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Sunday, November 20

Mr. Palmer Discusses His Fellow Minor Characters

Gentle Readers, This month I have joined the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration on Maria Grazia's My Jane Austen Book Club blog. Click on the banner on the sidebar to read the other articles posted each month in celebration of Jane Austen's first published book. The first half of my post about Mr. Palmer's observations of his fellow minor characters in the book sits here. The rest of the article sits on My Jane Austen Book Club. 

I, Thomas Palmer, Esq., have been charged to analyze and discuss the traits of my fellow minor characters in Sense and Sensibility, the first of six novels by Jane Austen. I shall endeavor to do JUSTICE to that estimable author's first published effort, which made its way to the public some 200 years ago and has never failed to be in print since.

I must first cast my thoughts upon Fanny and John Dashwood, whose miserliness oblidged the Dashwood women to leave their comfortable home at Norland to establish themselves in Barton Cottage and live a FRUGAL life in Devonshire amongst strangers. Miss Austen was a mere 20 years of age when she first conceived of this novel in epistolary form, first naming it Elinor and Marianne. That such a young author, whose knowledge of the world was CONFINED largely to books and the experiences of others, could create two such memorable characters as Fanny and John Dashwood portended her genius.

Fanny in particular is a character like no other in literature. Her manipulation of her weak husband in persuading him to abandon his PLEDGE to his father on that man's deathbed is breathtaking in its audacity and avarice. The sequence of her skewed logic and her husband's reaction to her CONTRIVANCE to preserve every pence of her darling son's inheritance is matchless. Even I could not have conceived of a more cynical, darkly humorous dialog than young Miss Austen presented through these two minor characters, thereby setting the novel's direction and tone. “People always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them.” One simply cannot add or take away a word to improve this utterance by Mrs. Dashwood.

The John Dashwoods represent, like so many minor characters, a FOIL – brilliantly conceived foils, to be sure – that are meant to contrast with other characters. Take my rather vulgar brother-in-law, Sir John Middleton, who is renowned for his generous impulses. Whilst the Dashwood ladies were figuratively shoved out of Norland by the John Dashwoods, Sir John, a distant relation, emerges from nowhere to offer them a hearth and home. The CONTRAST twixt the two Johns – one so weak and tight-fisted that he willing to break his vow to his dying father, the other so generous that he is forever inviting the entire neighborhood to sample the contents of his larder – cannot be ignored.

I next turn my gaze upon the Steele sisters, Lucy and Anne. Anne is a flat minor character who is doomed to learn nothing from life's experiences, but who interjects a running COMIC gag over her obsession with Dr. Davies (he will never offer his hand in marriage). Her main purpose in the novel is to REVEAL the engagement of Lucy to Edward at a most awkward moment.

Her sister Lucy, a smarter, prettier version of Anne, is as mean, cunning and scheming a creature as I have ever come across. I had her measure from the start, I assure you. Lucy's sole ambition is to ingratiate herself with her betters in order to take her place in SOCIETY. Knowing of Edward Ferrars' attraction to Miss Dashwood, she makes a preemptive strike by CONFIDING her secrets to Elinor, forcing our hapless heroine to LISTEN to matters that, while they pain her deeply, she must keep to herself. Many minor characters play the role of confidante to a novel's protagonist, but Lucy Steele turned the table on Elinor, forcing her to listen to matters that were most distasteful and hurtful. Our scheming Lucy more than turned the table on Edward, eloping with his younger brother Robert when it becomes apparent that the latter will INHERIT the Ferrars fortune of £1,000 per year. One can only cheer knowing that this feckless couple will always be dissatisfied with each other, always wanting more possessions.

To read the rest of the article, click here to enter My Jane Austen Book Club

Click here to read the other articles in this year long series:

1. January          Jennifer Becton    

Men, Marriage and Money in Sense and Sensibility

2. February      Alexa Adams         

Sense and Sensibility on Film

3. March            C. Allyn Pierson

Property and Inheritance Law in S &S 

4. April               Beth Pattillo

Lost in Sense and Sensibility

5. May                Jane Odiwe

Willoughby: a rogue on trial

6. June               Deb @JASNA Vermont

Secrets in Sense and Sensibility

7. July                Laurie Viera Rigler

Interview with Lucy Steele

8. August           Regina Jeffers       

Settling for the Compromise Marriage

9. September    Lynn Shepherd

The origins of S&S: Richardson, Jane Austen, Elinore & Marianne                                        

10. October       Meredith @Austenesque Reviews

Sense and Sensibility Fan Fiction

11. November   Vic @Jane Austen's World  

Mr. Palmer Discusses His Fellow Minor characters in Sense and Sensibility

12. December    Laurel Ann @Austenprose

Marianne Dashwood: A passion for dead Leaves and other Sensibilities


Nonna Beach said...

That was very enjoyable considering Mr. Palmer has very little to say or do in the novel...excellent job indeed !!!

Enid Wilson said...

I agree with Mr. Palmer's view of Fanny and John Dashwood. But for Lucy Steele, was she so smart? I'm not so sure.

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