Posted tagged ‘Handsome’

Northanger Abbey 3-4: The Lower Rooms

April 2, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapters 3-4 of Northanger Abbey.

Plot Points

In the courts of Bath, Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen seem to follow the common routine of visiting shops, attending social functions such as dances, and meeting new people. The two meet Mr. Tilney, a young man who dances with Catherine. Later, they find an old acquaintance of Allen’s, Mrs. Thorpe. Catherine becomes friends with Isabelle Thorpe.

Character Commentary

In the Lower Rooms, Catherine is introduced by the master of ceremonies to Mr. Tilney: “He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.” He speaks with Catherine and Mrs. Allen about clothes and fabric, such that Catherine is impressed and wishes she would meet him again the next day.

Catherine meets the daughter of Mrs. Thorpe, Miss Isabella Thorpe, and the two seem to easily become friends. Perhaps Catherine is impressed with Miss Thorpe’s experience in the ways of Bath; she is older, “better informed,” and knowledgeable of “tasteful attire.”

Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe are former schoolmates and, now re-acquainted, have occasion to share information on their situations. They discuss their families: Mrs. Thorpe applauds her sons who are out in the world and about which the hint of success is given; Mrs. Allen “had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend…” Then, the Miss Thorpes arrive. At the same moment, Catherine Morland is introduced. Mrs. Allen could be taking on a maternal role for Catherine.

Narratology Notes

So far in these early chapters of the novel, I feel as if the narrator (Austen) is keeping her distance from the main character, Catherine. She enters and ends chapters with a discussional tone, reminiscent of traditional romantic prose. She shows Catherine, for example, in describing the possibility (but not surety) of her thinking about Mr. Tilney before sleep, and in her having “more than usual eagerness” about starting the next day; Austen seems to clearly divide her chapters within the bounds of this commentary, and the chapters are about the same size in length. Is Austen writing a narrative or a chapter?

Looking Ahead

Now that Catherine has some friends, will she grow more confident? And, now that Austen has more than one group of associated characters, will she start creating some parallel dichotomies?


Sense and Sensibility 8-12: Chagrined and Surprised

January 6, 2009

I have just read through Chapters 8-12 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

The Dashwoods, now firmly established at Barton Park, continue to meet characters such as Mrs Jennings, who does no shorting of “railing” in her sarcastic poke-funnery at the sisters. Marianne enters into an affectionate—friendship?—with Mr. Willoughby, who charmes her (and her mother) in every way. Meanwhile, Elinor’s confidence in her own situation dwindles.

Character Commentary

Never in Marianne’s life has something so simple as a “false step” caused something so glorious. Her situation seems to have turned completely around: she is enthusiastic, confident, and enthralled by the entry of Mr. Willoughby. She seems to have found her perfect match, for “their tastes were strikingly alike.” At this opportunity, Elinor and Marianne exchange sarcastic remarks, which serve to solidify their respective positions on such things. Austen takes time here to give Marianne some physical description: “handsomer.”

Mr. Willoughby contrasts with Edward in every way: he is sensible and spirited, which is why Marianne is encouraged around him. He draws some level of contempt, I suspect, from Colonel Brandon and Elinor Dashwood.

Themes and Threads

The question of one’s actions being proper is challenged in these chapters. Marianne and Willoughby showing no restraint in their affection toward one another, Marianne and “her systems,” Marianne accepting a pony as a gift, and to some extent Margaret’s inadvertently encouraging Mrs. Jennings’s hurtful remarks.

Narratology Notes

In Chapter 8, Elinor and Marianne’s discussion of age and male virility as a component of the male-female relationship offers a curious, if potent, look at Austen’s writing at a heightened pace. Marianne is convinced that an older women (in her eyes, 27 years of age) has very little to offer a mate, and that the joining by such a women with an older-aged male would be one of convenience—less in sincerity than what it would be were they younger. Elinor objects: “Confess, Marianne, is not there something interesting to you in the flushed cheek, hollow eye, and quick pulse of a fever?”

In the text that follows, Marianne approaches her mother about an issue which she “cannot conceal from [her]”: Edward Ferrars hasn’t visited yet. And this fact, to Marianne, equates to their relationship being an impassionate one. So readily did Elinor defend Colonel Brandon and his future wife, and defend the validity of their union, that the comparison in Marianne’s mind is made: Elinor and Edward are each a Colonel, older, slower, not as attentive as they should be: “How cold, how composed were their last adieus! How languid their conversation the last evening of their being together!” And though Elinor, Marianne, and thier mother had discussed the evolved relationship that would come in time (“You will gain a brother…”), the opinion that Edward’s actions were “as an affectionate brother to both” is now used against him.

The diction used here, “cold” and “languid” is a reflection back to previous talks of Colonel Brandon’s sickly behavior on “a very cold, damp day” and of the fever to which Elinor sarcastically refers. But why is Marianne acting naive at best—with malice at worst—in taking the topic to her mother? In the text directly after Elinor and Marianne’s conversation, a strange (in my view) transition takes place: “Soon after this, upon Elinor’s leaving the room, ‘Mama,’ said Marianne, ‘I have an alarm on the subject of illness…” Perhaps this direct-to-dialogue approach to explaining the action jumps out because so much of the narrative up to this point had been told in third person (as if a summary), but the quickened turning from Elinor to her mother seemes conspicuous. At least, it makes me wonder what thoughts (malice or misunderstanding?) go through Marianne’s head as she turns.

Style Points

I think that Austen has thus far (I’ve read through chapter 12, remember) been successful at creating sympathetic, engaging characters. There are some whose potential feels unfulfilled—caricatures (as was used to describe Fanny Dashwood) of some extreme. These have their purpose, no doubt. But, I am thinking of Elinor and Marianne, who are various points in the story have had their ups and downs. This is successful in getting me, the reader, through the text. That being said…

Shame on Jane

Yes, it’s that time. By now, I’m used to the “handsomes” and “not handsomes.” I get it: readers have to project whatever they prefer—or need—to imagine these characters as real variables seeking their function in a real world. But here Austen has gone to far, in my opinion. In describing Willoughby: “… his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child; but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest to the action which came home to her feelings.”

Why describe his personality and activity through his having a gun, in possesion of two dogs, and the courage to assist Marianne, if you, in the next paragraph, qualify his beauties with such broad—and frankly utterly uncreative—strokes as NOT old, NOT ugly, NOT vulgar? In my view it lessens Willoughby as a character. Sure, he goes on to play a vital part in the story of Marianne, but he will be looked back upon as the one who fit the bill—not only perfectly, but not unperfectly, in a just-in-case-you-need-further-convincing sort of way.

“… and he then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.” That’s a beautiful image! Too bad it occurs after such assuming writing as to make me feel like a three-year-old in trying to imagine how Willoughby posseses such “manly beauty.”


“But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the color of Mr Willoughby’s pointer than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.”

“It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy: it is disposition alone.” – Marianne Dashwood.

Looking Ahead

Elinor looks to be in bad shape; where’s Edward been all this time?

Sense and Sensibility 5-7: A Tale of Two Pianofortes

January 4, 2009

I have just read Chapters 5-7 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

The Mrs Dashwoods leave Norland for their new home at Barton Park, and become engaged in the social scene there, largely at the request of Sir John Middleton, who had arranged the living space. Barton Cottage is not as luxurious as their previous home, but it will do for now, and there exists the possibility of upgrades, as season and monies allow. Enter Sir John, Lady Middleton, Colonel Brandon, and Mrs. Jennings.

Character Commentary

Chapter 5 contains, I believe, the first words spoken by Edward. These, not surprisingly, supplement his status as an admirer of Elinor: “Devonshire! Are you indeed going there? So far from hence!” Marianne’s overly sentimental scene of angst at finally leaving the house in which she’d grown up likewise cements her personality. I am curious about Marianne’s view of Colonel Brandon, who contrasts with the over-enthusiastic (and drunk-like?) Sir John during her pianoforte recital: “He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that ecstatic delight which alone could sympathise with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others;”.

Sir John Middleton is described as “a good-looking man of about forty. He thrives as a socialite, engaging in revelry whenever possible, seeks new personalities (especially the Dashwoods), and is a hunter. His wife, Lady Middleton, is about 27 years of age (“her face was handsome, her figure tall and striking, and her address graceful”), but is not as much of a conversationalist as Sir John. She concerns herself mainly with their six-year-old son. To quote Austen, “Sir John was a sportsman, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children…”

Colonel Brandon, by contrast, is reserved, older, and, to quote Austen again, “but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.” Also brought to the Dashwoods’ acquaintance through the Middletons is Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother. She is “merry, fat, elderly … who talked a great deal … and rather vulgar.” I suspect her brash personality and crude jokes might stir the pot a bit for Elinor.

Themes and Threads

The introduction of the Middletons into the story seems to portend Austen’s desire to provide a challenge to the ideals held by the various parties, mainly those of Marianne. The ideal relationship in her eyes seems to be one in which the man is young, attentive to the wife for sincere reasons, and knowledgeable in the arts. Oh, and handsome. In the Middletons exists a formula in which—though the man indeed generally fits these physical requirements—his picture highlights a subversion in Marianne’s understanding. He is too loudly attentive to Marianne’s music as to negate the sincerity of his interest.

Lady Middleton, consumed with childrearing and ignited not by music but by the noise of children, and herself gave up music, has a “cold insipidity.” Giving up her pianoforte is said to have been a celebration of her ladyship. These two extremes (too attentive, not at all attentive) are for Marianne a “horrible insensibility.”


“… and she was reasonable enough to allow that a man of five-and-thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment.” – Marianne, on Colonel Brandon.

Looking Ahead

I predict that Elinor will continue to be annoyed by Mrs. Jennings, and that Marianne’s identity crisis will have reached a climax by the middle of the book.

For those who are interested, I’m keeping a running tally of Austen’s “handsomes” and “not handsomes” in my tags…