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|Sister Relationships Round-up (long)
Written by Robbin
(10/27/2006 12:36 p.m.)
I think JA put three sets of similarly constructed sisters in S&S for a reason. All three sets of sisters are comprised of one who seems to be always in control while the other is in some way uncontrolled—they are each their own version of sense and sensibility and since I do not think JA wrote these sisters seemingly alike by coincidence to me it is worth comparing them one last time. I will try to look into how each set of sisters merit a slice of the sense and sensibility pie, how they compare to each other and how they compare to Elinor and Marianne as individuals and as a whole. I think both the Steele sisters and nee Jennings sisters are there to show us some darker aspects of what could happen to ladies somewhat like the Dashwood sisters. I have gone about comparing the sets in slightly different manners; one reason is because I have done only one previous post on the nee Jennings sisters compared to three others on the Steele sisters and six on the Dashwood sisters. Another reason is that, of course, there is much more to compare between the Dashwood and Steele sisters because they are all unmarried and play more vital roles in the story—all their fates hang in the balance during the novel whereas Lady Middleton and Charlotte are settled and seemingly unchangeable. I welcome any comments my gentle readers have and thank you for your kind attention over the group read. ;D
Dashwood and nee Jennings sisters (Lady Middleton & Charlotte Palmer):
Lady Middleton and Charlotte Palmer appear to have no relationship other than that of casual acquaintances, it is certainly distant. I do not think there is conservation between them in the entire novel. They are like Elinor and Marianne in that they appear to be opposite in character and temper from each other. Also like Elinor and Marianne the opposition is tempered with characteristics and behaviors which are common. On the surface LM is reserved and elegant and Charlotte is outgoing and vulgar but they both lack accomplishment, intelligence, sensitivity and they both treat people with respect and attention. LM’s sense is a cold unemotional reserve and Charlotte’s sensibility is a nonspecific unstoppable good humor which she cannot keep to herself. IMO the difference between them and Elinor and Marianne is the desire for self improvement, learning, and the ability to change. Another significant difference between the pairs of sisters is that while LM and Charlotte appear to have a distant relationship Elinor and Marianne have a warm and loving relationship—putting LM’s and Charlotte’s characters aside for a moment, part of their distance could be that they have grown away from each other after LM left her mother’s home for her husband’s. The Dashwood sisters however seem to have minimal distance emotionally between them after marriage because they are able to live almost within sight of each other happily--I like the idea that they will always be able to be there for each other through each stage of life. I do think that LM could not possibly approve of Charlotte’s inelegance and she probably rates the same treatment as her mother does from LM; correcting and with a bit of shame of her vulgar behavior.
Lady Middleton is very elegant; she treats everyone with the proper respect and delivers to them all the attention that is appropriate. Her calm demeanor is made up of a cold reserved temper and a cold insipidity. Contrast LM to Elinor—Elinor is also elegant but she is also accomplished and intelligent, she also treats everyone with the proper respect and gives attention to others as she ought but her calm demeanor is indicative only of her ability to govern her warm and kind feelings while LM has little feelings to govern and has no desire for improvement. Charlotte Palmer is all loud brash unthinking good humor—as willing to laugh at herself as she is to laugh at a joke; she is silly and little accomplished. She often speaks unthinkingly on subjects which seem impertinent or are in some cases just hurtful without a thought to bruising anyone’s feelings. Charlotte is often insensitive although she is always ready to give people the appropriate attention and feels a concern for others that her sister does not. Contrast Charlotte to Marianne—Marianne is warm, intelligent and accomplished but often insensitive; for most of the novel she is unable to see others point of view and values their worth accordingly leading to a almost universal neglect of attention and respect of her friends and neighbors.
Dashwood and Steele sisters:
Lucy’s brand of sense consists of a cunning intelligence, she is selfish, and her manner is blatantly insincere in her attention to people which leads me to believe she has no respect for them. She seems to be a cold person to me; she is very controlling both of her emotions and of her sister throughout most of the novel. Lucy pretends to elegance, knowledge, and accomplishment but rather than try to learn to be so she just tries to fool others into thinking she is. I also think Lucy is quite manipulative and merciless rather than insensitive—IMO Lucy often knows she is at the least intruding into Elinor’s feelings and at the most hurting her but Lucy pushes through her agenda regardless of how it makes others feel. Contrast Lucy to Elinor—Elinor is warm, intelligent, educated, kind and sincere in her attentions and respect for others. Lucy and Elinor share the ability to govern their emotions and find themselves with sisters who need guidance. Nancy’s brand of sensibility consists mostly of a vulgar uncontrolled curiosity which is often the victim of Lucy’s censure. Nancy appears at times to be good-hearted but I am still out on that—she may just be ineffective but she is eager, foolish, uneducated, and insensitive and seems to be without accomplishment or wish to be so. Contrast Nancy to Marianne—Marianne is warm, intelligent, educated and accomplished, eager and also insensitive; Nancy and Marianne share an inability to repress their emotions and opinions or questions in Nancy’s case appearing eager in all they do.
Elinor and Marianne seem to have a good relationship at the start of the novel—they are different in their views but confide in and support each other. I do not think Nancy and Lucy ever have a good relationship in the novel; when they enter the scene they are obviously unequal in intelligence and Lucy is not the loving protector of her sister—she is often embarrassed and probably annoyed. Elinor and Marianne are both described as intelligent and accomplished while Elinor’s constant watch and worry over Marianne’s behavior and disappointments is the opposite of Lucy’s self motivated corrections. Nancy and Lucy do not appear to be good companions for each other and I do not think they receive much solace from each other either. Contrast this with Elinor and Marianne’s constant ability to overcome their own miseries to be happy for their sister. I think it is safe to say that Nancy caused Lucy a great deal of worry about what she would accidentally let slip about the engagement or their unexplained knowledge of the Dashwood and Ferrars families. Marianne worries Elinor but she never seems embarrassed or ashamed by Marianne’s antics rather more concerned in a sometimes necessarily too parental character. We hear of Lucy and Nancy spying on each other as far back as two years (Chapter 28) rather than respecting each other’s privacy. This is in sharp contrast to the reluctance of the Dashwoods to force a confidence from Marianne on her relationship with Willoughby.
Adversity pulls Nancy and Lucy further and further apart while the Dashwood’s, although adversity temporarily pulls them apart, eventually find their way back to each other because there was esteem and respect all along—two commodities which is lacking in Nancy and Lucy’s relationship so it fails completely. I think JA contrasts the sister’s fates by giving Elinor and Marianne happy marriages and Lucy one in which she is financially secure but at odds constantly with Fanny and Robert while Nancy is left abandoned without sister or husband. From the beginning of the novel Elinor and Marianne are given every advantage of wealth and education compared to the Steele sisters but I do not think that those are the reasons they end happily and the Steele sister’s happiness is in question. I think the real defining merits are that of honesty and genteel behavior both of which Nancy and Lucy are without. Mrs. Jennings, Sir John and Charlotte are all described at times to have vulgar manners and as not being good companions for the Dashwoods, just as are Nancy and Lucy, but they are redeemed because they are honest and good hearted people. Their attentions to others are sincere and kind—this is what Marianne has to and does learn. I do not think I need explain the dishonesty of the Steele sisters but I do feel the need to explain the gentility of behavior I find them to be lacking. Their behavior is probingly impertinent, their motives are mercenary, and their attentions are insincere and often manipulative. IMO Elinor and Marianne come out ahead not because of material advantages but due to their characters. (;D)
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