Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: Ch. 33

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Chapter 33

After some opposition, Marianne yielded to her sister's entreaties, and consented to go out with her and Mrs. Jennings one morning for half an hour. She expressly conditioned, however, for paying no visits, and would do no more than accompany them to Gray's in Sackville Street, where Elinor was carrying on a negotiation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels of her mother.

When they stopped at the door, Mrs. Jennings recollected that there was a lady at the other end of the street on whom she ought to call; and as she had no business at Gray's, it was resolved, that while her young friends transacted their's, she should pay her visit and return for them.

On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to tend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at that end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hope of exciting his politeness to a quicker despatch. But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face, of strong, natural, sterling insignificanced, though adorned in the first style of fashion.

Marianne was spared from the troublesome feelings of contempt and resentment, on this impertinent examination of their features, and on the puppyismw of his manner in deciding on all the different horrors of the different toothpick-cases presented to his inspection, by remaining unconscious of it all; for she was as well able to collect her thoughts within herself, and be as ignorant of what was passing around her, in Mr. Gray's shop, as in her own bedroom.

At last the affair was decided. The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment, and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care, and bestowing another glance on the Miss Dashwoods, but such a one as seemed rather to demand than express admiration, walked off with a happy air of real conceit and affected indifferenced.

Elinor lost no time in bringing her business forward, was on the point of concluding it, when another gentleman presented himself at her side. She turned her eyes towards his face, and found him with some surprise to be her brother.

Their affection and pleasure in meeting was just enough to make a very creditable appearance in Mr. Gray's shop. John Dashwood was really far from being sorry to see his sisters again; it rather gave them satisfaction; and his inquiries after their mother were respectful and attentive.

Elinor found that he and Fanny had been in town two days.

"I wished very much to call upon you yesterday," said he, "but it was impossible, for we were obliged to take Harry to see the wild beasts at Exeter Exchangeh; and we spent the rest of the day with Mrs. Ferrars. Harry was vastly pleased. THIS morning I had fully intended to call on you, if I could possibly find a spare half hour, but one has always so much to do on first coming to town. I am come here to bespeak Fanny a sealw. But tomorrow I think I shall certainly be able to call in Berkeley Street, and be introduced to your friend Mrs. Jennings. I understand she is a woman of very good fortune. And the Middletons too, you must introduce me to THEM. As my mother-in-law's relations, I shall be happy to show them every respect. They are excellent neighbours to you in the country, I understand."

"Excellent indeed. Their attention to our comfort, their friendliness in every particular, is more than I can express."

X [d] sterling insignificance

Writing & Reading

An instance of one aspect of Austen's comic art. This is a deliberately, even torturously long, drawn-out sentence of ninety-one words (mirroring his own tortured deliberations) to this point, the last two words being the oxymoron "sterling insignificance." The adjective is justly earned, given the object of his concern, a toothpick case. A further refinement follows that phrase, the terse definition of a fop: "adorned in the first style of fashion."

X [w] puppyism

Writing & Reading

In Johnson a "puppy" is "a saucy, ignorant fellow."

Austen's quick strokes reveal the extremes of puppyism. In giving us a double frame—his self-satisfied egotism as he buys the toothpick case; Elinor's observation of him from a different angle—Austen reminds us that, almost invariably, all of us exist in a state of irony, which consists of the gap between how we see ourselves and how the person next to us sees us. This is a form of parallax.

 

X [d] affected indifference

Because he did not get the admiring looks he calculated his performance to elicit.

X [h] Exeter Exchange

Places

A building in London that housed on its top floor a menagerie of monkeys, big cats, and other animals. 

X [w] to bespeak Fanny a seal

Writing & Reading

To order a seal—the family crest—that would be impressed in the hot wax used to seal letters.