Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Jane Austen, Devonshire, and Sense and Sensibility!


When I visited Devon recently, the gorgeous landscape reminded me particularly of one of Jane Austen's books. Whilst Jane doesn't tend to write a lot of description in her novels, I was surprised at how much there is to be found in Sense and Sensibility. We know that Jane holidayed in Devon, visiting places like Sidmouth, Dawlish and Lyme Regis, which is on the border between Dorset and Devon. 

In this first passage from Sense and Sensibility, Jane writes about the situation of Barton, the village where Elinor, Marianne and Margaret Dashwood come to live with their mother after their half-brother, John Dashwood inherits Norland House. It's a far cry from the slendours of the house they are used to, but the position is a good one. It's clearly all too difficult for Mrs Dashwood who is used to a grander style of living, and she is soon thinking of ways to 'improve' the cottage. 

 The situation of the house was good. High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.
   With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Dashwood was upon the whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. "As for the house itself, to be sure," said she, "it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building. These parlours are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here; and I have some thoughts of throwing the passage into one of them with perhaps a part of the other, and so leave the remainder of that other for an entrance; this, with a new drawing-room which may be easily added, and a bed-chamber and garret above, will make it a very snug little cottage. I could wish the stairs were handsome. But one must not expect everything; though I suppose it would be no difficult matter to widen them. I shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and we will plan our improvements accordingly."
   In the mean time, till all these alterations could be made from the savings of an income of five hundred a-year by a woman who never saved in her life, they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was; and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endeavouring, by placing around them their books and other possessions, to form themselves a home. Marianne's pianoforte was unpacked and properly disposed of; and Elinor's drawings were affixed to the walls of their sitting room.




Having had some experience of the "dirt of the valleys" whilst staying in Devon, due to tumultuous rain, I must admit it was rather good to be high up in the hills for most of the time. The views from our house reminded me very much of this passage - sadly, I did not bump into Mr Willoughby on any of my walks.

The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs, which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were an happy alternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up their superior beauties; and towards on of these hills did Marianne and Margaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two others from their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne's declaration that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud would be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set off together.
   They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration at every glimpse of blue sky: and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of an high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations.
   "Is there a felicity in the world," said Marianne, "superior to this? Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours."



  Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind, resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set full in their face. Chagrined and surprised, they were obliged, though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than their own house. One consolation however remained for them, to which the exigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety; it was that of running with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill which led immediately to their garden gate.
   They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage, but a false step brought her suddenly to the ground, and Margaret, unable to stop herself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and reached the bottom in safety.
   A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Marianne, when her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. She had raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted in the fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services, and perceiving that her modesty declined what her situation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without farther delay, and carried her down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directly into the house, whither Margaret was just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated her in a chair in the parlour.



The views from the house at Allenham, which belongs to Mr Willoughby's benefactor, Mrs Smith are described in this passage. Woods and high hills abound! I've often wondered if Jane Austen was describing views she knew, from dual aspect windows of a corner room, which sounds delightfully unusual. Marianne can't help but gush in her enthusiasm for the pretty sitting room or help making plans to modernise it.

   She blushed at this hint; but it was even visibly gratifying to her; and after a ten minutes' interval of earnest thought, she came to her sister again, and said with great good humour, "Perhaps, Elinor, it was rather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham; but Mr. Willoughby wanted particularly to shew me the place; and it is a charming house I assure you. There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs; of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furniture it would be delightful. It is a corner room, and has windows on two sides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind the house, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a view of the church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that we have so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, for nothing could be more forlorn than the furniture, - but if it were newly fitted up - a couple of hundred pounds, Willoughby says, would make it one of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England."
   Could Elinor have listened to her without interruption from the others, she would have described every room in the house with equal delight.



I love the contrast in this passage between Marianne's fervent passion for everything natural, and Edward's very matter of fact consideration of the dirty lanes - something I had some experience of whilst on holiday - though in the photo below you can see it was actually quite a dry day when I took this shot. Edward and Marianne go on to discuss the picturesque with their very differing approaches to the countryside. 
We had to travel down some increasingly narrow lanes before the road rose high into the hills to take us to the house where we were staying. One night we took a taxi into the nearest village and the driver told us that if we'd been there the week before the lanes were impassable because of flooding! 

"And how does dear, dear Norland look?" cried Marianne.
   "Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, "probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."
   "Oh!" cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."
   "It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."
   "No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are." - As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing herself again, "Now, Edward," said she, calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Barton valley. Look up it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see one end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."
   "It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must be dirty in winter."
   "How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"
   "Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."
   "How strange!" said Marianne to herself as she walked on.




   Edward returned to them with fresh admiration of the surrounding country; in his walk to the village, he had seen many parts of the valley to advantage; and the village itself, in a much higher situation than the cottage, afforded a general view of the whole, which had exceedingly pleased him. This was a subject which ensured Marianne's attention, and she was beginning to describe her own admiration of these scenes, and to question him more minutely on the objects that had particularly struck him, when Edward interrupted her by saying, "You must not inquire too far, Marianne - remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste, if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold! surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country - the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug - with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility - and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque."


These two sheep were in a neighbouring field, but they kept escaping to our garden where they obviously thought that the grass was greener! They were funny - it was almost as if they knew they shouldn't be there and we never quite worked out how they got in or out. An excellent way to keep the grass down!


I hope you enjoyed the photos!

6 comments:

Alexa Adams said...

The photos are magnificent, without a hint of the modern to interfere with my desire to impose mental images of the Dashwood ladies upon them, a task perfectly suited to your apt excerpts. Very inspiring, and inspiration is just what I wanted this morning. Thank you!

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Alexa - we really were in the middle of nowhere - very beautiful and inspiring!

Shelly said...

Wow. Just beautiful. I could sit down and read by that stream!

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Shelly - yes, it would be a lovely spot to read, though I didn't seem to get a chance to read very much - we were constantly touring around. The countryside around that area is stunning, so much to see.

Kirk said...

Great! Another area to put on my wish list! :) I love the long quotes from the book. Lol, as a card carrying member of Team Marianne, I loved your "Willoughby's Return"

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Kirk, for stopping to leave such lovely comments - I'm thrilled that you loved "Willoughby's Return"!