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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Jane Austen's Margaret Dashwood in 'Sense and Sensibility'

Everyone knows that the sisters Elinor and Marianne are at the centre of Sense and Sensibility. It is easy to forget that there is also a younger sister.

That sister - Margaret - is such a shadowy figure that we may wonder whether she is really necessary. She is rarely on stage and is considered unpromising at the age of thirteen:

   Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humoured, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a great deal of Marianne’s romance, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.

However, there is an amusing moment shortly after Willoughby carries Marianne home with her sprained ankle.

  Marianne's preserver, as Margaret, with more elegance than precision, styled Willoughby, called at the cottage early the next morning.

The idea of a thirteen-year-old labelling the new man in her elder sister's life in this way is delightful. How much better it is than merely saying 'Willoughby called next morning...'. There must have been some fun in the Dashwood household and one suspects it may echo the kind of humour Jane Austen knew among her own brothers and sister at Steventon, and perhaps still with her sister at Chawton.

No wonder that, in her film version of the novel, Emma Thompson chose to flesh out the character of Margaret, giving her more lines and scenes.

We are to have another potentially irritating and embarrassing younger sibling in Northanger Abbey: when Henry, wanting to get Catherine alone, asks her to show him to the Allens' house, little sister Sarah says: 'You may see the house from this window, sir'!