Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: Ch. 7

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Chapter 7

Barton Park was about half a mile from the cottage. The ladies had passed near it in their way along the valley, but it was screened from their view at home by the projection of a hill. The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance. The former was for Sir John's gratification, the latter for that of his lady. They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and tasted which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass. Sir John was a sportsmanh, Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Lady Middleton had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while Sir John's independent employments were in existence only half the time. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education; supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good breeding of his wife.

Lady Middleton piqued herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. But Sir John's satisfaction in society was much more real; he delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased. He was a blessing to all the juvenile part of the neighbourhood, for in summer he was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors, and in winter his private balls were numerous enough for any young lady who was not suffering under the unsatiable appetite of fifteen.h

The arrival of a new family in the country was always a matter of joy to him, and in every point of view he was charmed with the inhabitants he had now procured for his cottage at Barton. The Miss Dashwoods were young, pretty, and unaffected. It was enough to secure his good opinion; for to be unaffected was all that a pretty girl could want to make her mind as captivating as her persond. The friendliness of his disposition made him happy in accommodating those, whose situation might be considered, in comparison with the past, as unfortunate. In showing kindness to his cousins therefore he had the real satisfaction of a good heart; and in settling a family of females only in his cottage, he had all the satisfaction of a sportsman; for a sportsman, though he esteems only those of his sex who are sportsmen likewise, is not often desirous of encouraging their taste by admitting them to a residence within his own manor.

Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were met at the door of the house by Sir Johnh, who welcomed them to Barton Park with unaffected sincerity; and as he attended them to the drawing room repeated to the young ladies the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any smart young men to meet them. They would see, he said, only one gentleman there besides himself; a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay. He hoped they would all excuse the smallness of the party, and could assure them it should never happen so again. He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlighth and every body was full of engagements. Luckily Lady Middleton's mother had arrived at Barton within the last hour, and as she was a very cheerful agreeable woman, he hoped the young ladies would not find it so very dull as they might imagine. The young ladies, as well as their mother, were perfectly satisfied with having two entire strangers of the party, and wished for no more.

X [d] that total want of talent and taste

Writing & Reading

A pleasure in reading Austen is her blunt assessments of her characters, such as the Middletons here or Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood earlier. This is especially so of characters comfortably cocooned in their selfhood, so that a comic gap opens up between what they believe themselves to be and what their author shows them to be.…

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X [h] a sportsman

Amusements

Typical of the men of his class and time, Sir John's chief pursuit is spending entire days from the opening of grouse season on August 12, partridge Sept. 1, pheasant Oct. 1, and fox Nov. 1, with breaks for rabbits. Austen is not opposed to hunting but is commenting upon the expense and time devoted to sport instead of to some diligent work of management to which, for instance, Darcy of Pride and Prejudice or Knightley of Emma devote themselves. 

X [h] suffering under the unsatiable appetite of fi…

Custom & Law

The earliest one could "come out" and transition to the adult female world was fifteen.

Lydia of Pride and Prejudice exemplifies a young woman suffering from "unsatiable appetite."

X [d] to make her mind as captivating as her person

Gender

Sir John's attitude toward women—that to be unaffected was tantamount to having every conceivable attraction of mind—is not much different from that towards pheasants. They should be plentiful, visible, and none too smart.

X [h] were met at the door of the house by Sir John

Daily Life

In his haste and hungrily gregarious, Sir John preempts the butler.  

X [h] it was moonlight

Transportation

Horse and carriage travel on moonless nights was considerably more hazardous (lamps and lanterns declared one's presence but did little to light the way), so when they could people planned nocturnal travel around the moon. Carriage lamps were called "moons."

Before industrialism and electric light pollution, the light afforded by even a waning moon was considerably greater.