歐美研究季刊第46卷第3期 - page 309

Indifference in
Sense and Sensibility
309
and irrelevant.
1
Interestingly, Brontë’s criticism and its
refutation establish a dichotomy between the infamy of
frigidity and the honor of warm-heartedness, between
indifference and feeling. This dichotomy is as misleading as the
antithetical title of
Sense and Sensibility
has long been, not
only because it underestimates the importance of emotional
inadequacy in Austen’s novel but also because it denies the
possibility that affection and coldness can be closely
intertwined.
I agree with Johnson’s argument that we need
another key term to shed new light on
Sense and Sensibility
. I
believe that indifference can best perform this critical task.
Unlike sensibility, which generally refers to an ability to
feel intensely, indifference acquires two different meanings in
Sense and Sensibility
: unconcern and reserve
.
2
A closer look at
how Austen uses the word indifference in her text will bear out
these meanings. Mr. Palmer, a minor character in this novel,
treats his wife badly. He turns a deaf ear to her. When Mrs.
Palmer calls on him to join her invitation of the Dashwood
sisters to London, he “ma[k]e[s] no answer, and after slightly
bowing to the ladies, beg[i]n[s] complaining of the weather”
(Austen, 2006: 128). Mr. Palmer cares little about his wife’s
happiness, and his carelessness intensifies later in his public
criticism of her mother, Mrs. Jennings, as a “very ill-bred”
woman (129). Mrs. Palmer has a peculiar response to her
husband’s rudeness:
1
The past few years have witnessed three important accounts along this line.
See Burgess (2012: 231), Guest (2013:162-187) and Wiltshire (2014:
passim
).
2
I use the word “unconcern” rather than the more familiar eighteenth-century
idea of disinterestedness because the latter word carries strong positive
connotations. The
Oxford English Dictionary
defines it as “freedom from
self-interest or selfish bias” (disinterestedness, 2016). The former word is
more neutral in meaning. Since I will discuss both selfish disregard for the
feelings of others and other innocuous forms of indifference, I believe that
“unconcern” speaks much more closely to my purpose.
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