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|Mr. Palmer & Willoughby
Written by Robbin
(9/30/2006 10:25 a.m.)
I get a kick out of Mr. Palmer; his comments are unremittingly amusing to me. In Chapter 20 Elinor puts his contemptuous treatment of everybody and his general abuse of everything before him to a common wish to appear superior to other people rather than his really being unaffectedly ill-natured and ill bread. She also believes that his temper has been soured by finding himself married to a very silly woman. Is it possible that Mr. Palmer wishes to be seen by others as superior because he has a very silly wife—sort of a “Hey, I am not really as foolish as my choice of wife might indicate!” JA goes on to hint that Mr. Palmer is really a good sort of man; of course it is done inadvertently by his unrelentingly good-humored Charlotte:
"How charming it will be," said Charlotte, "when he is in Parliament! -- won't it? How I shall laugh! It will be so ridiculous to see all his letters directed to him with an M.P. But do you know, he says he will never frank for me? He declares he won't. Don't you, Mr. Palmer?" (Chapter 20)
In the Broadview edition of S&S it says this about the practice of franking letters:
From 1651 to 1834 Members of Parliament and the House of Lords would send letters and small parcels bearing their “frank” or stamp free of charge, on the understanding that the mail was official parliamentary business. The privilege was so frequently abused by relatives and friends of MPs from personal correspondence that when it was abolished it was discovered that “some five million franks were used annually by members of the two houses of Parliament.” See Howard Robinson, The British Post Office, A History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press 1970) 288.
It seems to me that Mr. Palmer in refusing to frank for his wife is not just being ill-natured for it could be attributed to a refusal to abuse the system and that would be a politician worthy of respect IMO. Charlotte again throws particular light on a person without intention when she says of Willoughby:
He is very little at Combe, I believe; but if he were ever so much there, I do not think Mr. Palmer would visit him, for he is in the opposition you know, and besides it is such a way off. (Chapter 20)
It seems that JA establishes Mr. Palmer to be a good man despite his ill-natured and ill-bred manner and then Charlotte claims Mr. Palmer would never associate with Willoughby because he is in the opposition political party. I do not know anything worth saying about the political parties of the era but the setup in contrasting Mr. Palmer and Willoughby seems significant to me. Taking the lesson of Mr. Palmer to heart then—perhaps Charlotte’s words have a double meaning, opposition political parties but also indicating that Willoughby is not the kind of man his manner indicates and in fact could be completely opposite. :D
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