Episode 3: He is in fact a hobbit

Chapter 3 Sense and Sensibility

Hello friends, welcome to Episode 3 of Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for Jane Austen lovers and nerds who love bold witty women, awkward handsome men, and dragons. 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 take time to talk about Austen criticism, her earliest fans, her place as an author in the 21st century. and as much nerdom as we can get away with. 

Today, we’ll read Chapter 3 of Sense and Sensibility. 

International Austen organizations

Before we get to today’s reading, I want to take some time to talk about one of the societies and museums that have grown up around Austen’s novels and life. The Jane Austen Society of North America was formed in 1979 and has more than 5000 members from more than a dozen countries. 

Members belong to more than 80 regional groups which have local meetings to discuss Austen novels, listen to lectures, learn about country dances, and more. They celebrate Austen’s birthday each year with a tea or luncheon and each fall, members gather for the Annual General Meeting, a  themed meeting featuring lectures by Austen scholars and JASNA members, as well as workshops, exhibits, entertainment, and a banquet and Regency ball.

JASNA has two journals for Austen studies, Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line, and JASNA News, which contains feature articles, book reviews, reports from Austen sites in England, and news about the Annual General Meeting and regions, is mailed to members three times a year, while the monthly e-bulletin, JASNA Update, provides timely news about Austen and JASNA by email. There is also an annual Essay contest, scholarly programs and tours of England for JASNA members. 

I want to thank listener, Anne Marie, for buying me an annual membership to JASNA. I’m very grateful. 

Next,  The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England is a 270 year old townhouse that was one of several that Jane’s family rented while visiting Bath. I visited this house about 10 years ago and I thought it was very interesting. I visited it in conjunction with the Fashion Museum in Bath, which is next to the Assembly Rooms that Austen’s heroines would have visited, and they were a good fit together. 

The best part about the Jane Austen Centre in my opinion is the Regency Tea Room where you can sip tea and stuff your face with tea sandwiches and biscuits. Bath itself is an amazing place and there are tons of things to do and see. You can still walk the Royal Crescent like Catherine Morland. 

Several years ago, I spent a month in England and did a lot of sightseeing while I was there, so I also made a lot of gift shop purchases. One of my favorite goodies I brought back is an “I Heart Mr. Darcy” tote bag I bought at the Jane Austen Centre. I adore this bag and still use it today. I’ve posted some pictures from the Centre on our Facebook page and on Instagram. You can share your Jane Austen trip stories and pics on our social media pages. 

Jane Austen's House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, UK is the final home of the author.


Finally, Jane Austen’s House is the house where Jane wrote and published her novels, The house is located in Chawton Hampshire, about 60 miles, or 90 kilometers south of Oxford. It offers daily tours, and was Jane’s final home. During the 2020 holiday season the museum offered an online experience featuring narration by Emma Thompson alongside music, quotes, games and puzzles, and an array of objects from the Jane Austen’s House collection.

I’ve never been to the Jane Austen House, but it’s on the list for when I go back to England one day. 

Now, on to today’s reading. 

The Dashwoods in Dire Straits

In previous episodes we learned that Mr. Dashwood has died and left no money for his wife or daughters, but he did beg his rich son to take care of them. In Chapter 2, His son, John, and his wife, have talked themselves out of helping the Dashwood women financially. Today in Chapter 3 we see that Mrs. Dashwood has changed her mind about leaving Norland right away. 

P10, pp1-2

One reason Mrs. Dashwood is staying is because she expects her son in law will provide something for her family, because John acts so nicely to them. Remember that John is well respected because he “conducts himself with propriety.” So he’s going to be polite to his step mother and sisters. And indeed, he’s so “attentive” to Mrs. Dashwood that she can’t help but believe that he means to help them financially. She’s used to living on the interest of 7000 pounds, but expects the family can survive on far less with help from John.

As for her daughter in law, Fanny, living together has not made Mrs. Dashwood fonder of her. “The contempt which she had very early in their acquaintance felt for her daughter in law was very much increased by the further knowledge of her character, which half a year’s residence in her family afforded;”

Six months of living as a guest in her former home has been brutal for Mrs. D. She loathes Fanny even more now than she did when they first met. and  

“the two ladies might have found it impossible to have lived together so long had not a particular circumstance occurred to give still greater eligibility, according to the opinions of Mrs. Dashwood, to her daughters’ continuance at Norland.” 

There is one more thing keeping Mrs. D at Norland. Can you guess what it is? 

“The circumstance was a growing attachment between her eldest girl and the brother of Mrs. John Dashwood, a gentlemanlike and pleasing young man who was introduced to their acquaintance soon after his sister’s establishment at Norland, and who had since spent the greatest part of his time there.”

P11, pp3.

Of course, it’s a man. Now, Mrs. D isn’t obsessed with marrying her daughters off like Mrs. Bennet, but she does put her children’s interests ahead of everything else.  

Edward Ferrars, the young man in question, is rich. Or at least he’s going to be. Probably. But, Mrs. D denies that she’s interested in Edward’s money. 

“It’s enough,” said she; “to say that he is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already.” Mrs. D is basically a golden retriever. “I don’t know you but I love you.” 

Edward is unlike many of Austen’s love interests. He’s not handsome, shy and quiet, and not interested in manly pursuits, or pursuits of any kind. 

P12, pp1.

Edward reminds me of a Hobbit. He doesn’t care about making a splash. He prefers comfort and domesticity. Compare the previous quote to how J.R.R. Tolkien describes Hobbits, in particular Bilbo Baggins.

“The Baggines had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him.” 

Bilbo of course, goes on an unexpected journey and says and does unexpected things. 

But Hobbits in general prefer to stay at home. They like their meals often, their homes full of comfortable things, and their family and friends to be utterly predictable. 

That’s what Edward Ferrars is like. He’s a homebody. He has no interest in parliament or public life. He prefers peace and quiet to the bustle of the city. He’s not particularly charming, but the people who know him, like him. Or in Mrs. D’s case, love him. 

But he’s not what his mother or sister want in a son and brother. Not that they know what they want him to do, but they want him to do something important. At the very least he could be fashionable and dashing while driving a barouche (baroosh)

According to Wikipedia, A barouche is a large, open, four-wheeled carriage, drawn by two horses. It was luxurious and fashionable throughout the 19th century. It was used in the 19th century for display and summer leisure driving. Designed to give a powerful impression of luxury and elegance

Its body provides seats for four passengers, two back-seat passengers vis-à-vis two behind the coachman’s high box-seat. It has a leather roof that can be raised to give back-seat passengers some protection from the weather. 

But Edward would rather be domestic and probably have second breakfast. At least he has that younger brother who does want to make a splash. 

 Mrs. D was too busy letting her sensibilities run wild with sadness over the loss of her husband before she began to notice Elinor’s regard for Edward. She has every right to grieve and be in mourning for several more months, but the narrator really states that it’s Mrs. D’s sensibilities that cause her inattention to her surroundings. The narrator is kind of heartless, at least at this point in the story. 

Anyways, once Mrs. D realizes that Elinor likes him, SHE immediately adores him, even before she bothers to get to know him.

Elinor tries to restrain her mother’s feelings, and at the same time tells the reader that she does like Edward, quite a bit, but she restrains her feelings. Remember she’s got the sense rather than the sensibilities. 

 P12, pp3-5, P13, pp1-2. 

Mrs. D expects Edward and Elinor will get married in the next few months and they’ll all live happily ever after, a few miles apart and see each other every day. That’s Mrs. D’s dream, even though currently doesn’t have a home of her own anymore. 

Marianne is surprised when her mother tells her she expected Edward to propose to Elinor within the next few months. She likes him, but finds him dull and predictable. “Perhaps,” “said Marianne, “I may consider it with some surprise….”p13-14, pp 7.  

Marianne thinks he’s dull because he’s calm and unspirited. He doesn’t care for art, except for Elinor’s art, he doesn’t like the same books as Marianne, and he reads aloud without spirit. 

Marianne has specific standards for a man. He has to check all these boxes she has. He has to passionately love all the same things she does, he needs to read aloud well, and he MUST love Cowper (Cooper).

If he doesn’t love Cowper then forget it. 

But she admits that she and Elinor have different tastes and Edward fits Elinor’s tastes far better, and she despairs that she’ll ever meet a man that ticks all her boxes. P14, 3

Then, for once Mrs. D reminds her daughter to restraint. 

 “Remember, my love, that you are not seventeen. It is yet too early in life to despair of such happiness. Why should you be less fortunate than your mother? In one circumstance only, my Marianne, may your destiny be different from hers!”

 Meaning, of course, that her husband dies before her and leaves her without a home or a fortune to support her children. 

Part of the reason Mrs. D seems to really want Elinor and Edward to marry is that he may act more like a brother to her other daughters than John does. She tells Marianne, “You will gain a brother, a real, affectionate brother.” An affectionate brother who may help the family, providing if not money than perhaps other options for her other daughters to find husbands and their own security. 

And we come to the end of the Chapter. 

Before we go, I wanted to briefly discuss who is this Cowper that Marianne keeps talking about? 

William Cowper, no, Cooper. How do you say it?

William Cowper was a poet and writer of hymns and one of the most popular poets of his time. His name is spelled C-O-W-P-E-R, and pronounced Cooper, rather than as I thought until I started writing this episode, Cow-per. 

William Cowper
William Cowper was a hymnodist, and one of Jane Austen’s favorite poets.

He was born in 1731 in Herfordshire and had a very interesting life. He was institutionalized for insanity, became a devout evangelical Christian and an abolitionist. He was also good friends with John Newton, the ex slavetrader who wrote “Amazing Grace.” There is a good biography of Cowper on Poetry Foundation dot org, and I’ve added a link to it in the show notes. 

 Along with translating Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Cowper wrote dozens of poems such as  “Light Shining out of Darkness and “The Negro’s Complaint” which was often quoted by  Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement. Besides his evangelical and antislavery poetry, many of Cowper’s poems were about everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. These are probably the poems that Marianne made Edward read. 

According to Lucy Worsley in Jane Austen at Home, “Jane’s own books included The History of Little Goody Two Shoes as well as a French grammar. Probably, like Catherine Morland, she read John Gay’s Fables. But alongside this saccharine stuff aimed at kids, Jane had adult tastes. Although there were Locks to the book case, no one seems to have stopped her from reading books for grown-ups. At a very early age, her family remembered, she was enamoured of Gilpin, her favourite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse. Indeed the poet William Cowper is quoted more than any other author in her novels and letters.” 

Jane was a big fan of Cowper, she uses his poetry to describe characters, such as Marianne, and Fanny Price in Mansfield Park. But she also refers to his poems in her letters. In one letter to Cassandra, dated January 8, 1807, she writes: 

“Our garden is putting in order by a man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion, and asks something less than the first. The shrubs which border the gravel walk, he says, are only sweetbrier and roses, and the latter of an indifferent sort; we mean to get a few of a better kind, therefore, and at my own particular desire he procures us some syringas. I could not do without a syringa, for the sake of Cowper’s line. We talk also of a laburnum. The border under the terrace wall is clearing away to receive currants and gooseberry bushes, and a spot is found very proper for raspberries.”

I’ve linked the letter in the show notes. 

The poem Jane is referring to is The Task, a lengthy poem written in six books, published in 1785. I am not going to recite the entire poem, but I’ll quote the lines Jane is referring to in her letter. 

Laburnum rich

In streaming gold; syringa ivory pure;

The scented and the scentless rose; this red

And of a humbler growth, the other tall,

And throwing up into the darkest gloom

Of neighbouring cypress, or more sable yew,

Her silver globes, light as the foamy surf

That the wind severs from the broken wave;

The lilac various in array, now white,

Now sanguine, and her beauteous head now set

With purple spikes pyramidal, as if

Studious of ornament, yet unresolved

Which hue she most approved, she chose them all;

The Task is one of Cowper’s most famous works. As you can hear, Cowper was known as a poet of sensibilities in many ways, so of course Marianne would have loved his verses. He’s much like Samuel Richardson, whom we discussed in Episode 1, but he crossed genres. To quote Cowper’s page on The Poetry Foundation website:  Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him “the best modern poet;” and, though his practice reflects in some ways a commitment to Neoclassical, or so-called Augustan, precepts, his innovations in the treatment of nature and common life, in meditative and conversational techniques, and in the foregrounding of autobiography and confession constitute a crucial legacy to the first generation of Romantics.” 

The Romantics could definitely be seen as an evolution of the poets of Sensibilities. Austen’s own use of spaces and descriptions of nature in Sense and Sensibility shows some of the influence that Cowper had on her. There are many other ways Cowper’s influence appears in Jane’s other novels, perhaps most importantly in Mansfield Park, but we’ll get to those someday. 


The Cowper and Newton Museum in Buckinghamshire England has a really interesting paper about Cowper’s influence on Jane in their online archives. I’ve linked to it in the show notes. 


But I wanted to quote it briefly as it discusses Sense and Sensibility beyond Marianne’s ideas of sensibility.  

“as the novel progresses it becomes a far more subtle reflection on different modes of sensibility. Elinor Dashwood’s dignified silence on her own sufferings shows them to be just as intense as Marianne’s. The popular novels of sensibility, however, placed strong emphasis on the immediate nature of feelings. No sooner had the man or woman of sensibility witnessed the suffering of some unfortunate than tears would course freely down their cheeks in sympathy. Marianne Dashwood can hardly keep her seat or her temper. A whole influential branch of social and political philosophy developed from the medical understanding of the responsiveness of the body’s nerves.”

Mourning in Regency and Georgian England

Another thing I thought to discuss is grief and mourning in 18th century England. Mrs. Dashwood is in deep mourning when her daughter in law moves in and I wanted to talk about what mourning was like in England in the 1790s when the novel takes place

Woman and child in mourning dress
A Regency woman and child in full mourning dress.

When we think of mourning, we often think of the Victorian ideas of mourning. Black crepe and veils, such as Queen Victoria wore for the rest of her life after her husband Prince Albert died. But before the Victorian Era, mourning was less stringent. The Victorians were sticklers for adherence to etiquette, but the Georgians and Regency England were less so. 

For example, only the very wealthy could afford a new wardrobe of black clothes, and most other people dyed some of their existing clothes black. Jane writes in 1808 that her mother “is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme. 

Most people dyed a few clothes black, and the poor would wear a black armband worn below the elbow or ribbon. Jewelry was expected to be flat black without shine or sparkle. The widow would be in black for the first six months, and then in half-mourning (black and white mixed) for the next six months. After that, the widow would go into half mourning. White, grey, and even lavender were suitable for half mourning

The length of time for wearing black was also variable. Widows or widowers were expected to be in full mourning for six months and half mourning for the next six months, but not for the two or more years expected later in the 1860s and 70s. And the length mourning period depended on the nearness of the relations. So Elinor, Marianne and Margaret would have been in mourning for six months, as would John.  Mrs. Dashwood would have been in mourning for a year and a day. She would have had no social engagements for the first six months and slowly re-enter society in the next six, wearing muted colors and jewelry. Fanny should have been in mourning for six months as the daughter in law, but how much do you want to bet she got out of it as quickly as possible? 

So with the entire Dashwood family in deep mourning for six months, how much ruder and even more impudent is it that Fanny shows up and takes control of Norland? It’s interesting that the narrative begins six months after Mr. Dashwood’s death because this is when the family is coming out of deep mourning and into a less restrictive time where they can all begin to be social again. 

Next episode we’ll read Chapter 4 and finally hear from our sensible heroine Elinor, and discuss whether this ice queen is really the Elsa to Marianne’s Anna. Mrs. Dashwood will begin to plan the rest of her life, and but not without Elinor’s advice, and we’ll discover that family in Georgian England can extend far beyond the people you live with. 

That’s all for today. Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. This episode was written and produced by me, Casey Meserve. You can follow Ents and Sensibility on Facebook, and on Instagram. You can also leave a review of the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening.  

Checkout our website EntsandSensibility.com for episode notes, a list of books and references mentioned on the podcast, and more. 

I hope you’ll visit again soon. 

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