Sense and Sensibility: Volume I, Chapters 19 - 20

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Re: S&S: Mr Palmer (Chapters 18-23)

I'd like to suggest Mr Palmer may be seen, like Marianne, as a comparison to Elinor. He is all ironic sincerity. For the Steeles it is in fact the desperate way they get a meal and place to sleep--by lying and faking to Lady Middleton and anyone else they need to lie and fake to. There is an argument which says this kind of lying and faking destroys trust, happiness, self-fulfillment, "the moral fibre of society" no less. In these chapters in fact we get the resonant line that "upon Elinor all the burden of having to tell polite lies fell." She is strained to the utmost to endure it, and the sense of the line is it's not fair of Marianne not to help.

But what--and against it's as if in creating Mr Palmer Austen asked herself this, what if we didn't take on the task of lying? I suppose others have like me been with people they couldn't bear, have longed to pick up a book or a paper and bury themselves in it. Maybe like me some of the people on our list have been so rude at times. Well that's Mr Palmer. He refuses to lie or to be fake. No hypocrisy for him. And what's the result? No social intercourse at all. Ugliness. Mockery. Irritation. Great laughter for the reader, yes. We enjoy him immensely for he's a form of saturnine release fo rus. But in a fictional depiction of such an extreme which is yet to seem realistic the only character who could possibly be presented as managing with him is the caricature of moral idiocy presented in Mrs Palmer. Is it moral cowardice then to lie is the question? Or is it the tact upon which society rubs along?

I remember in Emma at Box Hill she proposes a game where everyone will tell what's on their minds, and Mr Knightley asks her if she really wants to know.

Ellen Moody

Re: S&S: Mr Palmer

I agree that we can see in Mr and Mrs Palmer a much harsher version of Mr and Mrs Bennet. We are told Mr Palmer was attracted to Mrs Palmer because of her physical beauty. So too Mr to Mrs Bennet. Well now one is old and he has had to endure a lifetime by her irritating side. And the othe woman is enormously pregnant. Ha ha ha, says Mrs Jennings, you're nailed in. The comedy of the Palmers is harsher, more strident, less harmonized into the text of the book, unforgiving and grim, if you think about it after you shout with laughter.

But in this novel Austen seems more concerned to emphasize the absolute lack of communication between people, how they utterly misread in accordance with their own desires, or pretend to misread. I would say that in the book the presentation of Mrs Palmer is not wholly unambiguous. At times very like Mrs Bennet she shows she gets it all right. In one scene in this week's reading we see this. This scene does belong to the thread which asks the question, is tact a version of cowardice? and is it that we have to lie and pretend in order simply to live side-by-side without murdering one another? Mrs Jennings makes the contribution. When Mr Palmer is pleased to talk "in your face" (the modern phrase for this kind of thing which is nowadays celebrated in some quarters), so Mrs Jennings meets him nasty sneer for nasty sneer. In the following conversation we do have a hint that Mrs Palmer sees farther than one might think at first reading:

"'My love you contradict everybody,'--said his wife with her usual laugh. 'Do you know that you are quite rude?'

'I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred.'

'Aye, you may abuse me as you please,' said the good-natured old lady, 'you have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you.'" (Penguin 96).

A palpable hit. Mrs Jennings has palmed Miss Charlotte Jennings off on Mr Palmer. Ho ho ho. I did see a use of the verb "to palm" in the chapters for this week, but did not note it down. Perhaps someone else did.

There's another way to "take" Mr Palmer. Elinor sees in him

"a wish of distinction... which produced his contemptuous treatment of every body, and his general abuse of every thing before him. It was the desire of appearing superior to other people. The motive was too common to be wondered at.." (Penguin 97).
Ellen Moody

Re: S&S: Mr Palmer: No First Name?

Mr Palmer is not another of the characters in this and other novels by Austen not to have been given a first name (e.g., Colonel Brandon, Mrs Dashwood, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Mrs Norris)

An ironic citation of a newspaper article -- ironic in the sense that this is all the world cares about, not the mother's pained childbed -- tells us

"the newspapers announced to the world, that the Lady of Thomas Palmer, Esq. was safely delivered of a son and heir" (Penguin Ch 36, p 207).

So it's Thomas.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 8 February 2003