Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world. In the promotion of this object, she was zealously active, as far as her ability reached, and missed no opportunity of projecting weddings among all the young people of her acquaintance. She was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantage of raising the blushes and the vanity of many a young lady by insinuations of her power over such a young man; and this kind of discernment enabled her soon after her arrival at Barton decisively to pronounce that Colonel Brandon was very much in love with Marianne Dashwood. She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first evening of their being together, from his listening so attentively while she sang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Middletons dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening to her again. It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It would be an excellent match, for he was rich and she was handsome. Mrs. Jennings had been anxious to see Colonel Brandon well married, ever since her connection with Sir John first brought him to her knowledge; and she was always anxious to get a good husband for every pretty girl. The Narrator, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 8
This 1908 watercolor illustration by Charles E. Brock of Mrs. Jennings making Marianne Dashwood blush has always seemed contrary to my vision of her true personality. If she is indeed blushing, it is not from embarrassment of Mrs. Jennings matchmaking, but from aggravation. She is just too much of a lady to look her in the eye and tell her where to go.
I may be transferring my 21st century sensibilities into the stew, but I have always thought of Marianne as a bit of feminist. She could easily have been a suffragette in the 1890’s or burned her bra in the 1960’s and been proud of it. Her mother and sister Elinor may not approve of her objections to Mrs. Jennings well intended conclusion that she and Colonel Brandon are an excellent match because “he is rich and she is handsome”, but hello, she is 16 and he is 35! I agree with her concerns. He is over the hill in her young romantic idealistic eyes. Jane Austen is of course driving the point through her family that she has no money and should be grateful for such an alliance. Marianne wants love, not a marriage of convenience, a theme that runs through each of Austen’s novels, and her own life.
In the end, her pursuit of love over social stricture breaks her of her spirit – her romantic ideals. After Willoughby’s rejection, she succumbs to the socially appropriate match – Colonel Brandon. Her sister Elinor who always acted within propriety lucks out and is rewarded by marrying the man that she loves. We are happy for her, but not for Marianne who wanted more and settled for less. If Sense and Sensibility was intended as a moral fable for young ladies lacking sensibility, social sense is also a cruel task master.
*Illustration by Charles E. Brock, Sense and Sensibility, J.M. Dent & Sons, London (1908)