“A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no conscience in his intrusion on that of others.” Marianne Dashwood on Colonel Brandon, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 31
This is a profound statement from a young lady who herself, has nothing to do with her own time! Isn’t this like calling the kettle black, or … throwing stones when you live in a glass house? Hmm?
The British Gentry had time at their disposal. If you had an estate such as Colonel Brandon’s Delford that earned 2000 pounds a year, you had the means to be a gentleman that could schedule his own time to his liking. Now, Marianne is another situation. After the death of their father and the transfer of his estate to their half brother John Dashwood, she and her sister Elinor are impoverished, and are at the mercy of time. They must marry well, and quickly.
I am puzzled by time in Jane Austen’s novels. Sense & Sensibility was written in the late 1790’s, but was not successfully published until 1811. I may have entirely missed this nuance, but how does one know in which era the novel is set? Late 1790’s or 1811? That is a 15 year time frame. Should we assume that it is contemporary to when it was published?
I think that others may be confused also, because many of my illustrated editions contain artist’s conceptions of characters that place them in context, and include clothing and furnishing of the time. Some scenes appear late Georgian, and others are Regency. To complicate matters further, some are Victorian!
So I went on an Internet hunt and Googled “Sense and Sensibility” + “time frame” and was fortunate after a bit of digging to find an answer on Austen scholar Ellen Moody’s web site. She had investigated the exact subject and wrote a paper called A Calendar for Sense and Sensibility; – – and after wading through all of her expert scholarly investigation, I discovered the bottom line…
1799 September. “Two years” after Marianne had declared Colonel Brandon to be too old to marry, she marries him. She is 19, Brandon 37.
So the novel begins in 1797! Phew. But that does not explain why different artists have illustrated the characters in fashions from the 1790’s to the 1860’s! Well, that is another story!
*Illustration from the cover of Sense & Sensibility, published by Books on Tape, circa 2000 showing Marianne and Elinor Dashwood in mid Victorian attire.