Posted in Belles-Lettres, Literary Themes

The Things That “Seem”

“For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are more often influenced by the things that ’seem’ than by those that ‘are’.”

– Niccolo Machiavelli


I was searching for quotes on appearance yesterday when I came across this. I thought it was perfect for today’s essay. Another thing that has always stood out for me about this book was that a number of the characters seemed a little bit challenged when it came to being realistic. Yes, I’ve still been looking around the web for themes to consider. During Austen’s day, appearances were very important. I think appearances were more important than they are today, which is a pity in my opinion. What other people thought of you mattered. If people had the wrong impression of you, it could and did leads to slights and public shunning. As a result, it behooved people to be hypocrites. It never ceases to amaze me how people were so influenced by the careful flattery by other people. There were several instances in the book where appearances and reality were at odds with one another.


I. John and Fanny Dashwood


The reality was that Fanny Dashwood could not stand either Elinor and Marianne. Part of it was because neither woman had a fortune; the other thing was, of course, that she could see that Edward had a thing for Elinor. She took every opportunity to put them down.


A. The Norland Transgression


First instance, soon after Mr. Dashwood dies, Fanny and John descend to take ownership of Norland. Yes, they had every right to do so. But it was the way that they went about it. As I recall, neither gave Mrs. Dashwood any notice that they were visiting. Out of respect as well as consideration, they could have delayed their coming. As I recall, when John and Fanny did arrived “Mrs. Dashwood was degraded to the station of a visitor.” I’m sure Fanny did not make them feel welcome. Then on top of all of this, Fanny resented the fact that the Dashwood ladies got to keep the pianoforte plus all of the better china as they were affects from Mr. Dashwoods’ second marriage rather than heirlooms with Norland.


A. Failed Promise to Mr. Dashwood


Throughout the story, we see that John Dashwood consistently failed to keep his promise to his father. In order to justify not giving his step-mother and half sisters any money, he engaged in the age old practice of poor-mouthing. If you recall, when Elinor and Marianne were in town visiting Gray’s having their mother’s jewel exchanged, they met with John. He complained to such a degree about the demand on his purse (even claiming that Mrs. Ferrars had given Fanny ₤200) that Elinor felt that John was in need of money. I believe Elinor may have been thinking that John was appealing to them for money. Of course, this was latter contradiction when the Dashwoods threw a dinner party. I believe the description was something along the lines that the mistress (Fanny) had an inclination for shew and that the master (John) had the means to support it.


A. Slight in Town


I believe during this day, it was customary for the daughters of gentleman to have a London season. Essentially it was a coming out. Ladies were paraded around in hopes that some man would take notice of them and take them off their parents’ hands. As Mrs. Dashwood was in mourning, she really could not have chaperoned her daughters. John and Fanny were the logical and rational choice. Elinor and Marianne were his sisters (my understand of that time was that half-siblings and in-laws were counted as full blood). Mrs. Jenkin’s decision to take both girls into town was extraordinarily kind. But really John Dashwood was correct in his desire to ask his sisters for a visit. Of course, John and particularly Fanny had to cover this slight later on. As you recall when Charlotte Palmer was recovering from her lying-in, the girls visited John and Fanny. Unlucky for Fanny an acquaintance was visiting and understanding that the ladies were sister invited them to her party. This was a natural response on Fanny’s friend’s part, but to save face, Fanny had to send her carriage for Elinor and Marianne and be attentive to them while at the gathering. Fanny lived in dread of the fact that she would be forced to have her sisters attend her to every social that season.


I. Lady Middleton


Lady Middleton is a very different person from her husband Sir John. Whereas he is affability itself, she is cold and reserved. Sir John’s idea of a good time is to gather more young people than his house can hold and have a good time- the louder the better. Lady Middleton on the other hand insists that everything be done in the first style. I’ve often wondered why she was such a snob. But I think I’ll save that for my mother’s day analysis. We discover as the book progresses that Lady Middleton does not like Elinor or Marianne. Why? Because Elinor and Marianne have substance unlike Lady Middleton who seems to be a rather idle creature. As you will remember, soon after the Dashwood ladies moved into Barton Cottage, Sir John was surprised by the fact that every time he visited the ladies were employed. Why should this industry on their parts have surprised him? I suspect that it surprised him because his own wife was quite a slothful creature. In addition, Lady Middleton realized that both Elinor and Marianne had well cultivated minds. Whereas it appears Lady Middleton exerted herself to be accomplished, it seems that it was done for the title rather than the enjoyment. We are told that Lady Middleton gave up music once she married. I doubt Marianne being married to Col. Brandon changed the amount she played the piano. In fact I’d bet a great deal of money that listening to her play was a staple in the evenings at Delaford.


I. Lucy and Anne Steele


Both girls (more so Lucy) came across as being innocent guests; however the presence in the book was nothing else that machination on the part of Lucy. Lucy as you well know was secretly engaged to Edward for four years. On Edward’s last visit her jealousy was aroused. She discovered that Edward had feelings with another woman-namely Elinor. So she and her older sister Anne set out for Devonshire to determine the extent of the danger to Lucy’s marriage prospects. Lucy and Anne set out to meet Sir John. Once he realize they were related they were invited to visit then stay with the Middletons. Lucy ingratiated herself to the vain Lady Middleton by ceaseless flattery of the Lady as well as the Middleton children. Of course, she also took this time to get to know Elinor and then force a confidence on her. She wanted Elinor to know that Edward was her fiance; she took every opportunity to twist the knife. Her innocence was simply artifice. Despite professing to be in love with one brother she ends up eloping with the other brother who was by this point, well-off. Then of course, she manipulated her new family into eventually receiving her warmly- more warmly than they felt about Elinor. Through her constant flattery. She was the favored child along with Robert. Well played on her part.


I. Willoughby


John Willoughby was as smooth as can be. He was attractive, well-read, and quite entertaining. All of the lovely exterior hid a man without principal. What kind of man seduces a young 16 year old girl? What man plays with the affections of a woman, gives her family and friends the impression that marriage will follow when at first there was no intention of marriage. What kind of gentleman does not take responsibility for his action, particularly when he has helped bring another life into being. What kind of man marries one woman knowing that his heart belongs to someone else? To borrow an expression from Pride and Prejudice, Willoughby had the appearance of goodness.



I. Colonel Brandon


Dear Colonel Brandon had the appearance of a much older man. In his youth, he loved a woman who ended up being given to his brother in marriage. Meanwhile, he was put into the military and shipped abroad. By the time he returned, Eliza had left her husband and went from one affair into the next. By the time he found her, she was dying in a poorhouse. He raised Eliza’s daughter as his own. As we know, around the time Sense and Sensibility begins, Beth disappeared; of course Brandon was concerned. All of this gave him a unusual gravity to his person.


Into all of this enters Marianne Dashwood, who was Eliza come again. Unfortunately for him, she was taken with Willoughby. Marianne as we know, had no appreciation for him. She described him as being a decrepit bachelor who could no longer feel love. Only Elinor could see what a kind, gentle man the Colonel was. Not to mention she realized that he was capable of feeling deep love.


By the end of the story we see that despite his age, the Col. was a kind hearted gentle man. We see that he had enough feeling to challenge Willoughby for the disgrace he caused Beth. When Marianne was ill, he went to fetch Mrs. Dashwood. When Edward was casted off, he gave him a living in hopes that Edward could fulfill his obligation to Lucy. Col. Brandon was uniformly kind and considerate, not to mention genuine; something Willoughby was not. We see that once Brandon marries Marianne, he lost a lot of his gravity and became a much more cheerful person.


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