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|#2: The word as camera.
Written by Anselm
(9/19/2009 8:29 a.m.)
The most obvious measure of whose point of view we are being presented with at any given moment must be the revelation of inner thoughts and feelings at that moment (as opposed to the narrator's generalised character sketches) that no one else could know and of which they give no outward indication. I believe that, according to this criterion, this novel is becoming very much Elinor's.
The very first thing we learn about either sister in this respect is in Ch.1 already, and the insight is Elinor's: she "saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility". The honours seem fairly equally shared in the next few chapters. In Ch.4, Marianne "was afraid of offending....Yet, though smiling within herself at the mistake, she honoured her sister for that blind partiality to Edward which produced it", but in the same chapter Elinor's feelings are also explored - although they could, I suppose, be fairly easily guessed anyway from her words and actions.
But from the moment of Willoughby's arrival, we are not privy to one single unambiguously private thought of Marianne's. This, for example, from Ch.10: "she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and, above all,....she heard him declare that of music and dancing he was passionately fond" is immediately followed by its external sign: "a look of approbation". In that same chapter we are informed that Elinor becomes convinced of Col. Brandon's special regard for her sister, something she does not actually say out loud to anyone.Increasingly, the only innermost thoughts we become privy to are Elinor's.
The thunderbolt of Willoughby's departure in Ch.15 would, in the hands of an inferior novelist, be the moment for the most gut-wrenching display of emotional pyrotechnics as he or she hammers away at Marianne's wretched mental state. Not a bit of it. We see nothing of Marianne herself except through the eyes of her mother - and especially her sister. In fact the same observation as before can be made now, at just the time when the emotional stakes for Marianne are higher than they've been in the novel so far. We know Elinor's private thoughts in great detail, but all we know of how Marianne feels is what we see of her words and actions, always (whether directly or mediated by the narrator) as seen through Elinor's eyes. In particular, my heart is with Elinor as hers is with her sisters, even in her (background) distress about Edward. This passage from Ch.16 illustrates this:
"Remember, Elinor," said [her mother], "how very often Sir John fetches our letters himself from the post, and carries them to it. We have already agreed that secrecy may be necessary, and we must acknowledge that it could not be maintained if their correspondence were to pass through Sir John's hands."
Elinor could not deny the truth of this, and she tried to find in it a motive sufficient for their silence.
Her mother speaks - Elinor feels. The only exception I can find to this is Marianne's reaction to seeing that the approaching horseman in Ch.16 isn't Willoughby: "her heart sunk within her". And these words jump out at me for precisely that reason: we have become used, for several chapters now, to being outside her own mind.
But now, in Ch.23, a new level is reached as we are plunged headfirst into Elinor's own emotional world, after having already seen the Stelle sisters largely through her eyes. The evolution of her feelings is examined in the minutest detail. The only thing I can add is that it is but one of Jane Austen's miracles that we can continue to feel Marianne's anguish, depression and her various other feelings even though they are only presented to us at second hand.
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