Friday 16 December 2011

Advent With Austen: Sense and Sensibility, Chapters 23-36

Oh dear. This part of Sense and Sensibility (the whole of Part Two in my copy) is rather filled with doom and gloom for our two heroines. I almost don't want to talk about it because I'm too depressed for both of them (also, you know, lazy) but talk about it I shall so that next week I can rejoice for their happy endings! (Probably. It is Austen, after all.)

In summary, this part basically goes: Marianne is all depressed in Devonshire, Elinor is not, even though she's in pretty much the same situation, and we are all in awe of her extreme pragmatism (although I'm a little disappointed in her mean thoughts about Lucy, who is clearly dumb and a bit annoying, but altogether not that bad- but then she is trying to marry Elinor's beloved). The girls are persuaded to go to London with Mrs Jennings (Marianne because Willoughby might be there, Elinor because Edward won't), and they both find out things they don't want to and generally have a rotten old time, compounded by the fact that Fanny and John are in London too, and they also have to be tolerated.

The big news in this part, though, is clearly the whole scandalous, and, let's face it, exciting story that Colonel Brandon has to share about Willoughby. Bearing in mind that we already HATE Willoughby at this point for rejecting Marianne and marrying the richest woman in town (and we all thought he was so romantic...), it's the perfect anti-Willoughby and pro-Brandon moment. So, it turns out that Colonel Brandon once loved a girl, and was all set to elope with her, until they got caught and she was forced to marry his brother, which set her on a downward spiral that meant she died with an illegitimate daughter. And because Colonel Brandon's so romantic and wonderful, he still supports said daughter, even though she isn't actually his. And can't we all now see how perfect he'd be for Marianne?!

Anyway, so the Willoughby part of this story is that this child Colonel Brandon supports went missing, ooh, nine months ago, and, wouldn't you just know it, bloody Willoughby took her to London, impregnated her, and then left her there, without telling her that he wasn't coming back. And, oh, by the way, this girl is FOURTEEN YEARS OLD! So, basically, we now all want to murder Willoughby for ruining this poor girl's life (because, let's face it, it's the early nineteenth century and this is definitely all her fault: except, did I mention, she's FOURTEEN!) and we also want to shake Marianne a bit because she knows all this, and yet still weeps because Willoughby doesn't love her.

Oh, Marianne. She's such a conundrum in this part, because on the one hand, you want to slap her and tell her that Willoughby's not worth it (and clearly he isn't) but it's obviously not that easy to deal with her, and if it was, she wouldn't be nearly as interesting. And then, another issue is the whole 'Elinor's going through the exact same thing (almost), but she's not making anywhere near as much of a fuss' thing, which is valid, except that 1) Marianne doesn't actually know about this because Elinor's too 'sensible' to talk to her about it, and 2) even if she did know it, it would probably only make her feel worse rather than better, since she basically loves Elinor more than anyone on earth- after all, she has "the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point", and that's just sweet!

Elinor does kind of frustrate me in this section because she's almost too sensible, and by sensible I of course mean emotionally detached. She shows almost no outward signs of desperately wanting to marry Edward, and much as it is clear to the reader that she does actually love him, is it as clear to Edward? I guess that the situation she's in isn't exactly as dire as Marianne's, but there are now two other woman vying for Edward's love/money, and a few tears? Really wouldn't have been inappropriate under the circumstances. I have to wonder whether there isn't some happy medium between the two sisters' reactions to life, in not being so willing to be overcome by emotion that you 'lost the bloom of youth', but also in not being so outwardly unemotional that you seem not to care, and (probably) end up having a nervous breakdown later in life. Which, possibly, is the whole point Austen is trying to make with these two characters. But then again, they are basically both better than all the other characters. Observe:
"Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs Dashwood. There was a kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them, and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanour, and general want of understanding."
Ouch! But also, you know, fair.

So, these chapters=gloomy. I would make predictions for the last part, only I kind of remember the important things about the end (who marries who) so that would be ever so slightly cheating. But let's just say, I think it gets worse before it gets better, and I would seriously love for there to be some kind of confrontation with Willoughby (preferably where he gets punched in the face, although that's unlikely because this is still Austen). And that his wife is a DICK, a la Mrs Elton from Emma, and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice. But it's all ok anyway, because I know it'll be alright in the end, at least for everyone that matters! Phew!


  1. So enjoyed reading this summary. I work retail and thus haven't had time this December to join the wonderful S&S readalong, but I have eked out some time to read folks' postings about it.

    Willoughby is a rake among rakes. Colonel Brandon is clearly a fine, fine man. And let's face it--it does't exactly hurt that he's played by Alan Rickman in the lovely Ang Lee film.

  2. John Michael Cummings16 December 2011 at 17:57

    re: book review request by award-winning author

    Dear Devouring Texts:

    I'm an award-winning author with a new YA book out this fall. Ugly To Start With is a series of thirteen interrelated stories about childhood being published by West Virginia University Press.

    Can I interest you in reviewing it?

    If you write me back at, I can email you a PDF of my book. If you require a bound copy, please ask, and I will forward your reply to my publisher. Or you can write directly to Abby Freeland at:

    My publisher, I should add, can also offer your readers a free excerpt of my book through a link from your blog to my publisher's website:

    Here’s what Jacob Appel, celebrated author of
    Dyads and The Vermin Episode, says about my new collection: "In Ugly to Start With, set in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, Cummings tackles the challenges of boyhood adventure and family conflict in a taut, crystalline style that captures the triumphs and tribulations of small-town life. He has a gift for transcending the particular experiences to his characters to capture the universal truths of human affection and suffering--emotional truths that the members of his audience will recognize from their own experiences of childhood and adolescence.”

    My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. My short story "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

    I am also the author of the nationally acclaimed coming-of-age novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel Books, Penguin Group, 2009), winner of The Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers (Grades 7-12) and one of ten books recommended by USA TODAY.

    For more information about me, please visit:

    Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing back from you.


    John Michael Cummings

  3. Giving Marianne a good shake? Yes please, I'm in! Her immaturity has me going crazy by this point.

  4. I could *almost* agree with you about Elinor being emotionally detached if it wasn't for her conversations with Lucy. You can feel the repressed anger there and her effort not to go for the other's jugular (and it's mutual!).

  5. @Crowe- aw, thank you! Willoughby is such a rake! So true. And it freaks me out that people kind of think Alan Rickman is hot because he was Colonel Brandon, because to me he's basically Snape. Who I sort of love, but not in a finding hot sort of way...

    @Liburuak- I know right! Except that I kind of love her because I know where she's coming from. And I can't really blame her for being all whingy while Elinor's in pain, because she doesn't know about that! So I'm all conflicted!

    @Alex- that's so true! They're all like 'ooh, let's talk about things and pretend to like each other, whilst we actually very thinly veil our hatred for each other.' But in general, I worry about Elinor not talking about her feelings, like even just to Marianne.

  6. In this section (I believe) Mrs. Jennings hopes that Willoughby's wife plagues his heart out. And I can't read S&S without thinking of Alan Rickman.

  7. @Jenn- I still can't deal with the 'Alan Rickman is hot' thing. Just can't do it! It's very possible that Mrs Jennings said that, and I very much hope she did (I kind of like her, even though she's totally gossipy and would be kind of annoying in real life!)