Thursday, 12 July 2007

Austen and The Picturesque. Part Four.

In Sense and Sensibility Marianne Dashwood’s ‘passion for dead leaves’ is more than a romantic appreciation of Picturesque nature, it’s a declaration of the ideals that she has adopted. Decaying beauty is a phrase that could be used to describe Marianne herself for a good portion of the narrative, as well indicate her tastes. Her character is sound; she is ‘sensible and clever…generous, amiable, interesting’ but her demonstrative emotions and her actions are fueled by Romanticism, and often conjure affectations that, she acknowledges in the final chapters, go against even her character. Her sensibilities are fed by ill judged but popular sentimental notions and propped up by her will to embody the Romanticism of the poetry she reads and the decaying beauty of the Picturesque she so admires. These sensibilities, likewise the Picturesque, invoke drama.

When Elinor pokes fun at Marianne’s first conversation with Willoughby she jokes that ‘another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages, and then you can have nothing farther to ask.’ Marianne’s notions on landscapes and love characteristically have the Romantic in common. Edward Ferrars also teases her good naturedly on the topic. During his first stay at Barton Cottage he admires the surrounding countryside and ridicules the language of the Picturesque as a superficial concern:

"You must not enquire too far, Marianne; remember I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere.”

Marianne laments that ‘every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was’, ‘him’ being William Gilpin in his series of essays on the Picturesque, a devotion to whom Edward also notes when he declares that is she were rich, Marianne ‘would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree’ and indeed, on the sister’s journey to London, ‘any object of picturesque beauty within their view drew from her an exclamation of delight’

Part Four is to be continued

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