The_Semantics_of_Sense_and_Sensibility_..pdf - 1 Anna Stanisz(Uniwersytet Jagiello\u0144ski\/Jagiellonian University The Semantics of Sense Sensibility The

The_Semantics_of_Sense_and_Sensibility_..pdf - 1 Anna...

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1 Anna Stanisz (Uniwersytet Jagiello ń ski/Jagiellonian University) The Semantics of Sense & Sensibility . The meaning of the title words in Jane Austen’s novel Introduction In a popular opinion, Jane Austen tends to be perceived mainly as an author of romances. She is appreciated for her vivid narration, witty observation, colourful and lovable characters, as well as descriptions of the British manners at the turn of the 19 th century. Hence, Jane Austen’s works are usually classified as novels (or come- dies) of manners, romantic novels or psychological ones. Although broadly accurate, such a perception of Jane Austen’s oeuvre is considerably simplified. In his two unpublished lectures: one given at the Jagiellonian University (on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ), the other entitled “Much ado about Not(h)ing and a window on Emma’s fallible self”, Gerard Kilroy argues that there is a philosoph- ical layer to each of Jane Austen’s novels. According to Kilroy, the central idea in Jane Austen’s novels is the fallibility of human observation. Jane Austen’s major interest is, therefore, epistemology. And so, in Pride and Prejudice , although Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Dar- cy appear the most intelligent and reflective characters in the novel, their first opin- ions on each other turn out superficial, as based solely on first impressions (as sug- gests the novel’s first title, i.e. First Impressions ). Their feelings towards one another eventually change from strong dislike to immense love. In Mansfield Park there is a series of romantic entanglements among Fanny Price, Edmund Bertram, Mary and
2 Henry Crawford, and Maria Bertram, resulting from the characters’ wrong percep- tion. In Emma , her fallibility is the source of the peripeties among Harriet Smith, Robert Martin, Mr. Elton, and Frank Churchill, and almost leads Emma herself to confusion about her own feelings to Mr. Knightley. In Northanger Abbey , in turn, Catherine Morland perceives Northanger Abbey from the perspective of Gothic nov- els, such as those by Ann Radcliffe, whereas her beloved Henry Tilney’s father looks at her from the perspective of what John Thorpe said about her. Both of these per- spectives turn out untrue. Throughout the whole plot of Persuasion Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth hide their feelings to each other, as at first they do not know their own feelings and later remain unaware of the other’s reciprocity. As we see, epistemological themes covered under the motif of misrecognition of one’s own feel- ings as well as feelings of other characters appears in each of Jane Austen’s novels. Epistemological motifs can also be found in Jane Austen’s first novel, i.e. Sense and Sensibility (Cf. Auerbach 252). They appeared in the novel along with its rewrit- ing and the change of the title 1 . Its first version was Elinor and Marianne (Herbert 182). At the time it was common practice that authors gave their novels titles includ- ing the names of the main characters 2 . Jane Austen doubtless intended the novel to be the narrative and psychological analysis of the Dashwood sisters. Such a character

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