Posted tagged ‘Sir John 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…