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Written by Anselm
(9/11/2009 12:33 p.m.)
There has been some discussion so far about sense vs sensibility, and the contemporary meanings attached to those words. However, what was the relationship between romance (as in the Romantic movement in literature and the arts) and sensibility around 1800?
The words "sensibility" and "sensible" are used three times in connection with Marianne - four, if you count her disparagement of Edward's lack of it in Ch.3. Interestingly, this word is never used of her mother, of whom the term "romantic" is used twice instead.
I can imagine a Venn diagram with "sensibility" in one circle and "romantic" in the other. What things would go in each circle, and what ones in the intersection between the two? For instance, where would Marianne's honesty appear (Ch.4: "to say what she did not believe was impossible")? It seems more indicative of a romantic temperament than of sensibility. I know the two concepts are closely connected, but I'm also sure that they must be treated distinctly in order to avoid confusion.
I do know that romanticism was the main artistic movement of the time (at least, so it appears in hindsight). My understanding is that it was born of an increasing "sensibility" towards nature, whether human or what we think of as the natural world. Romanticism was what gave rise to Gilpin's work on the picturesque, among other things, which emphasised the correct composition of a natural scene. JA's lovely description of Barton Cottage surrounded on three sides by hills and opening out in front into a lush valley, all seen from below rather than above, is surely a nod in Gilpin's direction. Marianne's beloved Cowper is regarded as a precursor of the Romantics. I would imagine that one of her most favourite lines of his poetry would be from The Task: "God made the country, and man made the town". This sentiment seems to me to be quintessentially Romantic.
Perhaps a quote from the Wikipedia article on "Romanticism" would be of use here:
The movement stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories.
Isn't this to a large extent true of Marianne? If so, she participates in not one but two fashionable movements of the day. And why JA's association of "sensibility" with Marianne but "romanticism" with her mother?
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