Episode 7: Party All the Time

Episode 7: Party All the Time

Sense and Sensibility Chapter 7

Hello friends, welcome to Episode 7 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 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.  Before we begin our chapter discussion today, I thought we could read one of Jane’s letters. One in particular stood out to me today. Considering it’s March and has been very cold throughout the entire United States for the past month, I thought some reading about hot weather might help keep us warm. 
Sloane St., Thursday (April 25). My dearest Cassandra,—I can return the compliment by thanking you for the unexpected pleasure of your letter yesterday, and as I like unexpected pleasure, it made me very happy; and, indeed, you need not apologize for your letter in any respect, for it is all very fine, but not too fine, I hope, to be written again, or something like it. I think Edward will not suffer much longer from heat; by the look of things this morning I suspect the weather is rising into the balsamic north-east. It has been hot here, as you may suppose, since it was so hot with you, but I have not suffered from it at all, nor felt it in such a degree as to make me imagine it would be anything in the country. Everybody has talked of the heat, but I set it all down to London. I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it. It is a great comfort to have it so safely and speedily over. The Miss Curlings must be hard worked in writing so many letters, but the novelty of it may recommend it to them; mine was from Miss Eliza, and she says that my brother may arrive to-day. No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of S. and S.[13] I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child; and I am much obliged to you for your inquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance. Mrs. K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the printer, and says he will see him again to-day. It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. I am very much gratified by Mrs. K.’s interest in it; and whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on anything else. Miss Austen, Edward Austen’s, Esq., Godmersham Park, Faversham.
Godmersham Hall
Godmersham Hall, Edward Austen-Knight’s estate which he inherited from his uncle Thomas Knight. Jane and her sister and mother stayed with the Knights many times.
That letter was written by Jane to Cassandra from their brother Edward’s Godmersham Park on April 25th 1811. That was the year Sense and Sensibility was published, and as you can see, Jane and her family are very excited about the book. Henry is pushing the publisher. Henry Austen was the brother responsible for helping Jane get published. Jane and Cassandra are obviously talking about it to family friends, Mrs. K, that’s Mrs. Elizabeth Knight of Godmersham Park, Edward’s wife, and Jane is also planning to send corrected sheets to their cousin Eliza. This letter makes an exciting picture of Jane just as she begins to imagine success as an author.  And speaking of Jane’s first published book, today we are reading Chapter 7 of Sense and Sensibility.  In previous chapters, the Dashwood women left their home at Norland and made their way to their new home at Barton Cottage in Devonshire. They inspected the house, which doesn’t fit their perceptions of a cottage, and the gorgeous scenery around Barton, and then meet their landlords.  Sir John is kind, gregarious, and a man who does not take no for an answer. Lady Middleton, Sir John’s wife, is a golden droid programmed for etiquette and protocol. We last left the Dashwood ladies with Sir John, as he refused to leave until the family promised to have dinner at his home the next day.  In Chapter 7 the Dashwoods make their first visit to Barton Park. Barton Park is about half a mile from Barton Cottage, hidden from view by a hill, which is why we didn’t see it in Chapter 6. 
The house was large and handsome; and the Middletons lived in a style of equal hospitality and elegance. The former was for Sir John’s gratification, the latter for that of his lady. They were scarcely ever without some friends staying with them in the house, and they kept more company of every kind than any other family in the neighbourhood. It was necessary to the happiness of both; for however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass. 
Isn’t it incredible how much Jane can tell you about a character in such a short amount of text? There have been textual comparisons of Austen and a variety of male writers, and the results always say that Austen is more verbose, that she uses more words to say something than the average male author. But then, she cuts right to the quick of a character in just a few sentences. 
[F]or however dissimilar in temper and outward behaviour, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste which confined their employments, unconnected with such as society produced, within a very narrow compass.
The Middletons have nothing in common and they have no hobbies, except for two that I’ll bring up in a few minutes. So, as Eddie Murphy sang, They party all the time.  The Middletons love having company!
Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education; supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good breeding of his wife.
Sir John hunts and shoots, which are two different things. Hunting is shooting deer and four-footed mammals, and shooting is bird hunting and done with bird dogs.  Lady Middleton has her children, and a nursery maid and probably an assistant nursery maid, and eventually a governess for the girls. She’s 27 with at least four children, and her only interests are her children and being elegant.  The Middletons enjoy company for very different, and yet totally complimentary reasons. 
Lady Middleton piqued herself upon the elegance of her table, and of all her domestic arrangements; and from this kind of vanity was her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. But Sir John’s satisfaction in society was much more real; he delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased.
So Lady Middleton is vain about her home, showing it off, laying an elegant table, and having the most stylish way of welcoming their guests. What’s surprising to me is how willing she is to host just about anyone her husband invites.  Sir John, however, just loves company. He’s a social butterfly. He’s always having parties and outings, picnics, and balls. The teenagers and young people in the neighborhood love Sir John because they know he’s always ready to host a party. 
He was a blessing to all the juvenile part of the neighbourhood, for in summer he was for ever forming parties to eat cold ham and chicken out of doors, and in winter his private balls were numerous enough for any young lady who was not suffering under the unsatiable appetite of fifteen.
In Georgian and Regency England, 15 was the age where girls were first allowed to go to balls and dance. 
The arrival of a new family in the country was always a matter of joy to him, and in every point of view he was charmed with the inhabitants he had now procured for his cottage at Barton. The Miss Dashwoods were young, pretty, and unaffected. It was enough to secure his good opinion; for to be unaffected was all that a pretty girl could want to make her mind as captivating as her person. The friendliness of his disposition made him happy in accommodating those, whose situation might be considered, in comparison with the past, as unfortunate. In showing kindness to his cousins therefore he had the real satisfaction of a good heart; and in settling a family of females only in his cottage, he had all the satisfaction of a sportsman; for a sportsman, though he esteems only those of his sex who are sportsmen likewise, is not often desirous of encouraging their taste by admitting them to a residence within his own manor.
Sir John is absolutely thrilled to have new blood in the neighborhood. It means new faces on the scene but more than that, he’s happy that he was able to do something good. He’s a good guy and wants to do nice things. Particular for a family with no men. Because if the family had any men in it, it would be expected that Sir John would provide him or them with hunting and shooting privileges in Barton Park. But women don’t hunt or shoot, so he’s very happy to help them, although he doesn’t have anything in common with anyone who’s not a sportsman.  That section I read is interesting for another reason as well because it brings up a word that Austen uses many times in her novels as a descriptor. I’ll read it again. 
The Miss Dashwoods were young, pretty, and unaffected. It was enough to secure his good opinion; for to be unaffected was all that a pretty girl could want to make her mind as captivating as her person. 
WHAT DOES UNAFFECTED MEAN?  Austen uses this word a lot, in fact she uses it in all of her published novels and in some of her juvenile works. I did a word search on the public domain versions of her books on Project Gutenberg and came up with these stats. 
  • Sense and Sensibility — 4 times
  • Pride and Prejudice — 7 times!
  • Mansfield Park — 1 time
  • Northanger Abbey — twice
  • Emma — 4 times
  • Persuasion — 3 times
  • Lady Susan – zero times
  • Love and Freindship and Other Early Works — once
So Jane uses the term quite a bit. Enough for an average reader to identify it. It’s usually used by a narrator to describe a character’s nature or feelings at a particular moment, but occasionally one character will use it to describe another.  So what does unaffected mean? And what does it mean if a character is affected? It sounds like an illness.

I’m sorry, your husband is affected with an affectation. He won’t last long. 

I went to the dictionary for this one. Or the Merriam Webster app anyways.  There are three definitions for affected. The first one is  1a : having or showing an attitude or mode of behavior that is not natural or genuinely felt : given to or marked by affectation spoke in an affected manner B: assumed artificially or falsely : PRETENDED an affected interest in art This reminds me of some of Austen’s characters such as the Eltons and Frank Churchill in “Emma,” and Mr. Collins in “Pride and Prejudice.” Characters who pretend to show interest in people or things in order to be seen in an advantageous manner. They’re fake. So to be affected is to be fake.  So unaffected means the opposite.  1: not influenced or changed mentally, physically, or chemically 2: free from affectation : GENUINE So Elinor and Marianne are genuine. Artless is another term Jane uses a lot and it means the same thing. They don’t try to make people like them, or feign interest in subjects in order to gain attention. They don’t suck up to Sir John or Lady Middleton. They’re polite, sweet, unpretentious young women.  And Sir John is also unaffected.  Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were met at the door of the house by Sir John, who welcomed them to Barton Park with unaffected sincerity; and as he attended them to the drawing room repeated to the young ladies the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any smart young men to meet them.  But he does have two people there to entertain the Dashwoods. And now we get to meet them. He warns the ladies that they’re not special guests. It’s a bad time of the month to get guests on short notice. He says 
He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlight and every body was full of engagements.
Since there were no street lights outside of London, people had to walk home, or drive home, in the dark. So they preferred to do so when the moon was full.  But the Dashwoods are happy with a small party since they’re new to the neighborhood. So, going back to the text I didn’t read. One of the guests is a gentleman “a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay.”  The other is Lady Middleton’s mother, “a good-humoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar.” That’s Mrs. Jennings.  I think Mrs. Jennings is my favorite character in this book. She’s such a delightful person, but she would definitely drive teenagers crazy with the teasing and awkward questions, but I think behind all the teasing, she understands teenage girls better than anyone in the entire novel. 
She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands; hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. Marianne was vexed at it for her sister’s sake, and turned her eyes towards Elinor to see how she bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Elinor far more pain than could arise from such common-place raillery as Mrs. Jennings’s.
The gentleman, Sir John’s friend, is Colonel Brandon. And I love this sentence. 
Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Middleton was to be his wife…
Love it. So this is a really weird party. There’s Sir John and Mrs. Jennings who are talkative and gregarious. Lady Middleton who is a beautiful dishrag. And Colonel Brandon, who is described as “silent and grave.” His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike. Ya know, the first time I read this book, I was about 19, and thought nothing of this sentence. But now…it hurts, man. It hurts. Ugh. Old bachelor at 35.  Isn’t Mr. Knightly 35 when he marries Emma? Nope. I Googled it. He’s 37!  Anyways. Back to the current book.  So the party is quite the mixed bag, but the Dashwoods realize that the silent and grave old bachelor and the wise cracking old lady are the best part of this party. 
[T]he cold insipidity of Lady Middleton was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Colonel Brandon, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir John and his mother-in-law was interesting.
Lady Middleton is only interested in her children, “who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves.” Once the kids are away, Marianne breaks out the piano, and I mean breaks out. Because it was locked, and probably had been locked for seven years, since Sir John and his wife married. 
 [F]or her ladyship had celebrated that event by giving up music, although by her mother’s account, she had played extremely well, and by her own was very fond of it.
So Lady Middleton celebrated her marriage by putting aside her accomplishments, and one she apparently enjoyed, and having a bunch of kids.  As for Marianne’s accomplishment. She’s really very good. She plays all of Lady Middleton’s songs, and sings them too. This is exceptionally difficult to do! Musicians practice for years to learn how to accompany themselves on the piano or another instrument while signing. So Marianne has obviously worked very hard.  And we don’t know if Marianne has ever seen this music before, so she’s also sight reading while playing. All this means Marianne, at 16, is an exceptionally talented musician. But it’s mostly falling on deaf ears.  Have you ever gone to a club with friends, you know, in the Before Times, when we could go to clubs, to see a particular band play and all your friends want to do is talk, and you end up missing the entire set.  Well, that’s Sir John. 
Marianne’s performance was highly applauded. Sir John was loud in his admiration at the end of every song, and as loud in his conversation with the others while every song lasted. Lady Middleton frequently called him to order, wondered how any one’s attention could be diverted from music for a moment, and asked Marianne to sing a particular song which Marianne had just finished.
But one person is listening. The 35-year-old bachelor. 
Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures. He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste. His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that ecstatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others; and she was reasonable enough to allow that a man of five and thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment. She was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required.
So Colonel Brandon isn’t responding the way Marianne wants her audience too, but his attention is acceptable and Marianne figures that he can’t respond the way she prefers because he’s so old. Now, I was going to talk about Colonel Brandon’s origins today, but I’ve prattled on for quite long enough today. I’ll save that for next episode. In addition, if everything works out the way I hope it does, next episode I will have a special guest!    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 write to me at entsandsensibility at gmail.com. And follow Ents and Sensibility on Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram. If you like the podcast, please share and leave a review of the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening. Checkout the 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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