Today we reach the third in our series on Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility, which we are working on as part of our year of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the book. Out first illustration this week shows a very startled Mrs Dashwood, Elinor and Margaret, witnessing Marianne’s burst of emotion on quitting the room where she had been talking alone with Willoughby.(Do note the illustrations can all be enlarged by clicking on them)
Mrs. Dashwood’s visit to Lady Middleton took place the next day, and two of her daughters went with her; but Marianne excused herself from being of the party under some trifling pretext of employment; and her mother, who concluded that a promise had been made by Willoughby the night before of calling on her while they were absent, was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.
On their return from the park they found Willoughby’s curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced that her conjecture had been just. So far it was all as she had foreseen; but on entering the house, she beheld what no foresight had taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Marianne came hastily out of the parlour apparently in violent affliction, with her handkerchief at her eyes; and without noticing them ran up stairs. Surprised and alarmed, they proceeded directly into the room she had just quitted where they found only Willoughby, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his back towards them. He turned round on their coming in, and his countenance shewed that he strongly partook of the emotion which overpowered Marianne.
Marianne’s distress (and that of Willoughby) indicate in the text that something truly dreadful has occurred while they were alone. It is the first real clue given to the reader that Willoughby might not be all that he seems. In Thomson’s illustration we are only shown Marianne’s acute emotion,and the reaction of the Dashwood ladies. Who only look slightly stiff and not particularly surprised. I would have liked to have seen a view into the parlour of Willoughby standing at the mantle piece in distress….what do you think? And why only partially show Margaret? This illustration does not really work for me I confess.
Our next illustration shows the moment that Marianne realises the gentleman on horseback is not Willoughby,and is eventually shown to be Edward Ferrars,who is at last calling on the Dashwood family at Barton Cottage.
She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne from particularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby, quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirty yards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk within her: and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when the voices of both her sisters were raised to detain her, a third, almost as well known as Willoughby’s, joined them in begging her to stop, and she turned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars.
Again I find there is something lacking in this illustration: if I have a criticism of Thomson’s work it is perhaps that he fails to adequately convey moments of high drama/ distress. Marianne looks merely slightly started here, not almost crushed by disappointment. I feel that Mr Thomson’s best work involved humour and not moments of drama…..what do you think?
This is again evidenced I think by the third of our illustrations today. Here we have the ever genial Sir John and his ally in all things involving gossip, Mrs Jennings, arriving at Barton Cottage to get that all important first viewing of the Dashwood’s hitherto unknown male guest.
Before the middle of the day, they were visited by Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, who, having heard of the arrival of a gentleman at the cottage, came to take a survey of the guest. With the assistance of his mother-in-law, Sir John was not long in discovering that the name of Ferrars began with an F, and this prepared a future mine of raillery against the devoted Elinor, which nothing but the newness of their acquaintance with Edward could have prevented from being immediately sprung. But, as it was, she only learned from some very significant looks, how far their penetration, founded on Margaret’s instructions, extended.
This is perhaps my favourite of today’s illustrations,and I think shows that Thomson’s genius lay in portraying the amusing incidents/characters of the book. You can just see the delight on their faces as they weigh up the situation-a new man,whose name begins with an “F”….what sport we will have now…..no wonder one of the Dashwood’s loyal maids looks on almost pityingly…
The best representation of the two and of this passage in particular, in any adaptation(, in my very humble opinion ) is in Emma Thompson’s 1995 film version where Elizabeth Spriggs, of blessed memory, and Robert Hardy taunt Elinor, egged on by Margaret innocently joining in the fun. My only problem with the illustration is the age Thomson has decided to attribute to Mrs Jennings and Sir John: would they really have looked that old? Sir John is described in the text as being near forty years old. (This is something the film accentuated too)