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:

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.
Page 2 of 2
1 2