Sir John Middleton, A Right Jolly Old Elf

Sir John Middleton, A Right Jolly Old Elf

My favorite Christmas stories are about service to others, so I thought today, I’d share about ways that Austen’s characters help the poor and needy. However, as I brainstormed about the various stories, one character stood out as a stellar example–so much so that I couldn’t help comparing him to Dickens’ Mr. Fezziwig. That character is Sir John Middleton.

In the beginning of Sense and Sensibility, Austen illustrates how Fanny Dashwood’s selfish ways can make a miserable family even more miserable. Fanny is rather a Scrooge, don’t you think? She doesn’t want the Dashwoods to have any of the money her husband inherits. But, luckily, as Mrs. Dashwood has reached a point of despair, a letter from Sir John arrives:

“It was the offer of a small house, on very easy terms, belonging to a relation of her own, a gentleman of consequence and property in Devonshire. The letter was from this gentleman himself, and written in the true spirit of friendly accommodation. He understood that she was in need of a dwelling; and though the house he now offered her was merely a cottage, he assured her that everything should be done to it which she might think necessary, if the situation pleased her. He earnestly pressed her, after giving the particulars of the house and garden, to come with her daughters to Barton Park, the place of his own residence, from whence she might judge, herself, whether Barton Cottage, for the houses were in the same parish, could, by any alteration, be made comfortable to her. He seemed really anxious to accommodate them and the whole of his letter was written in so friendly a style as could not fail of giving pleasure to his cousin.”

Sir John is equally friendly in person:

“His countenance was thoroughly good-humoured; and his manners were as friendly as the style of his letter. Their arrival seemed to afford him real satisfaction, and their comfort to be an object of real solicitude to him. He said much of his earnest desire of their living in the most sociable terms with his family, and pressed them so cordially to dine at Barton Park every day till they were better settled at home, that, though his entreaties were carried to a point of perseverance beyond civility, they could not give offence.”


I love that Sir John isn’t a great example of etiquette. The fact that he’s not perfect is comforting, a reminder that even average people like me can bring joy to others.

As the story continues, it’s obvious that Sir John brings much happiness to the Dashwood family. He introduces them to other people, invites them to dinner, takes them on excursions, visits them frequently, and holds balls. Yes, it is painful for Elinor to meet Lucy Steele, and Sir John’s  teasing is annoying, but what would the Dashwoods have done without him, that “benevolent, philanthropic man”?


17 Responses to Sir John Middleton, A Right Jolly Old Elf

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I always liked Sir John. I think he’s a good character to show how sometimes people can take things too seriously. Things that don’t really matter. In all of the ways that do matter, Sir John excels.

    I agree, he’s a great Christmas character 🙂 I bet he throws wonderful Christmas parties.


    • That’s so true, Summer. It’s important to not take things too seriously. Of course, sometimes he should have probably taken things a little more seriously, in regard to the teasing, but a good sense of humor can certainly make life more cheerful.

  2. I especially like him for his generosity towards the Dashwoods. Of course, one can feel for the sisters with the teasing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  3. I greatly enjoyed reading about Sir John, and seeing him in the movie adaptation. Happy people are so much fun than angry ones, and I always hoped that Fanny Dashwood got hers back. She and Lucy Steele are a pair! Thanks for the fun post!

  4. Always liked Sir John, he might be brash but he has a big heart and is just what the Dashwood family needed. You are so right comparing Fanny to Scrooge, I never thought of her in that context before but now, I can’t help but wish there was a story where she redeems herself much like Scrooge did.

  5. Robert Hardy’s portrayal of Sir John was brilliant!! I like him as an actor anyway but he surpassed himself here. Exactly as I pictured him in the novel.

  6. Perhaps Colonel Brandon’s friendship with Sir John can be explained by Brandon realizing that Sir John was genuinely a good person in spite of his minor social flaws. At the end of the novel, Marianne comes to appreciate the goodness in many of the people around her. I wonder if Elinor was meant to have a higher opinion of some of these people, particularly Sir John.

    • Now that is a good question about Elinor. I never felt that she was very grateful, but people have sort of taken care of her during her entire life. Her situation was so inferior to what it had been at Norland.

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