Episode 6: Etiquette and Protocol
Sense and Sensibility Chapter 6
Hello friends, welcome to Episode 6 of Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for Jane Austen fans who love bold, witty women, awkward handsome men, and dragons. I’m your host Casey Meserve.
Together, we are reading Austen’s published works one chapter at a time. We’ll discuss the major themes, 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 are reading Chapter 6 of Sense and Sensibility.
Diversity, Equity and Integration in the Austenverse
Now, we’re all Austen fans here and we all have our own reasons for loving Jane. Some listeners teach the books, some love Regency dress and cosplay, some love the subtlety of Jane’s characters or her sarcastic wit, and some of us are bibliophiles who are addicted to books. All are welcome here on Ents and Sensibility. The Ents and Sensibility community is meant to be inclusive to all those who love Austen and literature. This podcast stands against bigotry in all its forms.
So I really would like to welcome you, the listeners, to take part in the podcast to talk about your own love for Jane. Everyone has their own story and I want to welcome members of this diverse fandom. If you’d like to join me for a conversation on the podcast, please send me an email at ents and sensibility at gmail.com or a message on any of the social media channels.
Today, I thought today we could begin to look at some of Jane’s earliest fans, and maybe a few of her critics. I think we’ll call this series,
The Janeites and the Critics
During Jane’s lifetime, her novels brought her very little personal fame–mostly because she published anonymously. All of her novels were originally published “By a Lady,” and it was only after her death that her brothers acknowledged her authorship.
But there were a few people who knew Miss Austen was a novelist. One of them was the Prince Regent.
In fact, the future King George the Fourth purchased a copy of Sense and Sensibility two days before the first public advertisement for the book.
A PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania discovered the Oct. 28, 1811 receipt for 15 shillings from booksellers, Becket & Porter for “Sense and Sensibility, among other books.
Now, the Prince Regent had a terrible reputation for womanizing, gambling and wasting money, and Jane was not a fan of his. In 1813, Austen wrote that she took the side of the prince’s wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, after her infidelities became public. “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.”
But the Prince Regent was a big fan of Jane’s and had multiple copies of her books.
In 1815, Austen arrived in London to stay with her brother Henry at his home in Hans Place. But Henry became ill and a Dr. Baillie, who happened to be the Prince Regent’s physician, was called in. Somehow, Jane’s novels were brought up and Dr. Baillie told Austen that the Prince Regent was a great admirer of her work.
Later, the Prince Regent’s librarian, James Stanier Clarke, contacted Austen to invite her to tour the Prince’s London home Carlton House. Despite her hatred, Austen accepted the invitation. I mean, how do you say no to visiting a Prince’s house? She visited Carlton House on Nov. 13, 1815.
Stanier Clarke told Jane that the Prince Regent kept a set of her novels at each of his residences and that by his permission, Austen was “at liberty to dedicate any future novel to him.”
This was a conundrum. While she loathed the prince for his debauchery, a dedication like this had value and could lead to more book sales.
So, that year, Austen dedicated her next novel “Emma,”
“To his Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, this work is, by His Royal Highness’s Permission, most Respectfully Dedicated by his Royal Highness’s Dutiful and Obedient Humble Servant.”
That’s unenthusiastic. And really unlike Jane, who is wordy but she doesn’t usually repeat herself. Scholars have interpreted the clunky dedication to be a mockery of the Prince’s character and his unscrupulous habits, but she never explained the wording. Critic Peter Sabor called it, “one of the worst sentences she ever committed to print.”
Apparently, the Prince Regent was pleased with the dedication and never caught on to Jane’s sarcasm.
Moving Day for the Dashwoods
We continue our chapter discussion of Sense and Sensibility this week with Chapter 6.
In Episode 5, Mrs. Dashwood announced her intention to leave Norland, after laying the verbal smackdown on Fanny and fortuitously receiving a letter from a distant relative offering her a house on the same day.
Edward took their going far more emotionally than we expected he would in our introduction to him, and John, who once considered giving the family 3000 pounds, never even offered to carry a bag to the carriage. Mrs. Dashwood packs up her linens and Marianne’s piano. Elinor makes sure they aren’t spending too much on servants, and Marianne says goodbye to the house, and her favorite tree, which I don’t blame her for doing, and they are off like a herd of turtles to Devonshire!
“The first part of their journey was performed in too melancholy a disposition to be otherwise than tedious and unpleasant. But as they drew towards the end of it, their interest in the appearance of a country which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. It was a pleasant fertile spot, well wooded, and rich in pasture.
After winding along it for more than a mile, they reached their own house. A small green court was the whole of its demesne in front; and a neat wicket gate admitted them into it.”
The Dashwoods are depressed and who wouldn’t be? It’s hard to leave Norland, it’s hard to leave a beloved home. I remember moving when I was 16, Marianne’s age. We moved from the house I grew up in to a bigger and nicer house, but it was so hard! I remember going from room to room and saying goodbye to the two huge oak trees in the backyard. Even though I finally had my own room after 16 years of sharing with my siblings, I was really sad about moving.
But the Dashwoods aren’t moving to a nicer house, they’re moving down in the world and they have to leave the things they love, their home, their friends, family (although that’s not a bad thing), the lovely trees, Edward…
So they’re all feeling dejected as they begin their journey. They also might be feeling apprehensive.
They haven’t seen Sir John for almost a decade. They don’t know what he’s like except from his letters. They’re probably anxious about meeting him and his wife.
So with all this emotion and the gloomy thoughts they probably have, it’s hard for any of them to pay attention to the scenery outside the carriage for the first part of the trip.
But as they get close, they do begin paying attention. They see this lovely green valley, and the view provides some cheerfulness. It’s not a gloomy place, it’s very pleasant. The house is small, but comfortable and neat.
“As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and the stairs. Four bed-rooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair. In comparison of Norland, it was poor and small indeed!—but the tears which recollection called forth as they entered the house were soon dried away. They were cheered by the joy of the servants on their arrival, and each for the sake of the others resolved to appear happy. It was very early in September; the season was fine, and from first seeing the place under the advantage of good weather, they received an impression in its favour which was of material service in recommending it to their lasting approbation.”
A Humble Abode
The house is a lot smaller than anyplace the family has ever lived.
But it’s not an idyllic cottage either. It doesn’t meet the family’s romantic notion of what a cottage should be.
I think about Disney cottages, like the Woodcutter’s cottage from Sleeping Beauty or the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage in Snow White, and about the cottages I saw in southern England years back. Traditional looking cottages. Thatch roofs covered with moss, tiny windows with boxes of bright flowers spilling out of them, wattle and daub walls. These were supposed to be very humble homes.
But, there was a trend in the late 1700s, early 1800s for the wealthy to build and live in cottages, but these “cottages” were not small or humble. These were like some people calling their 6 bedroom lake house with a chef inspired kitchen a “camp.”
These dwellings, or “Cottage Orné” were inspired by the Romantic and Picturesque ideals of the cottage but they didn’t look like cottages except for irregular designs, earth tones and lots of vegetation around them. These buildings appealed to sensibilities, so Marianne may be a little disappointed when she first sees the house. Which is plain and regular, has a tile roof and a neat appearance.
Then the narrator really delves into the landscape around Barton. And it’s just breathtaking.
“High hills rose immediately behind, and at no great distance on each side; some of which were open downs, the others cultivated and woody. The village of Barton was chiefly on one of these hills, and formed a pleasant view from the cottage windows. The prospect in front was more extensive; it commanded the whole of the valley, and reached into the country beyond. The hills which surrounded the cottage terminated the valley in that direction; under another name, and in another course, it branched out again between two of the steepest of them.”
They can see everything from Barton Cottage. Behind them is the village of Barton, which they can see from the windows, and in the front they see downs and valleys into the distance.
Downs are treeless hills mostly made of chalk, that cover much of southern England. Downs have always intrigued me, and I don’t think you can really understand their size until you see them in person. They are enormous. You feel very small, and very exposed on the downs. They’re still used for grazing sheep today, and when you climb them, they are usually far steeper than they look from afar, and you have to keep an eye out for sheep droppings.
As an aside, one day the college group I was with took a cab ride to see the White Horse of Uffington, which is a huge image of a horse carved into the hillside near Oxford. There were sheep everywhere on the downs and one of the girls I went with wore flipflops. It wasn’t pretty to say the least. I have some photos from that day, not of feet, so I’ll post some pictures on Facebook and Instagram.
Anyways, the Dashwoods settle into their new home. Mrs. Dashwood is pleased with the house and the furniture, although of course, she’s used to a wealthy lifestyle so she thinks the furnishings and house is lacking, but she already has ideas.
“yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. “As for the house itself, to be sure,” said she, “it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building.”
The parlors are too small for parties so one of them needs to be enlarged into a sitting room and she wants additional bedrooms above them, and she’s sure she’ll have enough money for all this. But 500 pounds a year is a pitiful amount for making such extensive renovations. Renovations would cost far more than Mrs. D can afford, so here’s her flighty daydreamy personality coming through. And the narrator pokes a little fun at Mrs. D here.
“In the meantime, till all these alterations could be made from the savings of an income of five hundred a year by a woman who had never saved in her life, they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was; and each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns, and endevouring, by placing around them their books and other possessions to form themselves a home.”
That really is the most important thing. A place really isn’t a home until your stuff is in it. You look at an empty room and it’s just a cell until you begin finding places for your stuff. Your favorite chair, or, if you’re a book nerd like me, you have to find the best spot for your bookcase and arrange all your favorite books in the right order before a place begins to feel like home.
So Marianne’s pianoforte finds a spot, and Elinor’s drawings are hung on the wall, and little Margaret…doesn’t have anything to display yet, but that’s OK, she’s young.
The family Dashwood continues to unpack the next morning when they finally meet their landlord. Now we finally get to meet this man who so generously offered his distant cousin a home with very reasonable rent.
What is Sir John like?
“their landlord, who called to welcome them to Barton, and to offer them every accommodation from his own house and garden in which theirs might at present be deficient. Sir John Middleton was a good looking man about forty. He had formerly visited at Stanhill, but it was too long for his young cousins to remember him. His countenance was thoroughly good-humoured; and his manners were as friendly as the style of his letter. Their arrival seemed to afford him real satisfaction, and their comfort to be an object of real solicitude to him. He said much of his earnest desire of their living in the most sociable terms with his family, and pressed them so cordially to dine at Barton Park every day till they were better settled at home, that, though his entreaties were carried to a point of perseverance beyond civility, they could not give offence. His kindness was not confined to words; for within an hour after he left them, a large basket full of garden stuff and fruit arrived from the park, which was followed before the end of the day by a present of game. He insisted, moreover, on conveying all their letters to and from the post for them, and would not be denied the satisfaction of sending them his newspaper every day.”
Sir John is the anti-John Dashwood. I wonder if that’s why they share a first name?
He’s super kind and generous. Remember that John Dashwood considered sending presents of game and fish to his sisters in Chapter 2? Sir John has just met the family and he’s sending over game and vegetables and even bringing them their mail and his newspaper every day. He’s extremely kind and generous. At this time, outside London, there wasn’t home delivery of the post in England. So you had to go to the post office to pick up and drop off letters. Sir John has offered to do that for them, and he’s giving them his newspaper. It wasn’t uncommon to share a newspaper around the neighborhood at the time, but he’s going to deliver it to them himself.
He’s almost too kind. “his entreaties were carried to a point of perseverance beyond civility.” He’s kind to the point beyond being civil or friendly, to the point of rudeness.
Sir John’s wife, Lady Middleton is very different from her husband.
“Lady Middleton had sent a very civil message by him, denoting her intention of waiting on Mrs. Dashwood as soon as she could be assured that her visit would be no inconvenience; and as this message was answered by an invitation equally polite, her ladyship was introduced to them the next day.
“They were, of course, very anxious to see a person on whom so much of their comfort at Barton must depend; and the elegance of her appearance was favourable to their wishes. Lady Middleton was not more than six or seven and twenty; her face was handsome, her figure tall and striking, and her address graceful. Her manners had all the elegance which her husband’s wanted. But they would have been improved by some share of his frankness and warmth; and her visit was long enough to detract something from their first admiration, by showing that, though perfectly well-bred, she was reserved, cold, and had nothing to say for herself beyond the most common-place inquiry or remark.”
Lady Middleton is a stickler for formality. She very properly sends the Dashwoods a note, and they properly return one, She’s also tall, elegant but cold. She’s so focused on etiquette and protocol that all she needs is to be plated in gold and you can bring her into space as your protocol droid.
She’s a huge contrast from her husband, who is so outgoing and friendly that he becomes uncivil. He’s almost rude in his desire to be of service to the Dashwoods. Together they fill all the qualities lacking in the other. They’re not at all like John and Fanny, who are greedy and grasping to the point they’ll try to think of ways to steal dinner plates from a widow after kicking her out of her home.
The two families meet for a formal, 15-minute visit, and Lady Middleton has brought her oldest son so she has something to talk about. The narrator makes a point of this and it’s really funny.
“On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and every body was astonished at the opinion of the others.”
I think this is still true today. Even now, whenever I end up in an awkward situation with strangers, if they have a kid there, at least I have someone to talk to, and to talk about. I’m sure kids hate that.
Now it’s time for the Dashwoods to return the visit, but instead of politely inviting the family, Sir John WON’T leave until they agree to come to dinner the next day.
That’s all for Chapter 6 and the end of today’s episode. Next time we’ll finally get to see Barton Park, the most elegant and hospitable house in all of Southern England. Or the Middletons wish it to be. We’ll meet two new characters, and Marianne gets a chance to shine on the piano.
Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. This episode was written and produced by me, Casey Meserve. You can write to me at entsandsensibility at gmail.com
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