Welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for Jane Austen lovers and nerds who love bold and witty leading women, awkward and handsome men and all things nerdy. In this podcast we discuss Jane Austen’s novels, her life and influences, and Austen’s influence on British literature, feminism, entertainment, and modern literature. And as much nerdom as we can get away with.
I’m your host Casey Meserve.
Together, we’ll read Austen’s published works and discuss the major themes running through each of them. We’ll also take time to talk about Austen criticism, her earliest fans and her place as an author in the 21st century.
Join me for a ride with Austen’s charming young ladies through the 19th century English countryside, ballrooms, spas and seaside towns. Along the way we’ll visit Bath, Lyme Regis, Derbyshire and London.
We’ll talk about Jane’s home life, her family, friendships, love interests, the British Navy, 18th and 19th century novels, and how all of these things influenced Austen’s writing.
We’ll begin with her first published novel and with luck, and sarcasm, cover all of Austen’s major novels, juvenalia, unfinished works and all of the zany adaptations of her work.
This podcast was influenced by many sources. First, Drunk Austen, the hilariously dirty blog and online community by Robin and Bianca who knew it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman must be in want of a drink. These two ladies recently went their separate ways so this podcast is in part, to thank them for their dedication, effort and wonderful work they did for Austen fans.
Second, this podcast would not exist without the Prancing Pony Podcast by Alan Sisto and Shawn Marchese. Their passion for J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings inspired me to begin my own podcast on another of my favorite authors, Jane Austen.
I want to thank Alan and Shawn for the love and hardwork those two gentlemen put into their podcast.
They inspired me to name this podcast Ents and Sensibility, playing on Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, and JRR Tolkien’s gigantic tree shepherds, the Ents. If you have ever ardently loved a tree, then you’ll understand. If you haven’t, then you should consider it, because trees are delightful.
Now, let me introduce myself. My name is Casey, I grew up in Massachusetts in the United States, and now live in Rhode Island. I have a master’s degree in English and I’ve worked as a reporter, a news editor and a marketer. I’m a life-long book nerd with a passion for British lit and fantasy. I love sci-fi, gothic horror, coming of age novels and classic literature. I’m obsessed with Star Trek The Next Generation, Lord of the Rings, and of course, Jane Austen. I wasn’t fortunate enough to read Austen in college courses, but I’m hoping that this podcast will help fill that gap.
My first experience with Austen was lying half asleep in bed late one night watching the 1940 Laurence Oliveir- Greer Garson version of Pride and Prejudice. I was a freshman in college and was flipping channels until I saw the old black and white movie.At the time I was more interested in the ridiculous Mr. and Mrs. Bennet than Lizzy and Darcy’s romance. Always looking for something new at the bookstore, I immediately bought the book and was surprised to find that Lizzy was not an incredible archer, and that Lady Catherine wasn’t actually testing Lizzy when she charged into Longbourn and demanded that Lizzy tell her she wasn’t planning to marry Darcy.
Well,after Pride and Prejudice, I bought Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma and Northanger Abbey. It wasn’t until years later that I finally saw the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and discovered Colin Firth.
Since I’m an ex-reporter, I thought that a News segment would be a nice addition to this podcast.
In Austen News Today.
I’m recording this episode in December, and I would be remiss if I didn’t first wish Miss Austen a happy 245th birthday. Jane was born December 16, 1775 at Steventon Rectory in Steventon, a village in Hampshire, England. She was the second daughter and seventh child to George Austen, a clergyman, and his wife Cassandra. In a letter about her birth, her father wrote that her mother “certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago”. And that Jane’s arrival was particularly welcome as “a future companion to her sister.” Le Faye (2004), 27; Nokes (1998), 51
Jane and her sister Cassandra become almost inseparable companions throughout Jane’s life. We’ll discuss their relationship throughout this podcast.
But right now, let’s raise a glass and wish Miss Austen a very happy birthday.
Also in news, Alan Rickman’s diaries are being published. Rickman played Col. Brandon in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility. According to the Guardian:
27 handwritten volumes of his “witty, gossipy and utterly candid” thoughts about his career and life spanning more than 25 years set to be edited down into a single book.
Publisher Canongate will publish The Diaries of Alan Rickman in autumn 2022. Rickman began writing the diaries by hand in the early 1990s, with the intention that they would one day be published. He wrote right until his death in 2016, from pancreatic cancer at the age of 69.
Now, I have to be honest. I was about half way through the movie before I realized that Col. Brandon was played by Severus Snape. And it took me years to realize that the same actor played the Sheriff of Nottingham in the delightfully bad Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Hans Gruber in the second best Christmas movie ever made, Die Hard.
I found an interview of Rickman talking about playing Col. Brandon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-bZ1ggubOc
That’s all for Austen News Today.
Since this is the first episode, we’ll start at the beginning, with Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. It might not be the very beginning of Austen’s writing career, but it’s still a very good place to start.
Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 by Thomas Egarton of the Military Library. This publishing house usually published books on maritime military history but agreed to publish Austen’s book when her brother, Henry, brought it to them. Austen paid 460 pounds to have the novel published herself. Fortunately Sense and Sensibility was a huge success and sold out it’s first printing, earning Austen £140 after paying to have the novel published. That would be about £11,000 in 2020 or about $14,600. The novel was a hit and Austen published two more with Egarton, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park.
Now, that Sense and Sensibility has a proper introduction–very important in Georgian and Regency England–let’s get into today’s reading.
(Read p1, pp 1-3)
Let’s talk about the introduction. We already have several characters and one death and a lengthy timeline.
Old Mr. Dashwood invites Henry and his family to live on his estate Norland Park, after his sister dies. They live together for several years and have a happy life.
Old Mr. Dashwood dies and instead of ensuring his estate descends to Henry and his family naturally, he entails it to Henry’s grandson, which means Henry only has the use of the property during his lifetime, and when he dies, his wife and daughters will not get anything from the estate. But he does give them each 1000 pounds, which is about 50 pounds a year. About 7500 pounds or $8000 today. That’s nice, but it’s not enough to live on. Misogyny much?
Instead, Norland goes to Henry Dashwood’s grandson, but this four year old kid doesn’t need the estate. He’s got all these properties and estates already entailed to him. John Dashwood’s mother’s money, and his own mother’s money. This kid is all set. But Old Man Dashwood decided to give his properties to a child he’s only met a few times rather than the family that loves him.
In the next paragraph, Austen tells us Henry is a happy go lucky guy and doesn’t let this set back bother him. “His disappointment was at first severe; but his temper was cheerful and sanguine, and he might reasonably hope to live many years, and he might reasonably hope to live many years, and by living economically, lay by a considerable sum from the produce of an estate already large, and capable of almost immediate improvement.” p2, pp3.
He thinks he still has years and can save for his daughters in the meantime. He could sell part of the property or sell timber from Norland’s woods. He had plans to work the estate so he could leave something for his second family to live off when he died.
But Jane don’t play like that. Read p2 pp3 “But the fortune…-p 3, pp1)
Less than a year after Old Man Dashwood dies, Henry also dies.
Before he kicks off, Henry calls for John from his deathbed, and forces him to promise to take care of his sisters and his stepmother. Austen says John Dashwood “has 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.”
That’s enough to satisfy his father and Henry dies. Norland descends to his John and his son. Henry’s widow and daughters get 10k pounds to live on and that’s it.
Now, John has a promise to keep, but Austen says that not only does he not have strong feelings as the rest of the family,…
“He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold-hearted and rather selfish 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.”
This is one of those passages where Austen tells us one thing and then immediately says the opposite.
John is “cold-hearted and rather selfish to be ill disposed.” He’s kind of a dick, but no one calls him on it because he’s so “proper and well respected.”
Now, he’s promised to help his family, but Henry left out the part about how to help them. So John has to figure that out himself. He decides he can give his sisters another thousand pounds each. This isn’t a thousand pounds a year, this is just one lump sum. “It’s 3000 pounds, from his own fortune, the half of his mother’s fortune he has, and the new 4000 a year he has from Norland. “He could spare so considerable a sum with very little inconvenience.”
This is about 40- 50 pounds a year each for his sisters, who will live on the interest of this and that of the 1000 pounds that Old Man Dashwood had left them.
Then the narrator admits that John Dashwood is pretty terrible, but he might have been an OK dude if he had married a nice woman, but Mrs. John is just awful.
“Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself: more narrow-minded and selfish.”
Fanny aka Mrs. John shows up at Norland as soon as Henry is buried. No call, no letter, just shows up with her son and her staff and moves right in.
And quote “No one could dispute her right to come; the house was her husband’s from the moment of his father’s decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much the greater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood’s situation, with only common feelings, must have been highly unpleasing; but in her mind there was a sense of honor so keen, a generosity so romantic, that any offense of the kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her a source of immovable disgust. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favorite with any of her husband’s family; but she had no opportunity till the present of showing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it.”
It’s like, hey, you can stop looking so sad now, I’m here. Oh, and please move your stuff out of the master bedroom. But Fanny probably didn’t even notice they were sad.
Mrs. Henry Dashwood despises her DIL. She never liked her, but now she’s disgusted by Fanny’s action. Fanny hasn’t come to visit, she’s come to stay. She’s the lady of the house now that Henry is dead, and wants everyone to know.
Mrs. Henry would have left Norland immediately if her oldest daughter, Elinor, hadn’t talked her out of it. And she decides to stay because she doesn’t want a family split with her SIL. She still has hope that John will take care of his sisters.
Finally, at the end of the chapter, we meet the daughters.
Elinor is the oldest at 19, and acts like the little mother, she’s cool and composed, totally unlike the rest of her family. She “possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgement which qualified her…to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of all of them, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence.”
But the narrator also says Elinor wasn’t an ice queen. “She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong, but she knew how to govern them:…”
So Elinor is affectionate, but she keeps her emotions to herself. She’s not passionate or reckless. She thinks before she acts. She’s the sensible one.
Marianne is the complete opposite.
“She’s sensible and clever, but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.”
Marianne is passionate. She makes sure everyone knows her opinions and her feelings about everything. She refuses to even try to rein herself in. Her mother loves this about Marianne and they feed off each other.
“The agony of grief which overpowered them at first was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future.”
They don’t just mourn Henry’s death and try to move on. They wallow in their sorrow, and seek to increase it anyway they can. So maybe they secretly enjoy Fanny’s arrival because it gives them another chance to feel wretched?
Elinor wishes both of them would chill out.
Elinor is the only person who can get her mother to try to act politely.
The narrator says Elinor was affected by her father’s death too, but she could still move and act. She could talk with John, politely welcome Fanny, and treat her properly as the new lady of the house.
Finally there’s Margaret, a good-humoured, well-disposed girl. But Marianne has already gotten to her. “She’ had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne’s romance, without having much of her sense.”
The narrator doesn’t have much hope for her.
So we have
We’ve come to the end of Chapter 1 and now I’d like to talk about the style of this novel.
Critics have viewed Sense and Sensibility as a satirical response to the sentimental novels that were popular in the second half of the 18th century, and which Austen would have read as a girl and young woman. This genre celebrated sentimentalism and sensibility, two concepts that relied on the emotional response of both their characters and readers. They feature scenes of tenderness and distress arranged to advance both emotions and actions in the novel. Characters in sentimental novels were not only deeply moved by sympathy for their fellow man but also reacted emotionally to the beauty inherent in natural settings and works of art and music.
The ability to display feelings was believed to show character and experience and to shape social life and relations, according to the Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period.
One famous sentimental novel is Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson published in 1740.
Pamela tells the story of 15 year old servant named Pamela Andrews, who is employed by the wealthy landowner Mr. B. After Pamela’s mother dies, Mr. B makes unwanted and super creepy advances toward her. Pamela falls in love with him but resists his advances, and eventually, marries him. The story is told through a series of letters and journal entries addressed to Pamela’s parents. This is one of the first novels written by a man to address women’s interior lives, their emotions, thoughts and opinions, rather than just seeing a woman at surface level. So Pamela, through her tumultuous emotions and her ability to feel delicate sensations was a sort of prototype of the sentimental novel.
The most basic comparisons with this genre are in Sense and Sensibility’s title: Elinor represents Sense. She holds in her emotions, acts correctly at all times, and does not allow her emotions to affect her actions. And Marianne represents Sensibility. She’s sentimental and emotional, and refuses to contain herself. Her love of nature, poetry and music could be written in the sentimental genre.
Early critics compare the sentimental Marianne, whose sensations make her miserable; and Elinor, who is more sensible and controls her responses to the actions of others.
Another genre that Sense and Sensibility subverts is the “conduct book,” which was sort of a manual written as a story that codified social and domestic behavior among men and women and their servants,
Going back to Pamela for a moment, what’s funny is Richardson wanted “Pamela” to be considered a “conduct book,” and when most readers at the time were more interested in the lascivious parts of the book, he wrote a response called A Collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflexions, Contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison.
This book is basically a list of annotations to the books listed in the title. I added a link it in the show notes so you can read what Richardson says about women. It’s hilariously sexist from a modern POV. In one section titled “Advantages of Men over Women, owing to Women themselves.” He says “The love of praise, and to be flattered and admired, which predominates in the sex, from sixteen to sixty, gives the men great advantages over them, iv. 465. .
Some of the early critics of Sense and Sensibility viewed Austen’s novel as a conduct book, showing how Marianne and Willoughby are punished for rebelling against the social order of the time, while Elinor and Edward Ferrars are eventually rewarded.
An “Unsigned Review” from the May 1812 British Critic further emphasizes the novel’s function as a type of conduct book. In this author’s opinion, Austen’s favouring of Elinor’s temperament over Marianne’s provides the lesson. The review claims that “the object of the work is to represent the effects on the conduct of life, of discreet quiet good sense on the one hand, and an overrefined and excessive susceptibility on the other.” The review states that Sense and Sensibility contains “many sober and salutary maxims for the conduct of life” within a “very pleasing and entertaining narrative.”
We’ll talk more about both of these genres and how Austen satirizes them in future episodes.
Next episode, we’ll read Chapters 2 and 3 and and we’ll get to know the worst sister in law ever. We’ll talk about the role that money has in women’s lives at the turn of the 17th century, We’ll also delve more into Jane Auten’s life and relationships, and how her own mother may have influenced Austen’s fictional mothers.
Thank you for listening to the “Ents and Sensibility Podcast.” This episode was written and produced by me, Casey Meserve. You can follow me on Twitter at @EntsandSensibilty, that’s E-N-T-S and Sensibility, or join the conversation on our Facebook page ——–, or Instagram. You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Checkout our website EntsandSensibility.com for episode notes, a list of books mentioned on the podcast. I’d like your opinion for things to offer our potential patrons, so please let me know.
Thank you and I hope you’ll visit again soon.