What can we learn about the treatment of children from Chapter 33 of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way in which the treatment of children is referred to in Chapter 33 is with respect to inheritance. In this chapter, Elinor and Marianne run into their brother John Dashwood in Mr. Gray's, a jewelry store in London. Mr. Dashwood talks a great deal about how lucky the girls have been to find a friend like Mrs. Jennings. He feels that Mrs. Jennings has taken them under her wing as if they were her own daughters and might very likely leave them an inheritance should she pass away, as we see in his lines:

Her inviting you to town is certainly a vast thing in your favour; and indeed, it speaks altogether so great a regard for you, that in all probability when she dies you will not be forgotten. (Ch. 33)

However, Elinor argues that Mrs. Jennings really has no fortune of her own except for her jointure, meaning what her husband left her upon his death. Also, if Mrs. Jennings has anything saved up from her jointure, most likely she will give it to her own two daughters. But, still persistent, Mr. Dashwood points out that since both daughters are already well married, she wouldn't have any reason to think of them any further.

The irony is that Mr. Dashwood is speaking of inheritances when, due to the nature of his uncle's will, his father's estate and fortune were left solely to Mr. Dashwood, without anything more than a thousand pounds each given to the girls. Therefore, upon his death, his father made Mr. Dashwood promise to help his mother and sisters, meaning provide for their well being. At first Mr. Dashwood made the decision to give them each one thousand pounds, but upon discussing it with his selfish wife decides not to give them anything at all. Hence, by bringing up the prospect that Mrs. Jennings, of no relation to the girls at all, may leave them an inheritance when he should have shared some of his own with them, shows us just how poorly some children, especially daughters, were treated with respect to inheritance.

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Sense and Sensibility

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