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Monday, August 29, 2016

"Making Sense of Sense and Sensibility" | guest post from Maria Grace!

You probably recall Maria Grace from all of the amazing things she's done for Austen in August over the years. (And from her books. Probably from those, too.)
Well, she's back again this year with a whole host of stuff, but she's kicking it off with a little look into S&S, and just why all of those Very Significant Things (that you may have been confused about) are so significant.
Take a look below, let us know in the comments if there's anything else about S&S that you're baffled by, and keep an eye out for our next post from Maria! (Hint: it's a giveaway!)

Sense and Sensibility can be a particularly difficult book for readers because so much of the plot lies in customs and laws that were peculiar to the Regency Era. To help with the read along Misty’s hosting, here are some answers to some of the most puzzling questions about Sense and Sensibility.

Why doesn’t Mrs. Dashwood inherit the house or anything else when her husband dies?
In the early eighteen hundreds, inheritance was a little more complicated that it is today. While it was possible for women to inherit, it wasn’t common Usually an estate would go to the eldest son. Younger sons and daughters might inherit cash from a lump sum set aside for the purpose at the time of their parent’s marriage. . Wives had no right to their husband’s property; daughters could only inherit and estate if there were no sons born and the estate wasn’t entailed like the Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice.

In the case of the Dashwoods, the eldest son inherited the estate. Provisions made by the previous owner of the estate, Mr. Dashwood’s uncle, prevented him from leaving any part of the property to his second wife and daughters.

Since the heir was not the current Mrs. Dashwood’s son, he had no obligation to her. Thus, she and her daughter’s had to leave their home and settle elsewhere.

Her marriage articles—a prenuptial agreement—laid out provision for her widowhood. The most typical arrangement would have been for an annuity (yearly payments) for the rest of her life amounting to one tenth of the dowry she brought into the marriage. She was also entitled keep the china and similar household articles that she brought into the marriage. Everything else stayed with the house and was property of the heir. So she and her daughters had something to live on, but it was a far cry from what they were accustomed to.

Still, 500 pounds a year was not a shabby income. A middle class family could live on that quite comfortably. It was not enough to maintain a carriage, though. That would require about 1000 a year. But they were hardly impoverished.

What was the problem with a secret engagement and why didn’t Edward Ferrars break things off with Lucy Steele when he fell in love with Elinor?
First, secret engagements were considered scandalous moral lapses. Since marriage was the backbone of society, one's marriage state (unmarried, engaged, married or widowed—divorced was not really an option) was an important piece of public record. Carrying on a secret engagement was tantamount to lying to society at large.

Second, an engagement was effectively a legal contract, one which could result in legal action for breach of contract. Secret engagements presented a host of difficulties in managing the legal aspects of the contract.

Third, in the era, it was really all about the betrothal. A promise to marry was all but as good as a legal marriage. So keeping the engagement secret was like keeping a marriage secret.
Moreover, since a betrothal was nearly a marriage, many couples anticipated their vows—one third of brides went to the altar pregnant. If an engagement was broke, most would assume that the woman had compromised her virtue with her intended, and her reputation would be ruined. An honorable man—and a man’s honor was hugely important in those days—would not break an engagement and cause such harm to a lady.

How did Mrs. Ferrars disinherit eldest son Edward when primogenitor was the law of the land?
Primogenitor referred to the inheritance of a landed estate. Mrs. Ferrars had a fortune which she herself controlled. She might have brought a large dowry into her marriage, had a sum settled on her in the marriage articles, or had a substantial jointure. The key point is that the money was hers, so she could do with it what she wanted. So, she could adjust her will to reflect her displeasure at her son.
The documents were set up in such a way that the change was irrevocable. So when the younger son, Robert, took up with Lucy, she could not change them to disinherit him.

Why were Marianne and Willoughby so shocking?
I think modern readers really miss this detail. Marianne and Willoughby were absolutely scandalous in their behavior. They broke every rule of proper decorum, leaving people to assume that they were engaged.

Riding alone in a carriage together, taking a lock of hair, walking without a chaperone, those were all highly improper and reserved for those married or engaged. When Willoughby took Marianne to see Allenham, he was effectively inviting her to start mentally setting up housekeeping. It was as close to making her an offer of marriage as he could get without actually saying the words. So everyone assumed they were engaged.

Going back to the earlier point about engagements and the behavior of engaged couples, Marianne was entirely compromised and her reputation ruined.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new book, Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World. It details the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage during the regency era and how it relates to all of Jane Austen’s works. The book is available for Pre-order now and will be available on September 1.

Courtship & Marriage in Jane Austen's World by Maria Grace
Jane Austen’s books are full of hidden mysteries for the modern reader. Why on earth would Elizabeth Bennet be expected to consider a suitor like foolish Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice? Would Lydia's 'infamous elopement' truly have ruined her family and her other sisters’ chances to marry? Why were the Dashwood women thrown out of their home after Mr. Dashwood's death in Sense and Sensibility, and what was the problem with secret engagements anyway? And then there are settlements, pin money, marriage articles and many other puzzles for today’s Austen lovers.

Customs have changed dramatically in the two centuries since Jane Austen wrote her novels. Beyond the differences in etiquette and speech, words that sound familiar to us are often misleading. References her original readers would have understood leave today’s readers scratching their heads and missing important implications.

Take a step into history with Maria Grace as she explores the customs, etiquette and legalities of courtship and marriage in Jane Austen's world. Packed with information and rich with detail from Austen's novels, Maria Grace casts a light on the sometimes bizarre rules of Regency courtship and unravels the hidden nuances in Jane Austen's works.

About the Author:
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.

She can be contacted at:
On Amazon.com:
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
On Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/mariagrace423/

Return to the Austen in August Main Page by clicking here for more Janeite goodies!


  1. Each year, I love it when Maria Grace shares these insightful, historical tidbits that help explain things not as obvious to the modern reader. My biggest S&S questions aren't really along these lines so much as plotting choices by the author, LOL.
    But that aside, this was great. Thanks so much, Maria Grace! I need to add the Customs book to my reading list.

  2. Thanks so much Sophia! I have a few of those plotting questions too!

  3. Thanks so much for this! I hadn't even thought about the possibility of Mrs. Ferrars disinheriting Robert after he was engaged to Lucy- it's good to know she was stuck (so much for trying to assert her wil! ha!).

    1. I have to admit, that was a delicious bit of irony Austen added in. Kind of liked seeing that family get a bit of comeuppance! :)

  4. I have only read once S&S and it was last year, I really need to reread it because I did not find it as entertaining as other JA's novels. I know that my spirits at the time were not very high but I have to read it again.
    Thank you for this post, Maria Grace.

  5. Thanks for the interesting tidbits, Maria! I always enjoy your Regency facts, and I'm sure I'd love this book.

  6. Great information! I think it would help a lot to understand attitudes and fears of the women of the time.

  7. I knew a lot of this, but I always appreciate the history


  8. I'm re-reading SENSE AND SENSIBILITY right now. I'll be reading with a fresh eye.

  9. Sense and Sensibility to me was a way for Austen to show the unfairness of the times toward women. I think it was her way of venting her frustrations toward constraints she was feeling at that time.

  10. I love the background information because once you know more about the time and what was proper or improper you get a much better view and a deeper appreciation for Austen's talent.


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