Austen and the Picturesque. Part Four Concluded.

July 13, 2007 § 3 Comments

Beginning of Part Four here

“I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower,- and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”

– Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility

Marianne’s appreciation of the Picturesque isn’t merely an exercise in fashionable sentimentality. Although her demonstrativeness is revealed to be affected, Marianne’s feelings are genuine; her real sensibilities as well as her sense prevail in the novel. While Austen uses the Picturesque to highlight Marianne’s emotionalism, she also uses it to remind us of her real taste and intelligence underneath her often self-absorbed and foolish actions. Edward and Marianne hold intelligent discussions about landscape and the narrative hints at ‘old disputes’ between them, indicating a history of thoughtful debate. The jargons of the Picturesque are not merely hollow words when used by Marianne:

“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel…”

Marianne’s actions of course and even her language at times borders on the absurd, and Austen associates the Picturesque with the absolutely absurd Rushworth in Mansfield Park. In a rage for ‘improvements’ Rushworth bores the Mansfield company with talk of instigating some at Sotherton. “Your best friend upon such an occasion,” Maria Bertram advices succinctly “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine” ***

Throughout her works Austen never criticizes the Picturesque per se but she does criticize the fashion for it. Like the subject of any fashion, there is nothing wrong with the Picturesque, what Austen ridicules with it, as she does so often, is the blind following of a trend without reason, honesty, learning or a consultation of real personal taste.


*** I’m currently doing more research into this topic and will revising shortly – RH

For Parts 1 – 3 please see the Austen and the Picturesque catergory link.


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§ 3 Responses to Austen and the Picturesque. Part Four Concluded.

  • Ms. Place says:

    Thank you for this post. I have always liked Marianne, for she reminds me of my younger foolish self. Her romantic flights of fancy were once my flights of fancy. We know that as Colonel Brandon’s wife, she will grow to become a more sensible and mature women. But I doubt she will ever quite lose the romantic streak that made her so attractive to Colonel Brandon in the first place.

    As for Jane’s opinion about those who thoughtlessly follow fashion for fashion’s sake, you have given me a new perspective.

  • P J Stupples says:

    I have very much enjoyed these four essays, they have been most interesting in my research of the picturesque as they have added a much-needed social dimension. How invaluable is Austen as a critique of her day! To whom are they attributed should I wish to cite an excerpt?
    One point I do not quite understand: in the penultimate paragraph of Part Four concluded, you say that it was absurd of Maria Bertram to suggest Repton – could she not have been suggesting his use as a designer – not as constructor as you suggest ? All the great designers, (Brown, Repton, Loudon) of the age actually constructed – they employed gardeners and labourers to do this for them. Hence my lack of understanding of this point. I would be interested to know the source of this material since it is my understanding that the main reason Repton’s (and others’ designs) were not taken up was partly that Brown had often been there before him and he was not working in anything like as prosperous times as his predecessor. PJS

  • My apologies for the delay in my reply, I was overseas on vacation!
    Thank you for your insightful comment, and by the way, I think you’re quite right about the penultimate paragraph. It isn’t at all phrased properly and my conclusions about Austen’s reference to Repton is quite off, I believe.

    I’m presently doing more research into this topic and will be revising the ‘essay’ very soon. I hadn’t looked over these writings for a while and if it wasn’t for your feedback I may not have noticed my error for some time.

    Thanks again!

    – Rebecca.

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