Marianne’s Pianoforte

August 6, 2010 at 8:45 am (books) (, , , , , , , )

I am working on an article that features thoughts on Marianne Dashwood’s piano. Jane Austen is QUITE clear: the instrument is moved from Norland to Barton Cottage.

But do the movies and TV adaptations treat this most beloved instrument of a most beloved sister equally?? In the back of my mind I swear there’s at least one adaptation that has the pianoforte arriving as a “gift”. Am I dreaming?

UPDATE (Sunday): The Thompson screenplay does include this scene – very late in the film, once Brandon is “back in her favour” with Marianne (after she has recovered from her life-threatening illness). How could I forget, given that the “photo” of the family, gathered around this instrument, is used on the jacket to Sutherland’s book (see below).

Still blows the theory that Brandon watched Willoughby sing with Marianne. So either there are other versions out there, in which the instrument was Brandon’s gift, or of parties at Barton Park where Willoughby and Marianne duet, that I am thinking of. Alas, the only version of S&S I own is the Thompson version.

(I take the opportunity to include a YouTube clip of Marianne singing the first song, played for her Barton Park audience: Weep No More Sad Fountains. Can’t help but think of young Augusta Smith Wilder in scenes like this. BTW, how attentive Marianne’s audience is here in this film! In Austen’s novel, only Colonel Brandon impresses her because of his behavior; Sir John, for instance, while applauding loudly also talks loudly while she is playing! [Here, unlike the novel, there is no wife to discourage such behavior.] Makes me think of poor Mozart, when he commented about his chattering audience (never mind his chattering-teeth and frozen fingers, thanks to a very cold room), when ‘hired’ to give a private performance. Always, thus, for the performing artist — even in the theater, given the tales of talking and eating at the opera house which are legendary.)

I know what Austen wrote (ie, the instrument was Marianne’s and came from Norland); but what did other screenwriters think to do with the pianoforte?? Happy to read all comments! Thanks,  in advance, for the help.

UPDATE (Tuesday): I was hoping to find a YouTube extract of Brandon’s gift to Marianne — but the one scene that’s close is the scene before the piano gets carried up the hill; so: ends too soon!

Calista in Montreal has mentioned that the 1981 series (starring Irene Richard) simply shows Marianne playing; i.e., nothing is mentioned about the piano, and it certainly is no “gift”. She writes that it is in Episode Two we see for the first time Marianne — with Willoughby — at the piano.

BTW, I’ve switched out the banal DVD jacket photo for this gorgeous one of Kate Winslet at the piano. Just so evocative. Never really noticed how great the stills sometimes are on the Internet Movie Database (



  1. Kelly said,

    Frank Churchill secretly gave a pianoforte to Jane Fairfax in Emma, but I also vaguely remember the situation being borrowed for one of the Sense & Sensibility adaptations with Col. Brandon sending one to Marianne. I’d planned to rewatch the most recent production this weekend and will see if the scene is in that one.

    Greatly enjoy your blog, by the way!

    ~ Kelly

  2. Janeite Kelly said,

    Hi, Kelly! (nice name, by the way…).

    See! we have the same “memories” about this. I have a feeling it is the Thompson — but many base their films on other films rather than the novels, don’t they?

    I was intrigued to *find* this “gifting” in the novel (Willoughby, of course, wants to gift her a horse — which the family clearly cannot afford to keep), as I had this idea of poor Brandon having then to watch as Marianne and Willoughby played and sang together. Then, when I could find NO such scene, I couldn’t help but wonder about this piano. And there it is, right in the early chapters. She may beg to be excused and ask to play the one at Barton Park, but the instrument in Barton Cottage is clearly Maryianne’s own.

    Never really thought about it before, but Austen has a number of pianoforte “scenes” in her novels: as you mention there is Jane Fairfax’s gift in Emma; all things musical are clearly deliniated in S&S thanks to Marianne; Georgiana Darcy is an expert player, while Elizabeth and Mary Bennet are (perhaps?) good enough; Anne Elliot will take her seat at the piano rather than dance. Much food for thought down this avenue.

    Ah, thanks for your kind words about the Blog. Always a surprise to see that people have been reading my little jottings. That said jottings are enjoyed is a greater surprise.


  3. Kelly said,

    I forgot to mention earlier that I rewatched the appropriate bits from both the 1995 and 2008 Sense & Sensibility adaptations to see if there were any gifted pianofortes. There was no mention of the origins of the pianoforte in the 1995 film and the 2008 only had Marianne run her finger through the dust on a pianoforte that seemed to come with the cottage. However, in the 2008 film, Willoughby did give Marianne a horse, so maybe that’s where our confusion arose.


    • Janeite Kelly said,

      The Thompson film (1995) is where Brandon gifts the piano — happens very late in the film (“chapter” 26 [of 28], 2:04:32); you see the workmen carrying the instrument up the hill, then it’s in the window area and Mamma Dashwood is reading aloud his letter: “At last I have found a small enough instrument to fit the parlour… Your Devoted Friend, Christopher Brandon” (the book jacket picture, above, is more of that same scene — as the family members admire the instrument). The scene preceeding this has Brandon telling Marianne he “must away”. Obviously, Thompson borrowed a bit from Emma, and had Brandon go off on a “mystery trip” to London (like Frank Churchill for his haircut!), which actually hid a trip to the local piano-maker’s establishment.

      Calista noticed the same you did: that the Davies (2008) included Willoughby’s offer of a horse (which Elinor persuades Marianne to decline). This is in keeping with the book.


  4. Kelly said,

    Ah, mystery solved! I just didn’t watch through the movie long enough. It’s never been my favorite of the Austen adaptations though, because of all the liberties Thompson took with the story. Pretty to watch though — I love Marianne’s hats!


    • Janeite Kelly said,

      That’s one thing I could do with the DVD — fast forward.

      Ah…., that this version isn’t among your favorites! I have fond memories of this film: I watched it en route home on a plane from Austria.

      My favorite “Marianne Hat” (and, I think, the favorite of many) is in this same “chapter”.

      Do you prefer the 2008 TV (Davies) series? I couldn’t get away from thoughts that a lot seemed borrowed, in answer to, or in imitation of the Ang Lee/Thompson film.

      • Kelly said,

        Sadly, I think that I like the 2008 version even less. Sense & Sensibility was the first Austen book I read when I was a teenager, so it may just be that they have yet to make a film version that matches my youthful romantic memories.

        On the other hand, I’m torn between which Pride & Prejudice adaptation I prefer, because I like them all — including “Lost in Austen.”:)

        Thank you so much for your sweet comment about the picnic! I finally found a picture of us at the dance, but it was when we were the end couple out, so we are just standing and waiting. If I find some better ones though, I’ll be sure to post them.


  5. Marianne’s Square Piano | Two Teens in the Time of Austen said,

    […] adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, specifically asking (and noting) how various films treated Marianne Dashwood’s pianoforte. It has always bothered me that I scoffed at the idea of the piano being moved from Norland Park […]

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