"Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding.... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?”

“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language." --Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Still Reading Sense and Sensibility

So I'm still reading Sense and Sensibility. I've gotten through the part where Lucy Steele shows up and breaks Elinor's heart. I have to say that my favorite part so far is the wonderfully ridiculous conversation with the Palmers, especially Mrs. Palmer (chapter 20). It is difficult to express just how funny this whole scene is, in a perfectly deadpan fashion. Mr. Palmer is determinedly rude, while it seems the ruder he is the happier his wife is, while all the while poor Elinor keeps trying to change the subject, but no matter how often she does Mrs. Palmer says something else vulgar (but perfectly good humored). I particularly loved this:
[Mrs. Palmer speaking] "You cannot think what a sweet place Cleveland is; and we are so gay now, for Mr. Palmer is always going about the country canvassing against the election; and so many people come to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! it is very fatiguing to him! for he is forced to make everybody like him."
And this:
[Elinor] "You have been long acquainted with Colonel Brandon, have not you?"  
[Mrs. Palmer] "Yes, a great while; ever since my sister married. -- He was a particular friend of Sir John's. I believe," she added in a low voice, "he would have been very glad to have had me, if he could. Sir John and Lady Middleton wished it very much. But mama did not think the match good enough for me, otherwise Sir John would have mentioned it to the colonel, and we should have been married immediately."

"Did not Colonel Brandon know of Sir John's proposal to your mother before it was made? Had he never owned his affection to yourself?"

"Oh! no; but if mama had not objected to it, I dare say he would have liked it of all things. He had not seen me then above twice, for it was before I left school. However I am much happier as I am. Mr. Palmer is just the kind of man I like."
Besides this, I have to admit that there are times that I find I like Marianne better than Elinor. Not when she's being completely self-centered and melodramatic, but I like her honesty--the fact that she refuses to tell the polite lies that Elinor tells. For instance, when Elinor wants to get time alone to talk with Lucy, she tells this whopper about her ardent desire to help decorate a basket for Lady Middleton's spoiled daughter:

 "Perhaps," continued Elinor, "if I should happen to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Lucy Steele, in rolling her papers for her; and there is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible, I think, for her labour singly, to finish it this evening. I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share in it."
Marianne, on the other hand, offended her hostess with this shocking piece of rudeness (which doesn't seem particularly rude by our current standards):

"Your ladyship will have the goodness to excuse me -- you know I detest cards. I shall go to the pianoforte; I have not touched it since it was tuned." And without farther ceremony, she turned away and walked to the instrument.
 I don't see that it should be necessary to tell lies to get out of a game of cards you have no desire to play. Why can't you just say that you don't like cards?

Any way, I do like Marianne. She has delicacy and taste, and it's hard to blame her that she can hardly stand the alternately vulgar and tedious Middletons. Besides, she's only seventeen. But whenever she indulges in hysterics I want to shake her.


  1. IMO, the Palmers are the funniest characters Austen created. I feel sorry for them, though--Mr. Palmer is irritable and rude as it is, but they could become a very unhappy couple if Mrs. Palmer ever loses her ability to laugh at him or actually needs kindness or support from him and cannot find it.

    1. You are so right about that. Mr. Palmer's attitude would destroy a more sensitive spirit. However, JA makes a point to say that he's not a bad man, and seems to put on his rudeness deliberately, so one wonders if he would be kinder to his wife if she were different.