The latest tranche of Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility are an interesting bunch. The first is a complex drawing and portrays for more than the quotation,
“I declare they are quite charming”
suggests. Mrs Palmer is referring to the drawings adorning the room in Barton Cottage where she and Mr Palmer have just been brought to meet the Dashwoods. If you will allow I’ll quote the passage in full for you, below so that you can judge the complexity of the drawing for yourself.
“You may believe how glad we all were to see them,” added Mrs. Jennings, leaning forwards towards Elinor, and speaking in a low voice as if she meant to be heard by no one else, though they were seated on different sides of the room; “but, however, I can’t help wishing they had not travelled quite so fast, nor made such a long journey of it, for they came all round by London upon account of some business, for you know” (nodding significantly and pointing to her daughter) “it was wrong in her situation. I wanted her to stay at home and rest this morning, but she would come with us; she longed so much to see you all!”
Mrs. Palmer laughed, and said it would not do her any harm.
“She expects to be confined in February,” continued Mrs. Jennings.
Lady Middleton could no longer endure such a conversation, and therefore exerted herself to ask Mr. Palmer if there was any news in the paper.
“No, none at all,” he replied, and read on.
“Here comes Marianne,” cried Sir John. “Now, Palmer, you shall see a monstrous pretty girl.”
He immediately went into the passage, opened the front door, and ushered her in himself. Mrs. Jennings asked her, as soon as she appeared, if she had not been to Allenham; and Mrs. Palmer laughed so heartily at the question as to shew she understood it. Mr. Palmer looked up on her entering the room, stared at her some minutes, and then returned to his newspaper. Mrs. Palmer’s eye was now caught by the drawings which hung round the room. She got up to examine them.
“Oh! dear, how beautiful these are! Well, how delightful! Do but look, mama, how sweet! I declare they are quite charming; I could look at them for ever.” And then sitting down again, she very soon forgot that there were any such things in the room.
Thomson of course , (how could he possibly resist ?) shows us the taciturn Mr Palmer buried in the newspaper, and, or so it seems to me, the conversation Mrs Jennings has with Elinor about her worries for her daughter health during her pregnancy, quoted in the passage above. Here, I think Thomson gives us a hint about Mrs Jennings true nature- that she is above all a kind woman, and this is the first hint we have in the text that she is not just a matchmaking gossip.When the chips are down, Mrs Jennings knows how tobe a nurse and a true friend. As the reader will discover much later in the book. I’m glad to see that Thomson gives, in his illustration, a hint to the reader too…
The second illustration really needs no explanation. It shows the sycophantic and socially ambitious Miss Steeles being tormented by the spoilt and indulged children of Lady Middleton.
When their promised visit to the Park and consequent introduction to these young ladies took place, they found in the appearance of the eldest, who was nearly thirty, with a very plain and not a sensible face, nothing to admire; but in the other, who was not more than two or three and twenty, they acknowledged considerable beauty; her features were pretty, and she had a sharp, quick eye, and a smartness of air, which though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person. Their manners were particularly civil, and Elinor soon allowed them credit for some kind of sense, when she saw with what constant and judicious attentions they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton. With her children they were in continual raptures, extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring all their whims; and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of whatever her ladyship was doing, if she happened to be doing anything, or in taking patterns of some elegant new dress, in which her appearance the day before had thrown them into unceasing delight. Fortunately for those who pay their court through such foibles, a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous; her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow anything; and the excessive affection and endurance of the Miss Steeles towards her offspring, were viewed therefore by Lady Middleton without the smallest surprise or distrust. She saw with maternal complacency all the impertinent incroachments and mischievous tricks to which her cousins submitted. She saw their sashes untied, their hair pulled about their ears, their work-bags searched, and their knives and scissars stolen away, and felt no doubt of its being a reciprocal enjoyment. It suggested no other surprise than that Elinor and Marianne should sit so composedly by, without claiming a share in what was passing.
I do think the Miss Steeles ought to look a little bit more pleased about the shenanigans of the Middleton children….what do you think?
The last illustration for this week is very subtle but good, in my opinion. This is the passage to which it refers:
To do him justice, he (Sir John Middleton-jfw) did everything in his power, to promote their unreserve, by making the Miss Steeles acquainted with whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins’ situations in the most delicate particulars, — and Elinor had not seen them more than twice, before the eldest of them wished her joy on her sister’s having been so lucky as to make a conquest of a very smart beau since she came to Barton.
“‘Twill be a fine thing to have her married so young, to be sure,” said she, “and I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome. And I hope you may have as good luck yourself soon, — but perhaps you may have a friend in the corner already.”
Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more nice in proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward, than he had been with respect to Marianne; indeed it was rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since Edward’s visit, they had never dined together, without his drinking to her best affections with so much significancy, and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F — had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor.
SIr John is shown at the head of his table , throughly enjoying himself, raising a glass with which to toast Elinor taking the opportunity each time to tease her about her supposed affection for Edward Ferrars. He is not being malicious, because he really does very simply consider that it is entirely natural for every girl to have or want a “beau”. But poor Elinor…look at her body language. Stiff but slightly bowed. She is mortified. I think this illustration is one of the best in the book. And just look at the servant hovering by the screen. Sir John’s pleasantries will be reported downstairs, of that we can be certain….