Sunday, March 7, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 5 & 6

I do admire Mrs. Dashwood for being "exceedingly rapid in the performance of every thing that interested her" (p. 48).  This is something I wish I had more of -- often, I'll have things I want to do and know I will enjoy doing, but I'll put it off because of silly reasons, and then it just never happens.  So I say, good for you, Mrs. Dashwood, for getting your moving plans all settled so swiftly!  And she even politely invites John and Fanny to visit them... though I suspect she knows they won't ever take her up on the invitation, so it's kind of a safe offer, lol.  She also pointedly invites Edward Ferrars to visit them, in his sister Fanny's hearing, so that Fanny knows that Mrs. Dashwood is NOT leaving simply because Fanny told her that Elinor would be an unsuitable wife for Edward.  She's a canny one sometimes, that Mrs. Dashwood.

You know, for a romantic hero, and suitor to one of the two main characters of this novel, Edward Ferrars doesn't get much page time in this first part, does he?  I don't think we get even one direct line of dialog from him!  People talk about him a lot, but that's all.  Makes him shadowy and mysterious, I suppose?

I absolutely love this about the Dashwood ladies:  "each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy" (p. 52).  Isn't that the kindest thing they could do for each other, and for themselves too?  All of them are sad about having to leave their home, but they are not going to add to the sadness of those around them by showing how sad they are.  Not even Marianne, who waxes so eloquent about "Dear, dear Norland!" (p. 50) when they depart.

And I laughed aloud over the beginning of that second paragraph in chapter six, where Austen says that Barton Cottage is a total disappointment when it comes to the Romantic ideals of a cottage because it's too comfortable and modern and well-built!  Oh, I love Austen's snark.

Interestingly, Barton Cottage has about the same number of rooms as the house I live in.  We have four bedrooms, a dining room, a library, a living room, and a kitchen.  And yet, our house feels huge to me!  But that's because until we bought Tir Asleen about ten years ago, we lived in small apartments.  We also have a full basement, though, which the Dashwoods wouldn't.  But still.  Maybe I should have named this something with "cottage" in the name instead.

My annotated copy tells us that "Jane Austen would have an excellent sense of how much Mrs. Dashwood could afford, for in the last part of her life, the time when this and other novels were published, she was in a very similar situation.  She and her mother and sister inhabited a house of comparable size, also called a cottage, and enjoyed around the same level of wealth, having a little less than five hundred a year in income" (p. 55).  Write what you know, right?  Austen lived in Chawton Cottage, which belonged to the estate her brother inherited from a wealthy relative.  She and her mother and sister did not have to pay rent, however, which gave them a little more freedom and comfort than the Dashwoods.  

If you would like to see what Chawton Cottage was like, where Austen lived while publishing her novels, you can take a virtual tour right here!  I'd love to visit there for real some day, but for right now, this is a pretty nifty option.

Isn't Sir John Middleton sweet?  A little overbearing, yes, but sweet.  Note:  I'll be referring to him as Sir John, so as not to confuse him with John Dashwood, the ickmeister.  Notice how Sir John actually DOES all the things John Dashwood just thought about doing, like sending fresh game and a large basket of vegetables to the Dashwoods to welcome them, and even offering to be their own private postman.  There wasn't any home delivery outside of large cities like London at that time, so you had to go to the nearest post office to get and send your mail.  The Dashwoods had to give up their carriage, so they would have had to walk all the way to the village, so this is a very helpful thing to do for them!

Notice that Sir John is about forty, but his wife is about twenty-seven.  Marriages with a fairly large disparity in ages were common at that time, and we'll talk more about that later.  Sir John is so nice and friendly, but his wife is only coldly civil, so she's not going to be an option for a new friend for any of the Dashwoods, it looks like.

I cracked up again over Austen's aside that "[o]n every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse" (p. 58).  I liked having babies and toddlers who wanted to be held a lot when we were visiting with people because they gave me something to do with my hands and something obvious to talk about.

Okay, that's all my musings for these two chapters!  By the way, do NOT feel like you need to stick to the discussion questions in your comments -- feel free to mention anything you noticed or wanted to discuss.  And ask your own questions for me or other people to answer!!!

Discussion Questions:

1.  I mentioned that Edward Ferrars really only gets talked about in these first chapters.  Do you think there's a reason Austen leaves him off the page so much in this early part?

2.  Do you prefer a smaller or a larger house, yourself?

3.  Are you more inclined toward music, like Marianne, or toward visual art, like Elinor?

25 comments:

  1. I'm not reading along, but I know the story so well, I may as well comment, right? ;)

    Mrs. Dashwood strikes me as an extrovert -- she's very engaged with the environment, proactive, and knows how to take little digs at people. And yes, John Dashwood is pure trash. Every time I hear his name now, I think about "Mycroft" playing him in the most recent miniseries and I start laughing, but really there's nothing to chuckle about in being such a miser you constantly squeeze your stepmother and her daughters out of a livelihood, when you can well afford to help them. JERK.

    I recently read a bio about Jane by Lucy Worsley (Goddess of Research) and she talked about how much Jane had an ongoing theme of "home" and needing to find it in her stories; in almost every single book, either the home is under threat of being taken away (by Mr. Collins, for example) or they are searching for a place to call home (Marianne and Elinor), which tied in to Jane's own insecurities about being an unmarried woman and often 'removed' from her various homes due to financial instabilities. In her childhood, her father even needed money so badly he sent her and her sister to school, so he could take in borders and 'let out' their rooms, so Jane must have felt home-less at a very young age. It certainly haunts her writing.

    My house is small by modern standards -- three bedrooms (one of which I use as a guest room, and another as my office), a living/dining room that flow into each other, one bathroom, and a kitchen with an add-on porch. It was originally a shotgun house built over 100 years ago and used in a mining town, but they brought it down out of the mountains and placed it on the ranch in the 1930s. My grandparents raised 4 kids in it, which now makes me feel spoiled. It's just me and 2 cats. In my mind, the bigger the house, the more work it is to clean -- but then, I think the Dashwoods were rather more focused on 'appearances' than practicality, since they weren't used to assuming they had to do everything for themselves.

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    1. Charity, absolutely! Join right on in :-)

      I definitely see Mrs. Dashwood as an extrovert, yup. And your characterization of John Dashwood as "pure trash" makes me chuckle. So. Accurate. (And having him played by 'Mycroft' busts me up too.) Such a complete jerk.

      I have seen good things about Worsley's book. I think I should get it. I love that observation about Austen's books having home (or the lack/loss thereof) as a central theme, because yes! I see that too! And I bet that's true, that it was Jane's own uncertainty from childhood on that informed that. I bet my lack of close friends for fairly large chunks of my childhood and young adulthood is why friendship is huge for me, and why I need to feel like a fictional character would be my friend before I like them. I have had a lot of fictional friends over the years.

      Your house sounds amazing! How wonderful to live in part of your own family history.

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  2. I am really enjoying this read-along! In fact I'm learning some things about Austen from you and really liked being able to see her cottage. I truly like Mrs. Dashwood's spirit when she has to move from her beautiful home after being displaced by that awful Fannie! I've always thought I liked a large home like the one we live in now, but I know as I get older it's going to be a lot of work to keep clean. My own parents moved to a smaller home when they retired, and it was very comfortable for them.

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    1. Mom, I'm so glad! Isn't that virtual tour cool?

      Mrs. Dashwood does hold up well under a lot of stress. Although she's more into the "sensibility" side of things, she has grit when she needs to!

      If only your large house had come with a full complement of servants to care for it!

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  3. 1. I mentioned that Edward Ferrars really only gets talked about in these first chapters. Do you think there's a reason Austen leaves him off the page so much in this early part?

    - She ran out of early material? Or maybe to keep an element of mystery to the character. Everything in this book moves incredibly fast, there's no waiting around. Edward has just been casually mentioned, but we've never actually met the man himself (as in, we haven't had any dialogue from him), he's just talked about by either the narrator or the Dashwoods' themselves. There could be a plethora of reasons.

    2. Do you prefer a smaller or a larger house, yourself?

    - Smaller houses! It might have to do with my mild agoraphobia which extends to fear of big spaces. However, big houses always seem so cold and lonely. Beautiful as they may be, I find little warmth in big houses. I've always preferred smaller, cozier homes. It's the Hobbit in me, I guess.

    3. Are you more inclined toward music, like Marianne, or toward visual art, like Elinor?

    - Visual art. Even though I can't draw, I've always been drawn to classic art.

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    1. Ivy Miranda, you're right, it DOES have a very fast pace. Every chapter is just, boom, this is happening now.

      I'm a Hobbit more on the order of Bilbo with his many tunnels and many rooms and plenty of space to keep stuff in ;-)

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  4. That is so fascinating about the two John's, I'd not noticed it. I thought too much about Sir John's vulgarity rather than his generosity.

    1. I mentioned that Edward Ferrars really only gets talked about in these first chapters. Do you think there's a reason Austen leaves him off the page so much in this early part?
    Hmm, maybe since this was her first work, she was trying to figure him out herself? Trying to work out his story more? I think you are right about the mystery, I think she probably kept it that way so we could see how little we knew of him or that we were missing some significant information and could be stunned with Elinor.

    2. Do you prefer a smaller or a larger house, yourself? Well, if it was just me personally, a cottage would suit, but then I'd be scared out of my wits.

    3. Are you more inclined toward music, like Marianne, or toward visual art, like Elinor? Visual art, I get sensory and emotional overload too easily with music.

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    1. Livia Rachelle, I think the 1995 version does play up Sir John's more insensitive, jokey side and that kind of overshadows how truly helpful he is, and that kind of has affected my own image of him. My brain is refusing to remember what he's like in the BBC version for some reason, but I'm guessing he's also kind of loud and clueless?

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  5. We do get one line from Edward: "Devonshire! Are you, indeed, going there? So far from hence! and to what part of it?". Poor guy does get sidelined in the beginning a little. It almost suits him, though? He doesn't seek attention so Jane Austen didn't expose him unnecessarily. If I hadn't known the story I wouldn't think that we'd see him again, haha!

    Mrs. Dashwood and her passive aggressive behavior was cracking me up! Lol!

    I haven't had to talk to people in a long time, but I always loved it if kids or pets were there to distract me. Yeah, I'm definitely an introvert.

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    1. Oh, and I listen to more music than look at art, but I don't do either myself. Only when my sister convinces me to. :-)

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    2. MC, you're right!!! We do get one line of direct dialog from Edward. I completely missed it. Good eye! And I think you're right, he's reticent and doesn't want to be noticed or reported or quoted, so it suits him.

      Mrs. Dashwood is totally awesome in this. Take that, Fanny!

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  6. 1.I don't think Edward takes up much place in this first part of the book because the family is going to have to move quite far away (Jane Austen's choice) and perhaps she didn't know herself if (or how) she was going to bring Edward back again.

    2. I lived in a big house when my children were growing up, but I live in a small apartment now. If I'd had the choice, once my children had left home, I would have liked to move to a smaller house with less upkeep.

    3. I'm more inclined to visual art, though I like to listen to music, classical, traditional jazz and some folk songs.

    I would like to mention that I really understood Marianne when she left the big house, but especially the garden and how she said goodbye to the trees. I found leaving my garden, especially the back garden with a rockery and lovely plants, a small pond and a place where I used to like to sit in the summer evenings with one or several of my children chatting or simply looking at the lovely sky.

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    1. Sandra, that could be! We can only speculate, eh?

      I do sympathize a lot with Marianne when she has to leave. I mean, they've been there since she was like ten years old! When I was 12, we moved away from our home of 9 years, and I definitely spent time saying goodbye to favorite trees.

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  7. I listen to music more than looking at art but I love both! Interesting, but not necessarily surprising, that Marianne and Elinor have different likes.

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    1. Dale, I am similar -- I listen to music and play music and sing quite a bit, but I enjoy looking at art, and used to dabble in it.

      Don't you think that Elinor and Marianne have pursuits that really reflect the themes of the book? Elinor draws things, which requires observing and analyzing something outside yourself. Marianne plays music that appeals to the emotions and sensations of this very moment...

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  8. I think Edward may not get much 'on page' time as part of his character development (weird as that may sound). He's a very quiet, shy person and I feel like even if he was in more scenes, he still would say next to nothing. :D Additionally, he might give away stuff to readers about the fact that he's not actually available to Elinor. Idk...just thoughts.

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    1. Eva, I like that idea, of him not saying much on page because that shows us something about his character!

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  9. 1. By not giving any direct quotations from Edward, Austen keeps him a little more distant. I am not sure why she would choose to do that. Perhaps he is not a major focus yet? They are moving and adjusting to reduced income, those are big changes. And we do get other characters' opinions of him. Not sure why we don't get a better introduction to him personally.

    3. I much prefer music to visual art, which may be the only thing I can relate to Marianne on.

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    1. AnnMarie, yeah, I do think partly she's very focused on the girls and their situation, and a potential romance is kind of a side issue right now.

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  10. I love how different the two Johns are it keeps me from getting confused. I love that she drew off of her own life and situation a bit.

    It is kinda funny that Edward is more of a conversation piece. Maybe she's trying to keep an air of mystery about him.

    I prefer smaller comfy houses.

    I love art and music, it's hard to choose.

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    1. Skye, hey, good point! Easier to tell which John we're talking about by how nice he's being.

      Edward as a conversation piece is making me grin. Like he's an objet d'art on the table in the hall. "What do you think of our new Edward?" "Oh, yes, so elegant. Lovely addition to the foyer."

      No reason at all to choose between art and music! They go so well together, in fact :-)

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  11. Exactly!! There are so many amazing ideas/things I want to do, but I have to work on decisive, dedicated speed in actually dispatching them. *face palm*

    I love mansions, but daily living wise I get creeped out by the idea of people climbing in unexpected windows or something, so on the whole much prefer comfy small domiciles. That said, four bedrooms sounds luxurious (we've only got the two) so Barton Cottage sounds like pretty much the perfect size. ;)

    Hmmm. I don't know really. I can play a couple instruments with a (generally) passable degree of accomplishment (Lizzy-esque, if I may be pardoned for bringing another heroine into the discussion) and I really don't draw at all (though thinking of dabbling in it from time to time is very interesting). I have been known to go down huge long art history rabbit trails at times (even squealing over a piece of art in subdued tones at a museum when finding an old friend) though. So I guess make of that what ye will. :)

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    1. Heidi, yes, you have accurately described my life right there.

      I have to say I've never worried that someone was going to climb in the window of a mansion I was imaginarily inhabiting. Interesting! However, my current house has 4 bedrooms and is honestly a little more cleaning than I can really deal with (by which I mean, the entire house is never totally clean all at the same time), so if I had an actual mansion, I would need some servants to clean it...

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  12. WHOA, that virtual tour is like The Neatest Thing Ever. 🤩😳

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