March 2011 Meeting: Sense and Sensibility. Vol. III

It was unfortunate that  this meeting date coincided with JASA’s Country Weekend meeting held in Mittagong as it resulted in only five members being able to attend. There were two apologies.

Sense and Sensibility book covers

Funny that, Penguin wins again!

As there was no business to discuss we launched into our discussion of Volume III . For the benefit of those who were not able to be at the last meeting those who were briefly recapped the discussion which centred on the complex nature of Volume II and the fact that there are several threads of the plot being teased out.

One member suggested a musical analogy: Volume I is like a prelude and Volume II has a ‘fugal’ feel about it. What we wondered, could Volume III be compared to? In the second volume, characters are being expanded and the dichotomy between Marianne and Elinor’s characters is brought into more prominence. Marianne’s hysterical reaction to Willoughby’s rejection was explored and one member offered the opinion she had read that Marianne’s prolonged illness was the result of a pregnancy culminating in miscarriage. This idea was very thoroughly considered and argued through.

Willoughby’s unscrupulous behaviour,including his abandonment of Colonel Brandon’s ward, Eliza, Elinor’s almost unnatural, especially for her age, self-control, Mrs Jennings’s kindness but lack of real understanding, and the humour introduced by the interplay between the Palmers were all discussed. We also considered these themes very thoroughly in our Vol. III discussion. (For a detailed discussion of Vol. II you may like to go to Whispering Gums’s blog)

The main point we made in this March meeting was the development of Marianne’s character: she learns, by the end of the novel, to be more restrained whilst Elinor’s emotional side is allowed to surface. The latter, sensible and self-controlled beyond her years finally shows her feelings when she learns Edward is at last free of the grasping, duplicitous Lucy.

Most of us felt that Elinor is a fully developed character from the beginning whereas Marianne grows into a more balanced and sensible young woman. We re-read the passage in the final chapter in which we are told Marianne ‘was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims.’

One member suggested that Marianne is the forerunner of the modern young woman. She didn’t ‘play the games’ society of the time demanded – why shouldn’t a girl in love make advances to the young man she believes returns her love?

We also noted that Colonel Brandon was a constant thread in the novel. His love for Marianne never wavers, his kindness to Edward contributes to the depiction of Elinor’s character  (especially when he asks her to convey his offer of the living to Edward), and the story of Eliza serves the double purpose of helping ‘cure’ Marianne of her infatuation with Willoughby and showing her Brandon’s worth, thus laying the foundation for his eventual winning of her hand in marriage. There was some disquiet among us about the age discrepancy with the thought being raised that he is a father figure for Marianne.

What discussion of an Austen novel would be complete without considering humour? We decided that Mrs Jennings and Charlotte, whilst providing some of the humour, are also kind women and very natural people who are completely unconcerned about the opinion of other people. But the appalling John Dashwood, with his blind devotion to wife Fanny, his sycophantic attitude to his mother-in-law, his blatant love of money and his total misreading of the character and behaviour of others (e.g. his complete unawareness of where Brandon’s true romantic interest lay) make him one of Jane Austen’s greatest comic characters.

Our Quiz Master teased  us with his quiz based on Vol. III, with most of us being glad scores weren’t being kept – many thanks, all the same, QM. We fared little better with our challenge of the quotes but it was all good fun.

Next meeting

At our next meeting on 16th April we will discuss the letters Jane wrote during the period she was preparing the novel, originally written in epistolary form, for publication as the ‘Sense and Sensibility’ we know today. See March 20 post ‘Jane Austen’s letters and Sense and Sensibility’.

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