25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 14 – Wedded Bliss

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How in GOD’S NAME did the Palmers get together?


I want to preface this by saying that I am not married, I don’t even really plan on ever being married. So maybe take this analysis with a grain of salt. Perhaps there’s some great secret to a happy marriage that you can only know if you’re in one. (If that is the case, then I am talking out of my ass here.)

But please remember that Jane Austen wasn’t ever married either. And Emma Thompson wrote and shot this movie as her marriage was breaking down. And it’s all about two, unmarried young women. So really, this whole exercise, from Jane on down to me, is pretty full of people who are mayyyyyybe not the best judges of marriage or the sacrifices married couples must make.

(Also I just spent the evening hanging out with my recently divorced friend and she may have rubbed off on my opinions about marriage a little…)

I would, regardless of all this, like to take a look at the married couples in this movie, and see what sort of example they set for our heroines?


Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood

Despite the fact that we never actually see them together, the amount of concern Mr. Dashwood shows for his young family and second wife at the beginning is quite touching, and Mrs. Dashwood’s sincere mourning for him leads me to believe they were probably a happy couple. But because we never see them as a couple, I’m not sure they actually count as one in terms of influence — not on their daughters, maybe, but certainly they never get the chance to influence the reader. What do you think? Should they count?


John and Fanny Dashwood

One of these days I will get around to writing my dissertation on how awful Fanny Dashwood is, but until then, suffice it to say that she domineers her husband, and he absolutely allows her to. They are toxic and mean and all things terrible to just about everyone they meet. This is perhaps the worst example of marriage in the movie and I shudder to think how they ever conceived an heir. (Her eggs were surely frozen long before the technology existed.)


Sir and Lady Middleton

Does she even exist? Is she supposed to be dead? (I guess that’s better than the dead-eyes Lady Middleton we get in the ’08 miniseries.) She’s honestly dull and useless even in the novel so we get a weird, pseudo-marriage/relationship between Sir Middleton and Mrs. Jennings instead and it’s annoying and exactly like the couple I would go out of my way to avoid at a company holiday party. (But WHY do they inevitably always stand right in front of the drinks!?)


Mr. and Mrs. Palmer

I honestly don’t even know where to begin with these two. I know everyone thinks he’s super droll and funny — and yeah, he has a sweet moment when he offers to help while Marianne is sick — but the way he treats his wife has always really grated on me. Yes, she is annoying but there is no way in hell he didn’t know what she was like before they got married. She needs to take it down about 3 notches and he needs to learn how to live a little. They are just… somethin’ else.


Honestly, for marriage being the “end goal” in all of Austen’s novels, we get very little in the way of role models for truly happy marriages. I think maybe the Crofts from Persuasion and John and Isabella Knightley in Emma are the only two examples that come to mind of happily married and emotionally stable couples in Austen novel or adaptions.

Of course we always hope that our hero and heroines will have a happy marriage, but I’m not sure that’s what Austen is always telling us will happen. (And of course, marriage for Willoughby ends up being a pain, and we can only hope Robert and Lucy Ferrars drive each other mad in a short period of time.) It’s plausible to think that our heroes will have marriage problems too.

What do you think? Are there any happy Austen couples that you like? Who is your favorite couple in Sense & Sensibility? What do you think the lesson is that Austen and Emma Thompson were trying to impart?

-R

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13 thoughts on “25 Days of Sense & Sensibility: Day 14 – Wedded Bliss

  1. Don’t forget Admiral and Mrs. Croft in Persuasion! In the novel, at least. I’ve never watched a film adaptation of that one. But in the book, Austen comments frequently on how much they enjoy each other’s company, and they are never made ridiculous in their care for each other.

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  2. Even today, when marriage is less a business arrangement, entered into (generally) later in life and with longer periods of pre-marriage couplehood, and much more easily dissolved, I see few truly happy marriages. I am always charmed and mystified when I come across truly happy couples amongst my friends and families. As many say here, respect seems to be the magic ingredient both in Austen’s inventions and the real-world couples I see. I don’t know how people do it, but it’s inspiring when they do! (That said, I have stopped really hoping for it myself).

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  3. There are, it’s true, one or two happy older couples in Austen’s works. But, in stark contrast to the married bliss which is implied for her heroines at the end of each novel, it’s notable that none of her young newlyweds within the novels (the Eltons, the Collinses, the Wickhams, Lucy and Robert Ferrars, etc) appear to have the foundations of a happy marriage. (Mr and Mrs Weston, perhaps, but they are rather older, and it is his second marriage). Thus the unions which are contracted during the novels by secondary characters are second-rate compared to her protagonists’ marriages.

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  4. The Palmers.. all about the money she brought into it. Same for the younger Mr. Dashwood, tho he and Fanny are so similar that I think there is some affection.
    I absolutely love the Gardiners. I would say my marriage and married life is much like theirs. Married 26 yrs, committed, faithful, loving and we still flirt with each other. A lot. He works his butt off and I raised the children. I liken us now to the Crofts. Empty nesting, enjoying each other to the fullest. Traveling, being together a lot.
    If I wasn’t so blissfully, incandescently happy, (see what I did there 😂..)I wouldnt be married. It is work, and it has its rough moments, even in the best of marriages.

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  5. I always felt sorry for Mr Palmer… It is possible that she was acting a part before their marriage and he didn’t know her well enough to see her true personality. More than likely though, he was was young and stoic and found her vivacity exciting. In my experience the things that originally draw you to a person are often the same things that drive you crazy after about 2 years of marriage. Unfortunately, their wealth enabled them to take the path of least resistance and they probably just avoided each other most of the time. If they were less well off they would have been forced to go through the hard work of growing into less reactive and more well rounded people in order to save their marriage.

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  6. If you want to avoid Mrs. Jennings at the party, go ahead – I’d have tea with her at least twice a month so she would spill ALL the tea, if you get my drift… oh, the cringeworthy things she says and the meddling – annoying, but she loves life, and she’ll have my back when anyone disses me. Mr. & Mrs. Palmer are as “happy” together as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett in P & P – in both cases, I’m astounded at how they ended up together, though I think Mrs. Bennett was a lot like Lydia when she was young and at the time Mr. Bennett thought that was appealing… but I always figure Mr. Palmer married out of convenience and necessity: he had a fortune to sustain and an ambition to feed, and he needed Mrs. Palmer – the former Miss Jennings – to get there. Which was a perfectly normal thing to do at the time…

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  7. Two theories about the Palmers: (1) he has a secret gambling addiction and needed a quick infusion of cash (I wanted to suppose political ambitions but she would never make a political wife!) and (2) she’s super-inventive in bed, and the whole apparent-scorn thing is a smoke screen.

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  8. I am afraid you are correct about Austen and her view of marriage. There are few happy couples in her books. My favorite is the Gardiners in P&P. They seem to have a happy marriage much like the Crofts. Maybe Jane was telling us that even though she saw few happy marriages, she was still willing to let her characters try for their own and, in each case, I think she succeeds. I speak as one who has been married for 38 1/2 years to the same man. He’s a good one.

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    1. I was going to say the Gardiners! Also, even though we don’t see much of them, I always assumed Catherine Morland’s parents had a pretty happy marriage.

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  9. For me, the message I always got out of every couple Austen presents is that there must be respect in marriage. Here’s where we see Mr. Bennet’s advice to Lizzy where he cautions her against marrying Darcy only for money. He asks her to consider not going in to a marriage where there is no respect.
    Many of the characters in Sense and Sensibility are great examples of what NOT to do. The Palmers have no respect for one another. And the toxic Mr. John Dashwoods are a caution – marry someone who brings out the best in you.
    The same insistence about respect follows again throughout Mansfield Park Fanny refuses Mr. Crawford’s offer because she doesn’t respect him), Persuasion (Wentworth learns to respect Anne’s cautionary personality compared to the Musgrove sisters), and 100% in Emma (Frank Churchill brings out the worst in Emma whereas Knightley brings out the best).
    In Austen’s day, I’m sure it was a choice that many women had to make: respect vs security. Do we follow the Elinor Dashwoods and Elizabeth Bennets and refuse to compromise dignity/respect, or do we follow the Charlotte Lucases and Lucy Steeles and choose financial security?
    Great post! Thanks!

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    1. Jane Austen gave us examples of awful people well-matched in marriage, like John and Fanny Dashwood, or Mr. Elton and his new wife in “Emma.” They reinforce each other’s negative qualities rather than bringing out better ones.
      Then we have the mismatched marriages, like the Palmers and the Bennets. Also the sadly practical decision of Charlotte to marry Mr. Collins.
      And finally there are the well-matched healthy relationships, like the Gardiners and the Crofts. That kind of marriage lasts over time because of love based on mutual respect, tolerance, and shared interests. (I’m lucky to have that kind of marriage, almost 40 years.)
      Above all it seems Austen wanted to convey the possible outcomes of the imperative to marry present in all her stories.

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