Posted tagged ‘Propriety’

Sense and Sensibility 37-40: Colonel Brandon’s “Proposal” of Sorts

January 27, 2009

My notes from Sense and Sensibility Chapters 37-40.

Plot Points

Chapter 37 sees full disclosure of the Elinor-Edward-Lucy situation as it is revealed that, while visiting the John Dashwoods and Mrs. Ferrars, Lucy Steele and Edward Ferrars are engaged. This causes anger not only for John and Fanny Dashwood, who are sympathetic to Elinor, but to Mrs. Ferrars, who had wanted Edward to marry Miss Morton. Elinor informs Marianne who, though very upset about this, is convinced that remaining amiable toward Edward and Lucy is the appropriate thing to do.

Elinor receives various accounts of the strength of Lucy and Edward’s relationship, including from Anne Steele, a letter from Lucy Steele, from Colonel Brandon, and finally from a visit by Edward himself.

The Palmers invite the Dashwood sisters on a short trip, which of course Marianne disapproves as it would have them near Somersetshire. Elinor convinces her that attending would be the proper thing to do. While watching them talking, Mrs. Jennings thinks that she has overheard a proposal of marriange to Elinor by Colonel Brandon. A sort of comedy of errors ensues, but is soon corrected as having been an invitation by Brandon to have Edward and Lucy—his would-be wife—live and take over a house that he owns. Later, Elinor conveys this offer to Edward in person, who is glad to have it.

Themes and Threads

Austen’s desire to create comparison in Sense and Sensibility is shown in the juxtaposition between the Miss Dashwoods and the Miss Steeles. While at the park, the younger Steele passes along some information to Elinor which is later revealed to have been gotten by rumor (or whatever you’d call listening at the door). This, of course, disgusts Elinor, who rebukes her counterpart and wishes to have not heard something that had not been honestly gained. The Dashwoods, by comparison, are more genteele and honest, perhaps more sensitive and sympathetic to each other.

In Context

Much is made by John Dashwood—as he visits Elinor Dashwood to discuss the revelation about Lucy and Edward—about the money that Edward is forfeiting by marrying Lucy instead of Miss Morton. Morton has more than Lucy, of course, and is the preferred candidate for Mrs. Ferrars, and she would bring him more wealth. And though John Dashwood is sympathetic to Elinor because she is her sister, he is also at least equally (if not more) saddened by the situation that Edward is in, to see the revenge of Mrs. Ferrars taken in the giving of her inheritance to his brother Robert:

“‘Can anything be more galling to the spirit of a man,’ continued John, ‘than to see his younger brother in possession of an estate which might have been his own? Poor Edward! I feel for him sincerely.'”

John Dashwood can certainly be said to relate to Edward in this case. He’s the possessor of an inheritance given in the custom of the day: the money and wealth is handed to the eldest male heir. So in Mr. Dashwood’s eyes, the tumult that has come about House Ferrars is troubling indeed.


“‘You have heard, I suppose,’ said he with great solemnity, as soon as he was seated, ‘of the very shocking discovery that took place under our roof yesterday.'”

“‘The Colonel is a ninny, my dear; because he has two thousand a-year himself, he thinks that nobody else can marry on less.'”

Looking Ahead

The misunderstanding between Mrs. Jennings and Elinor was a farce, but there may be something to a potential Elinor-Brandon hook-up, if I am reading their ease of conversation correctly. Afterall, Jennings’s comment which obviated the misunderstanding, “Sure you do not mean to persuade me that the Colonel only marries you for the sake of giving ten guineas to Mr Ferrars!” begs an important question even after there is no confusion for Mrs. Jennings: could Brandon have some other motives in the offering to Edward, in expressing the desire to please him or make his life easier (though he refutes that fact himself)?


Sense and Sensibility 13-16: Curricles and Concealments

January 9, 2009

Here are some notes from Chapters 13-16 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

Despite a planned outing to Whitwell, Colonel Brandon excuses himself, much to the disliking of the group, and leaves the scene. Marianne Dashwood and Mr. Willoughby continue their enthusiasms toward each other, even to the extent of sneaking off to Allenham, much to the surprise of Elinor Dashwood. However, disappointment strikes as Willoughby leaves town in haste, declining an offer by the Dashwoods to stay. Elinor and her mother discuss why he might have left, and Marianne is deeply distressed. As Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are walking one day, they meet Edward Ferrar as he is walking up the road.

Character Commentary

I’d like to touch upon the attitude of Mrs. Dashwood in these chapters. When Willoughby leaves Barton, Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood speculate about the situation. “Something more than what he owned to us must have happened,” Elinor says. Her mother agrees but is somewhat optimistic about what may be the cause of Willoughby’s unusually unexplained exit. In thinking that the cause of the exit rests on Mrs. Smith, Willoughby’s aunt, Mrs. Dashwood seems to be hopeful of an eventual marriage, and even argues that Marianne and Willoughby are most likely already engaged, while Elinor is skeptical of making such a quick assumption.

Mrs. Dashwood: “Concealing it from us! my dear child, do you accuse Willoughby and Marianne of concealment? This is strange indeed, when your eyes have been reproaching them every day for incautiousness.” Is knowledge of character really the reason behing Mrs. Dashwood’s feelings? Or is she simply hopeful that the efforts that have gone into the courtship and eventual marriage between Marianne and Willoughby keeping her spirits up? Afterall, she is fully aware of the reality of the situation, yet almost forcefully optimistic, as Austen notes: “In about half an hour her mother returned, and though her eyes were red, her countenance was not uncheerful.”

The exit of both Colonel Brandon and Mr. Willoughby offer a fun—if simple—view of Marianne Dashwood’s feelings. Marianne has “no doubt of it” that Colonel Brandon left not at being called, but through his own forged (literally and in spirit) actions. Mr. Willoughby, on the other hand, elicits extreme emotional problems for her.

Here is Edward Ferrars at last, but where has he been?


“I am afraid,” replied Elinor, “that the pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety.”

“It may be proper to conceal their engagement (if they are engaged) from Mrs. Smith … But this is no excuse for their concealing it from us.” – Elinor Dashwood.

Looking Ahead

By the time I finish the story, will Chapter 14 have been that calm before the storm? The time before which a significant transformational event occured in for Marianne? To quote Willoughby there: “Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling…”

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: Getting Started

January 2, 2009

Chapter 1 of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility being not only the first chapter of said book but the first chapter I’ve read by said author, I’m paying special attention to it. I believe I’ve gathered enough information to get Sense kickstarted; ie, it is a generally satisfying first chapter. For my reading of this novel, I’m using the Wordsworth Classics edition, printed in paperback in 2000.

Plot Points

Here, Austen seems to be introducing me to the major characters, with an emphasis on the genealogy necessary to understand a potential main conflict for the novel. I feel that there is not a lot that happens; the story is given as a summary. Perhaps that is necessary, or even ultimately preferred to the alternative. We’ll see. In any event, Mr. John Dashwood is now in possession of the Dashwood inheritance, which includes the estate and monies which have been dedicated to his step-sisters. He, his wife, and young son have moved in with his step-mom and said step-sisters upon his father’s death.

Character Commentary

Now we get to the interesting pieces: the unique personalities created for this universe. The short-lived Mr. Henry Dashwood has one son and three daughters: Mr. John Dashwood, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. I can already sense what is coming with regard to the Elinor-versus-Marianne interplay. Elinor, by Austen’s own admission, has a “coolness of judgment”; she is level-headed “though only nineteen.” Marianne “could have no moderation,” and is like her mother, Mrs. Dashwood, in this regard: “They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction.” Of note, the elder owner of the Dashwood estate at Norland Park is not given a name. He is simply the “late owner of this estate” and an “old gentleman,” the uncle of Henry Dashwood.

In Context

Clearly, 19th century social constructs and norms are incited: the Dashwood (Norland?) estate as property; male primacy (and female dependence); division of family members due to lack of blood relation. Do “Mrs. Dashwood” and “Mrs. John Dashwood” have first names? Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret do; they’re not married, I suppose.

Language: Diction & Thesaur

The word “propriety” subtly stands out in two contexts. I think I can safely infer that the alleged meaning of “propriety” among these uses is the same—each is penned by the same author and within close proximity; however, the contexts of this judgmental (as Austen is surely judging the characters in its use) word offers valuable information about the relevant characters (and possible Austen herself [or her thought process, and thus social construct?]), I submit.

In describing Mr. John Dashwood: “but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.” Austen goes on to say that Mrs. John Dashwood is less than amiable, and thus a detractor to his respect, and that “he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife.” Mrs. John Dashwood is “more narrow-minded and selfish” and affects her husband’s respectability thusly. For John Dashwood, acting with “propriety” is a means to respect, in which the ordinary duties he succeeds, though he acts against it to secure a familial relationship.

In describing Mrs. [Henry] Dashwood (his step-mother) three paragraphs later, Austen points out that, upon threat of leaving the estate, she is successfully convinced to stay by Elinor: “… she would have quitted the house for ever, had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect upon the propriety of going … and for their sakes avoid a breach with their brother.” Although she is angry and “did … despise her daughter-in-law,” she consciously makes a decision to preserve her position (and her daughters’) for the better. She acts toward propriety to secure a familial relationship.

I think that “propriety” can be substituted for “appropriateness” in both of these cases. But, Mr. John Dashwood acts appropriately to secure respect in normal affairs; his step-mother acts appropriately to maintain a familial relationship. Is the maintenance of relationships among the “ordinary duties” for her? Surely, Mrs. Henry Dashwood has a financial reason to do so, and apparently, Mr. John Dashwood has the luxury to break propriety in the getting of his wife. I can think of a few possibilities for this discrepancy; what are their differences? Age, sex, financial status, social status, marital status, committment/dependency requirements… In any (or all?) case(s), there’s a bit of a double standard apparent through the use of this choice of diction.


A few remarks by the narrator jump out at me. As a first-time reader (a tag I don’t intend to hide behind for long), I’m not sure if some of this is sarcasm, comedy, or just akin to when a college professor told me not to talk in such “high and verbose language.”

“He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold-hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed…”

As referenced earlier: “They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction.”

Looking Ahead

Very little is said of Margaret, (“the other sister”!). Maybe she’ll come into play later, to help anchor (narratologically) some conflict between the other sisters. After reading the first chapter, my expectation is that the two (Elinor/Marianne) will do battle: the title implies as much.