Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Well, that’s pretty powerful stuff, those three passages, Paula, much more emotional than you sometimes think of Jane Austen as being. Why did you think those passages were particularly useful for our thinking about broken hearts in Sense and Sensibility? Well, so the first passage, Marianne has just had her heart broken. She’s just experienced rejection from Willoughby, and she behaves in a way that a reader of novels might behave. Therefore, she goes to bed. She would not be able to excuse herself if she’d not wept into – into tears and her pillow’s stained. So she’s behaving like a character in a novel whose heart is broken, but she is a character in a novel whose heart is broken.
Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds So Jane Austen’s having great fun with this. So one’s sympathy at this moment isn’t with Marianne, because she’s behaving in a way that has been set up for her by the cliche of the sentimental heroine reader. And it’s only as the novel progresses that we begin to see how very real that heartbreak is. But at the moment, there’s a great deal of satire levied against Marianne, because she’s simply behaving in a way that she thinks she should behave. This is how a young girl behaves when her heart is broken. She cries herself to sleep every night. So that’s why I chose that particular passage. The second passage is not so satirical.
Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds Jane Austen is much closer to Marianne than she is in that first passage, where the authorial voice is poking fun at her own heroine saying, ‘you are just behaving like a character in a sentimental novel’. There’s a sort of distance between that mediation of the authorial voice. But in the second passage, we hear Marianne’s pain. It’s in dialogue, and she’s talking about how she has no pride. She doesn’t care who sees her humiliation. She doesn’t care about her behaviour. She doesn’t care what society thinks of her, because she’s in such raw pain that she’s helpless to do anything other than behave in that way.
Skip to 2 minutes and 11 seconds So it seems to have – Jane Austen’s moved on from that distancing from the authorial voice to the dialogue, where it’s so powerfully rendered when she talks about not having any pride that we really begin to see that Marianne’s heart actually is broken. She’s not just behaving like a young girl as a character in a sentimental novel. She feels like a human being who’s suffering, and it seems to me there’s a shift in tone in that second passage. And what about the third one? Because that’s Elinor saying I too have a broken heart. Well, throughout the novel, we have the narrative of Elinor being rather repressed. ‘Exert yourself Marianne, exert yourself’, and suffering in silence. Elinor suffers.
Skip to 2 minutes and 56 seconds There is no question about that. A very attentive reader of Sense and Sensibility will see the cues. They’ll see the signs that Elinor is suffering. For most of the novel she’s suffering, and what’s so awful about that is she can’t tell anybody, because it would be breaking a promise. So she suffers in silence. And in that passage, she explodes when Marianne says, ‘what do you know? It’s always about decorum with you. It’s about fortitude. It’s about stoicism.’ She’s accusing her sister of being very repressed. And in this moment, Elinor becomes sensibility and says, how do you know I’m not suffering?
Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds I too am suffering from a broken heart, how terrible it’s been for her, almost worse for her, because she wasn’t able to express herself in the way that Marianne was. And also, she’s keeping the family together. And she knows if she lets her emotions spill as much as Marianne, it would be a disaster for everybody. So it seems to me there’s this wonderful shift here, where the sisters embody the other aspect of Sense And Sensibility, we see Elinor as a heroine of sensibility, and somebody who has also had her heart broken.
Skip to 4 minutes and 3 seconds So is ultimately Jane Austen saying what we really need in dealing with a stressful condition such as heartbreak is a kind of balance to accept the sensibility of a strong feeling? To say ‘yes, this is real, and we do have to go through this process of venting the raw pain. But we also need to hold onto the sense that balances all?’ I think it probably is. Marianne says towards the end, it would’ve been self-destruction. She becomes a sort of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa-like victim. If you remember in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, Clarissa is raped. She starves herself, and she dies. And there’s a sort of element in which – she dies of a broken heart, Clarissa, amongst other things.
Skip to 4 minutes and 49 seconds But there’s always a moment when Marianne, to me, becomes like Clarissa when she stops eating, she stops sleeping. She becomes depressed, and then she gets very ill. And she does nearly die. There’s no question. We know that she almost dies. And she says ‘if I’d have died, it would’ve been self-destruction’. And at that point, Jane Austen seems to be saying ‘be careful about indulging in emotion for the sake of it’. However, it’s always complicated. It’s always complicated, Jane Austen. And the sister that you would think is stoical bursts into tears at the end of the novel. So I think you’re right. I think yes, emotions are important. But also, sense and rationality is important. It’s the balance. Yeah.
Skip to 5 minutes and 35 seconds So Elinor has to accept tears, some sort of sensibility. But as you say, Jane Austen is warning against the dangers of excessive sensibility. One of the great novels of sensibility was called The Sorrows of Young Werther, by the great German writer, Goethe. And the story is– although, I’m not sure how much evidence there is for this – that young men across Europe read about how Werther, who commits suicide after he loses his beloved Lotte. Young men started committing suicide in imitation. And that sense that there is a real danger in literature if you take it too seriously, if you don’t have a sort of little modifying dose of sense. I absolutely agree.
Skip to 6 minutes and 27 seconds And I think one just thing I’d say– one codicil to that– is Jane Austen– yes, she can satirise sensibility. And yes, she can be objective about how important rational thinking is and the emotions. But she always gets right inside how it feels to be a young girl, whether that’s Catherine Moreland who is humiliated publicly in Northanger Abbey, who is a young girl, or it’s Marianne. She gets rights inside how it feels to be rejected, how it is to feel broken hearted. I think Sense and Sensibility is so interesting, because we are, as readers as learners, drawn to Marianne in a way that we’re more drawn to Marianne than we are to Elinor.
Skip to 7 minutes and 16 seconds And of course, she’s very interested in the harmful effects of novels, although I would always come down on the side that Jane Austen never, ever would believe that novels can be harmful. In fact, one might actually argue that Marianne’s taste for romantic poetry might be more dangerous. She’s obsessive. She reads Cooper, and Walter Scott, Thompson. She loves the romantic poets, and Willoughby loves them too, and their romance is based on this love of poetry. If you remember in Persuasion, Benwick also has a broken heart, and Anne Elliot rather prescribes not reading poetry, but actually recommends a good, daily dose of prose. And I think that’s quite interesting.
Skip to 8 minutes and 5 seconds So I would say that Jane Austen’s coming down on the side of the novel at that point and saying actually, novels can be more useful than reading poetry. Well, that’s very interesting. I think we should ask our learners to have a look at the passage in Persuasion, where the heroine of that novel, Anne Elliot, speaks to this young man, Captain Benwick, who’s been reading too much poetry.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood
We’ll now discuss Austen’s two heartbroken heroines in some more detail, focusing on the extracts that we’ve just looked at together.
As you listen to our conversation about Elinor and Marianne, and their different reactions to heartbreak, we invite you to reflect on your own impressions of Austen’s two heroines. You’ll have the opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas with your fellow learners in the next step.
The next step, as we mention at the end of the video here, will show you a passage from Jane Austen’s Persuasion for you to read and comment on.
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