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The blog Jane Austen’s World has to be my favorite location for Austen information. Pretty much daily a new bit of intruiging history is posted about. Today’s post was actually something I had been wondering about last evening and researched a bit online this morning and that is toothpick holders. In Sense & Sensibility the reader is introduced to Robert Ferras (though unknowingly at the time) while he is spending a good portion of the afternoon trying to select and finally designing his very own toothpick case. From everything I have found on toothpick cases this morning it seems that they are heavily decorated items made from wood to ivory and could be decorated with precious metals and jewels. Many that I stumbled across were lined on the inside and often had a mirror (perhaps to ensure that any pesky foods were actually removed from one’s teeth). As the seen with Mr. Robert Ferras shows it seems the only explanation for toothpick cases is a pure status item.
While reading Sense & Sensibility it certainly seems that Austen shows a good deal of favoritism to Elinor. Often Marianne’s violent emotions come across as almost play acting as she responds in a way that she feels she ought to respond in. While she certainly embodies characteristics I am attracted to, as a character I merely tolerate Marianne. After her emotional outburst (or should I say the start of continual outbursts) Edward Ferras shows up at Barton Cottage after a lengthy absence. Is he being shy, reserved, indifferent? The reader is left with little explanation for Edward’s inattentiveness to Elinor.
Chapter 20 allows for my first glimpse of pregnancy in Austen’s fiction as Mrs. Charlotte Palmer (another silly woman in Austen’s growing list of silly women) speaks of soon being confined for her pregnancy. At this point I do not even believe there had been mention that the woman was pregnant (and in retrospect I am not sure if the P-word was used at all) but the reference to being confined certainly lit the light bulb in my head. Around this time we are introduced to an important new aspect of the novel (if not necessarily important characters): the Steele sisters. Early on it is hinted at that the Steele sisters – particularly Lucy – are familiar with Mr. Ferras but how? And this is where my changing light as changing truth metaphor of yesterday comes into play most ferociously. From here right through the conclusion of the novel Sense & Sensibility takes on the air of perhaps the greatest game of telephone ever played. The gossip runs freely with everyone adding a dash of this and a sprinkle of that to the already confusing information.
From what we gather Mr. Ferras is engaged to Miss Lucy Steele who has a miniature of him. Now from what we know of Mr. Ferras is that he is a thoughtful and kind man if not lacking in the passions department. The Steele sisters are very silly and seem to be somewhat staple characters as the somewhat reappear in Pride & Prejudice as Kitty and Lydia. They are careless people (to borrow a line from Fitzgerald) who are entirely selfish. Quickly upon their entrance into the novel Elinor and Lucy realize their rival status. This is never said forthright but a verbal cat and mouse game ensues that they are both perfectly aware of. One ideal the novel presents are men stupidly falling in love for a beautiful woman despite any daftness or moral defects she may have. In my opinion, this issue is dealt with far too lightly as the men are so easily forgiven.
From here the Dashwood sisters Elinor and Marianne are off to London with an invitation from Mrs. Jennings with the subtle reason of both sisters hoping to run into that special someone in the city.
Today’s blog image is a barouche from Austen.com. When reading Austen it is all too easy to forget some of the more humdrum aspects of the 19th Century and we may fail to consider, for example, exactly how the Dashwoods &co. get from London to Cleveland. The information provided on this image is: “The distinguishing characteristics of barouches are that they are four-wheeled carriages with collapseable tops. This makes a barouche something of a sports car among carriages. The collapseable top makes it perfect for exploring the countryside in the heat of summer. This picture is of a much later barouche, circa 1870.”