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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Sense and Sensibility: Movie vs. book, 1995 vs.1811

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I rewatched Sense and Sensibility. Yes, I'd read the book, but it's been awhile, so I compared a pivotal moment of the movie to the book. (Yes, this is a spoiler.)

Here is Elinor Dashwood speaking to her sister Marianne, revealing that she, too, has been broken-hearted for months but said nothing.

Movie (1995): 
“What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks, Marianne, I've had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced on me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hope. I have endured her exultations again and again whilst knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have provided proof enough of a broken heart, even for you.”
Book (1811):
"I understand you.—You do not suppose that I have ever felt much.—For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least.— It was told me,—it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought, with triumph.— This person's suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested;—and it has not been only once;—I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again.— I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection.—Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me.— I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages.— And all this has been going on at a time, when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness.— If you can think me capable of ever feeling—surely you may suppose that I have suffered NOW. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion;—they did not spring up of themselves;—they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first.— No, Marianne.—THEN, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely—not even what I owed to my dearest friends—from openly shewing that I was VERY unhappy."
Obviously, the first is short and pithy--truly memorable. Jane Austen was clearly not worried about a short-attention-span public. But there is a major difference.

Part of what makes it memorable is that she tells Marianne off. We love those speeches where someone has the right words at the right time to put someone in their place. Here are the relevant, little digs in the movie: "What do you know of my heart?" [This is subtle, suggesting Marianne's selfishness.] "What do you know of anything but your own suffering? For weeks.... even for you.”

Now those are clear insults. The movie dodges the insults be having Marianne not react, but they are there.

If you look in the book, there are no insults.  Even "You do not suppose that I have ever felt much" which seems to parallel the opening movie sentence, has that "not" in there, tempering the impact of the sentence, which is further tempered by "I understand you," which is to say that Elinor states she knows where her sister is coming from. There is a hint, too, that this is one-directional understanding, but the insult is deeply buried and one could dodge that it is an insult. 

Even to Lucy she pays compliments (but then--in the guise of someone else's opinion--raises herself higher):
"Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him to forget that he ever thought another superior to her."
The book maintains Elinor's cautious character, but the movie drops Elinor's character in order to slam Marianne, to get us to cheer Elinor: "You go, girl!"

Each has its merits--one slyly enlists our emotion while the other is more honest. I, too, fell into the trap of loving Elinor's slam, and only curiosity yielded the difference. I suspect this is particularly damning of our culture that we desire this dig, the insult. Elinor achieves her desired result, perhaps with the necessary extra words that may or may not work on the screen, but perhaps we should feel a little shame that we fall in love with the insult over caution.

I just looked up who wrote the screenplay: Emma Thompson. Thompson, by the way, cannot be blamed for giving us the contemporary audience what we wanted.

One thing I didn't get (and maybe I need to reread the book) is why Robert Ferrars still gets the fortune if he marries Lucy, instead of Edward. It seems a matter of plot convenience: Oh, sweet Eddie's available, after all!

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