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It is easy to dismiss Mr Yeats, ‘trifling and confident, idle and expensive’ (20.21) and therefore his thoughts, so it is as well to pay close attention to them.

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It was a busy morning with him. Conversation with any of them occupied but a small part of it. He had to reinstate himself in all the wonted concerns of his Mansfield life: to see his steward and his bailiff; to examine and compute, and, in the intervals of business, to walk into his stables and his gardens, and nearest plantations; but active and methodical, he had not only done all this before he resumed his seat as master of the house at dinner, he had also set the carpenter to work in pulling down what had been so lately put up in the billiard-room, and given the scene-painter his dismissal long enough to justify the pleasing belief of his being then at least as far off as Northampton. The scene-painter was gone, having spoilt only the floor of one room, ruined all the coachman’s sponges, and made five of the under-servants idle and dissatisfied; and Sir Thomas was in hopes that another day or two would suffice to wipe away every outward memento of what had been, even to the destruction of every unbound copy of Lovers’ Vows in the house, for he was burning all that met his eye. (20.9)

It never struck me before how pointed this passage is. Sir Thomas has returned to discover that he doesn’t really know his children and he responds by clearing away every symptom so that he can forget it as quickly as possible.

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Austen seemed derive as much amusement from Lady Bertram’s indolence and inertness as Mrs Norris’s hyper-activity and interference. While more educated people tend to adopt more impersonal ways of speaking, Lady Bertram takes this to extravagant lengths, sometimes almost rendering herself a non-entity in her speech, apparently vacating herself entirely.

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Edmund’s first object the next morning was to see his father alone, and give him a fair statement of the whole acting scheme, defending his own share in it as far only as he could then, in a soberer moment, feel his motives to deserve, and acknowledging, with perfect ingenuousness, that his concession had been attended with such partial good as to make his judgment in it very doubtful. (20.1)

Edmund’s dilemma as to whether he should join in the theatricals is almost perfectly balanced so that his integrity hinges entirely on his motivation. If the reason he had given to Fanny (16.4-27) were his motivation for taking part (and there was a good case for him taking part despite his principled opposition to the scheme) then he could have proceeded with a clear conscience. But as he says himself ‘If you [Fanny] are against me, I ought to distrust myself’.

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