How does Jane Austen use ironical amusement in the treatment of her characters in the novel Sense and Sensibility?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Among the many instances of ironic amusement that we can find in Jane Austen'sSense and Sensibility,a particularly funny and ironic situation occurs can be found in the dynamics of the Palmers.   

Mr. Palmer, judged as a "droll" in more than several occasions, is the exact opposite of his wife, the expectant Mrs. Palmer. She, who laughs aloud, speaks her mind, and is always talking, is quite a sociable and amiable character.

Mrs. Palmer also seems completely unaware of her husband's behavior. In fact, it seems as if she actually admires him and considers that he is open-minded, sociable, and nice. His mannerisms and the things that he does, however,  paint a completely different picture of him.

Mr. Palmer is perhaps the prequel of Mr. Bennet, fromPride and Prejudicein terms of the treatment he offers his wife (completely ignores her) and the people around him: aloof, and careless.

(He) was a grave looking young man of five or six and twenty, with an air of more fashion and sense than his wife, but of less willingness to please or be pleased. He entered the room with a look of self-consequence, slightly bowed to the ladies, without speaking a word, and, after briefly surveying them and their apartments, took up a newspaper from the table, and continued to read it as long as he staid.

This is merely their introduction, though, for we will find how Mr. Palmer keeps in constant state of oblivion regarding his wife:

How I should like such a house for myself! Should not you, Mr. Palmer?"

Mr. Palmer made her no answer, and did not even raise his eyes from the newspaper.

"Mr. Palmer does not hear me," said she, laughing; "he never does sometimes. It is so ridiculous!"

We also find that Mr. Palmer has a chance to go to Parliament, for which everyone else, except for himself, seems to be excited. So disinterested he is in his "here and now" that people even have to answer for him.

How charming it will be," said Charlotte, "when he is in Parliament!--won't it? How I shall laugh! It will be so ridiculous to see all his letters directed to him with an M.P.--But do you know, he says, he will never frank for me? He declares he won't. Don't you, Mr. Palmer?"

Mr. Palmer took no notice of her.

"He cannot bear writing, you know," she continued-- "he says it is quite shocking."

Finally, after inviting the Dashwood sisters to spend time with them in Cleveland, Mrs. Palmer once again speaks on behalf of her husband's alleged desire to have their company, and again speaks on his behalf in a very comical way.

Mr. Palmer is excessively pleased with you and your sisters I can tell you, and you can't think how disappointed he will be if you don't come to Cleveland.-

Considering that Mr. Palmer only speaks once or twice in the entire chapter, and perhaps even less later in the novel, it is impossible not to find the ironic amusement at this particular stamp from the story, where the characters are so disparate and dissonant.

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Sense and Sensibility

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