I’ve been, as I mentioned, reading Sense and Sensibility in my investigation of Jane Austen father figures. Since the novel deals with the family surviving Mr. Dashwood, mentions of father figures have so far been a bit scarce. One exception is the beginning of the novel, where Austen discusses the fact that the late Mr. Henry Dashwood’s will had given his remaining family “as much disappointment as pleasure (3)” hardly an indictment of his character or actions. However, one could question his decision to bequeath his estate to his son and grandson without provision for his current wife and daughters, with the exception of the girls being set to receive a thousand pounds a piece.
More interesting upon further reading was the behavior of Mr. John Dashwood, who let his wife talk him out of honoring the dying wishes of his father to look after “the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters (4).” After all, since she successfully bargained John Dashwood down until ultimately convincing him that “[his] father had no idea of your giving them any money at all (9),” one must refrain from recommending his strength of will as a Victorian man. However, lack of sensibility to his wife’s agenda aside, as he is not a father-figure to any of the main characters in the novel, criticism of him can be lumped in with criticism of another nonsensical male character, Mr. Collins, a discussion fit for an entirely different paper.
And so I come to my final observation for the day, as I have unfortunately not read much farther than the exchange on which I would like to focus. The passage in question involves a conversation between Elinor and Colonel Brandon as they are discussing Marianne:
“No,” replied Elinor; “her opinions are all romantic.”
“Or, rather, as I believe, she considers them impossible to exist.”
“I believe she does. But how she contrives it without reflecting on the character of her own father, who had himself two wives, I know not (40).”
And away we go! Here the reader finds a classic Austen editorial on society. Hiding her criticism inside a sisterly admonition against romantic insensibility, Elinor declares Marianne’s romantic views antithetical to the idea of their father having two wives. She also references his character, upon which she believes Marianne must “reflect” in order to provide her with continued guidance away from her romantic ideas. Why would one have to reflect on their father having taken a second wife? Apart from saying that “by a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son” (3), Austen has not yet elaborated on the situation.
Obviously, I have much more to find beyond page 44.
Note: All references in this brief analysis are to The Modern Library’s version of Sense and Sensibility.
Austen, Jane. Sense and sensibility. New York: The Modern Library, 2001.