“Now, Edward,” said [Marianne], 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.
“Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasant people?”
“No, not at all,” answered Marianne, “we could not be more unfortunately situated.”
I had the leisure of viewing Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon the other day, I say leisure, for the film is over three hours long and I took the opportunity to pull images. These two stills of country roads reminded me forcibly of the difference between Marianne’s histrionic behavior in Sense and Sensibility and Edward’s reactions during a time when both characters are experiencing extreme disappointment in their love lives.
Marianne has completely given over to her emotions after Willoughby departs, and Edward struggles to hold up his chin, knowing he is in love with Elinor but is bound by his engagement to Lucy Steele. His view of the landscape is utilitarian. He sees none of the sweep of grandeur and only the practical aspects of the scene below and can only imagine it in the winter, when roads are rutted and muddy. Throughout Sense and Sensibility, Marianne expresses picturesque point of views. In this scene in particular, she also demonstrates her youth and immaturity, giving Edward a churlish answer about their new neighbors, which, while perhaps true, the sensible Elinor would never admit.
William Gilpin was instrumental in promoting the Romantic picturesque movement, which defines an aesthetic sensibility of a charming or quaint scene. Marianne Dashwood, whose personality tends towards the melodramatic, embraces the fashion for the picturesque ideal, whereas both Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars represent a more practical viewpoint which depends less on the sublime and relies more on what their experiences and restrained personalities tell them to feel.
The following quote about William Gilpin’s influence on this new aesthetic movement is from the aptly titled, Penny cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volumes 11-12, Charles Knight, London, 1838, p. 222:
But Mr Gilpin was a person of a remarkably refined taste, as is evinced by writings of his, of a class entirely distinct from those we have enumerated. These are his volumes in which he has illustrated, both by his pencil and his pen, the picturesque beauty of some parts of England, and generally the principles of beauty in landscape. The first of these works was published in 1790 in two volumes 8 vo; it was entitled Observations relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the year 76 in several parts of Great Britain, particularly the Highlands of Scotland. This was followed by two other volumes of the same character, the greater part of them relating to the lake country of Cumberland and Westmoreland. Two volumes more on Forest Scenery succeeded. Besides these there are his Essays on Picturesque Beauty, Picturesque Travels, and the Art of Sketching Landscapes; Observations on the River Wye; and Picturesque Remarks on the Western parts of England. These form a body of works which were well received by the public at the times of their appearance, and which are now gathered into the libraries of the tasteful and the curious, so that copies rarely present themselves for public sale.”
The picturesque ideal expressed itself in literature, poetry, and paintings, and its influence could still be felt in the romantic paintings that depicted the natural beauty of America’s vast landscapes, such as the Hudson River School of painting.
Excellent posts about the topic are found in the following blogs:
- Four posts on Austen and the Picturesque on Grey Pony
- Enamoured of the Picturesque at a Very Early Age: William Gilpin and Jane Austen, Austenonly