Posted tagged ‘Mrs. Jennings’

Sense and Sensibility 28-30: Letters Returned

January 18, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapters 28-30 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

Opening up Chapter 28, the Miss Dashwoods acompany Lady Middleton to a party, where they finally find Mr. Willoughby. At first, Willoughby does not make a big deal of the encounter, though Marianne is of course excited by this. Willoughby is embarassed when asked by Marianne why he hadn’t returned her letters sent while in town, and he seems to made uncomfortable by the short-lived conversation.

The next day, Marianne received a letter from Willoughby. He explains that he is engaged elsewhere, and apologizes for having misled her. Marianne tells Elinor that they were in fact not engaged, and that her impressions of Willoughby were based on his actions toward her, which had apparently been short of a formal verbal declaration of engagement. Along with Willoughby’s response comes the letters Marianne had sent him as well as the lock of her hair (as requested in one of Marianne’s letters). Marianne wishes to return home from the city.

Elinor and Marianne learn that Mr. (John) Willoughby is engaged to Miss Grey, who is somewhat rich, and Colonel Brandon arrives at the house after overhearing Mrs. Ellington—Grey’s guardian—discussing the imminent marriage.

Character Commentary

Though appearing only in reference, Miss Grey is said to be in possession of “fifty thousand pounds” and “a smart, stylish girl… but not handsome.” It is supposed by the Dashwoods that one (a main?) reason for Willoughby’s interest in Grey is her money.

We see a lighter and more serious side of Mrs. Jennings in Chapters 29 and 30. She sympathizes with Marianne’s condition and sides with her in the amonishment and criticism of Willoughby’s actions. She claims that her previous fun-making of Marianne & co. was mean to be light-hearted and can be expected of/by young people. Mrs. Jennings, though disappointed about Willoughby, immediately brings up the issue of Colonel Brandon’s better position, and praises Brandon’s residence—a topic Elinor is probably not as enthusiastic about (as she knows Marianne’s feeling about Brandon).

Themes and Threads

Austen overtly brings to light the comparison between Elinor and Marianne in Chapter 28. On commenting about Elinor’s reaction to the Willoughby sighting, she remarks that Marianne and Elinor find themselves in similar—though opposite—positions within their respective relationships:

“Her own situation gained in the comparison; for while she could esteem Edward as much as ever, however them might be divided in future, her mind might be always supported. But every circumstance that could embitter such an evil seemed uniting to heighten the misery of Marianne in a final separation from Willoughby — in an immediate and irreconcilable rupture with him.”

For Elinor, Marianne’s state offers reflection on her own situation.


“—how am I to bear their pity? The pity of such a woman as Lady Middleton! …”


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…