Posted tagged ‘Fanny Dashwood’

Sense and Sensibility 33-36: Cue Edward // Cue Robert

January 24, 2009

Picking up with Sense and Sensibility Chapters 33-36…

Plot Points

While out in the town shopping, Elinor Dashwood encounters her step-brother, John Dashwood, who has been in town for two days. John meets Mrs Jennings, the Middletons, and Colonel Brandon, each of which he judges as worthy of his (and his wife Fanny’s) attention due to their civility and wealth. He tells (teases?) Elinor with the idea of a match between herself and Colonel Brandon.

Fanny Dashwood, eager to entertain these new acquaintances, hosts a party at which the group will see Edward Ferrars and Mrs. Ferrars. This especially pleases Lucy Steele and makes Elinor nervous. Mrs. Ferrars is snobbish and offensive to both Lucy and Elinor. After making an insulting comment about Elinor’s painting, Marianne Dashwood defends her sister in an outburst, which in turn angered Mrs. Ferrars. Despite these events, Lucy feels that Mrs. Ferrars was “civil” to Elinor and kind to herself. During an awkward moment in which Lucy, Elinor, and Edward are alone, Marianne enters and questions Edward about his recent absences.

Later, Elinor meets Robert Ferrars, Edward’s brother.

Character Commentary

If there were a difference in opinion about propriety of behaviour after a loss such as occured with Mr. Willoughby, I wouldn’t be able to tell were it up to the close relation between Marianne and Elinor Dashwood. The two were close allthroughout, now that I recall. In the Mrs. Ferrars dinner party incident, Austen comments that Marianne’s outburst is noticed by Colonel Brandon “the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.” Yet, the difference between the two is still highlighted in this moment: Elinor is made awkward by the outburst (who wouldn’t feel a bit of unease at someone coming to their defense in this way?). Marianne’s next words are patronizing and ironic: “… don’t mind them. Don’t let them make you unhappy.” Later, in Marianne’s questioning and defense of Edward in the presence of Lucy and Elinor, she is presented as aloof and out of sync with the reality of Edward’s alleged love triangle.

In Chapter 33, Austen gives somewhat of an indictment of Fanny Dashwood. Fanny does not accompany her husband, John, on his initial visit to meet the Middletons and company. This is revealed to be her typical course of action when she is unsure if she will like a potential acquaintance. And John is perfectly in league with this system: “But now I can carry her a most satisfactory account…” Later, Fanny argues to have the Miss Steeles visit, blocking the visit of her own relatives. If there were an antagonist in this story, Fanny is it, if only for the fact that she dissaproves of and is dissaproved by the Miss Dashwoods.

Robert Ferrars makes his named appearance here. He is shown previously in a shop, nitpicking over the products in a shop. Later, Elinor speaks with Robert, and is generally unimpressed with him.

Narratology Notes

Every time there is an entrance, I instinctly think of the author’s motives in having the character appear at that moment. Such is the case in Chapter 35’s meeting between Lucy, Elinor, and Edward. Here are Lucy and Elinor discussing the previous event (Mrs. Ferrars, etc), when Edward—after 2 pages of such discussion, but in the span of a one-sentence paragraph—arrives unannounced. The scene is memorable because it presents the private awkwardness in Lucy and Elinor’s situation into the public: “they were not only all three together, but were together without the relief of any other person.”

Here, the tone of Austen’s narration seems to point to a new (or at least interesting) attitude of Elinor’s. “She would not allow the presence of Lucy…” and “She would not be frightened from paying him those attentions…” present her as confident. But the description of these events last for 6 paragraphs before Marianne’s entrance and disruptive “Dear Edward!” bit of dialogue—like an exploseive relief—punctures Austen’s narration of how the characters feel and how their privately held inhibitions affect them!

Looking Ahead

I expect that Robert Ferrars’s role will increase, but that Elinor will not be interested in him, as she is displeased with the rest of his family.


Sense and Sensibility 2-4: Arguing the “Minuter Propensities,” Changing Perceptions

January 3, 2009

This is my log for Chapters 2-4 of Sense and Sensibility. From now on, my posts will certainly cover multiple chapters at a time.

Plot Points

Continuing from the background given in Chapter 1, the Mrs. Dashwoods are now living with the Mr. John Dashwoods at the Norland estate, having not yet found a reasonable alternative. Mrs. John Dashwood convinces her husband that the amount of money given to his step-mother and step-sisters be diminished to almost nothing. Edward Ferrars enters the story, providing Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Dashwood something to discuss and adding to the complexity of the relationships between all parties. After antagonizing comments by Fanny Dashwood, the Mrs. Dashwoods finally decide move out of Norland after receiving a reasonable offer which leaves even Elinor with “no right of objection.”

Character Commentary

The face of Mrs. John Dashwood (now given the first name of Fanny) is clearly shown in Chapter 1; she is manipulative. In a seemingly calculated argument, she convinces her husband to nullify his father’s wishes that the Mrs. Dashwoods be looked after financially, at one point even saying that they would be in a position to transfer wealth to him. Who is the manipulated, then? Mr. John Dashwood. In this scenario he does not resemble the person who, in the opening chapter, was said to conduct his duties with “propriety.” Add to this her using the Elinor-Edward relationship as leverage against Mrs. Dashwood, and Fanny’s position as the antagonist seems clear.

Edward Ferrars is the brother of Fanny Dashwood, and there is something of an intimate relationship developing between him and Elinor. Austen describes him as “not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing.” Elinor and Marianne discuss in detail the merits of his affection toward Elinor; is affection enough when it is not coupled with ideal artistic qualities and social ranking? I’m not sure if we’ve yet seen any true view of Edward in these early chapters, as what I can describe about him is only through hearsay on the part of the sisters’ wavering opinions, or the broad-stroke descriptions given by the narrator. Even then, “handsome” is an expression of opinion, hardly an objective description of one’s features, in my opinion.

Rhetorical question: could Austen have (effectively) achieved describing Edward’s less-than-ideal appearance by saying that he “had a wart on his face” or “didn’t bother to brush his hair or teeth”? Saying he is “not handsome” is effective, but only so by default. I’m not sure if the narrator is being fair to Edward; in other words, I view this way of describing a character to be a bit tacky. See my Out of Context lead below for a continuation of this discussion.

Themes and Threads

Austen seems to be driving home the existence of two distinct worldviews in the sensibilities of the characters. For certain unfortunate souls, their temperament can know no moderation: Mrs. Dashwood: ‘I can feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love.” Elinor: “You may esteem him.” Mrs. Dashwood: “I have never yet known what it wa to separate esteem and love.” Marianne similarly gives in to the extremes of expectation in her critique of Edward: “… to hear him read with so little sensibility.”

These chapters show a change in perception on the part of several characters: Mr. John Dashwood and the fate of the inheritance previously dedicated to his step-sisters; Mrs. Dashwood’s view of Edward upon Elinor’s remark that he is simply “unlike Fanny”; a dissolving of Marianne’s troubled view of Edward upon discussion and argument with Elinor; doubt developing in even in Elinor’s mind about the possible future with Edward; and Mrs. Dashwood’s change in mood about staying at Norland, to finally move away. It seems that a deadly brew is being mixed in the lives of these characters. In which of the above is there change caused by an actionable event, or even conjecture based on an action? John Dashwood is connived by his wife, the elder Mrs. Dashwood makes judgements based on the opinion of someone else—as does Marianne—both in the case of their view of the potential for Edward in their lives, and Elinor has a moment of doubt despite her effective argument in the opposite direction (granted, a victory against the easily convinced Marianne). At least when the decision is made to leave Norland, it comes as a result of the offer to enter Barton Cottage.

I think this passage adequately describes the change of the end of those months, and the mood at the time: “To quit the neighborhood of Norland was no longer an evil; it was an object of desire; it was a blessing in comparison of the misery of continuing her daughter-in-law’s guest: and to remove for ever from that beloved place would be less painful than to inhabit or visit it while such a woman was her mistress.”

Out of Context

How do writers describe physical traits today? First of all, I think an important de facto rule about fiction needs to be understood. Unfortunately, because stories are not meant (or preferred?) to be a one-time event—authors, filmmakers, and artists want their work to proliferate—the story is attached to market forces. That is, a story must be marketable, and characters are an essential part of a story. Therefore, characters must be marketable. I perceive that in every way, the characters around me are created to appeal to my senses: they are smart, funny, storied with interesting pasts, and most of all, beautiful. Surely, if the story weren’t fiction, ie, a reflection of real life, all of the characters contained therein wouldn’t be among (all) of these traits?

And so, in reading a story given by words, where the visual sense is reliant upon description by words, the author (or narrator) must tread the line between making his/her character appealing (which throws a proverbial wrench into the allegedly/ideally independent process of creating art) and maintaining the aesthetic of words as art. I perceive that, at least in this case, a default solution is sometimes put into practice by authors. For example—and keep in mind that this is anecdotal and by no means a solid survey—I seem to have read many books (usually they are related to the science fiction genre) in which the narrator achieves character ideal by using a catch phrase such as, “she had a slender body” or “he had a square jaw”; and every time I read this phrase and other like it, I think, “just say it”: “imagine Kate Moss in The Matrix, you know, the one with the tight-fitting latex. Yeah, that’s what my character looks like.”

At least Austen doesn’t insult my imagination in this way; she just goes straight in with “not handsome”; incredible!


“… but in the meanwhile, till one of these superior blessings could be attained, it would have quieted her ambitions to see him driving a barouche. But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches.”

“I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own.” – Marianne

Looking Ahead

The Mrs. Dashwoods are moving out; the girls will have to adjust to the new lifestyle, and Elinor will have to adjust to physical and relational divides between herself and Edward.