Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: Ch. 1

[+] | [-] | reset
 

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respectedd; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable womand, he might have been made still more respectable than he was:—he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself;—more narrow-minded and selfish.

When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousand pounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother's fortune, warmed his heart, and made him feel capable of generosity.— "Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience."— He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.

No sooner was his father's funeral over, than Mrs. John Dashwood, without sending any notice of her intention to her mother-in-law, arrived with her child and their attendants. No one could dispute her right to come; the house was her husband's from the moment of his father's decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much the greater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood's situation, with only common feelings, must have been highly unpleasing;—but in HER mind there was a sense of honor so keen, a generosity so romanticd, that any offence of the kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her a source of immoveable disgust. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favourite with any of her husband's family; but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of shewing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it.

So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever, had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on the propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three children determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breach with their brother.

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her motherd, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;—her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strongd; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taughtd.

Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of griefd which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herselfd. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romanced, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.

X [d] well respected

Manners & Morals

Austen's ironic comment on a society that views as deserving of respect an "ill-disposed" but rich young man who performs with propriety his "ordinary duties." That is, he does nothing blameworthy in the public eye while on the other hand doing little if any good. As for his extraordinary duties, which in another world would be ordinary ones, such as honoring his father's deathbed wish and his responsibility to his half-sisters, he is selfishly deficient but nonetheless is respect. 

X [d] Had he married a more amiable woman

Love & Marriage

The younger Dashwoods are moral clones.

"Amiable" is understatement. Austen's severe comment represents the early emergence in this novel of her general view through all of her novels that marriage is most promising when husband and wife complement each other's strengths and so, no one being perfect, minimize each other's limitations. This is all the more important given Austen's b…

(read more)

X [d] but in HER mind there was a sense of honor so…

Mind

Had the the recently widowed Mrs. Dashwood possessed a merely common sensibility she would still have been offended by the conduct of her step-son and his wife's bullying haste in taking command of Norland Park. But she has a "romantic" cast of mind (meaning here that she emphasizes and idealizes such chivalric virtues as "honour" and "generosity"), which makes her especially sensitive to such crass behavior. 

X [d] to be the counsellor of her mother

Indicating a somewhat ominous inversion in the parent-child relationship that is repeated in other Austen novels.

X [d] She had an excellent heart;—her disposition w…

Mind

The "She" refers to Elinor, the daughter. Readers tend to forget that Elinor has an "excellent heart...and strong feelings." The principal difference between her and her mother (and sister) is that Elinor "knew how to govern" her feelings.

X [d] resolved never to be taught

Writing & Reading

Marianne has ample cultural precedent to trust in intuition and to resolve never to be taught the governance of her feelings. 

The time in which Austen is writing is the apex of a reaction against the "reasonableness" and cool restraint of much 18th-century thought. Though she is moderate in her views, closer to Elinor than Marianne, she's writing when Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Scott are well into their careers; Byron, Shelley, and Keats are at the beginnings of theirs. Novelists such as Mackenzie (…

(read more)

X [d] The agony of grief

Mind

A disabling feature for Austen of the "romantic" temperament is its self-indulgence and tendency to wallow in feeling. Grief over the death is not the issue—-that is natural—but rather the exhibitionistic, exorbitant melancholy of what might properly be kept to oneself.

X [d] could struggle, she could exert herself

Mind

Restraint requires "struggle" and "exertion." If Elinor's feelings are strong,  the exertion must be at least as strong. 

X [d] romance

Mind

Marianne's "romance," which she has learned from her mother and with which she's infecting her younger sister, means an intensity of feeling that cannot be restrained. If it can be, it's by definition weak.  

"Romance" includes the conviction that the feelings, not the reason, are the most trustworthy guide to conduct and manners, a view to which Austen is sympathetic. But as so often with her it is a matter of degree. Feeling, Marianne believes, expresses what is most genuine in us.  …

(read more)