At Barton Park the next day, Charlotte Palmer laughed and talked as foolishly as ever, and her husband was so consistently rude that Elinor concluded that "his general abuse of everything before him . . . was the desire of appearing superior to other people." Charlotte was very friendly to the girls, however, and invited them for Christmas — which Elinor declined.
The Palmers returned to their home, "and the two families at Barton were again left to entertain each other." Their isolation didn't last long, however, for during an excursion to Exeter, Sir John met two young ladies, Anne and Lucy Steele, whom Mrs. Jennings discovered to be relatives of hers. He promptly invited them to Barton Hall, where they made themselves highly agreeable to Lady Middleton by flattering her and her children excessively.
Elinor and Marianne found the older Miss Steele very vulgar and free in her speech, and Lucy, the younger, lacking in "real elegance and artlessness." Elinor left the house "without any wish of knowing them better."
But Sir John was "entirely on the side of the Misses Steele," who were "particularly anxious to be better acquainted" with the Dashwoods. Thus he threw the young ladies together every day. Marianne was teased about Willoughby, and Sir John hinted at a romance between Elinor and Ferrars. On hearing Edward's name, Anne Steele announced that she knew Edward "very well" but was contradicted by Lucy, who declared, "Though we have seen him once or twice at my uncle's, it is rather too much to pretend to know him very well."
For once Elinor wished Mrs. Jennings or Sir John would pursue the subject so she could find out more about the uncle and Edward's connection with him. But to her dismay, the subject was dropped.
Charlotte Palmer, although a foolish chatterbox, is kindly and warmhearted. Her silent, belligerent husband is a comic foil to her insouciance. But the Misses Steele seem definitely unpleasant; the older is stupidly vulgar, and the younger, although less voluble, seems sly. There is definitely something unrefined about the pair. They toady to Lady Middleton and pretend great admiration for Elinor and Marianne. And at Barton, they are considered equal to the Dashwoods by Sir John, who is easily deceived by their surface politeness, and by his wife, who is swayed by their flattery.
Marianne's impropriety is different from that of the Steeles, for she is genuine. The small obligations of social life do not exist for her. When Lucy Steele exclaims, "What a sweet woman Lady Middleton is!" Marianne is silent: "It was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion." And when Miss Steele gushes that little Annamaria, slightly scratched by a pin, might have suffered "a very sad accident," Marianne answers forthrightly: "I hardly know how, unless it had been under totally different circumstances."