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Written by Stephanie
(1/25/2013 6:06 p.m.)
Enjoying Sense and Sensibility for the [how many-eth?] time, I started to ask myself how often a character second-guesses another, based on partial knowledge, while someone who knows the story might make a different assumption.
For instance, when Mrs. Dashwood says she is going into Devonshire, Edward is surprised and unhappy. Mrs. Dashwood assumes it is because Edward will no longer be able to easily visit Elinor, but we find out later that Mr. Pratt is in Devonshire, and that that likely is where he and Lucy Steele most often meet.
In ch. 27, Elinor fears Col. Brandon's regard for her sister is strengthening, because she sees the earnestness with which he often watched Marianne, and his spirits were certainly worse than before. However, knowing, as we do, that Col. Brandon is wondering if he should speak what he knows about Willoughby, the low spirits and worried looks might not be (or not ONLY be) increased affection.
Later in the same chapter, Col. Brandon says, "Is everything finally settled? Is it impossible to -- ? But I have no right, and I could have no chance of succeeding." Elinor takes this as a direct avowal of love, but he COULD be asking, "Is it impossible to awaken your sister to the danger she is in, in loving such a scoundrel? Can I warn her in such a way that would do any good? I, who have no right as relation, to advise her, and who has seen YOUR good counsel dismissed, that of a beloved and respected sister, in the months I have known you both?"
Then, of course, there is the scene when Marianne thanks Col. Brandon, and both Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood witness the same words and behaviors, but interpret them in ways most associated with their own priorities and impressions.
There is also (although the quoted dialogue is lacking, we have it in narration) the way the women at Norland all felt assured that Edward was attracted to Elinor, enough to make it a possibility that he would try to engage her affections in return. During a re-read, we know that he was not trying to encourage Elinor's affection, or his own, and certainly not trying to imply any possible future between them.
We even have the people SPEAKING missing some of the nuances we (and the other characters) hear. John Dashwood does not seem to realize that he says that Sir John is related to them, and SHOULD do everything he can for them, while meaning that he himself (a much closer, and likely richer relation) is set on doing nothing. In the same conversation, he states baldly that people seldom live up to their income, and that he (again wealthier, and, presumably more financially savvy than Mrs. Jennings) has so little spare cash that he was close to being in dire straits recently. Robert Ferrars consistently shows himself to be unable to read people, but thinks himself a fine judge of character -- not to mention his belief that his stories paint himself in a good light.
Mrs. Jennings thinks that Col. Brandon's reaction when Miss Williams is mentioned means that the rumours of his relationship to her are true.
This might be the novel by Author Austen wherein the characters misunderstand each other the most frequently! They all think they know enough to form assumptions, and yet, the assumptions keep appearing to be in the wrong!
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