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.

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.   

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 4-6

In these chapters, I felt I was almost reading 2 different novels, and I like that.

Chapter 4 is like and not like the previous rest of the book. It begins with Catherine’s concerns for her brother, and for Isabella, because Catherine is kind. And I wonder—is she also blind?

Catherine thinks: “Isabella could not be aware of the pain she was inflicting.”

As Henry says, Catherine assumes good intentions for all because she is good, but at what point does this become a handicap? Just as I was annoyed at Isabella for not understanding Catherine, I wonder at how poorly Catherine understands Isabella.

The conversation with Henry is amazing and deep (and does anyone else think it has a Shakespearean comedy element to it? Kirsten?)

But mainly, this is not amusing, and it touches on very important feelings and values.

Catherine is certain (is she? Is she really? I’m not sure) that Isabella loves her brother and this can not be her fault. If only Fred leaves then all will be well. I think Henry, who knows Isabella so much better than Catherine does, says a perceptive thing:

“Is it my brother’s attentions to Miss Thorpe, or Miss Thorpe’s admission of them, that gives the pain?”

This is the perfect question.

I love when they talk to each other, but especially in this instance, I do think they are talking past each other. In this case, I think both are at fault. (And I would be interested in whether anyone else finds this a problematic conversation.) Henry is trying to do a lot of things here, but one of them is, he is being reticent about his brother.

He has made it clear, though I don’t think Catherine has picked up on it, that he has spoken to his brother. I would surmise that Henry is not best pleased with his brother. More on that later. But Henry also believes (and has shown this through the novel) that he does believe people should be given the choice as to how to act/behave.

The exchange continues even more powerfully:

I think Mr. Morland would acknowledge a difference. No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”

Catherine blushed for her friend, and said, “Isabella is wrong. But I am sure she cannot mean to torment, for she is very much attached to my brother. She has been in love with him ever since they first met, and while my father’s consent was uncertain, she fretted herself almost into a fever. You know she must be attached to him.”

“I understand: she is in love with James, and flirts with Frederick.”

“Oh! no, not flirts. A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another.”

“It is probable that she will neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little.”

After a short pause, Catherine resumed with, “Then you do not believe Isabella so very much attached to my brother?”

“I can have no opinion on that subject.”

Henry is trying to be careful here.  I think it is pretty obvious he doesn’t like Isabella and he also understands his brother perfectly. On the other hand, he does understand that he doesn’t necessarily understand other people’s hearts/intentions.

Of course, part of me just wants to keep cutting and pasting because Henry continues to make it clear that Fred is inconstant in his attentions and that James would not be happy for Catherine to intercede and really what difference would it make anyway? Henry gets it and Catherine can’t see it. But Henry doesn’t want to cause Catherine pain, so he doesn’t spell it out. Catherine sees the whole scenario, Fred returning to his unit, as soothing, while Henry is, to me anyway, making it quite clear that neither Fred nor Isabella is to be trusted, and Fred’s leaving will not save James, for won’t there other Freds? Or so, this is how I read it. What say you?

Chapter 5

Mr. and Mrs. Allen were sorry to lose their young friend, whose good humour and cheerfulness had made her a valuable companion, and in the promotion of whose enjoyment their own had been gently increased.

I thought this was a quite lovely way to begin the chapter, and I hope that I am like this as a guest. OK. Me being me I can think of all sorts of times that I did not advance the happiness of the group. I promise to be better if ever the pandemic ends.

Now might be the time for me to say that I do not like General Tilney. I don’t like people who smother and make others feel uncomfortable. I don’t like people who are rude to waiters; well, I don’t like rudeness at all. He comes across as a bully who is concerned nearly entirely by his own needs. The gesture with the watch when he is outraged that it is 20 to 5 and time is of the essence. Why? Because. Austen does a terrific job writing him because I’ve been around people like this, and it is awful, and we do wish for them to depart and time is spent contemplating how much longer that person will remain. There is such a sense of lightness when he leaves. It is a boon.

Catherine continues to delight. She is so excited about the abbey and the coming adventure, and Henry is such a good sport even though Catherine disparages Henry’s home (parsonage) in juxtaposition to a haunted abbey. I love Henry’s Gothic description of the house, and he does such a terrific job framing what is to come.

Chapter 6

Catherine is initially disappointed in how modern the house is. My annotated text points out that Austen does something unusual in this novel—she has a lot of description about furniture and architecture (she doesn’t do this in other books) but it is necessary, because she is showing the reader of the time just how contemporary the abbey actually is. For example, there are special fireplaces mentioned that had just been invented a few years before Austen wrote the novel. They were superior in giving heat and gave off less smoke. There are many things in the house that indicate that the General loves improvements and he goes after anything new, and he has the money to constantly improve.

This chapter was the first time I truly became annoyed at Catherine. She’s seen how impatient the General is and the impact this has on his children, yet she allows herself to be distracted by the chest. This really bothered me. Of course, what it shows is that her love of the Gothic can trump her love of her friends. She truly is captivated by it. I began to love her again when at dinner, after being rushed by Eleanor and witnessing the General berate her for her own sin, she feels so dreadful for her mistake.

The rest of the chapter is a Gothic tale, and I found myself lost in it. It is no longer Austen I’m reading, but a Gothic novel. Occasionally, I felt touches of irony but overall, this was a shift to another genre. Did anyone else feel this way? I love the moment that she attempts to adjust the candle so as to preserve the light but ends up putting it out before she can read the precious manuscript.  She rushes to the bed and Austen says “Human nature could support no more.” Luscious.

The novel is now split. Actually, multi-directional. There is so much going on. Will it now be a Gothic or what?

Did you like this shift? Did it work for you?

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chs. 1-3

These chapters have me feeling all out of sorts.

First, such an odd/interesting way to begin Vol. 2. I realized later it made sense. Catherine was to visit the Tilneys, so that was a key event, and the second key event was awaiting the letter from James to find out what his father would do for him and Isabella monetarily.

The visit made Catherine unhappy, and as someone who cares about C I felt bad for her. She had so much hope pinned on this.

Meeting with Isabella made things slightly better in that Isabella so castrophized what happened that even Catherine began to realize it wasn’t quite as bad as she made out. And what a great line of Isabella’s “In all things in the world inconstancy is my aversion.” Truer words have never been spoken, I attest.

I love the turn that seeing the Tilneys again restored C’s good spirits, and after dancing and talking with him “and in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself” was lovely to me. Such a lovely way to show how she has been falling for him.

But this next passage is remarkable to me:

Henry smiled, and said, “How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people’s actions.”

“Why? What do you mean?”

“With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person’s feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered—but, How should I be influenced, What would be my inducement in acting so and so?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

“Me? Yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“Bravo! An excellent satire on modern language.”

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

“Shall I indeed? Do you really desire it? But you are not aware of the consequences; it will involve you in a very cruel embarrassment, and certainly bring on a disagreement between us.”

“No, no; it shall not do either; I am not afraid.”

“Well, then, I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

He has such great respect for Catherine (always), and this passage shows how well he knows her. I also think he is concerned for her and sees the potential for great hurt since Catherine believes that people have the best of intentions.

This is powerful stuff.

The chapter could end here on this powerful note, but instead ends on further hurt to Catherine, hearing her father impugned as being cheap towards his son. I love the comment that Catherine didn’t know how much money her father had. The same was true as me. Finances weren’t discussed with the children in my family. Catherine knows her parents to be generous and kind, and to have Isabella imply (actually that’s being kind to Isabella) that he isn’t is mean. Even Mrs. Thorpe gets that her daughter is being unjust.

400 pounds in approximately 1800 would now be equal to about $40,000. That’s how much James would make as a minister. His father is going to add another $40,000 to that, so James would have $80,000 a year. This is not enough for Isabella, and Isabella sees this as Mr. Moreland being niggardly towards her. Mrs. Thorpe’s hope is that in time, Mr. Morland might be willing to give a little more. The amazing misunderstanding about how much Mr. Morland has and also that he has 9 other children to be concerned about is breathtaking to me.

One other note: did anyone else pick up on how Isabella, early on in the chapter, feels disdain for Henry and Eleanor but only praise for the General?

Chapter 2

I love Cahterine’s sense of gratitude. When she is invited to Northanger Abbey, everything in her life is going well. She is grateful to her parents, and to the Allens, to Isabella, and to the Tilneys.

I love her sense of joy at being at a real abbey. Is she more happy about being with Henry Tilney or with being at  a possibly haunted Abbey? I think it is a toss-up. After all, the chapter ends on her fantasizing about what she will discover. (I just had a thought that I feel like Northanger Abbey might in some ways be a precursor to Nancy Drew! I love that idea.)

Chapter 3

Chapter 2 was such a lovely respite. Everything is going well, and then in Ch. 3, Catherine gets zinged multiple times.

Anyone elss surprised that Isabella’s favorite out of the way spot is actually pretty much at the center of things?

The letter from John is infuriating. Marriage was serious business. Becoming engaged was major and life-changing. His assertion that Catherine was in all agreement and in effect, egging him on is so aggravating. And to someone of Catherine’s honesty, and her clear dislike of his actions towards her…but then to have Isabella push John’s claims…

As Catherine protests fervently, quite upset, Isabella throws logs on the fire by a) suggesting that the possibility of engagement is foolish because what would they live on? After all, Catherine’s father would give them so little money, and b) maybe John overreacted but it was promoted by Catherine’s high spirits. After all, we as readers certainly know that Catherine and Isabella are like one, and that Catherine gives her feelings easily to all who ask. (Ugh)

 “Oh! As to that,” answered Isabella laughingly, “I do not pretend to determine what your thoughts and designs in time past may have been. All that is best known to yourself. A little harmless flirtation or so will occur, and one is often drawn on to give more encouragement than one wishes to stand by. But you may be assured that I am the last person in the world to judge you severely. All those things should be allowed for in youth and high spirits. What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter.”

“But my opinion of your brother never did alter; it was always the same. You are describing what never happened.”

“My dearest Catherine,” continued the other without at all listening to her, “I would not for all the world be the means of hurrying you into an engagement before you knew what you were about. I do not think anything would justify me in wishing you to sacrifice all your happiness merely to oblige my brother, because he is my brother, and who perhaps after all, you know, might be just as happy without you, for people seldom know what they would be at, young men especially, they are so amazingly changeable and inconstant. What I say is, why should a brother’s happiness be dearer to me than a friend’s? You know I carry my notions of friendship pretty high. But, above all things, my dear Catherine, do not be in a hurry. Take my word for it, that if you are in too great a hurry, you will certainly live to repent it. Tilney says there is nothing people are so often deceived in as the state of their own affections, and I believe he is very right. Ah! Here he comes; never mind, he will not see us, I am sure.”

This is what Tilney was warning Catherine about, though she didn’t see it. She trusts people, yet in this whole long comment by Isabella, Isabella is projecting onto Catherine her own belief system. Isabella does not know Catherine at all. And that is for me the chief sin. Catherine has been a placeholder for Isabella this whole time, and a means to get her brother. Which, I think we can safely gather, may not be what Isabella wants anymore.

There is a lot of betrayal and inconstancy in these three chapters. Although I laughed a few times, and felt joy a few times, I came away mainly feeling terribly sad and angry on Catherine’s behalf.

Page 2 of 5
1 2 3 4 5