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Written by Ivonne
(9/14/2009 10:37 a.m.)
We are told that Willoughby “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.” (Ch. 10) Marianne, feeding off Willoughby’s bitterness towards Brandon, states her displeasure with the Colonel because, among other things, “his feelings [have] no ardour.” (Ch. 10) Mrs Dashwood sees no point in checking M&W’s “excessive display” of their feelings because “[t]o her it was but the natural consequence of a strong affection in a young and ardent mind.” (All preceding emphases mine.) It seems to me that "ardor" parallels Marianne's and also Willougby's sensibility--to positive effect, in their (and Mrs Dashwood's) minds.
“Ardor” also hovers, so to speak, over M&W’s opinions and behaviors, singly as well as together. Johnson’s Dictionary aligns the term and its forms with “heat of affection, love, desire,” as well as passion, fierceness, and vehemence, “having the appearance or quality of fire.” To me this suggests extremity and inconsistency. M&W speak, act, and, it seems, feel, at the extreme ends of things, whether elated or despondent. To name but a few examples, Austen describes Marianne in particular as “eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.” Her reaction to Willoughby’s sudden departure underscores a willing surrender, even encouragement, of excess. Willoughby too, is given to immoderation, as evidenced by his vain commentary on the Colonel and enraptured praise of Barton Cottage.
While impressively pyrotechnic, the approach is hardly sustainable. Fire may rage fast and furious for a time, but eventually it either dies out—consuming whatever fueled it—or is brought to usable, if also less flamboyant, proportions through judicious moderation of its power. Indeed, even Marianne is unable to sustain her despondency at Willoughby's departure with consistency, thus it ebbs and flares: "Such violence of affliction indeed could not be supported for ever; it sunk within a few days into a calmer melancholy; but these employments, to which she daily recurred, her solitary walks and silent meditations, still produced occasional effusions of sorrow as lively as ever."
I warmly welcome any thoughts on the extent to which the sensibility of Marianne and Willoughby is depicted by “ardor” and all it entails, as I continue to watch for it.
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