Episode 10: Preservers and Palanquins
Hello friends, welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for everyone who loves bold, witty women, awkward handsome men, and dragons. I’m your host, Casey Meserve.
It’s finally fall here in New England. We had a couple doozy storms blow through but we’re mostly in one piece. I hope wherever you are you’re safe and well.
We have a lot to get to today, so let’s get started.
Today we’re reading Chapter 10 of Sense and Sensibility.
Last episode, Marianne and Margaret were caught in a sudden downpour and were running down a steep hill to get home when Marianne slipped. Fortunately she was rescued by a handsome young stranger who carried her home in his arms. The handsome young stranger named himself Willoughby and disappeared back into the rain. When the Dashwoods are next visited by Sir John, they begged him for information about Willoughby, each in her unique way. Sir John teased Marianne about Willoughby and Colonel Brandon.
In this episode, we get a closer look at this handsome young stranger and watch as he and Marianne get to know each other. We have a lot of reading to do today, so let’s get started.
Marianne’s preserver, as Margaret, with more elegance than precision, styled Willoughby, called at the cottage early the next morning to make his personal enquiries. He was received by Mrs. Dashwood with more than politeness; with a kindness which Sir John’s account of him and her own gratitude prompted; and every thing that passed during the visit tended to assure him of the sense, elegance, mutual affection, and domestic comfort of the family to whom accident had now introduced him. Of their personal charms he had not required a second interview to be convinced.
Margaret doesn’t get much dialogue in the book, so we have to get to know her by how the narrator and other characters describe her and talk to her. So here, the narrator says Margaret calls Willoughby “Marianne’s preserver,” but that it’s not a precise word for what Willoughby is? Margaret from her actions and these few words seem to say that she’s a carefree girl without the depth of thought of her sisters. But hey, she’s 13, she has plenty of time to work on precision.
At the same time, what could she mean by “preserver”?
Well, I perused the interwebz for opinions, information and errata, and I found a few ideas.
One, made by Susan Allen Ford, the Editor of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line journals of the Jane Austen Society of North America and Professor of English Emerita at Delta State University. In Vol. 38, No 1 of Persuasions, she writes that about the influence of Jane West’s A Gossip’s Story, on Sense and Sensibility, and that book’s hero, Clermont, is also called the heroine Marianne’s preserver”.
In West’s novel the courtship narratives are also set up in oppositional terms. Mr. Pelham, rejected because he doesn’t satisfy Marianne’s expectations of “that kneeling ecstatick tenderness, that restless solicitude, that profound veneration” characteristic of “men, who really love,” displays “manly sense,” and is devoted to duty, integrity, and fortitude (29–30). Instead, Marianne finds a lover in Clermont, who rescues her from an accident; Clermont—a name out of the pages of romance—is styled her “preserver” (115), the very word Margaret Dashwood uses to describe Willoughby (SS 55). Like Austen’s Marianne and Willoughby, West’s Marianne and Clermont are propelled by tastes “strikingly alike” (SS 56):
So in Ford’s opinion, the term “preserver” is no more than mirroring an earlier work.
But what if it’s more?
I came across an interesting blog about the word “preserver.” Now, this is just isn’t an authoritative take or from a fancy journal, but does that make an opinion less valid? I honestly believe that anyone can have a valid, insightful opinion about a book, particularly if it comes from an informed place. Why else would we have literature classes in middle and high school?
There are prayers from The Common Prayer Book that refer to God as “our preserver,” and the writer thinks that Jane uses this word to describe Willoughby to reflect on Marianne’s nature. Here’s an example:
God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly
beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou
wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy
saving health unto all nations.
He argues that Marianne’s romantic worldview is one of idolatry and she doesn’t understand how real human relationships work. Marianne will grow to worship Willoughby as she worships nature, art, music and opinions that match her own ideals and sensibilities.
So Willoughby becomes Marianne’s god and when he eventually (spoiler) leaves her, her suffering isn’t just a teenager getting dumped for the first time–which obviously sucks. Rather, her suffering is akin to a loss of faith. She despairs.
So this little word, that the narrator immediately dismisses, sums up Marianne’s entire relationship with Willoughby. He is a so-called preserver. It’s not precise because he can’t live up to her worship. I mean, no one could, but the way he fails her is devastating to Marianne’s spirituality and belief system.
Getting back to the book. Willoughby is so handsome and charming that all the Dashwoods immediately like him, even Elinor can’t see anything too terrible in him.
So now, we get something rare in an Austen novel, a physical description of a character, actually two characters.
Miss Dashwood had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure. Marianne was still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister’s, in having the advantage of height, was more striking; and her face was so lovely, that when in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her skin was very brown, but, from its transparency, her complexion was uncommonly brilliant; her features were all good; her smile was sweet and attractive; and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardly be seen without delight.
So Elinor is very pretty, with regular features, meaning there wasn’t anything unusual about her looks. She’s petite and pale, and has a very nice figure. But Marianne is the real looker in the family. She’s tall with tan skin, curly hair, and has a sweet smile. But her eyes are what really shine. They were very “dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness, which could hardly be seen without delight.” They really are the windows to this spirited personality.
But the second time she meets Willoughby she’s embarrassed. The last thing she remembers about him is being carried in his arms. But luckily for Marianne, she doesn’t stay shy for long.
when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare, that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.
Oh you like music and dancing? You can stay then. She gives him a look that makes him stay.
What kind of look is that? I want to know what look Marianne gives Willoughby that makes him pay the most attention to her during this visit. Maybe you can post your “Marianne looks” on Instagram and show us all what you think “the Look” is.
Now that she’s given “the Look,” everything Willoughby says has Marianne’s utmost attention. And everything he says, she’s got an answer.
It was only necessary to mention any favourite amusement to engage her to talk. She could not be silent when such points were introduced, and she had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books; her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each—or if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed.
I’m imagining Marianne grilling this poor guy about Cowper and Walter Scott. And you can see Willoughby being swept along by her passion.
He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm;
But the paragraph also seems to say that Willoughby might just be agreeing with her because she’s a pretty girl. But remember what Marianne said way back in Chapter 3.
“I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.”
This is the guy. The guy whose taste coincides at every point with her own. Now that might be because he’s being agreeable to a beautiful girl. Can anyone really like Cowper and Scott as much as Marianne?
When Willoughby finally leaves, Elinor has to take a big sister dig at Marianne.
“Well, Marianne,” said Elinor, as soon as he had left them, “for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby’s opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported, under such extraordinary despatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty, and second marriages, and then you can have nothing farther to ask.”
Alright, Elinor’s using some ironic humor to tease Marianne about her immediate bestie Willoughby. Elinor is so methodical when she evaluates others. It took months for her to get to know Edward. Remember “Edward had been staying several weeks in the house before he engaged much of Mrs. Dashwood’s attention;”
So in addition to teasing Marianne, she’s also suggesting that one can’t achieve the type of knowledge of another person without taking time and care and using judgement. But teasing Marianne is fun because she knows how to rile her sister up. Marianne doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Everything is serious to her. Beauty, romance, teasing. And especially her sister’s teasing.
“Elinor,” cried Marianne, “is this fair? is this just? are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every common-place notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful—had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared.”
So I think you could argue that Marianne is giving it back to her sister here. You could say she’s poking fun at the dull ways people talk when first introduced. Dull and spiritless. Think about all the first dates you’ve been on. We usually try our best to be funny and say interesting things, but sometimes nothing works and we end up talking about the weather and traffic, or not talking at all, which is the worst. But when you really connect with someone, when you finally relax and be yourself, rather than the “nice” you. Rather than trying to be on your best behavior and showing your best side, that’s when you really connect with someone. I think anyway.
That’s what happened with Marianne and Willoughby. The spark, the sudden, intense connection with another person, is what Marianne’s feeling here, and she wouldn’t be able to feel that if she acted reserved and spiritless as she knows Elinor would have acted.
In The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, the editor David Shepard, says at this point that Marianne is humorless. But I disagree to a point. I think Marianne understands Elinor is telling a joke, it’s just that her sensibilities get in the way of enjoying humor. But Mrs. D knows how to soothe Marianne just in case.
“My love,” said her mother, “you must not be offended with Elinor—she was only in jest. I should scold her myself, if she were capable of wishing to check the delight of your conversation with our new friend.” Marianne was softened in a moment.
Mrs. D knows how to sooth Marianne, considering they’re so alike.
Well, Willoughby visits Marianne daily and they become very close very quickly.
To enquire after Marianne was at first his excuse; but the encouragement of his reception, to which every day gave greater kindness, made such an excuse unnecessary before it had ceased to be possible, by Marianne’s perfect recovery. She was confined for some days to the house; but never had any confinement been less irksome. Willoughby was a young man of good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners. He was exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart, for with all this, he joined not only a captivating person, but a natural ardour of mind which was now roused and increased by the example of her own, and which recommended him to her affection beyond every thing else.
His society became gradually her most exquisite enjoyment. They read, they talked, they sang together; his musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted.
Well, he wasn’t lying about the music part. And he reads very well, which we all remember Edward couldn’t do.
Now that I think of it, isn’t it funny that two of Austen’s romantic male characters are lousy readers. OK, so maybe it’s a stretch to call Mr. Collins a romantic male lead. He certainly tried to be, and he does get married to an eligible young lady in Pride and Prejudice. But he was such a terrible reader, he read Fordyce’s Sermons in that solemn, monotonous style. Like my 8th grade math teacher. And Edward is an awful reader, at least when he’s trying to read Cowper.
But Willoughby is a wonderful reader. Marianne probably put Cowper in his hands in, like, the first week as a test. And Willoughby wasn’t lying when he said he enjoyed music. He’s ticking all Marianne’s boxes so far. “He was exactly formed to engage Marianne’s heart.”
Mrs. D approves of him because of course she does, but Elinor isn’t so sure of this guy. He’s kind of a lot like her sister.
Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted her sister, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want of caution which Elinor could not approve, in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.
But Marianne doesn’t care about Elinor’s opinion. She’s met the man of her dreams, which just six months ago she despaired of ever finding.
But what about Colonel Brandon? Sir John basically said he was a far better catch than Willoughby. And this is despite him having almost nothing in common with Brandon. Mrs. Jennings and Sir John were right. Interesting…I wonder if they’ll be right about other things.
But now, Mrs. J and Sir John are focused on Willoughby.
Their attention and wit were drawn off to his more fortunate rival; and the raillery which the other had incurred before any partiality arose, was removed when his feelings began really to call for the ridicule so justly annexed to sensibility.
Since Mrs. Jennings and Sir John have a new guy to harass, Elinor now has time to analyze Brandon, and what she sees surprises her.
Elinor was obliged, though unwillingly, to believe that the sentiments which Mrs. Jennings had assigned him for her own satisfaction, were now actually excited by her sister; and that however a general resemblance of disposition between the parties might forward the affection of Mr. Willoughby, an equally striking opposition of character was no hindrance to the regard of Colonel Brandon. She saw it with concern; for what could a silent man of five and thirty hope, when opposed to a very lively one of five and twenty? and as she could not even wish him successful, she heartily wished him indifferent. She liked him—in spite of his gravity and reserve, she beheld in him an object of interest. His manners, though serious, were mild; and his reserve appeared rather the result of some oppression of spirits than of any natural gloominess of temper. Sir John had dropped hints of past injuries and disappointments, which justified her belief of his being an unfortunate man, and she regarded him with respect and compassion.
Perhaps she pitied and esteemed him the more because he was slighted by Willoughby and Marianne, who, prejudiced against him for being neither lively nor young, seemed resolved to undervalue his merits.
Well, Elinor finally sees Brandon’s crush on her 17-year-old sister, and instead of being creeped out like we would be, she feels bad for him. What does he have that Willoughby can’t offer? He may have money and a nice estate, but Willoughby apparently will too. He’s old, silent, and grumpy. And Einor can’t wish him success with Marianne.
Yet, she still likes him. He’s a nice guy, and his serious attitude seems to be because he’s dwelling on past problems, rather than because he’s naturally gloomy. He’s dealing with some stuff. Aren’t we all?
But the narrator also suggests that maybe she likes him more because of the way Marianne and Willoughby treat him.
And Willoughby in particular says some pretty nasty things about Brandon. This reading is a long one, but I don’t want to leave anything out.
“Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”
“That is exactly what I think of him,” cried Marianne.
“Do not boast of it, however,” said Elinor, “for it is injustice in both of you. He is highly esteemed by all the family at the park, and I never see him myself without taking pains to converse with him.”
“That he is patronised by you,” replied Willoughby, “is certainly in his favour; but as for the esteem of the others, it is a reproach in itself. Who would submit to the indignity of being approved by such a woman as Lady Middleton and Mrs. Jennings, that could command the indifference of any body else?”
“But perhaps the abuse of such people as yourself and Marianne will make amends for the regard of Lady Middleton and her mother. If their praise is censure, your censure may be praise, for they are not more undiscerning, than you are prejudiced and unjust.”
“In defence of your protégé you can even be saucy.”
“My protégé, as you call him, is a sensible man; and sense will always have attractions for me.
I’ll stop here for just a minute. This is about as harsh as we’ve seen Elinor get. She’s always trying to keep Marianne and their mother in line, but she’s really giving a piece of her mind to Willoughby. But Willoughby totally deserves it. He’s ready to make fun of anyone who doesn’t meet his ideals, and dour old Branson is ripe for picking. Marianne goes along with it because she can use it to shield herself from Brandon’s crush. She scoffs at Elinor for always liking people of sense. So Elinor tells Marianne off too.
Yes, Marianne, even in a man between thirty and forty. He has seen a great deal of the world; has been abroad, has read, and has a thinking mind. I have found him capable of giving me much information on various subjects; and he has always answered my inquiries with readiness of good-breeding and good nature.”
“That is to say,” cried Marianne contemptuously, “he has told you, that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome.”
“He would have told me so, I doubt not, had I made any such inquiries, but they happened to be points on which I had been previously informed.”
“Perhaps,” said Willoughby, “his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.”
“I may venture to say that his observations have stretched much further than your candour. But why should you dislike him?”
“I do not dislike him. I consider him, on the contrary, as a very respectable man, who has every body’s good word, and nobody’s notice; who has more money than he can spend, more time than he knows how to employ, and two new coats every year.”
“Add to which,” cried Marianne, “that he has neither genius, taste, nor spirit. That his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression.”
“You decide on his imperfections so much in the mass,” replied Elinor, “and so much on the strength of your own imagination, that the commendation I am able to give of him is comparatively cold and insipid. I can only pronounce him to be a sensible man, well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address, and, I believe, possessing an amiable heart.”
“Miss Dashwood,” cried Willoughby, “you are now using me unkindly. You are endeavouring to disarm me by reason, and to convince me against my will. But it will not do. You shall find me as stubborn as you can be artful. I have three unanswerable reasons for disliking Colonel Brandon; he threatened me with rain when I wanted it to be fine; he has found fault with the hanging of my curricle, and I cannot persuade him to buy my brown mare. If it will be any satisfaction to you, however, to be told, that I believe his character to be in other respects irreproachable, I am ready to confess it. And in return for an acknowledgment, which must give me some pain, you cannot deny me the privilege of disliking him as much as ever.”
Phew, OK. Let’s break that down. Willoughby starts the Brandon bashing with a really nasty insult. Everyone says they like Brandon, but no one really cares about him. Everyone is happy to see him, but no one bothers to talk to him.
That’s so harsh. Willoughby is really malicious. That’s how you start this? And then Marianne agrees with him! They agree on everything. But Marianne’s particularly vindictive about her criticism of Brandon. She’s throwing everything he’s got at him. Everything she considers important
he has neither genius, taste, nor spirit. That his understanding has no brilliancy, his feelings no ardour, and his voice no expression.
Brandon may be sensible, but he has no sensibilities of art, or nature or of spirit. He’s a stick in the mud, and Elinor’s support of him sounds weak.
Elinor of course defends Brandon saying she finds him to be thoughtful and worldly, but Marianne says all that’s given him is the obvious ability to describe facts of a place without giving the feeling of it. He can tell you Indian summers are hot and buggy. And Willoughby sarcastically says that Brandon may be able to describe the people, places and things, the rich governors, gold coins and covered litters. But what they’re both really saying is that he cannot describe the experience of a place. They’re talking about sensibilities again.
Finally, Willoughby admits he doesn’t like Brandon for material reasons. Brandon said it would rain when Willoughby wanted a nice day, he criticised Willoughby’s curricle, that’s a type of light carriage pulled by two matching horses, and–worst of all, Brandon won’t buy his brown mare.
That’s really interesting because Marianne wants to think Willoughby has all the things Brandon lacks, but Willoughby here admits he’s focused on selfish, prideful and material things.
Before we finish up today, let’s look for a moment at all of the comparisons we’ve seen in this chapter. Jane has so many comparisons here. Elinor and Marianne, Willoughby and Brandon, and Marianne and WIlloughby and this chapter also helps us compare Willoughby and Edward.
We have physical descriptions of Marianne and Elinor, how beautiful Mariane is compared to her sister, but we also see their argument over Brandon. Elinor talks to Brandon, watches him and uses her common sense to realize he’s a good man under that reserve, and that he dearly loves her sister.
Marianne and Willoughby are at first seen to have a lot in common, books, poetry, music, and they both agree that Brandon is a boring old man. But we also see some things that show maybe Willoughby isn’t all Marianne wishes him to be, except agreeable.
And Willoughby is supposed to be this virile man of action, exciting, sensible to music and nature, with a strong singing voice and strong opinions, while Brandon is old, reserved to the point of being grave, dull, and forgettable while still being mild, kind and welcome wherever he goes. That’s a striking contrast, but Brandon is also described as worldly, independent and wise, while Willoughby might be a little more materialistic than he’d like Marianne to believe.
Finally, we see in one sentence a comparison of Willoughby and Edward. Willoughby’s “musical talents were considerable; and he read with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted.” And while that’s not a knock on Edward from Elinor’s point of view, or from Mrs. D’s, but for Marianne, an unfortunate want of sensibility and spirit would be a dealbreaker.
Wow, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, thank you for joining me. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode.
Before I end this episode, I’m super excited to announce that I on the “Your Favorite Book” podcast with Malavika Praseed in January, and we’re going to talk about Pride and Prejudice. I hope you’ll listen to that episode, Malavika and I had a lot of fun recording it. You can listen to Your Favorite Book wherever you get your podcasts.
And you can check out more episodes of Ents and Sensibility on Apple Podcasts, Google and Amazon by asking Siri to play Ents and Sensibility. Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at Ents and Sensibility, you can also drop a note at ents and sensibility @ gmail.com. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.