Summary and Analysis
The Dashwoods remained at Norland Park for several months. In that time, Mrs. Dashwood got to know Fanny better, and her former impression, reasonably negative, was confirmed. She was anxious to establish her own household, and having been informed of John's deathbed promise, was quite cheerful in her search for a house. Only Elinor's good sense prevented her mother from taking one which was too large for their means.
Mrs. Dashwood became reconciled to a longer stay at Norland Park after it became evident that Edward Ferrars, Fanny's brother, was very attracted to Elinor. She returned his affection, finding him a "gentlemanlike and pleasing young man." Recommending him to her mother, Elinor noted that part of his worth was that he was so different from his sister.
The eldest son of a man who died very rich, Edward was dependent upon the favor of his mother. She and Fanny "wanted him to make a fine figure in the world." But "all his wishes centre in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life." Marianne could not understand how Elinor could be attracted to Edward, who was not handsome or outstanding. "Edward is very amiable," she said, "But . . . there is a something wanting, his figure is not striking — it has none of that grace which I should expect in the man who could seriously attach my sister." The man she herself would marry "must have all Edward's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm." Their tastes must perfectly coincide if any hope of domestic bliss was to be expected.
In this chapter, the difference between Elinor's "sense" and the exaggerated "sensibility" of her mother and Marianne is pointed up with Jane Austen's characteristic humor. Note the caution with which Elinor merely tells her mother, "I think you will like him, when you know more of him." And compare it with Mrs. Dashwood's gushing reply: "Like him! I can feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love." Mrs. Dashwood's devotion to her daughter is noted in the effort she makes, ultimately successful, to love and respect Edward.
Marianne's excessive sensibility is shown in the formidable list of what she requires in a suitor: "I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both." Austen's youthful writings were often parodies of the sentimental novels in vogue in her day. In her presentation of Marianne, she seems to be parodying the romantic heroine of such novels, although later in the novel she treats Marianne's character more seriously.
Marianne's preference for the writings of Cowper reflect the author's own tastes; Crabbe, Cowper, and Scott were Austen's favorite poets.
Note the contrast, which will be developed later, between the two widows, Mrs. Ferrars and Mrs. Dashwood. The latter thinks only of her daughters and their happiness, while the former seems to care nothing for her son's desires and thinks mainly of his appearance in the world.