Last year, I attended a talk by Robert Morrison, a prominent expert on Austen and the Regency. (His book, The Regency Years, is an informative and entertaining survey of the Regency period.) I was quite surprised when he floated the theory that Marianne got pregnant in Sense and Sensibility. Further, he didn't claim that this interpretation was his own take on the novel, in which case I wouldn’t raise an objection. He attributes the idea to Jane Austen--he thinks Austen hinted that Marianne got pregnant.
[Update} When I wrote this series of posts, I was only aware of Dr. Morrison's lecture, and was not awareof an article which makes the same arguments, authored by Rachel Feder and her students. This article gives the case for Marianne being pregnant, a case which I rebut on textual and other grounds here and in the next post.
If it was worth Professor Morrison's time to devote a full lecture to this idea, it's worth my time to lay out the reasons why I disagree. And I am glad that mulling over his ideas gave me a good reason to re-read Sense and Sensibility, because I noticed things I hadn't paid any attention to before. That's mostly for my next post. Briefly, my rebuttal is:
- The text doesn’t support the theory that Marianne got pregnant, but rather contradicts it.
- The tenor of the times wouldn’t allow for such a book to be published, because you can't have a girl of good family have sex outside of marriage without also being explicit about the consequences which would befall her.