September/October 2018: The Feminine Genius of Jane Austen

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Jane Austen’s Novels: Reading and Revelation – Maria Devlin McNair

In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon meets with Elinor Dashwood for a private conversation. Elinor’s neighbor Mrs. Jennings overhears a few phrases of the conversation and concludes that Colonel Brandon has proposed. She approaches Elinor afterwards with a smile: “I assure you I never was better pleased in my life, and I wish you joy of it with all my heart.”

Elinor thanks her: “It is a matter of great joy to me; and I feel the goodness of Colonel Brandon most sensibly. There are not many men who would act as he has done. Few people who have so compassionate a heart!”

Mrs. Jennings is astonished (as many of us would be) at this reaction to a proposal: “Lord! my dear, you are very modest!” But the confusion is soon clarified. Colonel Brandon was, in fact, telling Elinor that he wished to offer the parish on his estate to Elinor’s friend Edward Ferrars, who had been disinherited by his family for refusing to break off an engagement of which they disapproved. This scene shows in miniature the larger strategy at work in Austen’s novels. Her books give us a better vision of reality first by showing us how our current vision falls short. We seek the truth more earnestly once we realize we don’t already have it.

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