Sense and Sensibility

Chapter Length and Titles in Sense & Sensibility and Villette College

Reading the novels of Defoe alongside those of Austen or Brontë feels very different, even though they wrote less than a century apart. In Austen’s novels, the formal delineation of chapters increases distance in the reading experience that a novel like Moll Flanders discourages. The structures of Sense & Sensibility and Villette admit that a reader might have a life outside of the novel by providing logical places to take a break, leave, and return later while Defoe’s all-consuming biographies deny the reader any realistic, formal clues. Of course, the introduction of chapters to the structure of novels also raises questions about how novels should be read and perhaps even subtly reflects the hand of the author in trying to control the reading experience. In this paper, I explore how two elements of chapters—length and title—affect the reading experience of Sense & Sensibility and Villette by destabilizing the narrative, emphasizing certain textual and formal elements, and adding coherence to these long, detailed stories.

Although the formal qualities of chapter delineations get overlooked in favor of plot or imagery, chapter length could potentially affect the reading experience substantially on a subconscious level....

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