25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 10 – Deep Dives

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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.


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11 thoughts on “25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 10 – Deep Dives

  1. The coin-throwing is an old tradition. I’m a Geordie (NE England) abd at my wedding in 1995 we had the ‘hoy-oot’ (throw-out) when my Dad threw coins to the children as a symbol of luck and prosperity.


  2. I love the coin tradition. Which church was the wedding filmed at? I love how Fanny goes and scrambles for the coins. I am guessing the handkerchief was just a device to show that they were in love with the same gentleman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “People always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them.” I always want to throttle Fanny when I hear that line.

    Harriet Walter is so deliciously evil as Fanny, I simultaneously love and hate her. And fear her!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you on the bringing back the tradition of throwing coins. It would be nice to go to a wedding and actually make some money for a change! 😂
    I am loving these posts, the laughs are one of the highlights of my day!


  5. Apparently the coin-tossing is an Irish or Celtic wedding tradition: Known as The Irish Grushie or ‘Wedding scramble’: Guests would gather and the married couple would toss a handful of coins into the air for the guests to gather. This is another tradition thought to bring good luck and prosperity. In recent times this tradition is often
    re-enacted using sweets for the benefit of children.

    Found here: https://blog.royalmint.com/wedding-coins-and-coin-traditions-around-the-world/

    And a couple of other websites that stated the same thing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So I looked it up, and it appears that one of the results of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France was the return of several territories in India to French control (apparently they fought on Indian soil as well). Because of this, even after the war, there were tensions on the Indian subcontinent between French and British territories through the 1790s. The East India Company by that time already had a fairly large army (in cooperation with the British military), which was mostly comprised of people native to the region (army) and merchant war vessels (navy); however, the commanders were typically sent from the British military. Most likely that is what Brandon was involved in during his time in India. If I remember correctly, he returned to England when his brother died, and since he would have taken the role as head of the family, he would have likely retired (or gone into a sort of reserve position) with the military. It’s also quite possible his father sent him to be part of the merchant navy in India, run primarily by The Company, rather than getting him a commission in the formal British military system subject directly to the Crown. As for the tradition of throwing coins, I read this online: “It was a tradition in many parts of the world for the bride to carry coins down the bride to the groom. The groom would then carry them out of the church and throw them to the awaiting crowd. It was loosely based on the theory of brides dowry and was given to the groom. The groom then as a symbol of his ability to support the bride would throw them away–wishing prosperity on all who came.” I’ve read elsewhere that the weddings of estate owners incorporated traditions that included and blessed the tenents of the estate who typically showed up outside the estate’s church to support and cheer on the marriage of their “lord.” So this would have also been token of appreciation and goodwill toward the tenents.  FACE TO FEET ams 🙂

    “Jesus is here watching our blind surprise.”  ~a homeless man named David

    “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people…just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave…May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees, and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people…according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and there is no other.”  ~1 Kings 8:56-60


  7. Oh the coin thing was a common practice for years: it’s basically giving alms to the poor for your good fortune, but all fancy instead


  8. Fun stuff here, as usual! Thanks!

    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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No matter when it happened, the British maintained a military presence in India for nearly two centuries, with plenty of small incidents and every day policing in addition to notable battles. No matter what other wars they were fighting, somebody had to go to india.

      Liked by 1 person

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