Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sense and Sensibility: 31% Complete

I am very much enjoying Sense and Sensibility. Although I usually prefer to read books before watching movie adaptations, there's something fascinating about reading the original story behind a familiar movie. I also have to say that I am impressed with Emma Thompson's screen play (which apparently took her five years to write!). She held very true to the book, with only a few small changes that I've found so far.

Because the story itself is so familiar to me, I'm finding myself focusing on different aspects of the book. One thing I was interested in is the physical distances that separate the locations in the book. Towards the beginning of the book, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are forced to move from their home at Norland Park in the county of Sussex to Barton Cottage near the town of Exeter in Devonshire. Although both Norland Park and Barton Cottage are fictional, the distance here is approximately 130 miles. Throughout the book various characters go to "town" i.e. London, which is about two hundred miles from Barton Cottage.  The Jane Austen Society of North America has maps for each of Jane Austen's novels which show the locations of various estates and towns for each book. Those can be located here.

Another fascinating aspect of this book (and many others) is the money. Jane Austen in particular frequently discusses the amount of money various characters "have" (few of them actually earn their money) per year. I referenced this website when I read Pride and Prejudice, but I once again returned to Eric Nye's site with the University of Wyoming which converts from historical British Pounds (by year) to current American dollars. That site can be found here.

I used the previously-mentioned website to calculate how much money John Dashwood and his stingy wife were debating would fulfill their obligation to Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters (in the end they decide that non-monetary assistance is more than generous). Initially Mr. Dashwood plans to give each of the three girls one thousand pounds. In 1811 when this book was published, that would be the equivalent of about $80,000 a piece. After objections from his wife, he lowers the amount to 500 pounds ($40,000) a piece. Then, when she's still unhappy, he suggests one hundred pounds per year to their mother while she lives. This is about $8000 per year (in addition to the five hundred pounds ($40,000) per year that the Dashwood girls receive from their father's estate). Then his wife argues that if their mother lives more than fifteen years then they would end up paying out even more than they would if they gave 500 pounds to each girl all at once, and "people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them."  So in the end he agrees that they will no doubt be very comfortable on their five hundred per year, and they would benefit more from small gifts and other assistance over the years.

Another thing that surprised me was the Marianne and Elinor are younger than I thought: Marianne is only sixteen (which makes me less judgmental of her dramatic "sensibility") and Elinor is nineteen (which makes her rather wise beyond her years).

And finally, a quote. In this scene Edward Ferrars has come to visit the family at Barton Cottage and seems melancholy and strange, which is perplexing and bewildering to Elinor.

"Elinor placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to his mother's account; and it was happy for her that he had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to her, as to be the general excuse for every thing strange on the part of her son."

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