What are narrative structural elements in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, particularly in Chapters 11 and 12?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are three narrative structural elements that we find in Jane Austen's Chapter 11 and 12 of Sense and Sensibility. The first is one we find all throughout the book and that is Austen's chosen narration style of third-person limited. The narrator is omniscient, seeing and knowing all, and therefore able to philosophize about all, however, it is Elinor that the narration focuses on. We witness all of Elinor's scenes and private conversations; we do not witness Marianne's. In Chapter 11, the narration focuses on a conversation between Elinor and Colonel Brandon that expresses one of the novel's central themes.

A second narration element Austen employs is analepsis, which refers to flashbacks to earlier points in the story. Although Austen uses analepses in a much more profound manner later on in the story, specifically when Colonel Brandon relays his story about his love Eliza and about Willoughby seducing his charge, and again when Willoughby relays his own story pertaining to his feelings and other events, we do have a small analepsis in Chapter 11 and it foreshadows darker events to come. The analepsis takes place when Elinor and Colonel Brandon are conversing about Marianne's philosophies and lack of understanding. Colonel Brandon advises:

"when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common and too dangerous!"

He further explains:

"I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change--from a series of unfortunate circumstances--."

All of his statements refer to Eliza and his story about loosing her and her eventual fallen state, hence his statements are the beginning of a flashback. Furthermore, since he is drawing a parallel between Eliza and Marianne, we can sense that his statements foreshadow upcoming difficult times for Marianne.

We see another analepsis in Chapter 12 when Margaret relays to Elinor the story of her having witnessed Willoughby cut off a lock of Marianne's hair, kiss it, and put it in his pocketbook. Again this flashback serves to foreshadow future doom because if our heroine is guessing now about whether or not Marianne is truly engaged to Willoughby, then surely everyone is being set up for a major disappointment.

A third narration element Austen uses in Chapter 11 and 12 is referred to as the hermeneutic code. It refers to plot elements that raise questions for the reader. For instance, this serious conversation Elinor has with Colonel Brandon raises questions. Since Marianne is so opposed to second marriages, we wonder if Colonel Brandon will ever have a chance with her. We also wonder if Marianne's philosophies are wrong. We also wonder if Colonel Brandon may wind up with Elinor. Plus, by the time Colonel Brandon parallels Marianne with his fallen Eliza, we wonder what will become of Marianne.

neneta | Student

Chapters 11 and 12 give the reader detailed information about the two sisters: Marianne and Elinor. As the title suggests, Marianne represents sensibility whereas Elinor is a model of good sense. The following passages elucidates this.

"Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne." Chapter 11

“This was the season of happiness to Marianne. Her heart was devoted to Willoughby; and the fond attachment to Norland, which she brought with her from Sussex, was more likely to be softened than she had thought it possible before by the charms, which his society bestowed on her present home." Chapter 11

Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility, which was published in 1811, when the Romantic Movement was starting to influence writers and poets. Sense and Sensibility may be considered a Neoclassical novel; however Austen uses Romantic devices to depict some of her characters. Chapters 11 and 12 are a good example of this: Marianne’s nature is passionate, which is a typical feature of the romantic heroine, whereas Elinor is reasonable and fastidious, strengthening the static image of the classic character. In Neoclassical works, emotions are controlled and sense is widely preferred to sensibility. However, with the birth of Romanticism, individuality and imagination are prioritising. In this way, showing one’s passions is more suitable and acceptable. Austen goes further by placing the two sisters in two opposite poles: Marianne is the sensitive sister, and her actions show impulsiveness and spontaneousness. Elinor is the “sense” since she has self-control and she often hides her feelings.

Furthermore, it is important to emphasize the importance of the epistolary novel. Before Austen, writers included letters in their novels, usually between the protagonist and his/her family members or friends in order to expound plot, description, and characterization. Before achieving “Sense and Sensibility”, Austen wrote “Elinor and Marianne” in an epistolary mode. Analysing Austen’s texts closely, we may find vestiges of the epistolary novel. Consequently, the five first paragraphs in Chapter 11 could have been a letter written by Elinor with the purpose of telling her first impressions about the Dashwoods’s new acquaintances and the infatuation Marianne has for Willoughby.

Finally, Austen was the first writer to use the free indirect discourse. In chapter 12, we have an example of free indirect discourse:

As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle; mamma she was sure would never object to it; and any horse would do for him; he might always get one at the Park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be sufficient.

This passage reveals Marianne’s enthusiasm about the horse Willoughby has just given her in spite of Eleanor’s reticence about the subject.

Finally, we have to consider that some words used in Austen’s time are no longer used or have another meaning nowadays. An example of this is the word illaudable, which may mean despicable.