Thursday, December 16, 2010
Sense and Sensibility: "Know your own Happiness"
Chapter 3: Sense and Sensibility: " Know your own Happiness"
Many people have seen sense and sensibility as things to be pitted against each other. That it is a case of 'either, or'. Marianne tells Elinor, "to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbors, this has always been your doctrine I am sure." Many have see Elinor, as the personification of sense, in this light - one who only takes into account propriety and manners. Elinor, however, states, "My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning."
Emsley tells us, "In Sense and Sensibility the virtues that come under Austen's more intense scrutiny are the social virtues of amiability, tact, and honesty; the heroic virtue of fortitude, and the Christian virtues of love and faith. This is not to say that other virtues (such as temperance) do not come into play, but only that these are among the most prominent."
Austen again harkens back to Aristotle's terms for "the virtues of social intercourse- friendship, truthfulness, and ready wit or tact." Sense and Sensibility deals with loving your neighbor. Emsley writes, "Austen is interested in how rules and categories and patterns of virtue are fitted to the person and the moment...Friendship, or amiability, is an especially interesting virtue: Aristotle says he has no name for it- there was no precise Greek word for what he was trying to describe, and he uses the word philia as the closest approximation. 'Amiability' is Austen's term...in her representation of all three of these virtues she goes beyond the narrow definitions of the terms: this is one of the ways in which she extends the tradition."
Elinor and Marianne must learn from each other. Elinor loves deeply, but perhaps regulates her behavior too much. This does not imply, however, that her "temper is dull or her understanding is limited." Marianne's love of truth is shown throughout the book. She believes that tact is opposed to openness and honesty, therefore leaving Elinor to often smooth things over for her socially. "...thus by a little of that address, which Marianne could never condescend to practice, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the same time."
Emsley convincingly argues that "Marianne's strong sentiments do not always lead her to virtue. In fact it is possible that she is guilty of an excess of truthfulness; that too much honesty is not virtuous." Emsley believes that "Marianne learns to value the benefits of reserve when concealment is appropriate, whereas Willoughby simply regrets that his own secrets did not remain concealed for longer, or forever." Emsley compares Marianne and Mr Darcy in their abhorrence of every sort of disguise (as Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth). Which is interesting, because the popular view is often that Darcy is reserved- not open, and that Marianne always open and honest.
Emsley tells us that "Elinor's politeness is a sign of her concern for others, and yet her sympathy does not get the better of her judgment...Thus Elinor's approach to balancing amiability and honesty, despite falling short of perfect virtue, involves a complex understanding of social life."
So when one falls short of the virtues, is one then practicing vice? Aristotle thought not (or not always). In Marianne's case, when she falls short of the virtues, she is only "guilty of moral weakness, which is much easier to correct than vice." Marianne does correct her moral weakness. She calls her own behavior, "nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others." Marianne tells Elinor, "The future must be my proof...my feelings shall be governed and my temper improved...to have time for atonement to my God, and to you all."
It is Mrs Dashwood (when speaking to Edward) who says, "Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope." After Marianne finds out that Edward has been engaged to Lucy, she is shocked, and asks Elinor, "how have you been supported?" Elinor's answer shows the 'hope' that her mother spoke of. When Marianne exclaims, "-- and yet you loved him!" Elinor responds, "Yes. But I did not love only him."
Marianne learns this fortitude which Elinor possesses. Emsley says, "Although Marianne changes she is Marianne still; she is not a new Elinor...She may have been educated partly by Elinor's example of the classical virtues, but if Elinor is a classical heroine (even though she marries a clergyman), and Marianne represents both classical and Christian virtues, perhaps it is Elinor's turn, at the end of the novel, to learn from Marianne, not about sensibility, but about grace."
These thoughts are taken from the third chapter (entitled, Sense and Sensibility: " Know your own Happiness" ) of Sarah Baxter Emsley's book, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. Next up, Chapter 4: Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice