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Posts Tagged ‘Marianne Dashwood’s Illness’

The dramatic moments of Marianne’s illness in Ang Lee’s 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility start when Marianne (Kate Winslet) walks in the pouring rain to view Willoughby’s estate, Combe Magna, from atop a hill. The musical strains swell as rivulets of water pour down her face and figure. Then Marianne quotes a Shakespearean Sonnet 116 that Willoughby had read to her in happier days, which she starts with the phrase, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” One is touched by Marianne’s emotional anguish, which is echoed by the roiling clouds overhead. Kate’s performance tugs at my heartstrings and tears still come to my eyes when I see this scene. Call me a hopeless romantic.

However, the scene is more reminiscent of Wuthering Heights than of a Jane Austen novel. Young Kate Winslet acts out Marianne’s torment so convincingly that one forgets that these are Emma Thompson’s words, not Jane Austen’s. Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) finds Marianne and carries her back in his manly arms. To his credit, he staggers under his load only just before he hands her over to Mr. Palmer and Elinor.

Much anxiety ensues, with the Colonel pacing the halls until he is given ‘employment’, and asked to fetch Mrs. Dashwood, who lives 80 miles away. Unspoken but implied is that he might be too late. Elinor/Emma weeps as she tends to Marianne, the doctor spends the night in a nearby chair, and we are all left in suspense: Will Marianne/Kate survive the night? All this Sturm und Drang is a bit overwrought, but these scenes provide the emotional turning point of this film adaptation.

I first saw the 1995 movie in the theatre just weeks after its premiere. When Marianne was clearly on the mend, I recall feeling as wrung out as Elinor. In case my words seem just a tad facetious (and they are), I adored this film. However, the script of this movie is to a Jane Austen novel what Tex-Mex cuisine is to real Mexican food – there is just enough authenticity to fool one into thinking that one has actually experienced the real thing.

Interestingly, in the most recent 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, written by Andrew Davies, Marianne (Charity Wakefield) also wanders around the gardens of Cleveland in a steady drizzle. She finds shelter under a gazebo, but then she deliberately stands under the rain, welcoming its healing effect. I suppose this ritual cleansing is meant to be symbolic. Weakened from lack of sleep and worry, Marianne succumbs to the chill and faints. She is gone for such a long time, that Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) goes out to search for her. Riding his white steed (oh, don’t you just love these Jungian-Arthurian-Shakespearean symbols?), he finds her. Then, in a moment I find perplexing, for his trusty horse is standing at the ready, he carries her back to the house. Andrew Davies, please have mercy on the poor horse! While David Morrissey has the physical heft to pull off this scene (and he does deposit Marianne safely in her bed), you have deprived that lovely white steed of its employment. Ellen Moody gave a possible explanation for all this romantic drama in her post. Click here to read it.

Both films have mined Marianne’s illness for its full emotional depth. However, in Jane Austen’s words, the onset of Marianne’s illness is much less dramatic, and Colonel Brandon is nowhere to be seen:

Two delightful twilight walks on the third and fourth evenings of her being there, not merely on the dry gravel of the shrubbery, but all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest, had — assisted by the still greater imprudence of sitting in her wet shoes and stockings — given Marianne a cold so violent, as, though for a day or two trifled with or denied, would force itself by increasing ailments on the concern of everybody, and the notice of herself. Prescriptions poured in from all quarters, and as usual were all declined. Though heavy and feverish, with a pain in her limbs, a cough, and a sore throat, a good night’s rest was to cure her entirely; and it was with difficulty that Elinor prevailed on her, when she went to bed, to try one or two of the simplest of the remedies. Sense and Sensibility, Volume 3, Chapter 6.

Jane then goes on to describe a cold that settles in Marianne’s lungs, and that the doctor declares infectious. The Palmers leave, worried for their newborn baby. For two days Marianne’s situation does not change, and there is hope for a speedy recovery, but by the third day Marianne’s condition worsens and in a feverish delirium she starts calling for her mother. Enter the Colonel:

He, meanwhile, whatever he might feel, acted with all the firmness of a collected mind, made every necessary arrangement with the utmost dispatch, and calculated with exactness the time in which she might look for his return. Not a moment was lost in delay of any kind. The horses arrived, even before they were expected, and Colonel Brandon only pressing her hand with a look of solemnity, and a few words spoken too low to reach her ear, hurried into the carriage. It was then about twelve o’clock, and she returned to her sister’s apartment to wait for the arrival of the apothecary, and to watch by her the rest of the night.

Colonel Brandon leaves to procure Mrs. Dashwood, and Elinor is left alone (with Mrs. Jennings) to nurse Marianne and fret over her condition. Elinor’s suffering is real: “She was calm, except when she thought of her mother; but she was almost hopeless; and in this state she continued till noon, scarcely stirring from her sister’s bed, her thoughts wandering from one image of grief, one suffering friend to another, and her spirits
oppressed to the utmost by the conversation.”

Marianne’s situation is touch and go. The apothecary, Mr. Harris, attempts every remedy at his disposal, and promises to return in a three or four hour interval. In his second visit, he realizes his medicine has failed, and that Marianne’s fever remains unabated. He tries a fresh application of a medication in which he has almost as much confidence as the first, and then he leaves. Elinor spends a restless, sleepless night, worried about her mother, but she forces herself to remain calm.

About noon, however, she began–but with a caution—a dread of disappointment which for some time kept her silent, even to her friend–to fancy, to hope she could perceive a slight amendment in her sister’s pulse;–she waited, watched, and examined it again and again;–and at last, with an agitation more difficult to bury under exterior calmness, than all her foregoing distress, ventured to communicate her hopes.

During these scenes, both Elinor/Emma and Elinor/Hattie are true to Jane’s description of Elinor’s conduct through this long, anxious night. Waiting for the Colonel and her mother, Elinor hears: “The bustle in the vestibule, as she passed along an inner lobby, assured her that they were already in the house. She rushed to the drawing-room,–she entered it,–and saw only Willoughby.”

The Ang Lee film does not include this important scene. Instead, it shows a regretful Willoughby sitting at a distance on his horse, observing Marianne walking from the chapel with her new husband. The new 3-hour S&S adaptation takes the time to address Willoughby’s excuse for his bad behavior and his feelings for Marianne. “I mean to offer some kind of explanation,” he says to Elinor, “some kind of apology, for the past; to open my whole heart to you, and by convincing you, that though I have been always a blockhead, I have not been always a rascal, to obtain something like forgiveness from Ma–from your sister.”

Unlike the novel, the 2008 film shows Marianne eavesdropping. This ending sets the stage for her transformation. Her eyes are opened to Willoughby, allowing her to heal and open her heart to Colonel Brandon. Many find this section of the book implausible. How could someone with Marianne’s romantic nature do the sensible thing and marry the Colonel? Jane describes Marianne’s situation as thus:

Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting,–instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on,– she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.

My sensible self likes to think that a romantically minded 17-year-old can emerge wiser two years later. Marianne not only learned from adversity, but I imagine she will continue to mature and grow throughout her life.

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