Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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What are some examples of subtlety in Sense and Sensibility?

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The subtleties of Austen's words and ideas in Sense and Sensibility build a social and cultural picture peopled by authentic characters, all of which could be overlooked when the subtleties are given less than close, sensitive, and careful readings. Let's look at a close reading of some points with subtleties that may be misconstrued without an in-depth reading.

Willoughby's Feelings for Marianne

There is some confusion as to Willoughby's true feelings for Marianne. As readers, we are confused along with Elinor, as she is the main character, whose thoughts we have the most access to. Austen explains Willoughby’s feelings first through hints, and then through Willoughby's explanatory speech. It can be difficult to follow the unknotting from intentional confusion to deliberate revelation.

"When I first became intimate in your family, I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire [with Mrs. Smith] [...] I found myself, by insensible degrees, sincerely fond of her; and the happiest hours of my life were what I spent with her when I felt my intentions were strictly honourable, and my feelings blameless. [...] I had determined, as soon as I could engage her alone, to justify the attentions I had so invariably paid her…” (Ch 44)

Willoughby's speech to Elinor confirms what Marianne had told her. Then, to defend Willoughby's honor and intentions, Marianne protested that, though unspoken, Willoughby's love and heart had been hers:

"He DID feel the same, Elinor—for weeks and weeks he felt it. I know he did. Whatever may have changed him now, (and nothing but the blackest art employed against me can have done it), I was once as dear to him as my own soul could wish. This lock of hair, which now he can so readily give up, was begged of me with the most earnest supplication.” (Ch 29)

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Willoughby was not the fortune hunter he appears. Marianne and Willoughby’s accounts of their relationship match up, and in the end we must join with Marianne in saying:

"[Willoughby] is not so unworthy as you believe him. ... I was once as dear to him as my own soul could wish." (Ch 29)

Colonel Brandon in London

Colonel Brandon remains the confidant of Elinor and supporter of Marianne. It is not until after Colonel Brandon tells the story of Eliza and her daughter, Miss Williams, that Marianne can even countenance speaking to Brandon: "It is Colonel Brandon!" said [Marianne], with vexation. "We are never safe from HIM." (Ch 31)

Brandon begins in Chapter 27 to confide in and support Elinor when he inadvertently reveals to Elinor that talk of Marianne's engagement to Willoughby is general knowledge in their extended social circle:

[Colonel Brandon said,] "as they openly correspond, and their marriage is universally talked of. ... By many—by some of whom you know nothing, by others with whom you are most intimate,..." (Ch 27)

Brandon reveals to Elinor, since "on [her] prudence [he has] the strongest dependence," that his heart is devoted to Marianne, although Marianne openly dislikes him. Brandon asks Elinor if he has any hope besides that of concealing his ardent feelings: "Tell me that it is all absolutely resolved on, that any attempt, that in short concealment, if concealment be possible, is all that remains" (Ch 27).

Only after Elinor relates to Marianne Brandon's tragic story of first lost, then devastated love, does Marianne yield in her disdain and occasionally speak to or look kindly upon Brandon.

Colonel Brandon's delicate, unobtrusive enquiries were never unwelcome to Miss Dashwood. He had abundantly earned the privilege of intimate discussion of her sister's disappointment, by the friendly zeal with which he had endeavoured to soften it, and they always conversed with confidence. His chief reward for the painful exertion of disclosing past sorrows and present humiliations, was given in the pitying eye with which...

(The entire section contains 1,832 words.)

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