Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
These words, which conveyed to Elinor a direct avowal of his love for her sister, affected her very much. She was not immediately able to say anything, and even when her spirits were recovered, she debated for a short time on the answer it would be most proper to give. The real state of things between Willoughby and her sister was so little known to herself, that in endeavouring to explain it, she might be as liable to say too much as too little. (27.28)
The conundrum of communicating at all in this society is really quite shocking – there's always the danger of saying too much, or nothing at all. We're not sure how anyone ever got anything out in the open in Austen's day! Elinor can't even come out and say that she simply doesn't know.
At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started up, and pronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand to him. He approached, and addressing himself rather to Elinor than Marianne, as if wishing to avoid her eye, and determined not to observe her attitude, inquired in a hurried manner after Mrs. Dashwood, and asked how long they had been in town. Elinor was robbed of all presence of mind by such an address, and was unable to say a word. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed. Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed in a voice of the greatest emotion, "Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?" (28.6)
Again, we see a kind of odd disconnect between modes of conversation, even when two people are standing face to face. Willoughby is playing the stiff upper lip society guy, while Marianne, unable to pretend, speaks directly – a rare occurrence in any of the conversations we've seen.
The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said, lasted no longer than while she spoke, and was immediately followed by a return of the same excessive affliction. It was some minutes before she could go on with her letter, and the frequent bursts of grief which still obliged her, at intervals, to withhold her pen, were proofs enough of her feeling how more than probable it was that she was writing for the last time to Willoughby. (29.2)
The only clear line of communication available here is letter writing – it's only in written form that Marianne can say what she was unable to say to Willoughby in person.