Writing and Ruminating

Thoughts on writing, reading, and poetry. With the occasional diversion, bien sûr.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume I, chapter 7

This chapter opens with insight into the lives of Sir John and Lady Middleton, who are both proclaimed deficient by the narrator, who flat-out tells us that they are not, in fact, well-rounded individuals. Their house is full of hospitality and elegance – the first mostly because of Sir John, the second because of his wife. Both of them are happy to entertain – Lady Middleton because she likes to show off, really, and Sir John because he genuinely likes people and wants to see them all having a good time. For a character that the narrator tries to confine to two dimensions, Sir John manages to spring from the page pretty well, which is probably why the actors playing Sir John usually manage to steal their scenes in cinematic versions.

I love this bit about Sir John:

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 person. 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.
And then, Sir John introduces the Dashwoods (and us readers) to Colonel Brandon. Well, hello handsome! And here's a thought that crossed my mind first thing this morning (and I mean it – it was while I was brushing my teeth): in this story, as in all six of the major novels, we are introduced to the true male love interest before we ever meet the complicating factor/rogue. We meet Henry Tilney before John Thorpe (NA), Frederick Wentworth before William Elliot (Persuasion), Mr. Darcy before Wickham (P&P), Edmund Bertram before Henry Crawford, and Mr. Knightley before Frank Churchill (Emma). And here, we've already met Edward Ferrars, Elinor's love interest, and now we are meeting Colonel Brandon. And the men we meet first are usually steady sorts of guys, with the complicating rogue being more of a head-turner. Which will, of course, play out here as well in chapters to come, once we meet Willoughby. But for now, we'll say nothing more of that.

Colonel Brandon is past thirty-five (closer in age to Mrs. Dashwood than to her daughters), and is depicted as possessing pleasing looks and a rather grave manner. Both Marianne and Margaret think he's completely ancient, even though that's not a fair assessment. Marianne manages to find him tolerable company despite his advanced age because he actually pays close attention to her as she plays the pianoforte and sings for them after dinner, whereas the rest of the non-Dashwoods in the party do not. It's note-worthy that Austen closes this chapter by giving us Marianne's take on the Colonel: she doesn't see him as a potential beau, but considers him too old, but she thinks rather highly of him all things considered.

A few words about those non-Dashwoods:

Lady Middleton is dismissed by the narrator as cold and insipid, and the narrator's disdain not only marginalizes Lady Middleton, but explains away the narrator's refusal to spend a lot of time talking about her. She is, we are led to believe, not worth our time and effort, and so we as readers join the narrator in writing her off. She is not pleasant to guests, cares only for her children (who are described as being rather ill-behaved), and although she took pains to become a fine lady, much of it was only for show – for instance, she was at one time a good musician, but her interest in music was something she developed as a skill to snare a husband. Having done the second, she set aside the latter entirely. Thus, while claiming an interest in music, she pays no attention to Marianne's playing at all. Sir John loudly praises her, but he does everything loudly, including conducting conversation while she's playing. And then there is Lady Middleton's mother, Mrs. Jennings, who is one of Austen's cleverest comic characters.

She is introduced here as being
a good-humoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands; hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not.
Like Sir John, Mrs. Jennings pops off the page despite her author's initial attempts to make her a sort of burlesque two-dimensional character. She starts here under a rather mixed description, and seems to be completely devoid of substance, and she mortifies the Misses Dashwood (Marianne in particular) over the next stretch of the novel, but I find myself unable NOT to love her because she is such a sensible, good-hearted soul that all of her bluster and merry-making cannot put me off her.

And now, a funny photo I found while looking for Colonel Brandon on the web:


Alan Rickman (Brandon, Snape, Harry) and Emma Thompson (Elinor, Trelawney, Karen)

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