Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: A Fresh Comparison
Winning an Oscar for Best Writing, Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility is critically acclaimed for its adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel. While not an exact replica of the original literature, the movie’s interpretation is widely considered to effectively enhance the book. A closer look at two specific scenes displays how the film’s differences can add a deeper, visual understanding of the story, particularly within the theme of sensibility.
As the general story goes, Marianne is out walking with her younger sister Margaret when it begins to rain. Marianne falls down and cannot get back up, but fortunately Willoughby is nearby and comes to her aid. The book portrays this scene with Willoughby rescuing Marianne on foot while he had been out hunting with his dogs. However, the movie depicts this scene with Willoughby riding up on a white stallion to rescue the younger Dashwood. The script actually reads “astride sits an Adonis in hunting gear” (Stovel). This dramatic rescue is one of the movie’s vivid representation of Marianne’s thematic sensibility. Additionally, Margaret is almost “trampled” when the horse rears up, which seems to foreshadow how Willoughby later tramples Marianne’s heart with his betrayal.
The movie’s portrayal of Willoughby and his horse is also reminiscent of the “Queen Mab” reference in the novel. Queen Mab is a horse that Willoughby wished to give to Marianne. She had to decline however, because Elinor emphasized how their family could not afford the upkeep of a horse. The horse’s name is an allusion to the imaginary “fairies’ midwife” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, who rides her chariot across lovers’ brains to produce tantalizing dreams. Yet, these dreams, according to Mercutio, are “begot of nothing but fantasy” and are “more inconstant than the wind” (Act I, Scene iv). In light of this evidence, the horse Queen Mab could represent Marianne’s relationship with Willoughby–a perfect fantasy that Marianne will never have. Overall, Emma Thompson takes ‘reading between the lines’ to the next level to find the most effective way to present the theme of sensibility in this scene. Even though the horse may seem like an insignificant interpretation of the book’s original scene, its presence is a skillful portrayal of a precise adaptation.
Towards the end of the story, there is a second rescue scene. After the Dashwood sisters arrive in Cleveland with the Palmers, Marianne steals away for a long walk. Once again, she gets caught in the rain, but this does not stop her from walking all the way to Willoughby’s estate to mourn the loss of her lover. Her tears mix with the deluge of water as she cries out the Shakespearean love sonnet that she and Willoughby had bonded over when they first met:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Colonel Brandon must rescue Marianne, who’s senseless with sorrow, and carry her back to the Palmers’s residence, where she is deathly ill for several days. In contrast, the book portrays these events much more simply—in her melancholy, Marianne takes several, long walks in the evening and, as a result, she catches a violent cold. There is no grief-stricken call out to Willoughby in the rain or dramatic rescue by Brandon.
The film’s structure of this scene achieves several things. One, it effectively sums up Marianne’s suffering over Willoughby in one scene, where in the book, Marianne’s distress seems to last much longer. Two, it emphasizes Marianne’s thematic sensibility with the melodramatic tone of the scene. Three, it labels Colonel Brandon as Marianne’s rescuer. This label is not in the book, but it adds meaning to the movie in two ways. In general, it draws visual romantic attention to Colonel Brandon’s unwavering love for Marianne. On a deeper understanding, Brandon’s rescue could be a metaphor for “sense” rescuing “sensibility.” The entire story’s structure places importance on “sense”–whether its Marianne and Willoughby, whose relationship of sensibility fails miserably, or Elinor, who maintains an air of conservative authority throughout the book. In yet another scene, viewers can see how the film visually interprets the book’s theme of sensibility.
Whether it was love at first sight with the gallant, rescuer Willoughby or Brandon’s rescue from Marianne’s almost suicidal grief, both scenes in the 1995 film visually embraced the dramatic qualities–such as emotion, spontaneity, rapturous devotion–that define the concept of “sensibility.” Thus, the movie depicts both scenes better than the book. Not only were the scenes in the movie more exciting and dramatic, but also the emphasis of sensibility lent deeper meaning to the scenes and the overall story. It’s difficult for a movie to do justice by its book–especially for adaptations of classic literature–but this film proves itself a worthy interpretation.
Austen, Jane. Sense & Sensibility. London: Thomas Egerton, Military Library, 1811. Print.
Sense & Sensibility. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman. Columbia Pictures, 1995. Film.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Norton’s Anthology. Chicago: Hampton Publishers, 2004. 55-104. Print.
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds.” Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 16 Jun 2003. 26 Feb. 2014
Stovel, Nora. “From Page to Screen: Emma Thompson’s Film Adaptation of Sense & Sensibility.” Jane Austen Society of North America V.32, No. 1 (Winter 2011): n. pag. Web 11 February 2014
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