Generosity and John Dashwood

English: "That is, I mean to say—your fri...

English: “That is, I mean to say—your friends are all truly anxious to see you well settled” – John Dashwood expressing his wishes to Elinor. Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London: George Allen, 1899, frontispiece. Français : Frontispice de l’édition de 1899 illustrée par Chris Hammond de Sense and Sensibility de Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is a masterfully crafted character.  He is manipulated by his wife to be ungenerous towards his sisters. Despite a deathbed promise to his father to look after his sisters, he easily acquiesced to his wife’s wish  to do little more than be neighbourly. Rather than be generous he chooses to be mean. To add insult to injury, John Dashwood is now keen for everyone else to be generous to his sisters. He, who does not even invite his sisters to stay in his house in London, now seems desirous that others should take on the responsibility for them:

He had just compunction enough for having done nothing for his sisters himself to be exceedingly anxious that everybody else should do a great deal”.

And he is astonished when he finds out that other people are generous to his poor sisters. He is also shocked when he hears that Colonel Brandon has given Edward a living, the position of local cleric on his estate, despite there being no connection between them. Colonel Brandon is just naturally trying to help those in difficulty – something John cannot comprehend.

One can only feel sorry for the Manipulated-and-Mean-John Dashwoods of this world who, when faced with Elinor and Edward’s joy at their marriage, can only comment on Colonel Brandon’s timber and its worth – the neighbour’s assets. The bean counters see the money but miss the rest. Happiness can come from family as Jane states:

among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves or producing coolness between their husbands.”

Sometimes the bean counters like John Dashwood, just can’t see that generosity brings its own benefits. And such characters as John Dashwood are not confined to the past. It will be delicious to see what Joanna Trollope makes of him. Has anyone read her new take on Sense and Sensibility?

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2 responses to “Generosity and John Dashwood

  1. It’s very funny, and horrible, that he wants someone else to look after his sisters, and then is surprised to find that others actually do want to do so!

    I’ve been thinking I might not read Trollope’s version of S&S. John Mullan’s list of traps to avoid when modernizing Austen, plus reviews by Deborah Yaffe (, Maggie Sullivan (, and Sarah Seltzer ( have made me think my time right now is better spend rereading Mansfield Park in preparation for 2014.

    Also, I really don’t like the way the “Austen Project” is using Austen’s own titles for these novels by other people. I suppose film adaptations do this kind of thing all the time, but when the update or reworking is another novel, using the same title seems designed to make clear that the new version is a replacement rather than an adaptation.

  2. I haven’t read it yet, but I do intend to since I’ve written a piece about it. 🙂
    Will let you know what I make of her John.
    Great blog you’ve got here. Thank you for the pingback – chances are I wouldn’t have found you another way. Look forward to reading more of your articles.
    Warm regards,

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