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Written by Anselm
(10/10/2009 10:14 a.m.)
A few weeks ago I posted a message about the three-volume format of this novel (and, by extension, most other contemporary novels published in that format). By this stage in our GR, I've become convinced that this three-volume structure isn't just an arbitrary division of the 50 chapters of this novel by Jane Austen herself, the publishers or even perhaps the printers. She wrote S&S as a novel in three real volumes, each with a self-contained structure.
The first volume ends with Ch.22, a real cliffhanger. Elinor has just found out that Edward is, to all intents and purposes, off limits to her forever. The next volume starts at Ch.23 in a much darker tone than we have seen so far - far darker, indeed, than that occasioned by Willoughby's unexplained departure in the middle of Vol.I, in which we can laugh up our sleeves at Marianne's artificial reaction. The second volume ends (our Ch.36) with the depressing near-certainty that Lucy will be approved of by Edward's family. Elinor has been rudely humiliated by Mrs Ferrars, and Lucy is the darling of the moment. The final volume opens with a bang: Nancy "tells on" Lucy, and the secret is out.
But there's far more to it than just the volume breaks. Each volume seems to me to have an identical structure. It consists of an "arch" form (ABA), the As representing Elinor and the Bs Marianne.
Chapters 1 and 2 form an introduction; Vol.I proper opens in Ch.3 with the concerns of one of the two heroines of the novel. It's Elinor, and in particular her growing attachment to Edward, so terribly crushed at the end of the first volume. In the middle, we have Marianne's and Willoughby's.... thing (I'm not sure what to call it). Vol.II opens with the major examination of Elinor's feelings for Edward in the light of Lucy's revelation, and ends with the confirmation of Edward's unavailability. In the middle we have Marianne's and Willoughby's.... thing. The last volume opens with Lucy's and Edward's engagement made public, and ends with his and Elinor's union. In the middle, we have Marianne's near-fatal illness.
More than that, the mid-point of each volume belongs to Willoughby: his unaccountable departure in Vol.I, his snubbing of Marianne in Vol.II and his unexpected arrival at Cleveland to explain his conduct to Marianne - as he hoped - but in the event to Elinor only, in Vol.III. The first two precipitate crises for Marianne, while the third is only confirmation of his unsuitability for her.
Thus, each volume consists of Willuoghby "enclosed in" Marianne, who is in turn "enclosed in" Elinor, which seems to reflect the fact that this novel is largely seen from the latter's viewpoint. Each volume, and therefore the novel as a whole, begins and ends with her.
The locations highlight this. The whole book seems to be an ABA structure, with the outer volumes set largely "at home" (in the third volume, a delayed but much-longed for return home via Cleveland), while the second one is mostly set in London.
We have yet to read the last two chapters, but it's interesting that there are two: perhaps they form an "epilogue" that mirrors the opening two-chapter "prologue" in some way. Let's find out next week.
What does anybody feel about this analysis? Is it just a theoretical exercise, or do people really feel these climaxes and divisions, even without being aware of the formal volume divisions. I'm particularly interested in the reactions of first-time readers: were you aware, even if only subliminally, of this or any other sub-structures to the novel, or did you perceive it as simply one sweep from beginning to end? (Arguably a detailed GR like this one isn't the best way to get a feel for the book as a whole, as opposed to the details.)
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