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?
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?
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.