Emily LevineEnglish 105Dr. PippenFebruary 2012 The Influence of Music Music has a way of infiltrating the subconscious and expressing itself throughdifferent outlets. The type of music one listens to, more often than not, has a great impacton their mood, personality, and perception of everyday life. Conversely, one’s perceptionand frame of mind can impact the kind of music they enjoy. Jane Austen understood this.Music had always played a very important role in Austen’s life, and she utilized her loveand understanding of music to influence her novels and their characters. Austen usesmusic to bring to light the personalities, emotions, and aspirations of her characters Maryin Pride and Prejudice and Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen hardly lived a day without music; she practiced the pianoforte everymorning (Chapman 10). She took lessons with George William Chard, who became theorganist of Winchester Cathedral (Wakefield). Her eclectic taste in music ranged fromfolk tunes to Beethoven to glee songs (Jane Austen’s World). She believed in music as ameans of entertainment for others and would often play for her family. In fact, she onlyever sang in front of her family though it was said that her “speaking voice was as sweetas her singing” (Jane Austen’s World). She fondly played dances and clearly valueddance as an adequate method of conversing and getting to know one another. ElizabethBennet in Pride and Prejudiceclearly parallels Austen’s view of dance. Elizabeth, too,
played upbeat songs on the pianoforte and even confronted Mr. Darcy on his disapprovalof dances. A bit of Austen shines through here in Elizabeth. In addition to her playing, Jane also loved listening to music. She listened topopular dances by William Campbell, Andrews, and Birchall. Campbell arrangedScottish dances and published books of Scottish tunes, which Austen enjoyed playing.Andrews and Birchall also published music books. Birchall collaborated with Ludwidvan Beethoven and published many of his sonatas and symphonies.Austenconstantlylooked forward to the latest manuscripts and since sheet music was quite expensive at thetime, she often borrowed sheets from friends and relatives and transcribed them herself(although not always very accurately). Additionally, in the 1790s, professional orchestraswere introduced. Local musicians played for assembly balls in small towns whileprofessional musicians performed at stylish events, much like the Netherfield Ball (JaneAusten’s World). Austen’s appreciation for upbeat dances and balls comes to life in hernovels. For example, there are many instances of dances and joyous occasions in Prideand Prejudice both at Netherfield and the public balls. Through the excitement of thecharacters in Austen’s novels, the reader easily understands the value and importance ofsuch music at the time. As the most under-appreciated Bennet sister, Mary finds refuge in her piano.With her Kitty and Lydia always together as well as Jane and Elizabeth, Mary is left tofind her own solitary methods of enjoyment. She practices her piano diligently, runningthrough scales until they reach perfection. Perhaps in an effort to be noticed and praised,Mary performs her piece with pride at the Netherfield Ball. Although after two songs,Mr. Bennet approaches Mary telling her that she had “delighted [them] long enough [with
her playing].” (Austen, Pride and Prejudice69) Disconcerted, Mary stops playing, herpride and any hope at being noticed shattered. Mary’s relationship with music is not ahappy one. Despite her long hours of practice, he family constantly defeats and putsherdown and she never reaches the level of joy that music seemed to bring Jane Austen.Mary’s dependence on music as a way to gain respect symbolizes her struggle to bevalued by her family and peers. Additionally, in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, music deeply affectsMarianne.She is heard on many occasions playing somber pieces, which reflect herdespair. She retreats to her piano much like Mary Bennet, but she plays more for herselfthan for approval. Marianne clearly uses music as an outlet for her emotions; she hardlyever plays an upbeat piece. In fact, her relatives comment on her playing of consistentlymelancholy and minor pieces. Furthermore, when her piano is removed from her life, herdepression grows; her retreat is gone. This view of music as a form of escape is acommon theme in Austen’s novels and shows the importance of music in one’s life. AsAusten experienced, music can act as a form of comfort, a source of knowledge andlearning, or a peaceful haven. In Jane Austen’s time, amateur male musicians did not exist. Playing the pianowas “considered a task only fit for ladies and professional musicians” (Burgan 59,Wakefield). Being a man and pursuing music as a hobby endangered one’s gender andsocial status. Because of this, the character of Colonel Brandon and his relationship withMarianne in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is so shocking. The contrast between ColonelBrandon and John Willoughby in respect to appreciation for music is clear. Willoughbyreacts to music in a foolish way, copying scores for Marianne, but never taking his inborn
talent for music seriously. This neglect for talent indicates a lack of discipline, thereforemaking Willoughby an unsuitable match for Marianne (Wakefield). Colonel Brandon, onthe other hand, appreciates music in the way an upperclassmen should. Austen writes,“His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that extatic delight which alone couldsympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horribleinsensibility of the others” (Sense and Sensibility 35). Furthermore, by presentingMarianne with a pianoforte, Colonel Brandon proves his consideration, admiration, andappreciation for Marianne and her love of music. Jane Austen includes her perception of the importance of music in her novels.She views music as a way to create camaraderie and joy in a social setting, whether it isin the form of a ball or a family concert. Contrarily, in Mary Bennet’s case, musicrepresents defeat and a yearning to be noticed. However, in Marianne’s case, whilemusic represents her woe, it also represents the love and compatibility she shares withColonel Brandon. Music played an important role in Jane Austen’s life and that role hasbeen successfully transported into the lives of her characters.
Works CitedAusten, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London: Dover Thrift, 1995. Print.Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London: Dover Thrift, 1995. Print.Chapman, R.W. Jane Austen’s Letters. Second Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 1952. Print."Jane Austen and Music." Jane Austens World. n. page. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/jane-austen-and-music/>.Wakefield, Sarah R. "How Masculinity Plays: Effects of Musicianship in the 1995 Film Adaptation of Sense and Sensibility." Jane Austen Society of North America. 28.1 (2007): n. page. Web. 24 Feb. 2012. <http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol28no1/wakefield.htm>.