Thursday, 21 January 2010

Reading Sense and Sensibility - Part I : Title, Publication and some answers

My reading group is going on with the reading of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY .We are meeting and talking about this experience next Saturday 30th January. Meanwhile, I'm leafing through everything I have about this novel and preparing ideas to moderate the discussion. I'm going to listen more than to speak. At least, this is what I intend to do! I hope not to find myself in the funny situation Geraldine Granger (The BBC Vicar of Dibley) found herself once with her reading group. Well, you can't understand if you haven't seen the last episodes of the series (Christmas special 2007).

Title & Publication

First written in the epistolary form as Elinore and Marianne, it became Sense and Sensibility on its publication. It seems probable that Jane started it in 1795, changed the epistolary novel in a straightforward narration in 1797-98 (more or less the narrative we know now), then laid the manuscript aside for some years till she had moved to Chawton Cottage. In the summer of 1809 she looked at it again with a view to publication. She made little update changes and with her brother's Henry's assistance she offered it to a London publisher, Thomas Egerton. The book came out at the end of October 1811 with the anonymous wording "By a Lady" on the first page.

This is how Deirdre Le Faye explains the title of Austen's first published novel:
"First, the title needs a little explanation for a modern reader:"sense" has not changed its meaning, but "sensibility" is a word not now in common use. At the end of the eighteenth century it meant having a nature that was exceptionally sensitive, emotional and susceptible, and Jane Austen uses her sister heroines, Elinor and Marianne, to personify and contrast such a nature with one of calm, rational, practical good sense. Nowadays we might express something of the contrast by calling such a story "Head and Heart" or "Reality and Illusion".
(from Jane Austen. The World of Her Novels, p. 154)

And now some answers to the questions I posted previously. Only from 1.1 to 1.10. For the rest of them ...stay tuned!

I/I Under what circumstances did the Henry Dashwood family move in with Henry's uncle, old Mr Dashwood? He was unmarried, and when his sister, who was also his housekeeper, died, he invited the Henry Dash woods (wife, husband, three daughters) to move in with him as his future heirs, and the companions of his old age. They sold all the furniture in their house, Stanhill, keeping only the linen, china, and plate (wedding presents, presumably). We may suspect that the Henry Dashwoods are not prosperous. Henry's second marriage is to a woman much younger than himself (she is still a nubile late-thirty-something, at the beginning of the narrative). He, we assume, with a grown-up son from a first marriage, is probably at least a decade older. After ten years of this shared family life, old Mr Dashwood dies, leaving a life interest in the Norland estate to Mr Henry Dashwood.

1/2 How much money do the Dashwood women have between them, and how much do each of the three daughters individually possess? On his premature death, Henry Dashwood leaves his wife £7,000. His daughters are left £1,000 apiece by heir great-uncle. This will yield, as we are precisely informed, an annual income (from the Consols) of £500.

1/3 How much does the Norland estate yield annually to its new owner, Mr John Dashwood? A cool £4,000 a year. As the tenant for-life he evidently feels free to cut down its Valuable woods', starting with the 'old walnut trees' to make way for a conserva-tory and flower garden. Luckily, Marianne is not present when John Dashwood talks of this modernizing vandalism.

1/4 Mr John Dashwood's first intention was to honourhis father's deathbed wish by giving his half-sisters £3,000. How much, after being persuaded by his mercenary wife on the matter, does he finally resolve to give them? And how much does he actually come across with? The couple eventually decide that a 'a present of fifty pounds, now and then' will be appropriate. It never materializes.

1/5 What is the largest and most cumbersome object the Dashwood ladies have to transport to Barton Cottage? Marianne's pianoforte.

1/6 In which month of the year do the Dashwoodladies arrive at Barton Park? September. The fact that it is late in the year means that (1) Mrs Dashwood cannot immediately carry out her 'improvements' (the implication is that, as in Sterne's Shandy Hall, they never will happen); (2) with the onset of winter, the fallow season, and long nights there will be the field sports and evening parties which 'social' Sir John loves. It may well be that he invited the ladies to his estate with that in mind.

1/7 What is Sir John’s favourite term for handsome young girls (for whom he clearly has an eye)? 'Monstrous pretty!'

1/8 Mrs Jennings is a widow with 'an ample jointure'. What is that? A life interest in property, settled on her by her deceased husband. She cannot dispose of it as she might wish, through a will. It will go to her children. Mrs Jennings is one of the two women in the novel (the other is Mrs Ferrars) who are in charge of considerable wealth, and the social power which goes with it. She seems to get on very well with both her daughters, different characters though they are. They, on their side, seem to get on very well with their mother (there is no mercenary interest, of course; the terms of their father's will make it clear the family wealth will eventually come to them). Such happy families are not found everywhere in Austen's fiction.

1/9 Whatis Willoughby, a Somersetshireman,doingin Devon? He comes down every year for the shooting (he is evidently friendly with Sir John) and to pay his addresses to his patroness and elderly cousin Mrs Smith of Allenham.

1/10 What word sums up Lady Middleton? Insipid.

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