Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility: Ch. 19

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Chapter 19

Edward remained a week at the cottage; he was earnestly pressed by Mrs. Dashwood to stay longer; but, as if he were bent only on self-mortification, he seemed resolved to be gone when his enjoyment among his friends was at the height. His spirits, during the last two or three days, though still very unequal, were greatly improved—he grew more and more partial to the house and environs—never spoke of going away without a sigh—declared his time to be wholly disengaged—even doubted to what place he should go when he left them—but still, go he must. Never had any week passed so quickly—he could hardly believe it to be gone. He said so repeatedly; other things he said too, which marked the turn of his feelings and gave the lie to his actions. He had no pleasure at Norland; he detested being in town; but either to Norland or London, he must go. He valued their kindness beyond any thing, and his greatest happiness was in being with them. Yet, he must leave them at the end of a week, in spite of their wishes and his own, and without any restraint on his time.

Elinor placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to his mother's account; and it was happy for her that he had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to her, as to be the general excuse for every thing strange on the part of her son. Disappointed, however, and vexed as she was, and sometimes displeased with his uncertain behaviour to herself, she was very well disposed on the whole to regard his actions with all the candid allowances and generous qualifications, which had been rather more painfully extorted from her, for Willoughby's service, by her mother. His want of spirits, of openness, and of consistency, were most usually attributed to his want of independence, and his better knowledge of Mrs. Ferrars's disposition and designs. The shortness of his visit, the steadiness of his purpose in leaving them, originated in the same fettered inclination, the same inevitable necessity of temporizing with his mother. The old well-established grievance of duty against will, parent against child, was the cause of all. She would have been glad to know when these difficulties were to cease, this opposition was to yield,—when Mrs. Ferrars would be reformed, and her son be at liberty to be happy. But from such vain wishes she was forced to turn for comfort to the renewal of her confidence in Edward's affection, to the remembrance of every mark of regard in look or word which fell from him while at Barton, and above all to that flattering proof of it which he constantly wore round his finger.

"I think, Edward," said Mrs. Dashwood, as they were at breakfast the last morning, "you would be a happier manh if you had any profession to engage your time and give an interest to your plans and actions. Some inconvenience to your friends, indeed, might result from it—you would not be able to give them so much of your time. But (with a smile) you would be materially benefited in one particular at least—you would know where to go when you left them."

"I do assure you," he replied, "that I have long thought on this point, as you think now. It has been, and is, and probably will always be a heavy misfortune to me, that I have had no necessary business to engage me, no professionh to give me employment, or afford me any thing like independence. But unfortunately my own nicetyw, and the nicety of my friends, have made me what I am, an idle, helpless being. We never could agree in our choice of a profession. I always preferred the church, as I still do. But that was not smart enough for my family. They recommended the army. That was a great deal too smart for me. The law was allowed to be genteel enough; many young men, who had chambers in the Templeh, made a very good appearance in the first circles, and drove about town in very knowing gigsw. But I had no inclination for the law, even in this less abstruse study of it, which my family approved. As for the navyh, it had fashion on its side, but I was too old when the subject was first started to enter it—and, at length, as there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing. I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."

"The consequence of which, I suppose, will be," said Mrs. Dashwood, "since leisure has not promoted your own happiness, that your sons will be brought up to as many pursuits, employments, professions, and trades as Columella's."

X [h] you would be a happier man


In addition to shyness, Edward suffers from what today we'd call depression. This is not Marianne's flailing, melodramatic melancholy but a deep, persisting lowness. 

X [h] no profession

Custom & Law

Rarely do we find a man of the gentry lamenting his lack of an occupation or regarding his idleness as unhealthy.

A form of Austen's belief in utility appears in her emphasis upon work. She believes a man should have a vocation, though that may be managing with care his estate. 

The options Edward describes—the church, the army, the navy, and the law—were in reality choices available for second, third, or fourth sons. Edward and his brother are inverting or perverting the natural order and trading places. 

X [w] nicety


X [h] chambers in the Temple


Chambers meant rooms for offices and/or for residence in the Temple, which consisted of the Middle and the Inner Temple, themselves two of the four Inns of Court (Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn were the other two). These were for barristers and barristers-to-be.…

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X [w] knowing gigs


"Knowing" in the sense of chic, sporty two-wheeled, one-horse carriages.

X [h] the navy


Austen's two younger brothers went as boys to the naval school at Portsmouth and shipped out as boys. One rose to Vice-admiral, the other to Admiral.  

The navy was the most egalitarian and meritocratic of the services. In the army officers bought their commissions; in the navy men earned their rank, though they could be accelerated through the influence of relatives or connections.