Book: Sense and Sensibility. Topic: John Dashwood’s promise to his father on his deathbed.
In this series of posts on ‘Jane’s Own Words’, I will simply let Jane speak for herself. The reasoning Fanny Dashwood uses to justify why John should not support his step mother and half sisters in the first Chapter of Sense and Sensibility, and how he comes to agree with her, is sheer genius, and is as harshly comic a passage as I have ever read. First, the death bed scene…
From Chapter One: Sense and Sensibility:
[Mr. Dashwood's] son was sent for, as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr. Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.
Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of the family; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature at such a time, and he promised to do everything in his power to make them comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance, and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much there might prudently be in his power to do for them.
He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was; he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself; more narrow-minded and selfish.
When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousand pounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother’s fortune, warmed his heart and made him feel capable of generosity. “Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.” He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent.
Click here to continue: Read Fanny’s self-serving justifications in convincing her weak-willed husband to relinquish his promise to his dying father to take care of Mrs. Dashwood and his half-sisters. To my way of thinking this is one of the funniest, most biting, and accomplished passages in any literary work.
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Image created through Big Huge Labs. John Dashwood (James Fleet) and Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkisnon) from Sense and Sensibility, 1995.