Thursday 26 February 2015

Austen, Jane "Sense & Sensibility"

Austen, Jane "Sense & Sensibility" - 1811
The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club

This was the sixth book I read with this blog and the challenge to read and discuss Jane Austen's novels with a view of the mothers in the stories.

You can see my reviews of "Pride & Prejudice", "Mansfield Park", "Persuasion", "Emma" and "Northanger Abbey" here.

If you have not read this novel, I refer you to my more general review here because this one will contain spoilers.

There are a lot more mothers in this novel than in the last one, the whole book is full of mothers who all contribute a lot to the story. There is a lot of action in this novel, life is not without any challenges for our heroines, the Dashwood sisters and the location is changed several times, from their father's estate Norland Park in Sussex to Barton Cottage in Devonshire and then to London and back to Devon via Cleveland, the estate of the Parkers.

But let's have a look at all the mothers in "Sense & Sensibility".

Mrs. Dashwood, Fanny Dashwood (née Ferrars), Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton (née Jennings), Charlotte Palmer (née Jennings)
Mrs. Smith, aunt to John Willoughby

Mrs. Dashwood
Mrs. Dashwood is the second wife of Mr. Henry Dashwood. His house is entailed so passed on to his son from his first marriage which leaves Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters in the position Mrs. Bennett from Pride & Prejudice is always dreading. However, same as Mrs. Bennett, despite being a totally helpless person herself, she seems to have been able to rise a completely sensible daughter, Elinor, who takes over all the worries and cares for the family.

She does want what's best for her daughters, or at least what she thinks is best for her daughters. She encourages Marianne in her pursuit of John Willoughby rather than following Elinor's advice to be careful.

But she probably was raised just the same, the kind of daughter who is supposed to marry well and then sit back and have others raise her children. That was the only option for women at the time, at least of a certain class.

Fanny Dashwood (née Ferrars)
Oh dear, can anybody be more selfish, manipulative, snobbish? She married John Dashwood only for the money, I am sure. And that's the main reason why she doesn't want a sister of her husband for her brother, because the sisters are penniless. And so, her brothers have to marry for money, as well. It's what people used to do in their circles.

I don't think she is very happy with her husband and I dare say she is not a good mother, either. She will say she loves her kids with all their heart but I am sure she would do just the same to them as her mother did to Edward in case they turn up with a non-desirable partner.

Mrs. Ferrars
Is there any "villain" in any of the Austen novels that is worse than Mrs. Ferrars? Disinherits her own son because he doesn't want to marry someone she chose for him. What kind of a mother is that? Well, nowadays that would be unheard of, at the time, for people with money, it was probably not as unusual but I still can't believe anybody doing that. In the end, she just opens his way to marry someone he really wants. Serves her right.

Mrs. Jennings
I know she is quite a chatterbox and gossips about everyone but you just have to like her, she means well, she loves her daughters, she even loves the Dashwood girls who have nothing to do with her. She takes them under her wings with the design to find them a good husband.

Of course, Marianne dislikes her but she really has a kind heart and is very helpful and supportive.

Lady Middleton (née Jennings)
Her husband, Sir John Middleton, is the Dashwood's relative who gives them Barton Cottage. He seems a very generous and caring person whereas his wife, Mrs. Jenning's daughter, seems to be more the fashion type of wife, the one who just presents her nice clothes to everyone, leaves the education of her children to the nurse and doesn't care at all about others. Again, probably something ladies were raised to do at the time. Still, there are others who show their heart more, including her own mother.

Charlotte Palmer (née Jennings)
Mrs. Jennings' other daughter who seems more talkative than her sister, a little more simple but a lot more kind-hearted. She might not be the smartest of the ladies in this novel but she is more like her mother than her sister, cares more for the Dashwood sisters than her sister, as well, and is one of the few who really wants to know how they are doing. She also cares a lot about her child, more than most of the other ladies in the novel. She seems to be a very good mother, especially if you look at the time and what was expected of people of certain standing.

Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Smith doesn't really appear in the novel but she is talked about quite often and has a huge influence on the whole story. She is Willoughby's aunt, the one he visits when he is in Devon and whose house and wealth he is supposed to inherit. Had she not heard of his mistakes (or had he not made them), he would still be her heir and could have married Marianne. But as it is, she does hear of it and disinherits him. And bravo for that. She stands up for her principles and shows the young man that he can't just do whatever he likes without feeling the consequences. Well, Marianne feels the consequences even more but we all know that that is going to have a happy ending, as well.

From the back cover:
"Compelled to leave Norland in Sussex for Barton Cottage in Devonshire, the two sisters are soon accepted into their new society. Marianne, whose sweet radiance and open nature charm the roguish John Willoughby, is soon deeply in love. Elinor, whose disposition is more cautious and considered, who carefully conceals her emotions, is suffering the loss of Edward Ferrars whom she has left behind.
Despite their very different personalities, both sisters experience great sorrows in their affairs of the heart: Marianne demonstrably wretched and Elinor allowing no one to see her private heartache. It is, however, the qualities common to them both - discernment, constancy and integrity in the face of the fecklessness of others - that allow them entry into a new life of peace and contentment."

Find a link to all my Jane Austen reviews here.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2022.


  1. This is one of my favorites though I must say most of the Mothers don't come off very well. I think Miss Austen saw them as rather ineffective. I love Elinor, but my heart belongs to Marianne who feels everything.

    1. I totally agree. I don't think many mothers do come off that well in Jane Austen's novels. I don't think she was that close herself to her own mother and neither the author nor her beloved sister Cassandra were mothers themselves, so she didn't really have a very positive mother figure in her life.

      As to the two heroines of this story, my favourite is Elinor. She loves just as much as Marianne but has to be sensible because someone has to keep the family together and take care of everyone and this seems to fall to her. Marianne, she's her mothers daughters, growing up selfish and non-sensitive. Maybe I am more like Elinor than my name sister, who knows?

      Have a good weekend,

    2. I probably should mention that I am also the older sister though I only have younger brothers.

  2. I'm the middle of 3 girls. I guess I identify with Marianne because I too, at a very young age, fell impulsively in love. I was luckier than Marianne because I fell in love with Col. Brandon and we'll have our 50th wedding anniversary this year.

    1. That is interesting. So, you do have the same position as Marianne and I have a similar to Elinor (eldest but no sisters). Maybe that makes quiet a difference.

      I did get married late, again something I share more with Elinor. Don't you think that is very interesting?

      Have a good week,