June 2022 Meeting: Sense and sensibility, Vol. 2

Prepared by member Jenny.

Last month, we reported on Volume 1 of our current slow read of Austen’s first published novel, Sense and sensibility. Here is our report on Volume 2.

This volume, we thought, could well have been entitled the trials of Elinor.

First, she has constantly to deal with the mood swings of Marianne in the latter’s desperation concerning Willoughby. She also has Lucy Steele busy proving her superiority relating to Edward. To add to this, Fanny Dashwood and Mrs. Ferrars take every opportunity to try and shame her. Lady Middleton regards her with suspicion and although Mrs. Jennings is well meaning she frequently misunderstands the situation and spreads rumours accordingly. Mr. John Dashwood only wants to see her married well to allay any lingering guilt about her he may feel.

Elinor’s only source of intelligent conversation is Colonel Brandon.

The volume has been called a book of secrets by critics: Mr. John Dashwood’s betrayal of his promise to his dying father, Edward’s secret engagement, Col. Brandon’s melodramatic back story, the duel, Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza and his subsequent treatment by Mrs. Smith and the Ferrars family’s intention that Edward should marry Miss Morton. Some critics have even suggested that Marianne was pregnant.

Marianne’s mood swings are so extreme that it is hard to believe they are only due to blighted love and her youth. However, her failure to eat and sleep combined with stress could well have delayed menstruation. This in turn could have contributed to her desperation. It should be noted that Willoughby, like other would-be seducers in Austen’s novels, picks only on girls not in the care of their parents so it is unlikely that Marianne was seduced however much she put herself at risk.

However, the revelation of Col Brandon’s back story to Marianne is a very significant moment in the plot as it changes her attitude towards him. She now regards him as a romantic character and instead of studiously avoiding him, actually talks to him

Austen is able to use the secrets to create some amazingly funny scenes the best of which is the arrival of Edward at Elinor’s only to find Lucy there. 

It was a very awkward moment and the countenance of each showed it was so… together without the relief of any other person.

Elinor introduces Marianne to the group who only makes things worse when she suggests that Edward may assist them in their return to Barton.

Poor Edward muttered something but what it was, nobody knew, not even himself.

Austen makes much fun of ambition, shallowness and ruthlessness. The scene in the jewelers when the Dashwood girls go to get some jewelry refashioned or pawned, is just such a case. They find Robert Ferrars trying to decide on the design for a tooth pick case and taking an appallingly long time to do so even though they are waiting. When Mr. John Dashwood feels guilty about his sisters and suggests to Fanny that they invite them to stay she manages to out-manoeuvre him by saying she was planning to invite the Steeles.

Although Austen may have been surreptitiously critically analyzing the tendencies towards sense and sensibility in her heroines throughout Volume 2, both girls exhibit the qualities, both suffer and neither quality is vindicated over the other. It is hypocrisy which is condemned decisively. Austen is deftly putting all the pieces in place for the final resolution. 

The whole of Lucy’s behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an encouraging attention to self interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune with no other sacrifice than that of time or conscience. 

Thus, Austen ironically sums up her condemnation of the chief villain of the story. Lucy knows exactly how to deal with the status seeking money hungry behaviour of those who consider themselves her superiors.

One Response to June 2022 Meeting: Sense and sensibility, Vol. 2

  1. […] month, we reported on Volume 2 of our current slow read of Austen’s first published novel, Sense and sensibility. Here is […]

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