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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

MR. AND MRS. PALMER IN JANE AUSTEN'S 'SENSE AND SENSIBILITY'

One of the pleasures of Sense and Sensibility is the portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. The pregnant Mrs. Charlotte Palmer is short and plump, with a pretty face, and a habit of ceaselessly smiling or laughing. Mr. Palmer is grave-looking, about twenty-six, with an air of more fashion and sense than his wife, but less willingness to please or be pleased. They seem an ill-matched couple. However, Elinor learns to appreciate them, even Mr. Palmer, who at their first meeting sits discourteously reading the newspaper. His pleasure is to speak only to contradict his wife. When she says Willoughby's house is considered a sweet, pretty place, he retorts: As vile a spot as I ever saw in my life. Mrs. Charlotte Palmer shrieks with laughter at everything he says, does, does not say, or does not do. When he ignores a question from her, she laughs and says, Mr. Palmer does not hear me... He never does, sometimes. It is so ridiculous!

We all know people who (to impress us or to sustain gossip) declare things to have happened which in fact have not happened. Usually, they manage to convince themselves these things are true. The remarks of such people are generally harmless. In Chapter 20 of Sense and Sensibility, we find Mrs. Palmer asserting that Colonel Brandon told her Marianne was to marry Willoughby. (It turns out that Colonel Brandon said no such thing.) A few moments later, Mrs. Palmer also alleges that Colonel Brandon at one time wanted to marry her. (We are left to draw our own conclusion about whether she is telling the truth!) Mrs. Palmer makes it clear that she would have accepted Colonel Brandon as a husband ('immediately'), even though they had seen each other only twice, when she was still a school-girl. What an attitude to marriage!

What a marvellous gallery of characters Jane Austen created - even the minor ones. Jane Austen's characters are timeless. Mrs. Palmer is a good illustration of this.

Mr. Palmer has something of Mr. Bennet's cantankerous and ironic humour. Mrs. Palmer, trying to enlist his support when inviting the Dashwood girls to their home at Cleveland, asks whether he longs to have the girls as guests. Certainly, he replies with a sneer. I came into Devonshire with no other view. He is fond of his child, though affecting to slight it; and he knows just how far he can go in being rude to his mother-in-law:

'You and I, Sir John,' said Mrs. Jennings, 'should not stand upon such ceremony.' 

'Then you would be very ill-bred,' cried Mr. Palmer. 

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

'I did not know that I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred.'

Mrs. Palmer's silliness is well illustrated after Willoughby deserts Marianne: she swears never to mention his name again and then tells everybody she sees how good-for-nothing he is.