In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Margaret Dashwood, the youngest sister has a minor role. We learn in chapter one that she was a good-humoured, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense; she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
At thirteen Margaret is too young to be 'out' and we only see glimpses of her as she observes her sisters' behaviour. She does not miss a trick; telling Elinor that she thinks Marianne is engaged because she has witnessed Mr Willoughby stealing a lock of her hair. I love the following extract, which shows how keenly Jane Austen observed the foibles of the young.
Margaret's sagacity was not always displayed in a way so satisfactory to her sister. When Mrs. Jennings attacked her one evening at the Park, to give the name of the young man who was Elinor's particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great curiosity to her, Margaret answered by looking at her sister, and saying, "I must not tell, may I, Elinor?"
This of course made everybody laugh; and Elinor tried to laugh too. But the effort was painful. She was convinced that Margaret had fixed on a person, whose name she could not bear with composure to become a standing joke with Mrs. Jennings. Marianne felt for her most sincerely; but she did more harm than good to the cause, by turning very red, and saying in an angry manner to Margaret, -
"Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right to repeat them."
"I never had any conjectures about it," replied Margaret; "it was you who told me of it yourself."
This increased the mirth of the company, and Margaret was eagerly pressed to say something more.
"Oh! pray, Miss Margaret, let us know all about it," said Mrs. Jennings. "What is the gentleman's name?"
"I must not tell, ma'am. But I know very well what it is; and I know where he is too."
"Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Norland to be sure. He is the curate of the parish I dare say."
"No, that he is not. He is of no profession at all."
"Margaret," said Marianne, with great warmth, "you know that all this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence."
"Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there was such a man once, and his name begins with an F."
My new book, Willoughby's Return, starts three years after S&S finishes and at eighteen going on nineteen, I thought it was time to give Margaret a heroine's role. Her story is intertwined with that of Marianne's who encourages Margaret to follow her heart.
Willoughby's Return, a Sense and Sensibility Sequel to be published by Sourcebooks Fall 2009
Willoughby cutting Marianne's hair by Brock