All the things you ever wanted to know and a lot things you didn’t.
Today I thought it would be fun to pick out a few things that the average viewer wouldn’t understand, like references the movie makes that are appropriate to the time it is set in. Generally, I have tried to stick to explaining things as they would have been understood in 1811, though there is some small debate on exactly when the movie is set.
How much was their brother proposing to give them?
At the beginning of the movie, their brother John Dashwood makes mention of a one-time gift of £3,000 to help his sisters. This is roughly the equivalent to £230,000 today, or just shy of $300,000. It would have set up the family amply and provided for the girls’ dowries, though they would have been small compared to what they might have had if their father had lived.
Fanny then talks him down to £1,500, which is of course, half that at ~£115,000 or $150,000 in modern terms.
Then John gets reallll shitty, suggesting just £100 per year to their mother, while she lives. That’s about £7,600/$9,600. (It seems like a great sum all at once, but imagine trying to live on that for a year.)
And just £20 “now and then”? That’s about the equivalent of paying their rent, maybe. (About £1,500 or $1,900.)
Of course, the only income we know the Dashwood women actually receive is the £500 stipulated in their father’s will. That’s four women and two servants living on about £38,000 (or $48,000) a year. It’s certainly not awful but it’s also nowhere near the living they would have experienced at Norland Park. (Don’t forget some of that had to be set aside for the girls’ dowries and wardrobes.)
What’s up with their mourning dresses?
It’s always bugged me that the mourning wardrobes of certain characters appear haphazardly.
Bear in mind that Georgian mourning was far less strict than Victorian mourning, and far more familial — meaning their conduct and attire wasn’t observed as closely by the public as it would have been toward the end of the same century.
For the record:
Mrs. Dashwood should mourn her husband for a full year. During the first six months she would wear full black, and after that, go into a “half-mourning” of muted colors like grey and lavender.
The girls would mourn their father for 6 months. Affluent families put their servants into mourning as well, and men would wear black armbands below the elbow.
However, in the one scene at Norland that shows the serving staff gathered around Elinor, the maids are dressed in black, but many if not most of the men are in regular clothing. I suspect the maids’ dresses are commonly black, however, as it would have been cost-prohibitive to re-dye all of their dresses. (Backing me up in this assumption is that not even the footmen are wearing black armbands, so why put the maids into mourning and not the footmen?)
The elder Dashwood sisters do don sheer, black crepe shawls for the first half of the movie, and some of their dresses have black ribbons swapped in, which would have been an era-appropriate nod to their loss, but probably only during half-mourning — after three months full.
Does Edward just give away monogrammed hankies willy-nilly?
It certainly seems like it.
What exactly is a barouche?
Verbatim from Webster’s Dictionary:
“1. A four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage with a collapsible hood over the rear half, a seat in front for the driver, and seats facing each other for the passengers, used especially in the 19th century.
From the German Barutsche and the Italian baroccio, based on Latin birotus ‘two-wheeled,’ from bi- ‘having two’ + rota ‘wheel.’
2. Some bullshit social status marker for Fanny Dashwood.”
Where is Abyssinia?
Another name for the former Ethiopian Empire, a kingdom that spanned a geographical area in the current states of Eritrea and Ethiopia. It lasted from approximately 1270 until 1974.
It does contain the source of the Blue Nile, one of two tributaries that make up the larger Nile River. It was discovered by explorers as early as 1565. (The other tributary is the White Nile, which begins at Lake Victoria in Uganda/Kenya/Tanzania, and wasn’t discovered until 1858.)
What’re all the poems Marianne quotes?
The first is called “The Castaway” by William Cowper, written in 1799. (This is the one she corrects Edward’s reading of while still at Norland.) It’s about a sailor who was washed overboard during a storm. It’s also super long, so I won’t post it all but here’s a link to it; Edward and Marianne were discussing the last stanza.
Also, William Cowper was a badass abolitionist, so if you get a chance, check him out too! He wrote some super cool protest poetry.
The second is when Marianne comes in quoting a poem about love to Elinor before bed, then they talk about how Elinor likes Edward. That one is Sonnet VII by Hartley Coleridge.
The poem she and Willoughby read together after she sprains her ankle is Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 116: Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True Minds… (a personal favorite of mine!)
Where did Colonel Brandon serve?
Mrs. Jennings says he was sent to the India with the Army about 20 years before. That puts it about 1790-ish, and just after the American Revolution.
To be honest, I’m surprised they mention his posting so specifically. 1793 was when the French Revolutionary Wars began, and the Napoleonic Wars followed shortly after. I’m not sure why Brandon would have been posted in India instead of where he was needed, on the European continent.
In fact, the Napoleonic Wars would have still been going on in 1811, so as an officer, Brandon really shouldn’t have been home at all unless he’d been injured or discharged. If anyone knows more information about this, please feel free to write us in the comments!
An update from one of our astute readers, Christina Morland: “My guess about Colonel Brandon and India: Austen wrote the first draft of Sense and Sensibility (then titled Elinor and Marianne) in the 1790s. She came back to it around 1810 and then published in 1811 — but my understanding is most of the story was conceived of in the late 1790s. So, if Sense and Sensibility takes place in the 1790s, then Brandon would have served in India during the late 1770s, during the period of the Mahratta War (1775-82) when England was trying to consolidate its empire.” Thanks for the background, Christina!!
What’s with throwing the coins at the wedding?
Fuck if I know but let’s bring that shit back, I’m broke.