Sense and Sensibility Chapters 13-15

Chapter 13

They were all in high spirits and good humour, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to the greatest inconveniences and hardships rather than be otherwise.

What an upsetting set of three chapters! It is a roller coaster ride of emotion.  Austen, as usual, nails it. The participants for their various reasons, will put on a show, will act “appropriately” in order for social happiness to occur.

Yet, look at what happens. The longed for visit is put off because Col. Brandon has to leave quickly. I found myself rather surprised at how upset I was at his treatment. He was mocked. He was asked to put off his trip. This is a circumspect man, and he doesn’t share things easily, but he made it clear, this was an emergency, and yet people decried him as selfish. I did not like these people.

Marianne and Willoughby refuse to allow their day to be ruined, so they take off, by themselves, away from the crowd. Folks, this is terrible behavior! We later find out they visited a house, the house belonging to someone that Marianne was not introduced to beforehand. This is another rule of social decorum broken.

I think for those who don’t read Austen, she is regarded as someone who is quite proper, yet look at the things mentioned! Illegitimacy, secret engagements, a beautiful young woman celebrating her own choices even against society’s viewpoints…

I find it interesting that all that Mrs. Jennings reported about what happened between Willoughby and Marianne was true…what does that mean? Does that mean she isn’t just a gossip and will say anything? Or is she to be trusted?

This argument between the sisters is, I think, really important:

“I am afraid,” replied Elinor, “that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”

“On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.”

“But, my dear Marianne, as it has already exposed you to some very impertinent remarks, do you not now begin to doubt the discretion of your own conduct?”

“If the impertinent remarks of Mrs. Jennings are to be the proof of impropriety in conduct, we are all offending every moment of our lives. I value not her censure any more than I should do her commendation. I am not sensible of having done anything wrong in walking over Mrs. Smith’s grounds, or in seeing her house. They will one day be Mr. Willoughby’s, and—”

“If they were one day to be your own, Marianne, you would not be justified in what you have done.”

What say you?

Chapter 14

So currently, Willoughby’s allowance is about $70,000 a year in 2020. He does not work for this money. He gets to do with it what he will, and he frequently pleads poverty.  So far in this novel, we have several people with money issues. (Yes, I am making a huge understatement.)

Willoughby’s love of the cottage—his heart is with this family…

Are Willoughy and Marianne engaged?

Does it matter if it is unstated if everyone believes it to be so?

Chapter 15

Whoa!

Quel change!

Willoughby is leaving. Remember when Colonel Brandon and much was made of his leaving, even the rudeness of his doing so? Note that Willoughby is not treated in such a rough manner. I found that interesting, and it has to be deliberate on Austen’s part, in the sense that the two incidents are so close together. Another example of foiling, and clearly something I need to do in my novel.

Not only is Willoughby leaving, and not explaining the reason, but he is going away for a year!

Wow!

He leaves with these his last words:

He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished to speak, and another pause succeeded. This was broken by Willoughby, who said with a faint smile, “It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy.”

Why is it impossible to enjoy their society? Is it simply because he is now leaving? Hmmm.

Marianne is understandably distraught.

But whatever might be the particulars of their separation, her sister’s affliction was indubitable; and she thought with the tenderest compassion of that violent sorrow which Marianne was in all probability not merely giving way to as a relief, but feeding and encouraging as a duty.

This is Marianne’s work that she has been preparing for. That comes off as mean. I think that Marianne is devastated, and I feel sorry for her.

This exchange between Elinor and her mother is amazing, and I want to memorize Elinor’s comment.

You will tell me, I know, that this may or may NOT have happened; but I will listen to no cavil, unless you can point out any other method of understanding the affair as satisfactory at this. And now, Elinor, what have you to say?”

“Nothing, for you have anticipated my answer.”

Of course, her mother could not grasp Elinor’s view and nor did she want to.

What a powerful chapter.

What is going on with Willoughby? Are Marianne and Willoughby engaged or were they ever? Who is right? Mom or Elinor?

I love these chapters.

Sense and Sensibility Chapters 10-12

Does anyone else feel as though these chapters are discordant? I am not even sure what I mean by that, but they have a different flow. I felt as if I were getting different set pieces rather than a story. This isn’t meant as a complaint—just an observation.

Ch. 10

Willoughby’s observation of the Dashwoods was lovely:

He was received by Mrs. Dashwood with more than politeness; with a kindness which Sir John’s account of him and her own gratitude prompted; and every thing that passed during the visit tended to assure him of the sense, elegance, mutual affection, and domestic comfort of the family to whom accident had now introduced him

This truly is a congenial family. I do wonder how people would describe my biological family. I think it would be different. One friend used the word “terrifying” as one adjective. 😉

It is interesting the Austen isn’t much for physical description.  It is common in Austen that one’s nature is described and scaffolded first for for her, it is more important. We are seeing the female protagonists described for the first time in Chapter 10. And just like in Northanger Abbey, while attractiveness is desirable, beauty is rare, and in this novel, I would argue, problematic.

So what do we actually know of Willoughby after this chapter? Is Marianne right? Is he perfect?

Austen offers another masterclass in knowing one’s characters:

In Mrs. Dashwood’s estimation he was as faultless as in Marianne’s; and Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly delighted her sister, of saying too much what he thought on every occasion, without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, and in slighting too easily the forms of worldly propriety, he displayed a want of caution which Elinor could not approve, in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.

Each woman is true to her nature, and we completely understand and know how they feel about Willoughby. We further are not surprised to learn that:

Her mother too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised, by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it; and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Edward and Willoughby.

In one week all of this has happened! We are part of two completely different stories here. Elinor, the sort of pragmatist, and Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne, the impetuous romantics. Whose story will win?

I do not entirely understand the cruelty about Col. Brandon. Yes, we have the impestuouness of youth. They are young and in love, and people who are 35 who have cares and are not passionate about life are to be pitied, apparently. Got it. But, Brandon has done nothing to these people. Is Willoughby jealous? Does he spot that Brandon cares for Marianne? I don’t believe Willoughby sees and understands other people. And Marianne is not Isabella (we seem to agree on this.) She doesn’t seem to be a mean girl/person, but here she kind of is. Is this just throwing everything to the wind as she engages fully in feelings for Willoughby so everything is up for grabs? Someone help me with this. I don’t like this side of her.

Chapter 11

Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at all times, was an illustration of their opinions.

Someone of Marianne’s disposition would scoff at Elinor and consider her a stick in the mud, but there are perils to this type of behavior. Like what? Well, maybe in expressing negative opinions about others who have done nothing wrong, like of Col. Brandon in the previous chapter. But of course, I mean something more than that. Or, is this just part of the frumpery of the age that is unfortunate, and aren’t we glad we live in a time when people can express how they feel?

There is one way that I admire Marianne, and that is that her conversation is never insipid. Elinor, being a woman of civility, has boring conversations with her new acquaintances on a daily basis. I’m guessing staying home and reading a good book would not be acceptable. Great—let’s go to the Park again and hear Mrs. Jenning’s stories for a fifth and sixth time, and let’s hear nearly zero from Lady Middleton except encomiums on her terrible children. This bolsters her enjoyment of Brandon’s conversation. I am having trouble though entangling the following paragraph. I get the gist of it, but I find some of it confusing:

In Colonel Brandon alone, of all her new acquaintance, did Elinor find a person who could in any degree claim the respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship, or give pleasure as a companion. Willoughby was out of the question. Her admiration and regard, even her sisterly regard, was all his own; but he was a lover; his attentions were wholly Marianne’s, and a far less agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing. Colonel Brandon, unfortunately for himself, had no such encouragement to think only of Marianne, and in conversing with Elinor he found the greatest consolation for the indifference of her sister.

Col. Brandon has a secret.

Chapter 12

The whole horse incident is so perfect for showing us Marianne. She accepts the horse completely. It is perfect. It is romantic. She will get to ride along the downs, and it is a gift from her lover.

It is Elinor, as usual, who has to point out reality like, we aren’t rich, we can’t afford to build a stable and hire a new servant. Wake up, Marianne!

I was annoyed that Marianne didn’t instantly grasp this and suggested, among other not so nice ideas, that the horse could just use a shed (not caring for the horse’s comfort) and that mom could bear the cost of the servant meaning less comfort for everyone from less money.

But, before I could harden my heart completely against selfish Marianne, she wakes up out of her romantic dream and understands this will not do. Good job, Marianne. To her credit, it didn’t take long or much convincing.

This chapter, everyone, is about sex. My notes tell me that the horse that Marianne now owns, despite it being continued to be housed by Willoughby, is named Queen Mab. The Fairy Queen Mab sent sexual fantasies was said to encourage romantic love. Hmmm.

Adding to this notion, Willoughby uses Marianne’s Christian name, something that men only did when engaged.

Margaret, whom we rarely hear from (does anyone else find this odd?) witnesses an important moment in the parlour when Willoughby takes a lock of Marianne’s hair. Sure, this sounds simple enough, but the implication is huge and I urge you to take a look at Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.”

Surveillance culture continues with a very difficult scene of Mrs. Jennings and Sir John engaging in raillery against (and I use that word deliberately) Elinor as they try to get Margaret to spill who Elinor is in love with. They think they are being fun and jolly, but this causes Elinor pain. First, she is a rule follower. It is indecorous to be open about romantic attachments, especially when nothing has been promised. It’s emotionally dangerous, for one thing. Marianne is the passionate one, but I think Elinor’s feelings are quite deep, maybe even deeper than Marianne’s. Not being open about such things does not make one less of a feeling person.

Second, as of Chapter 12, we are in the dark about Edward, and I think we are to believe, so is Elinor. I don’t think she has heard anything from him since she left. No letter, message, or visit. I think she is feeling pretty hurt and possibly confused. Mrs. Jennings and Sir John do not mean to be unkind. They aren’t malicious, but what they are doing is no less painful.

And then there is discussion about a visit away. Such a shift!

Sense and Sensibility Chapters 7-9

Chapter 7

Austen knows how to concisely describe her characters. What is amazing is how fair she is. Some of her descriptions are cutting, but other characters, though they have their flaws, can still be regarded as amiable.

For example, I love this description of the Middletons:

They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass. Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Lady Middleton had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while Sir John’s independent employments were in existence only half the time. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education; supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good breeding of his wife.

In Sir John’s case, we find him somewhat vapid and ill-educated, but we also discover he is kind and generous. His wife on the other hand…

Am I being unfair? Have I overlooked qualities in Lady M that need to be pointed out?

I also need to comment on “moonlight.” This came up in Northanger Abbey, and I said nothing, and I deeply regret that now.  My notes say that moonlight was significant at the time because of course there was no overhead, outdoor lighting, so people actually did plan around the full moon because it meant they could safely travel at night. I love that.

This chapter shows us what entertainment was possible for the gentry, and highlights Marianne’s gifts as a singer and musician. Austen once again shows her genius as a satirist. All these classy, well-bred people talk about how great and important music is all the while talking through Marianne’s performance. We also learn of how the other women had learned to play and sing and perform but gave these things up once they got married. Marianne, naturally, does everything with full heart in contrast with these people who allegedly love particular things, but do they really?

Finally, I have to say something about Colonel Brandon and age. It really isn’t until the 20th century that women over 40 were not considered near death. Marianne deeply appreciates Colonel Brandon’s attention to her performance, but at the same time, he is a man of 35, which makes him decrepit, yet “she was perfection disposed to make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required.”

Wow. I have so much else I want to say about this but have prattled on too long. Anyone else have a thought about age? I’m 57 and it is too hot out to find an ice floe. I promise to begin looking in December.

Chapter 8

The war against age continues as Marianne defends her position in calling the Colonel old and infirm. I almost pasted some of Marianne’s further aspersions about the Colonel’s decreptitude (is that a word? If not, I’ve deemed it such) but instead, I want to talk about Austen and marriage.

All of her books are about marriage, and this is important. Many people see these as Romance writ large, and I would disagree with them. Examine the marriages that take place in Austen. Examine the engagements and secret engagements and who falls in love with whom. These are not Harlequin romances. Every couple does not end happily. Austen depicts a lot of unhappy, even terrible relationships and marriage. And why does she do that? Because marriage was very important.

In her day, only the very wealthy could get divorced, and that was only by an act of Parliament, and only the husband could ask for the divorce and only if the wife had been unfaithful. So, in other words, you married for life.

Next, no matter what class you were, women were at a distinct disadvantage. Working class women, in one respect, had it better in that they could earn an income, but even in their case, men legally controlled a women’s earnings. In the case of the newly emerging middle class (which really is a new thing in the late 18th century and Austen is writing in the beginning of the 19th) and the gentry, the upper middle class, all finances were controlled by the men, fathers/husbands/sons, and in the cases of these “wealthy” families, women couldn’t work.  This is why you will read stories about gentry who are deeply poor. It sounds like a contradiction, but it was actually pretty common. If fortune is passed down through men, and only men could inherit such things as what happens to the Henry Dashwoods occur. They lose their home (it goes to the son) and though he has promised to take care of this second family, you can see by law he can do as he wishes. (By the way, the Henry Dashwoods are not poor—they just aren’t particularly well off. It was not uncommon for people, and by that, I mean women, to live as children in a middle/upper middle class home, but in middle-age to have all the money gone. They might still have the land or the house but no income and no means to make more money…and then we get into women teaching music or china painting or tatting, acceptable ways to occupy time, and a means for receiving basically charity).

The problem for the Henry Dashwoods is that marriage was gradually becoming something one did for love, but it still had its material aspect. So, romantic marriages were becoming more normalized, but in general, even with great feeling behind an attachment, most marriages didn’t come off if there wasn’t also family money and a dowry unless one side was really wealthy and could forgo it. Again, keep in mind that women of certain classes were in a sense forbidden from working, so marriage becomes the way to maintain one’s class.

Austen’s novels have this as a major component. This is why marriage is so important in her books—not the sweet Harlequin ideal, but rather hard reality.

I mention all of this because when we look at Catherine and Tilney in Northanger Abbey and the anger of the General, and we look at Isabella’s machinations, maybe it is a bit clearer now what was going on. And look at the marriage of the Middletons who have nothing in common. And note how Elinor is with Edward in contrast with Marianne’s view of romance. Elinor is restrained and quiet and rarely shares how she feels for Edward. Marianne, on the other hand, has definite views as to how a woman is to be with the man she loves, and if someone doesn’t behave that way, she must be deficient and the relationship doesn’t rate.

I will have more to say on this later—I just think it is very important for us to realize that when it comes to marriage, there is a steely-eyed viewpoint from Austen that is earned. Austen is extremely pragmatic, and she is very sympathetic with women who are put in hard positions of sometimes having to make the hard decision of marry for love or marry for money and position.

Chapter 9

And what of Marianne’s spill down the hill, the twisting of the ankle in a rain storm, the beautiful man who finds her and carries her into the house?

Keep in mind especially during the Regency era, unless they were dancing, men and women didn’t touch each other. To be carried, held against a man’s chest—whew! Huge deal.

What do you make of Willoughby? And please be mindful of spoilers if you have read this before. He certainly seems to fit right in the romance novelist’s dream.

My favorite part though is when Marianne attemtps to find out more about Willoughby from Sir John. Austen shows us their character’s viewpoints so well—they talk right past each other because what they value differs so greatly.

And what sort of a young man is he?

As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.

And is that all you can say for him?” cried Marianne, indignantly. “But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents, and genius?”

Sir John was rather puzzled.

Upon my soul,” said he, “I do not know much about him as to all THAT. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?

Of course, what Marianne needs to know is what Willoughby thinks about music and drawing and painting and poetry and walks and romance. Is he passionate? Is he driven? This is what matters.

What matters to you, dear reader?

Sense and Sensibility Chapters 4-6

Ch. 4

In the exchange between the sisters about Elinor’s feelings for Edward, I couldn’t help but think of adolescent girls in the 21st century and what their argument would look like. I’ll be it would be different.

“You love him!”

“No, I don’t. I’m not certain I even like him!”

“Liar! You LOOOOOOOOve him!”

“Well, he sure is sweet, and I think he’s cute and….”

“You love him! I’m telling!”

Or something like that.

Elinor is temperate. Marianne is passionate. More than that, in not being passionate, Elinor is lying, in Marianne’s opinion. Elinor regrets exposing her feelings  even as much as she has.

Elinor started at this declaration, and was sorry for the warmth she had been betrayed into, in speaking of him. She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion. She believed the regard to be mutual; but she required greater certainty of it to make Marianne’s conviction of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next—that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. 

As we discussed with Northanger Abbey, romance, engagements, possible marriage were issues not to be joked about or alluded to. They were deadly serious. Elinor knows her sister and her mother. Elinor is temperate and prudent; her mother and sister are not.

To make things worse and more uncomfortable for everyone, to the point that the Henry Dashwoods finally leave what has been their home for over a decade, it is clear that Fanny Dashwood does not approve of Edward’s interest in Elinor, or rather, as she perceives it, Elinor’s reeling in Edward against his better judgment.

Is Elinor right to be circumspect?

Ch. 5

Fanny Dashwood continues to be appallingly amazing with her thought that since the Henry Dashwoods are so poor, what need do they have for lovely furniture and plate? Poor people don’t need nice things. This is not Fanny being cruel—it is her being logical. Rich people have the surroundings for lovely things that poor people lack.

John Dashwood is also impressive here:

Now was the time when her son-in-law’s promise to his father might with particular propriety be fulfilled. Since he had neglected to do it on first coming to the estate, their quitting his house might be looked on as the most suitable period for its accomplishment. But Mrs. Dashwood began shortly to give over every hope of the kind, and to be convinced, from the general drift of his discourse, that his assistance extended no farther than their maintenance for six months at Norland. He so frequently talked of the increasing expenses of housekeeping, and of the perpetual demands upon his purse, which a man of any consequence in the world was beyond calculation exposed to, that he seemed rather to stand in need of more money himself than to have any design of giving money away.

It really is disappointing that Mrs. Henry Dashwood did not give aid to John financially. Such poor manners on her part.

An interesting note in my text about servants discusses how gentry, even those who didn’t have much money, had servants, and three servants was the bare minimum. Servant salary was really low at the time of this novel—about 6-10 pounds a year for a maid. This would be equivalent to about $1000 today. If the servant lived in, the servant would also receive bed and board and uniforms making this salary so worth the work.

Class is key in Austen, especially in terms of money. For more information on what it meant to be gentry, here is a link with great information: https://www.chipublib.org/historical-context-of-pride-and-prejudice/

One final note: we see that Marianne continues in a theatrical vein at the end of this chapter. She does remind me of Isabella in the need to exclaim her feelings so often.

Does anyone else see this?

Chapter 6

I, for one, am glad that they removed from their old home and have entered the cottage. Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Henry Dashwood’s cousin, is a much kinder and more amiable person. I so appreciated his welcome—sending fruits and vegetable and game to them.  The difference with John Dashwood is so great.

His pressing them to eat at the park every day was a little much, but again, it was meant kindly. Or was it?!!!

I loved that while Lady Middleton is beautiful and poised, she is not particularly as open as her husband, and that had she not brought her son with her, there would have been no conversation.

Conversation however was not wanted, for Sir John was very chatty, and Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their eldest child, a fine little boy about six years old, by which means there was one subject always to be recurred to by the ladies in case of extremity, for they had to enquire his name and age, admire his beauty, and ask him questions which his mother answered for him, while he hung about her and held down his head, to the great surprise of her ladyship, who wondered at his being so shy before company, as he could make noise enough at home. On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of the others.

I find that dogs and cats can also do for this. Or, don’t have social gatherings at all, and then one doesn’t have to come up with any kind of conversation. I personally hate small talk and am quite poor at such social discourse. I think that Jane Austen nails this.

So, what do you think so far?

Sense and Sensibility Chapters 1-3

In the first few paragraphs, Austen establishes that this will be a novel about love and marriage, and more importantly, maybe, about property and money, and who should have it.

We know immediately how Austen feels about a few of her characters. She is quick to point out the people rarely behave rationally. What did you make of how the elderly gentleman was lovingly cared for by Henry Dashwood and his family, yet still left most of his estate to a young boy of 3 despite the fact that he was already very well provided for?

When terrible things happen, and before Mr. Henry Dashwood dies at a comparatively young age (possibly early 40s) he calls upon his son to take care of his wife and three daughters.

Austen says this about John Dashwood:

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:—he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself;—more narrow-minded and selfish.

So, John gave his promise, but we have been warned.

It has been made clear what is to be expected from the men in the family, but what do you make of the women?

Who do you find interesting and appealing?

Chapter 2

Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood do not disappoint. They are grasping and cold and so rational, from their perspective.

According to my note from the annotated text, this is even worse than it sounds for John Dashwood’s yearly income is about 10,000 pounds, which makes him “near to fabulously wealthy.  At the time, only 3-400 families had incomes of over that.”

These are people with a tremendous amount of money. The offering of an additional 3000 pounds to his sisters would be a drop in the bucket, but they end the chapter by deciding to give nothing. They even are upset at the china the women will be taking with them. Mrs. John Dashwood’s comment “Your father thought only of them” is breathtaking.

So the sisters, who were to be protected by their brother, are to get close to nothing.

Would you agree that Austen has trouble with the distribution of wealth?

Is Mrs. John Dashwood going to be the Big Bad of the novel?

Chapter 3

We learn more about Mrs. Henry Dashwood and Marianne. Mrs. Dashwood has turbulent emotions and belongs in a romantic novel. Her daughter Elinor has established a relatinship with Edward, Mrs. John Dashwood’s brother. It is a quiet relationship, but upon a chance compliment of Elinor’s, Mrs. Henry Dashwood has now decided that they will be married anytime. Perhaps this is too quick?

What do you not of Marianne’s comments on Edward? Note that Marianne sees herself as superior to her sister in her feelings. Elinor is controlled and admires a man who also has his feelings under control. Marianne is fiery and passionate.

“Perhaps,” said Marianne, “I may consider it with some surprise. Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly. But yet—he is not the kind of young man—there is something wanting—his figure is not striking; it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. And besides all this, I am afraid, Mama, he has no real taste. Music seems scarcely to attract him, and though he admires Elinor’s drawings very much, it is not the admiration of a person who can understand their worth. It is evident, in spite of his frequent attention to her while she draws, that in fact he knows nothing of the matter. He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. Oh! mama, how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!”

If we take Marianne at her word, which sister has the healthier view of relationships and romance?

Perhaps it is too early to tell.

What do you think?

And what do you think of this novel’s opening as compared to Northanger Abbey? What do think will be the issues/problems/conflicts?

I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Welcome to Sense and Sensibility!!!

“Jane Austen? I feel I am approaching dangerous ground. The reputation of Jane Austen is surrounded by cohorts of defenders who are ready to do murder for their sacred cause.” Arnold Bennett, 1927, Literary Critic 

If you are someone who loves Austen, welcome. We are excited to hear your commentary!

If you are someone who has never read Austen, but maybe you’ve seen the movies, and you want to know what all the fuss is about, welcome! At some point, we need to talk about the novels vs. the movies. I will make what might be an astounding claim right now: I have never seen a movie based on an Austen novel. (Don’t fight me on this yet—we can discuss later. 😉

If you have tried to read Austen in the past, and it just didn’t work for you, I’m hoping you’ll give Sense and Sensibility a chance. It is filled with social commentary and wit, terrific family dynamics—especially the relationship between sisters, and wonderful romance. As with all Austen novels, we have at least two villains, and they will promote a lot of discussion.

I love Austen’s style of writing, but it might take awhile for you to adjust. That’s fine. Please point out sentences you don’t quite get, and we’ll jump in and help. Also, Austen can be outright and sharply funny, but she also often writes in a very nuanced fashion. When you first begin to read her, you might find that you are missing things. So please, if you think you are missing something, share. And those of you who notice an interesting nuance, please point it out. Every time I read Austen, I find new points to consider. This delights me. I see her work as being quite rich.

What is happening this week:

  • We will discuss the first three chapters beginning at noon, Monday, June 1.
  • Our plan is to read 3 chapters a day, every day.
  • Before noon tomorrow,  I will post some thoughts about the initial chapters, which you can use or ignore as you wish.
  • For those of you interested in commentary on Northanger Abbey, that is still available and will be forever on the blog. I am notified every time there is a post, so if you feel like a conversation about any of the chapters, please post, and I’ll respond within 24 hours.
  • For people in Cleveland, if you don’t have a copy of the book, it is available as an ebook from Cleveland Public Library. You could also order it from Mac’s Backs or Loganberry Books.
  • If you are outside of Cleveland, like say, in Texas, how about supporting your independent bookstore by ordering from Bookshop?
  • Sense and Sensibility is also available free through the Gutenberg Project online.
  • Please don’t give away any spoilers—stick with the three chapters for the particular day or what has come before.
  • Thank you so much for being a part of this. Thinking about reading Austen right now makes me feel giddy and grounded, and in these times, that is something that I need.

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapter 16

Northanger Abbey comes to a sweet, if somewhat abrupt end.

I love that Catherine’s parents are surprised for about three minutes about the engagement, “but as nothing, after all, could be more natural than Catherine’s being beloved, they soon learnt to consider it with only the happy agitation of gratified pride, and, as far as they alone were concerned, had not a single objection to start.”

Such lovely parents.

I also appreciate their embracing of Henry.

His pleasing manners and good sense were self-evident recommendations; and having never heard evil of him, it was not their way to suppose any evil could be told. Goodwill supplying the place of experience, his character needed no attestation.

I really appreciate how pragmatic and kind these people are. They don’t judge, and they don’t wildly speculate. They trust people.

Of course, the elephant in the room, is the General. The Morlands are so happy at this possible marriage, but rules are rules, and if the General doesn’t approve, well…

The parents handling of the clandestine correspondence between Catherine and Henry is also wonderful. Writing letters was certainly a common practice, but it was frowned upon between unmarried people of the opposite sex. So, rules can be bent.

How marvelous that Eleanor escapes her father’s house and goes into the arms of a man she loves. One commentator explains that what likely happened is her new husband was the younger son in a titled family, meaning, he very likely had very little money and didn’t feel he could wed. What probably happened is that the elder son and heir died without male issue, so younger brother gets the money and the title.

By mentioning the papers that Catherine had found in her misadventure and suggesting these were the Viscount’s, Austen is parodying other writers of the time by trying to tie up loose ends. I wish she’d also told us about Isabella and John and Fred—I’d like to know how they fared. In later novels, Austen will tell us the fates of other characters.

Her final words, seeming to praise the General for helping aid the developing relationship between Catherine and Tilney, is parody as well. Many novels at the time would end with a moral message. It is probably safe to say that Austen does not think that the General is a good man or parent. So please do not go and tyrannize your children and then lay the blame at Austen’s door.

I love this novel. And once again, I feel as though it ended too soon! Really! In the back of my mind, I thought she did speak of Fred and Isabella again. I find that so amusing. But, I am so pleased that Henry and Catherine are together. I think they will have a happy life.

Let me know what you think of this ending and this novel as a whole.

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 13-15

Chapter 13

“A loss may sometimes be a gain,” is a great statement. How much joy and felicity in the loss of the General. Oy.

So much happiness, and then a carriage comes—it must be Fred. I was so curious to see what would happen. I enjoyed Catherine’s thoughts as she wondered how to talk to him and what might happen, and then, instead, there was the bizarre sound outside Catherine’s door.

I was confused by this as well. I thought, are we returning to the Gothic with a strange hand manipulating the lock?

No, what happened is much worse, in my opinion.

The General kicking her out of the house and sending her away without a servant.  This is really terrible. Women weren’t supposed to travel without a male companion because it was considered dangerous. Add to this her youth and never having done this before, and it was a trip in an open carriage for 11 hours. That’s a lot.

Eleanor’s statement, said in total regret and abasement, “my real power is nothing.” She is a woman of means, yet in complete control of her father. She can’t even help her friend and is devastated by this.

Thank God for Eleanor asking about the money. Catherine doesn’t have any. Catherine would have been responsible at each post of the journey to pay for the feeding of the horses and at some point the renting of new horses. What would have happened if she’d suddenly realized she had no money to pay? She would have been truly stuck. This is horrible what the General has done to her.

Ch. 14

I love that there was no problem on the journey.

I love that the family was eager to see her and immediately took her side, but also didn’t dwell on it. Mrs. Morland’s reasonableness is wonderful, though it is sad to me that Mrs. Morland doesn’t understand the extent of the emotional damage done to her daughter.

Catherine has been changed by this whole 11 week time away. Mrs. Morland refers to her as, while living with the family initially, as shatterbrained, which means giddy, and thoughtless (perhaps an adjective we could apply to Donald Trump though it sounds like a kind of sweet word, so maybe not). This is not the Catherine we have come to know. These 11 weeks have changed her amazingly.

I do really appreciate though Mrs. Morland’s pragmatic attitude. She is sad for James but also glad such a bad match didn’t come off. She is mad at the General for putting Catherine in such a bad position, as both a parent and a host, but she also thinks this was good for Catherine, a test of her character and wits.

I love Catherine’s defense of her friends, though her parents remarks are not unreasonable. Also, since the General disapproves of Catherine, Catherine and Eleanor are not allowed to remain friends. This is the nature of the disturbance around Henry—how will he react?

Ch. 15

Mrs. Moreland thinks reading a conduct article will help Catherine. Boo to this, not really understanding her daughter’s problem, but I did find it amusing. When she sees Henry in the living room with her daughter: “Gladly did she set aside The Mirror for a future time.” 😉  Seeing her daughter’s happy face, Mrs. Moreland begins to get it.

Henry is breaking all the rules. First, he visits Catherine. Second, he fights with his father. Third, he asks for Catherine’s hand (against his father’s wishes) and he does so without telling Catherine ahead of time that his father is against this. That is huge, for Catherine would have been under obligation to refuse. That’s a serious social proticol there.

I love that ask to see the Allens and the stupid sibling saying look see and pointing at the Allen house, as obnoxious and clueless siblings do. Mrs. Moreland, continuing to illustrate why I love her thinks it is a great idea for them to go off alone to pay their respects.

Austen’s explanation of how Henry came to love Catherine is both anti-romantic and beautiful at the same time. What to you think?

Henry is a hero. His standing up to his father and marrying the woman of much less property and wealth, with the possibility of no income from his own father, again, is huge.

I love this comment from the annotated text:

One of Jane Austen’s main goals—and achievements—as a novelist is to show the virtues and vices of ordinary life, and to demonstrate that the consequences of either, and the struggles between them, can have as great a moral significance as the more extreme consequences and conflicts that other novelists present.

I agree with Austen. The little things that people do, sometimes without a thought, can be catastrophic to others. Thoughtlessness and selfishness are responsible for so much unhappiness and so much of that is completely unnecessary.

The General may not have murdered his wife or kept her as prisoner, but he is a terrible villain.

Is Henry a hero? Is the General a villain? Who is most at fault, who is the worst, in the novel?

Only 2 chapters left….

Northanger Abbey Volume 2 Chapters 10-12

Chapter 10

The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened.

What a great opening.

We find that Catherine hates herself. She has ruined everything forever. Nothing was to be done. All was finished.

One would expect that this would go on for days and poison the rest of her life. In fact, it last about ½ hour, and within a few more hours, Henry, by his kindness, has made everything better. I love Henry.

And I love that Catherine is able to let this go and be happy. Her mind made up on these several points, and her resolution formed, of always judging and acting in future with the greatest good sense, she had nothing to do but to forgive herself and be happier than ever; and the lenient hand of time did much for her by insensible gradations in the course of another day.

She is so healthy! I so want to be more like Catherine.

The letter from James is so sad to Catherine. It pains her to see her brother so upset, but she has also lost a friend. She begins to doubt all that has come before.

Yet, even while unhappy with Fred Tilney, Catherine recognizes that nobody is wholly good or wholly bad. This is another Austen theme, that no one is 100% pure or 100% evil, except for Donald Trump. She was so prescient.

I love that Catherine can’t completely renounce Isabella. Surely, if she marries Fred, she will be constant. Henry’s response is of course, priceless:

“But perhaps,” observed Catherine, “though she has behaved so ill by our family, she may behave better by yours. Now she has really got the man she likes, she may be constant.”

“Indeed I am afraid she will,” replied Henry; “I am afraid she will be very constant, unless a baronet should come in her way; that is Frederick’s only chance. I will get the Bath paper, and look over the arrivals.”

Chapter 11

From this time, the subject was frequently canvassed by the three young people; and Catherine found, with some surprise, that her two young friends were perfectly agreed in considering Isabella’s want of consequence and fortune as likely to throw great difficulties in the way of her marrying their brother. Their persuasion that the general would, upon this ground alone, independent of the objection that might be raised against her character, oppose the connection, turned her feelings moreover with some alarm towards herself. She was as insignificant, and perhaps as portionless, as Isabella; and if the heir of the Tilney property had not grandeur and wealth enough in himself, at what point of interest were the demands of his younger brother to rest? 

I once again bow to Austen. I’d forgotten this, that she does such a great job foiling Catherine and Isabella here. If Isabella’s fortune is so small the General will not approve, then Catherine won’t be approved either. Tension as Catherine remembers all the times that the General has mentioned money. But surely…

Catherine wants Henry to warn the General of this engagement and the part that Fred played in ruining James’ chances. Catherine is worried about all the duplicity. But I like that Henry will not bring tales to the General, and that he believes his brother must tell his story. Catherine, of course, is right to believe that Fred will lie; and Henry is right to suggest, that doesn’t matter. Bascially the whole family has Fred’s number. Even telling a piece of the story will suffice. Austen knows her characters so well.

The whole situation with the General telling Henry to go while not to go is terrific. The General, while a bully, is also passive-aggressive at the same time. So frustrating. I love this response from a confused Catherine:

He went; and, it being at any time a much simpler operation to Catherine to doubt her own judgment than Henry’s, she was very soon obliged to give him credit for being right, however disagreeable to her his going. But the inexplicability of the general’s conduct dwelt much on her thoughts. That he was very particular in his eating, she had, by her own unassisted observation, already discovered; but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? Who but Henry could have been aware of what his father was at?

It is all very Alice in Wonderland to me. I also find people like this quite disconcerting. Illogic bugs me too.

One final deeply important comment upon Henry. His friends are a Newfoundland dog and several Terrier puppies. Please do not mention hunting, for I have head cannoned that he gives hunting up and takes it up no more. In my annotated text, I learned that Newfoundlands are, not surprisingly, from Canada, and they were new at the time of the novel.

Interesting additional fact from my edition, is that attached to parishes were glebe lands. These were for farming purposes and the minister could do whatever he wanted with the lands. Some ministers, like Catherine’s father, turned their hand at making orchards, building greenhouses, and planting crops and gardens. Any monies that came from these belonged to the minister. For many ministers, this was their chief source of income, and such seems to be the case with Catherine’s father.

Chapter 12

Serious question:

Is Isabella really so stupid, or so unselfaware? Or does she think Catherine is, or all three?

Catherine has been so badly used, and for Isabella to continue to push is audacious!

Second serious question:

Catherine finally, truly sees Isabella. She still is struggling to assess others. This exchange with Henry over Fred Tilney’s responsibility is really interesting to me, and I don’t understand completely Henry’s response. I do get the explanation that follows it, but this initial statement is almost Greek to me. Someone help me!

“There is but one thing that I cannot understand. I see that she has had designs on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understand what Captain Tilney has been about all this time. Why should he pay her such attentions as to make her quarrel with my brother, and then fly off himself?”

“I have very little to say for Frederick’s motives, such as I believe them to have been. He has his vanities as well as Miss Thorpe, and the chief difference is, that, having a stronger head, they have not yet injured himself. If the effect of his behaviour does not justify him with you, we had better not seek after the cause.”

Finally, Catherine shows how far she has come when she says “there is not great harm done [in Fred ending the relationship] because I do not think Isabella has any heart to lose.”

Wow.  All of this in less than a month (I think). It’s a lot.

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 7-9

Chapter 7

I love how during the storm, all is mystery, but during the light of day, it is all simple and clear. Also, it is funny to me that she blames Henry for being so fearful the night before.

Henry teases Catherine about her new found love of flowers and suggests that that will draw her outside. This is meant ironically. He knows Catherine’s love the outdoors. He is parroting conduct books.  I’m realizing during this Austen project that I’m doubly lucky, having studied history and English, so I know some cool stuff!

😉

Conduct books had been around forever (not the historical term) and were also popular in the medieval era, but for women, conduct books were key to basically surveilling every aspect of a woman’s life. They hit their high point in the 18th century, but  persisted through the 19th century. Conduct books were rules for women that controlled their behavior.  A famous example is from a poem called “The Angel in the House,” which became  a goal for women to reach toward.  Many conduct books explained to young girls and women how to reach this peak of perfection and included advice such as upon waking the first thought should be for the husband. What can I do to help him have a good day? Next, the children. Next, the servants. Next, extended family. Next, the neighbors. And so on. Please note that the needs of the woman are last, if considered at all. She is exerted to not go to bed if even one person’s needs have not been dealt with, for she is to be an Angel to all.

Jane Austen, you might be stunned to know, did not like conduct manuals. People who believe in such stifling rules are not treated well, and thus, Henry mocks these rules throughout the novel, including in this chapter.

….

I was interested to see that according to my annotated edition, the Army was considered the most prestigious profession. It is interesting that Tilney is a General, and though he is very wealthy, and neither of his sons needs to work, they both are in professions.

Catherine does not like General Tilney, and we have a further comment that once he leaves, everyone breathes easier. That’s terribly sad.

Chapter 8

What do you make of the General and the pride in his house?

I find it interesting (clearly, I find a lot of things interesting) that he is most proud of the quarters he provides for his servants. Here is where I am torn. This is actually a really good thing. His servants are treated very well (except by his great impatience.)  Catherine’s thought that 2 servants at her house do so much work as compared to the multitudes of people at the General’s house. But the quarters he provides for his people really are to be admired. He is doing right by them, and he is rightly proud. But I still think he’s a jerk.

I do not like how he treats anyone, and rank is way too important to him.

Does anyone else believe, as Catherine does, that Mrs. Tilney is locked away somewhere on the estate?

Chapter 9

Catherine has this obsession to find out the truth about her Gothic fantasies. And when we learn that the General is away outside and Eleanor is taking Catherine to the room her mother died in, and is obviously upset about this, Catherine perseveres, ignoring the possible distress she is causing to her friend. This was the second time I got deeply annoyed with Catherine. I don’t think she treats Eleanor very well. This makes four times she operates against her. (I’m thinking of the Thorpes in Bath, so not really Catherine’s fault, but one too many times there). Anyone else feel this way? Am I being unfair to Catherine?

When time passes and Catherine must know what is going on, she takes advantage of time off from social interaction and visits on her own the rooms she has in effect been warned against visiting. Oh, Catherine.  I love the line: “It was no time for thought…” no, it wasn’t. It was no time for possible negative consequences to Eleanor or the anger of the General, or, as we see, running into Henry. Catherine didn’t think.

Henry’s comments are strong, but I don’t feel he was unjust. This is the point. He does understand Catherine. He does know what she was thinking. Remember, Catherine wondered if the General had murdered his wife or imprisoned her. Imagine being Henry, finding this woman in the bedroom where he saw his mother die and knowing the types of thoughts she had. Wow.

One other thing I’d like to add: Henry’s commentary on how now in modern Christian England, bad things don’t happen, or at least not bad things like in Gothic novels. This becomes interesting.

I would love to hear what you think.   

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