Please, and Thank You
Women of marriageable age require chaperones
"He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless t be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed: but he was in general very well respected: for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties." (A description of the John Dashwood)
Manners, during Austen’s era reflected one’s class rank, one’s measure of civility, and even the character of one’s mind. According to Jane Austen in context the key to manners within the middle class was politeness, “a code of behavior that emphasized benevolence, modesty, self examination, and integrity.” (Byrne 296) This meant that civility and proper behavior weighted highly among individuals during their interactions within society. More so than any of her other novels, Sense and Sensibility exposes to the reader to far more instances of Manners and Etiquette from 19th century than any other novel, thus to fully comprehend Austen’s comical, almost wicked jabs at “polite society”, readers should first know about what is expected in middle class society during Jane’s era.
In the beginning of Sense and Sensibility, Marianne, the more sensible of the two sisters falls in love with handsome and gallant Willoughby, and their affection is no secret as they call each other by their Christian name, spend far more than a few moments alone together, and Marianne even accepts gifts from Willoughby. To a twenty-first century, western reader this may not seem like much of an issue but the 19th century people of polite society, Marianne prances far beyond the realm of accepted behavior, and so this leads us to the obligations of women participating in polite society.
The first rule of polite society that Marianne breaches is that, a woman of marriageable age should not be alone in the company of men without a chaperone. This is why Lady Jennings chaperone Marianne and Elinor on their visit to London. Women are also swayed away from writing letters to men who they are not engaged to, this explains Elinor’s relief when she catches Marianne writing letters to Willoughby to her this confirmed the status of their relationship as engaged. Another standard for women, especially of marriageable age, participating in polite society is the refraining from driving about with other men. Marianne, the perpetual assailant of such standards, breaks this one as well as she drives with Willoughby, and Willoughby alone to visit his house.
Although it is quite apparent that Austen uses the conventions of polite society to critique as well as emphasize specific attributes of characters in her novel, such as the Marianne’s self destructive sensibility, her other main use is to poke fun at the zealous overemphasis of civil decorum. One of the social norms of polite society that she jests is that of polite conversation. According to the Jane Austen in Context, Byrne states that conventions dictated that country men of leisure remained in the realm of the public sphere, keeping their conversations within the parameters of hunting, shooting, and conversations on politics, while women remained with the private realm, their conversation involving the intricacies of frocks, balls, and needlework. Austen plays with these conventions in Sense and Sensibility, presenting them in such a harsh light, that not only does she undoubtedly invoke much laughter, but also possible winces of pain.