was wrong.This has been so much fun.I have enjoyed the party.Please enter me in your giveaway.Thank you so much.Denise @knuckled54@yahoo.com

Patricia said...

Those were very good arguments in favor of Marianne. She has never been one of my favourites, but you changed my mind today
This is my address: pato3_89(at)hotmail(dot)com

Jennifer W said...

Love the quotes!

Jennifer W

dreamer said...

Beautiful post!
I hope to win this book because I think it's very interesting. Thank you for the chance.

Danielle said...

I have been waiting to read this book. I had a copy but foolishly leant it out and now I am waiting for it to make its way back to me from my friends. If I win a copy I can actually read it.

Thanks for the giveaway!


Erica said...

This one has been on my reading list since it came out!

Twitter: RegencyErica

Gigi said...

Marianne was one of those women who love wholeheartedly and I respect her for that, not everyone of us, has that way to feel or to express love in that type emotion. Looovee the guestpost! Crossing Fingers for the giveaway!

- Gisele :)

Anonymous said...

One continues to wonder how the sensible Marianne and the much older and in some ways staid Col. Brandon fair. It seems that women who longed for the passion and joy of living inspired by Marianne often found the boredom and regret of a marriage without either. Maybe Miss Austen herself, despite living on the charity of her brothers fought the battle of the age. To marry for security or risk the future to a life of your own. Maybe she was contrasting her own inner self with Elinor and Marianne. I have hope for the giveaway

Danielle said...

I hadn’t really cared that much for Marianne, I am more of an Elinor girl. But when it comes down to it we can learn a lot from her. When I reread this I will have a new outlook on her and appreciate her more.

I hope I win a copy of the “Jane Austen Made Me Do It” because I had a copy and let a friend read it and now it is making the rounds. Note to self, read a book before you let your friends read it so if you don’t get it back for months you won’t mind so much. 


araminta18 said...

That was a great essay! I've always found Marianne a bit annoying, but this helped me understand her a bit more. Thanks!

my email: araminta18 a t gmail d o t c o m

jewels1328 said...

Thank you for the "insight" into Marianne. I love this book!
I always felt that when she settled in the end that she sort of broke. I understand the message but it always made me sad.
Julie F.

Lúthien84 said...

What a charming and insightful perspective of Marianne. Thanks to LA and MG for this post. Hope I'm not too late to enter this giveaway


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