Monday, November 15, 2010

Sense & Sensibility, Volume II, chapter 11 (ch 33)

Let me just get this out there right up front: If this chapter had its own title, it would probably be called "the chapter of worthless gentlemen."

Elinor finally convinces Marianne to leave the house, but she limits their activities to a quick errand, refusing to pay any calls. And she is out of it, yo.

Toothpick Dandy

Now, I happen to know this guy's real name, but I don't want to spoil things, since Austen hasn't told us what it is yet, so I'm going with Toothpick Dandy. So you know.

Since Marianne is out of it and the store is full of customers, Elinor has plenty of time to observe the complete git at the jewelry counter. Now, here's the thing: Austen expends three full paragraphs on this guy, and she makes a complete mockery of him in doing so. He's vain, pompous, and frivolous, and we learn all of that without her using those terms. Check out how it's done:


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 insignificance, 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 puppyism 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 indifference.




John Dashwood

Hello, half-sisters! I've been in London for two full days already, but couldn't call on you because EVERYONE ELSE IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU. But I hear that your hostess is rich, and the Middletons are too (plus Sir John is a SIR), so I insist that you introduce me to them! Also, I hear the house that other people gave you when I refused to do the right thing is awesome. You are so very lucky!

Dear John Dashwood: You are a jackass. I'm just saying.

John Dashwood does indeed turn up the next day in order to suck up to Mrs. Jennings visit his sisters. And then Colonel Brandon turns up to pay a call, and John Dashwood decides that since Brandon and Elinor said hello to one another, they should get married. He graciously wishes that Brandon had four thousand a year, instead of just the two thousand he actually earns.

When Elinor, who knows full well that Brandon is in love with Marianne, says Brandon isn't interested in her, John Dashwood tells her to give him "those little attentions and encouragements which ladies can so easily give" in order to "secure" him, and then he makes a reference to how he and Fanny and his mother-in-law will all be SO HAPPY if she does that, since that will keep her away from Edward, which pisses them off they want to see her happy.

Then, as if he isn't already being a complete dick, John Dashwood tells Elinor that Edward is likely to be married. Turns out that Mrs. Ferrars wants him to marry a Miss Morton for her fortune, and she's willing to display her "liberality" by settling 1,000 pounds a year on him. That is not enough money to support John Dashwood's claim that she's a generous person, and all of Austen's contemporary readers would have laughed at her being described as "liberal". She also handed Fanny 200 pounds, earning John's gratitude because he is a cheap bastard. Who is complaining about expenses and boasting about getting a bunch of cash to his semi-impoverished sister. Again I say "John Dashwood is a jackass."

He further develops his jackassery (behold! I've coined a new word!) by talking about his "improvements" at Norland, where he has torn down a lovely grove of old walnut trees in order to build a greenhouse for Fanny and is busy enclosing the land. I talked about the inclosure/enclosure movement in detail in this Northanger Abbey post. Allow me to quote myself in part: "When General Tilney shows off his vast enclosures, it is because Austen means to point out how he has been enriched by the enclosure movement, and – quite possibly – how he is oblivious to or unconcerned with any hardship it causes to others. Also, greenhouses were particularly expensive to maintain[.]"

And he earns his Ph.D. in Jackass by talking about how Marianne has lost her "bloom", belaboring the (negative) change in her appearance and asserting that she will never look good again. He doesn't enquire after her in an "oh dear, is something wrong?" sort of way, but sort of bemoans her condition in a "how the hell did she let herself go like that?" manner. Then he says, "I shall tell Fanny that it's okay for her to call on Mrs Jennings after all, since she cleans up nicely for a lady whose husband earned his living by actually working for it" and skips off.


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