'"Engagement !" cried Marieanne, there has been no engagement."'
The term of Romantic was popular around 1800. However, few Romantics would agree on it's general meaning. The Romantic era was a time in which certain ideas prevailed in art, music, poety and literture. Romantics like Rousseau yearned to reclaim human freedom-the habits, values, rules imposed by society only had to be abandoned.
Romantic artists encouraged self-expression. Discover yourself- play your own music, write your own drama, live your own vision.
Live, love and suffer in your own way- this may explain Marieanne's romantic individualism regarding society's rules on letters to Willoughby.
I hesitated on the theme of the exchange of letters as being vague. Yet Marieanne's state immediately after Willoughby's rejection reveals much on Marieanne and of sensibility- the capacity to feel.
The morning after the party, Marieanne is silent, but writes a letter to Willoughby.
She receives his reply but Elinor, entering their room finds her sister stretched on the bed, 'almost choked by grief'.
Marieanne has been foolish, yet this is a powerful image.
Willoughby's heartless and insulting reply puts an end to her hopes. He returns her letters and her lock of hair and informs Marieanne his 'affections have been long engaged elsewhere'.
For a while Marieanne is unable to speak...Elinor also feels her affliction.
Finally, Marieanne confides to Elinor; she has never been engaged to Willoughby but is sure of their feelings for each other.
Elinor reads the notes from Marieanne that Willoughby has returned. She's somewhat shocked at Marieanne's impropriety, yet her real anger is for Willoughby.
Elinor believes it would be laudable to show some pride, yet Marieanne declares 'misery such as mine has no pride. I care not who knows I am wretched.'
Sobbing and agitated, she gives full vent to her suffering.
Marieanne's cry is of the victim- against the inexplicable nature of Willoughby's bad conduct, abandoned by Willloughby for no apparent reason.
Yet to an extent, Marieanne puts herself in her awful position. She has lived a life in which public restraint of feelings has no part.
Further, Marieanne became attached to a man without the protection of a formal engagement. A social convention which may've protected her from the wilful assertion of self.
Yet is Marieanne the only charecter who is not protected by a formal engagement ?
Or the only one to correspond by letters with someone s/he expects to marry ?
Elinor's thinking is in accordance with Regency social etiquette- single young men and women write to each other only if they are engaged.
JA's novel suggests it is not enough if people feel they're engaged. Such private feelings require the public declaration of an engagement.
Personally, I think Romanticism was responsible for inspiring some great English art at this time. Yet although philosopher Rosseau had some valid criticisms of society, esp. of the ancien Regime, I doubt he provided any real alternatives.
Below, there is a link to a painting. 'Disappointed Love' by Danby, 1821. It is Georgian, yet 10 years after S&S was published.
The picture has been compared to Orphelia, a Shakesperian heroine whom Marieane also has been compared to. I don't know if JA's heroine Marieanne was an inspiration for Danby.