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Posts Tagged ‘Fanny Dashwood’

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.

Click here to read all my posts on Sense and Sensibility

Image created through Big Huge Labs. John Dashwood (James Fleet) and Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkisnon) from Sense and Sensibility, 1995.

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True or False? A single woman in possession of a good fortune has some free will in the choice of a husband. False, as far as Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood are concerned. The woman in question is Miss Morton, the late Lord Morton’s only daughter. This young lady not only comes from a good family, she is in possession of £30,000. Such prized attributes make her a hot commodity on the regency marriage mart.

In Sense and Sensibility, the reader is made acutely aware that Mrs. Ferrars has chosen Miss Morton for her eldest son, Edward. The readers never meet this poor girl, although her unseen presence looms large in the novel. Edward’s purse strings are controlled by his mother, and he stands to lose a fortune if he refuses to obey her. As Fanny Dashwood is quick to remind Mr. Dashwood, Edward will do his mother’s bidding. He has no choice.

Unbeknownst to both Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars, however, Edward has been engaged these many years to Lucy Steele, a little miss nobody with nothing but air and dust in her coffers. As soon as Mrs. Ferrars discovers this unpleasant fact, she disinherits Edward, and quickly switches sons on poor Miss Morton. This suggests that Robert and Edward are fairly interchangeable in their mother’s eyes*, and that Miss Morton would hardly notice the difference between them. (Or care if she did.)

As Miss Morton is lobbed from one son to the next, we begin to feel sorry for her. There is no mention of love or affection, merely the assumption that just as the Ferrars are after Miss Morton’s fortune, so Miss Morton must covet the Ferrars’s fortune. A conversation between an incredulous Elinor and her half-brother John Dashwood illustrates the point:

“We think NOW,”–said Mr. Dashwood, after a short pause, “of ROBERT’S marrying Miss Morton.”

Elinor, smiling at the grave and decisive importance of her brother’s tone, calmly replied,

“The lady, I suppose, has no choice in the affair.”

“Choice!–how do you mean?”

“I only mean that I suppose, from your manner of speaking, it must be the same to Miss Morton whether she marry Edward or Robert.”

“Certainly, there can be no difference; for Robert will now to all intents and purposes be considered as the eldest son;–and as to any thing else, they are both very agreeable young men: I do not know that one is superior to the other.”

Poor Miss Morton: first regarded as a piece of goods, and then jilted by two men! What a degrading situation. Wait, perhaps not. She escaped a lifetime of domination by an awful mother-in-law. We might laugh today at this comedic situation, but in a highly stratified society the BUSINESS of marriage was taken seriously. After coming out, young women were expected to display themselves and their talents in the best light possible, or their prospects of marriage might dim. They spent the social whirl meeting the right people and being seen in the right places. I suspect, however, that Miss Morton with her £30,000 pounds would be regarded as a diamond of the first water even if she developed acne, and had cross eyes and a snaggle tooth.

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