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.

Posted in Belles-Lettres, Literary Themes

I’ve Unearthed a Secret

I’m scheduled to be a guest on That’s How I Blog, which is hosted by Nicole at Linus’ Bluanket.  I chose Sense and Sensibility for the book club read, so I thought I should start thinking about this book critically.  I’m out of practice, so I must confess that I looked online for themes.  The one theme I saw that struck me was a quesiton about how the tension in this book is created through secrecy.

This was so obvious.  So obvious that I’m rather embarrassed that I missed it.  But yes, everything about this book is a result of secrecy. People hide their feelings and indeed their relationships from everyone else. So here are some of the secrets that I noted.

1.  Mr. Dashwood and John Dashwood.

Mr. Dashwood made his son promise to take care of the step-mother and half-sisters.  I believe that this was a gentleman’s agreement similar to the one in Lady Vernon and Her Daughter.  Unfortunately, this agreement did not have a single witness, not even a doctor.  This agreement caused a great deal of tension.  First it caused tension between John and Fanny.  John would have done the right thing had he married a better woman.  But Fanny is a proud creature- not to mention greedy.  She looks down on the Dashwood ladies anyway because they are not women of rank.  And now for them to be needy relations.  It didn’t help that Edward Ferrars appeared to have a preference for Elinor.  It led Fanny to say things that ought not to have been said.  Second, it created tension between John and his stepmother.  Mrs. Dashwood lived in constant expectation that her stepson would step in at some point to assist them.  It never happened.  Mrs. Dashwood was a gracious woman, and remained eternally hopeful; but even Mrs. Dashwood could not be unaware of how much her stepson casted off his relations.

2. Marianne and Willoughby

On one hand, the pair carried on their relationship in such an open way that it gave rise to impertinent remarks and a general expectation of marriage.  But in another way it was very secretive.  We see during the story that Willoughby and Marianne steal away one afternoon to visit Allenham where the pair would have eventually lived had they married.  When Mrs. Jenkins blurted this fact out during dinner, it created quite a bit of tension between the two sisters.  Elinor felt that Marianne’s actions were improper and inappropriate.  The other secret was their “engagement.”  During this time, women and men did not write each other unless they were either related or engaged.  Everyone, took Marianne’s writing Willoughby as confirmation that they were in fact engaged.  While Mrs. Dashwood, the Middletons, and Mrs. Jenkins invented all sorts of reasons for Willoughby’s behavior, Elinor was not convinced.  She could see no real purpose in a secret engagement; she thought something about Willoughby’s behavior was not right.  Of course, her viewpoints put her at odds with the rest of the family.  This secrecy took such a toll on Marianne that when the truth finally came out, it pushed her into such a despondency that she made herself ill almost to the point of death.

3.  Willoughby and Miss Williams

Willoughby was a libertine.  He seduced a young girl.  Obviously this was done in secret.  I’m not sure how he lured a young 16 year old girl away from her guardian at the time, but he did.  Then he left the girl pregnant with his child and unable to find him.  The secret of his seduction really did not create tension in the book; it was when what he did was revealed that provided the tension.  First, he lost his inheritance.  Lady Allenham insisted that he marry the girl he seduced.  Because he was in love with Marianne, he refused and was casted out of Allenham to find his own way in the world. Of couse this caused a problem with Col. Brandon who called him out.  Then of course he unceremoniously kicked Marianne to the curb to find and marry a woman of means.

4.  Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele

The pair entered into an engagement when they were very young.  For Edward this created tension with pretty much every relationship that he had.  First, his mother was trying to marry him off to Lord Morton’s daughter for her 30,000.  Then Edward met Elinor, a woman superior to Lucy in every way.  But his prior commitment preventing him from securing the affections of a woman that he truly loved.  He tried to suppress how he felt about Elinor, but he wasn’t successful.  It was plainly written in his face where Lucy could read it.  So to secure her interest, Lucy set out to meet Elinor by way of flattering herself into the Middleton family circle.  Then once she got in, she made Elinor miserable.  She took every pleasure of rubbing it in that Edward was hers.  Of course, Lucy’s behavior showed Elinor that Edward really did have feelings for her, which in my opinion would have made the whole thing worse.  Of course, once knowledge of the engagement came out, that created a whole new sort of tension.  Edward lost everything-fortune and family.  Lucy was a mercenary minx.  Don’t get me wrong, Edward was quite the gentleman, but Lucy had 1,000 reasons to like Edward and all of them were in the bank.  Lucy deluded herself into thinking that the Ferrars family would accept her.  They didn’t.  She brought a great deal of misery to the Ferrars family for a while.

1. Colonel Brandon

The Colonel’s past was shrouded in secrecy. Sir John was one of few people who knew the full story behind Beth William’s existence. Col. Brandon was carrying the torch for Eliza after all these years. It created tension because in Marianne he saw Eliza returned to life. Then of course there was the whole incident of Willoughby seducing his charge. Col. Brandon never spoke it, but could you imagine loving a woman who was in love with the man that ruined your second cousin’s life? I don’t understand why Col. Brandon did not crack sooner. Now when he choose to reveal the truth, I think that the tension in the story eased. I definitely think that his revelation aided Marianne in getting over Willoughby as well as changing her view towards him. Without that knowledge, I’m not sure Marianne would have ever married the Col. But that’s just my opinion.

1. Elinor

Last but not least, the eldest Miss Dashwood. What fortitude she showed! Her silence, no, concealment of her feelings for Edward created tension with everyone. Her sister saw her as being cold and unfeeling. Her mother completely overlooked that fact that she might be suffering. She was the constant butt of the Sir John’s and Mrs. Jennings jokes. She was also the unwilling confidante of Lucy’s hopes and dreams. Not to mention she undeservedly earned the wrath of Fannie and Mrs. Ferrars. I can’t imagine the strain that she was under. And the fact that she behaved so well to all those who really were mistreating her.

In general “secrecy” was a key concept. For the most part, everyone was trying to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, but there were some like Mrs. Jennings and Anne Steele who were quite determined to reveal everything.

These are the instances of secrecy that I noticed. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. Feel free to add to this list. If you feel so inspired, write your own post and link up. This wasn’t the greatest essay that I’ve written, but I hope to become better with practice.