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.

6 thoughts on “Sense and Sensibility Chapters 1-3”

  1. Hello!
    I hadn’t realised how rich John Dashwood really was. Makes their selfishness even more nauseating.

    Marianne’s take on Edward always makes me think she doesn’t want to find someone real with an actual personality, she’s after a made up boyfriend not a real person at all.

    1. I love both these comments so much. When I discovered how much money John Dashwood had, I was appalled. I wonder if Dickens read Austen? I think she is doing an amazing job showing how terrible the rich can be.
      And I love your take on Marianne. She reminds me a bit of Isabella from Northanger Abbey in the emotional sense. Everything is heightened or it doesn’t matter. I love that she thinks her views are better than her sister’s; that Elinor doesn’t understand what is really important in a lover.

  2. Unlike the opening of NA, this has no intimate, slightly romantic narrator inviting us to take into our minds a heroine, bringing us immediately into the Romantic. S&S is factual, more modern in tone. Here we are. Here’s a character. He’s going to die. Here’s what happens to his money. Here’s his family. Here’s what’s going to happen to money after another one of them dies. Rich! Rich, matter of fact accounting at first.

    The important scenes in Chapters 1-3 to me were two you cite: the money talk between Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood and boy talk between Elinor and Marianne.

    First, Mr. and Mrs. JD: Eek. Money. I think Austen has trouble with the distribution of wealth, yes. I wonder what she would write today about our 1%. I do think Mrs. JD could turn out to be one of the novel’s antagonists; she surely has asserted herself to being cold, unromantic, and extremely greedy and self-centered.

    I LOVED the dialogue in this scene! To watch Austen crafting incredibly well-paced and her characters delivering well-articulated lines made me feel I was in a play. (Wow no wonder her novels get made into films so often.) Further, I LOVED watching Austen wring sensible right out of Mr. JD via his wife’s logical and emotional tactics. Squeezing him to do less. She is like a salesperson but in reverse: taking the number lower and lower until, finally, Mr. JD’s female relatives will be getting…what?…nothing…except some family objects like china. Pure greed, and thanks for $$$ details, Katherine, on how rich these people are. Ick.

    The scene between Elinor and Marianne–especially the impassioned monologue from Marianne cited above–was equally as riveting. It might be too early to guess this, but I will guess anyway: E and M are being established as very different characters: the modern/practical woman vs. the romantic woman. E is her mother’s counsel. E is logical, practical, and persuade her mother to do this or that. M on the other hand is pure romantic. Is there room for both types of women in the family? We shall see. Is Austen going to spin out with these elements into the broader landscape, making cases about realism vs. romanticism? Can’t wait to see what she does.

    But what both these scenes revealed to me, which make me excited to read the rest of the novel, is that this writing reveals Woman Power: For the JDs…Yes, the patriarchy decides who gets the money, and familial distribution beyond that is handled by the presence or lack thereof of the gracious, generous heart of He Who Holds the Purse. But it is Mrs. JD who outsmarts her husband into giving his sisters and mother nothing. Though it is anti-feminist for Mrs. JD to successfully leave her fellow women in a lurch, it can be equally argued that she is in every way verbally (if not manipulatively) superior to her husband. It is actually, I think we’re going to see, She Who Holds the Purse. For the sisters…I LOVED that two women are discussing a man in such detail here. Is he smart enough? Is he handsome enough? He seems a little dull. Why can’t he draw??? Table turning a bit for its time? Oh my god he reads aloud so poorly!!! I am not sure. But, clearly, Edward is the object here. His value as a person to these sisters is as important to them as money is to the JDs.

    1. Marcia!!!!
      I love your take on this. I am about to do deep dive into my novel, but I wanted to respond to at least one comment. I agree with you about women having power wherever they can claim it. We are going to see that a lot in this novel. Austen once again subverts the system. And I truly do agree that she hates the distribution of wealth.
      I am so glad you like this novel!

  3. I agree with you about the two scenes selected as key indicators of what’s to come. I also agree that Austen cares about distribution of wealth. I wasn’t surprised that JD received his uncle’s wealth, despite his already full pockets. It, of course, was disappointing, but not surprising. I also wasn’t surprised at how easily Mrs. JD turned Mr. JD around in his thinking. I agree that gender politics are at play here in a big way. Yes! Yes, Marcia, to your observations. Austen definitely tells us that women have a pretty strong sphere of influence in the home, and yet, it isn’t pretty to see Mrs. JD’s influence being used to the ends of selfishness and greed. Mr. JD is weak and willing to be talked into anything by his wife. I hope he develops a spine, but this doesn’t bode well for our poor female Dashwoods, and it suggests that the little boy may not grow into a better person either, if we consider the mother’s power and attitude in the family.
    I liked the banter between the sisters about Edward. Again, men are the objects and the subjects! They are present whether absent because they give women their power within the house and they determine their financial wealth. Marianne is obviously the romantic while Elinor is the practical. I see that as looming trouble for Marianne, and I think Marianne would be the type to get Elinor in trouble just by blabbing romantic thoughts when Elinor clearly thinks there is nothing yet to consider between her and Edward.

    1. Kirsten! I am so glad you mentioned the little boy. I think mothering/parenting is another rich vein we ore during this discussion.
      And I agree with you and Marcia about the objectifying of men. It’s about time! Yay Austen!
      And, I think need to defend Mrs. John Dashwood. Sure, she is a terrible person, but look how easily she talked her husband into not giving any money. If he had any kind of moral compass, this wouldn’t have been allowed. So who is worse?
      I love that question.
      Kirsten–you should mention your thoughts about this being a darker novel. I loved that observation.

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