Episode 2: If She Weighs the Same as a Duck…

Hello and welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for Jane Austen lovers and nerds who love bold witty women, awkward men, and dragons. I’m your host, Casey Meserve. 

In this podcast we read Jane Austen’s novels, discuss her life and influences, and her influence on feminism, entertainment, modern literature, and as much nerdom as we can get away with. 

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. 

Today we’ll discuss Chapter 2 of Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. If you missed the conversation in Episode 1, I invite you to settle in with a cup of tea, and listen to that episode before listening to this one.

 But before we get to today’s reading, I want to introduce a new segment to the Ents and Sensibility Podcast: The Life of Jane. 

In this segment we’ll discuss important dates in Jane’s life, we’ll read parts of her letters and meet friends, family, acquaintances. 

In December, 1795, 21 year old Jane met Tom Lefroy, the 21 year old nephew of her family’s neighbors.

In the biography “Jane Austen at Home” author Lucy Worsley, writes about Jane’s first love. “(I)t was a ball at Deane House that Jane met and danced with a Tom of her own. Over the course of two more balls, at Manydown Park, and at Ashe Rectory, she seems to have fallen in love with Thomas Langlois Lefroy.” Pg 112. 

Tom LeFroy was a law student from Limerick, Ireland, who had studied at Trinity College, Dublin before coming to London. He was one of 11 children from an “imprudent” marriage, and the first boy after five daughters.

Hrmmm, five daughters? 

Tom was taking a holiday in Hampshire with his uncle at Ashe Rectory, barely a mile from Steventon by a meadow path. 

 In the oldest letter of Jane’s surviving letters, dated Jan. 9, 1796, Jane writes to her sister Cassandra, who was staying with her future in-laws the Fowles. Jane wishes her sister a happy 23rd birthday and for 23 more birthdays, immediately mentioning that “Mr Tom Lefroy’s birthday was yesterday.” 

She continues 

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of  coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago. . . . 

After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is really very well-behaved now; and as to the other, he has but one fault, which time will I trust entirely remove; it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a very great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded.

Tom Jones refers to the eponymous character in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by English playwright and novelist Henry Fielding. Tom wears a white coat that shows off the blood from an injury he received while defending the honor of his beloved Sophia Western.  

In the next letter to Cassandra, dated Jan 16, 1796, Jane says Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (for a ball is nothing without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, and I. I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white coat.

Later in the same letter, Jane writes: 

Friday.—At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea….There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Lichfield lass. 

 Lucy Worsley says that Tom was sent away by his aunt in order to break off the growing romance between Tom and Jane. The oldest son had too many brothers and sisters to worry about and couldn’t afford to settle down at 21 years old, and marry a penniless parson’s daughter. 

Tom LeFroy lived to be 93 years old and was later the Chief Justice of Ireland. Late in life, he was asked about Jane and said he had loved her, but it was a “boyish love.” 

I can’t recommend Worsley’s biography enough. It contains some amazing research and is written in a funny, chatty, irony-laden tone that resembles Jane’s own voice in some ways. I’ll add a link to purchase it on the site. You can find this letter in The Letters of Jane Austen, on Project Gutenberg. I’ll leave the link in the show notes. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42078/42078-h/42078-h.htm 

Last week, we read Chapter 1 of Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first published novel. Today we’ll read Chapter 2 and we’ll meet the worst sister in law ever. 

In chapter 1, we learned that old Mr. Dashwood, the family benefactor of the Dashwoods had died, and that his heir, Mr. Henry Dashwood also died, leaving his wife and three daughters relatively penniless and without a home of their own. Immediately after the funeral, Mrs. Dashwood’s daughter in law moves into the family home at Norland Park, displacing Mrs. Dashwood as the lady of the house.

Mrs. John Dashwood now installed herself mistress of Norland; and her mother and sisters-in-law were degraded to the condition of visitors. As such, however, they were treated by her with quiet civility; and by her husband with as much kindness as he could feel towards anybody beyond himself, his wife, and their child. He really pressed them, with some earnestness, to consider Norland as their home; and, as no plan appeared so eligible to Mrs. Dashwood as remaining there till she could accommodate herself with a house in the neighbourhood, his invitation was accepted.

A continuance in a place where everything reminded her of former delight, was exactly what suited her mind. In seasons of cheerfulness, no temper could be more cheerful than hers, or possess, in a greater degree, that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself. But in sorrow she must be equally carried away by her fancy, and as far beyond consolation as in pleasure she was beyond alloy.

Nothing could suit Mrs. Dashwood more than staying where she is. She’s totally happy to be there, for now. Even if it means dealing with her daughter in law, Fanny. Now we have to remember that Mrs. Dashwood is an emotional person: She has the sensibilities of the book’s title. When she’s happy, “no temper could be more cheerful than hers,” But when she’s miserable, she’s “as far beyond consolation as in pleasure she was beyond alloy.”

Now Fanny Dashwood, the daughter in law, has made herself at home and she’s about to do something really underhanded.

Remember that John Dashwood wants to give his sisters 3000 pounds.

Mrs. John Dashwood did not at all approve of what her husband intended to do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject. How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods, who were related to him only by half blood, which she considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount. It was very well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters?

“It was my father’s last request to me,” replied her husband, “that I should assist his widow and daughters.”

“He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child.”

“He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny; he only requested me, in general terms, to assist them, and make their situation more comfortable than it was in his power to do. Perhaps it would have been as well if he had left it wholly to myself. He could hardly suppose I should neglect them. But as he required the promise, I could not do less than give it; at least I thought so at the time. The promise, therefore, was given, and must be performed. Something must be done for them whenever they leave Norland and settle in a new home.”

I’m going to halt here for a moment because I want to read the entire chapter but I want to halt here because John just gave Fanny the opening she needs.   

“He did not stipulate for any particular sum…he only requested me in general terms to assist them…” 

This is all she needs to know. Now she’s got him. I’m going to skip through the rest of this exchange.

“Well, then, let something be done for them; but that something need not be three thousand pounds. Consider,” she added, “that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our poor little boy—”

“Why, to be sure,” said her husband, very gravely, “that would make great difference. The time may come when Harry will regret that so large a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, for instance, it would be a very convenient addition.”

“To be sure it would.”

“Perhaps, then, it would be better for all parties, if the sum were diminished one half.—Five hundred pounds would be a prodigious increase to their fortunes!”

“Oh! beyond anything great! What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters! And as it is—only half blood!—But you have such a generous spirit!”

Now she’s got John to cut his support in half. 

“Certainly—and I think I may afford to give them five hundred pounds a-piece. As it is, without any addition of mine, they will each have about three thousand pounds on their mother’s death—a very comfortable fortune for any young woman.”

“To be sure it is; and, indeed, it strikes me that they can want no addition at all. They will have ten thousand pounds divided amongst them. If they marry, they will be sure of doing well, and if they do not, they may all live very comfortably together on the interest of ten thousand pounds.”

“That is very true, and, therefore, I do not know whether, upon the whole, it would not be more advisable to do something for their mother while she lives, rather than for them—something of the annuity kind I mean.—My sisters would feel the good effects of it as well as herself. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable.”

His wife hesitated a little, however, in giving her consent to this plan.

That little hesitation….Then she says. 

“To be sure,” said she, “it is better than parting with fifteen hundred pounds at once. But, then, if Mrs. Dashwood should live fifteen years we shall be completely taken in.”

“Fifteen years! my dear Fanny; her life cannot be worth half that purchase.”

“Certainly not; but if you observe, people always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty.

Now she hammers home the annoyance of having to pay an annuity. The trouble of paying it twice a year and how it always comes due. And now she mentions her mother, how her mother is “quite sick” of having to pay an annuity to a retired servant. Fanny lays it on thick. She brings up gratitude and how he’ll never be thanked for his generosity because his stepmother will expect it. 

“I would not bind myself to allow them anything yearly. It may be very inconvenient some years to spare a hundred, or even fifty pounds from our own expenses.” 

Now, she’s got John’s greedy, lazy nature piqued. She’s talking about fifty pounds to a man who will earn several thousand a year. 

But he’s still trying to give them something.

“I believe you are right, my love; it will be better that there should be no annuity in the case; whatever I may give them occasionally will be of far greater assistance than a yearly allowance, because they would only enlarge their style of living if they felt sure of a larger income, and would not be sixpence the richer for it at the end of the year. It will certainly be much the best way. A present of fifty pounds, now and then, will prevent their ever being distressed for money, and will, I think, be amply discharging my promise to my father.”

Fanny smells blood in the water and now she finishes him off by both offering the Dashwoods something small and describing how much they’ll appreciate it. 

“To be sure it will. Indeed, to say the truth, I am convinced within myself that your father had no idea of your giving them any money at all. The assistance he thought of, I dare say, was only such as might be reasonably expected of you; for instance, such as looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping them to move their things, and sending them presents of fish and game, and so forth, whenever they are in season. I’ll lay my life that he meant nothing farther; indeed, it would be very strange and unreasonable if he did. Do but consider, my dear Mr. Dashwood, how excessively comfortable your mother-in-law and her daughters may live on the interest of seven thousand pounds, besides the thousand pounds belonging to each of the girls, which brings them in fifty pounds a year a-piece, and, of course, they will pay their mother for their board out of it. Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that?—They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something.”

They’ll be so well off! As long as they have no servants, don’t go anywhere and don’t do anything. They’ll be so rich “They will be much more able to give you something.”

“I clearly understand it now, and I will strictly fulfil my engagement by such acts of assistance and kindness to them as you have described.” And he says he can probably give the Dashwoods some furniture when they move out.  

But Fanny won’t even give them that because she wants all the furniture in Norland. “When your father and mother moved to Norland, though the furniture of Stanhill was sold, all the china, plate and linen was saved, and is now left to your mother. Her house will therefore be almost completely fitted up as soon as she takes it.” 

But with no furniture of course. 

But now John is totally into this and he wants the china! 

Fanny wraps it up with a dig at Henry Dashwood. “Your father only thought of them. And I must say this: that you owe no particular gratitude to him, nor attention to his wishes, for we very well know if he could, he would have left almost everything in the world to them.”

What a bitch. What a horrible, manipulative, selfish, greedy, uncaring bitch. 

So we hate Fanny Dashwood already. Two chapters into the book and Austen has characterized someone in such a horrible way that we hate her within five pages.   

Wow. And her husband! We held out hope for him. Despite being described in chapter one as “cold-hearted and selfish,” he also wasn’t as bad as his wife. But he’s awful. He went from giving his sisters 3 thousand pounds a year to taking their tea cups! 

What’s really interesting is how Fanny manipulates John into these inactions. He was really set on giving them something to live on, but she methodically chipped away at his arguments, played on his greedy and selfish nature, and worked him into these really negative feelings about his sisters. 

There are several manipulative women in Austen’s novels, Lady Catherine DeBourgh comes to mind. This type of character occurs so often that it becomes an Austen trope. 

And Fanny isn’t the only one we’ll see in Sense and Sensibility, so we’ll definitely talk about this type of woman again soon, but I briefly wanted to look at some of the criticism about this type of woman. 

First, we’ll look at Mad Woman in the Attic, by Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar, a seminal work of feminist criticism. If you took any lit classes about female authors in college you probably read about them. 

This book is about how female authors of the 19th century were restricted to writing female characters who either embodied the angel because of their passivity or the monster for their actions. So here, we see Fanny Dashwood as a monster, acting specifically to destroy a family out of her own selfish nature. 

This quote is actually about Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny’s mother, but it perfectly describes Fanny. 

“By tampering with the patriarchal line of inheritance, Mrs. Ferrars proves that the very forms valued by Elinor are arbitrary. But even though Sense and Sensibility ends with the overt message that young women like Marianne and Elinor must submit to the powerful conventions of society by finding a male protector, Mrs. Ferrars and her scheming protegee Lucy Steele prove that women can themselves become agents of repression, manipulators of conventions, and survivors.”

We see that Lucy Steele isn’t Mrs. Ferrars only protégé. Her daughter, Fanny, has manipulated the 18th and 19th century societal conventions that a brother would provide for his maiden sisters until they marry. Fanny has schemed to provide an additional three thousand pounds for her son, who does not need it, simply because she can. She represses the Dashwood ladies, forcing them to look elsewhere for help, forcing them to be independent at a time when women had limited ability to be independent. She’s proved that all society norms are arbitrary and can be challenged and thwarted. 

In her book Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Worldly Realism, author Pam Morris talks about Fanny and John’s obsession with wealth. She writes:

“John and Fanny Dashwood are exemplary in their obsessive and competitive acquisitiveness. While all their passions are invested in wealth-getting, their sense of social extension into a shared world of fellow-feeling is practically non-existent….The second chapter of the novel, in which John is only too ready to accept Fanny’s arguments against keeping his promise to his father to provide for his step-sisters, offers a comic drama of the contraction of sympathies to exclude all but self. Fanny’s language repeatedly foregrounds the possessive pronouns of the private individualist self as she contrasts the projected impoverishment of ‘our poor little boy,’ John’s ‘own child’ against the claims of Elinor and Marianne who are his sisters…only half blood.” 

Morris continues by discussing Fanny’s indignation that her mother in law has been left all the china, plate and linen of the former household, emphatically opposing “our’ and “own” to “theirs” and “them, as the discursive structure of competitive, acquisitive individualism.”

So Morris here is contrasting Fanny and John’s individualistic motives and desire to be separate from the society of the Dashwood women, to the Dashwoods’ need to be part of a family group that will support them because in Fanny’s mind, the Dashwoods represent a threat to her family’s ability to earn and keep wealth. 

Here Fanny manipulates John, but he’s only too willing to follow her line of thought, and maintain his family’s position and wealth, and avoid feeling guilty about leaving his sisters homeless and friendless.  

I would like to hear your thoughts on Fanny Dashwood, and all the topics we discuss here on Ents and Sensibility. You can comment on our Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram, or write a note to our email address, entsandsensibility@gmail.com. I’ll read your notes and questions during the podcast and do my best to answer them. 

The biggest issue for the Dashwood women is money. When it comes down to it, they really haven’t got much. Elinor, Marianne and Margaret will each receive 50 pounds a year from interest on the thousand pounds they inherited from their father. In 2020 money 50 pounds is about 3500 pounds or $4000. This isn’t a lot of money now, and it really wasn’t a lot in 1790s when the novel is set. Particularly when compared to women like Miss Grey, who we’ll meet eventually, who inherited 50,000 pounds. 

Money was the biggest issue in the marriage market. The money a woman could bring to a marriage was often the deciding factor. It was likely one reason why Austen herself never married. Tom LeFroy was told to avoid Jane because she had no money. 

Money meant a good marriage and security, but not having it meant that women like the Dashwood ladies had to try to marry someone with it. But because they have so little, their options are extremely limited. They have to rely on friends for social opportunities where they may meet eligible men, and they had to use common sense when they married. Most women couldn’t afford to marry for love, which makes a few of Austen’s heroines really stand out. They needed to marry for security in order to avoid the worst, which would be working for their living as governesses. 

 The Dashwood ladies have joined a very competitive marriage market in order to marry to their advantage. We’ll discuss this problem in future episodes and find out what Marianne and Elinor think about marrying for money and security. 

This concludes today’s chapter discussion. 

Today we’re going to try another new segment where I’ll review Austen-related media, books from other points of view, parodies, movies and TV shows, and other media, and even criticism that we should read. I welcome your thoughts and ideas for things to read or watch. 

Now there are a ton of Austen-related parodies out there, but today I’m going to review Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

This novel, written by American author Ben H. Winters, was published in 2009. It’s a mashup of Sense and Sensibility with, obviously, sea monsters. You may know the related Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was made into a movie. 

It’s a story of two or three families living in an England where the creatures of the ocean have turned against humans and begun attacking them. There’s a distinct steampunk vibe in this book. There are lots of steam powered submarines, an underwater version of London called Sub-Marine Station Beta, and lots of giant sea monsters making regular attacks on humans. 

I’ve got to say, this book is absurd and fun. Mr. Henry Dashwood dies on an expedition to find out why the sea creatures are attacking. Willoughby leaves Marianne when she’s being attacked by a giant lobster. Marianne becomes ill with malaria instead of her sensibilities, and Barton Cottage is built on the back of Leviathan. The author does a good job merging Austen’s original story with the camp and kitschy monster movies like the Creature from the Black Lagoon with the early science fiction sensibilities of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 

In our Next Episode, we’ll meet the eponymous characters representing Sense and Sensibility in our novel and we’ll also meet a man who I can only describe as a hobbit

Thank you for listening to the “Ents and Sensibility Podcast.” This episode was written and produced by me, Casey Meserve. Facebook at Ents and Sensibility, that’s E-N-T-S and Sensibility, and on Instagram. You can also write the show at entsandsensibility@gmail.com 

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 mentioned on the podcast, and more. 

Thank you and I hope you’ll visit again soon. 

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