Summary and Analysis
Discussing Edward with Marianne, Elinor spoke more warmly of him than she thought prudent. Realizing that her mother and Marianne were apt to leap to conclusions, she tried to explain "the real state of the case." She admitted that she was by no means sure of Edward's regard for her and pointed out that he was "very far from independent." The fact was that Elinor really wasn't assured of Edward's feelings. At times he appeared quite distant and troubled, and led her to wonder whether his feelings towards her were not just friendly. But she attributed this coolness to pressures from his mother, which made life difficult for him at home and forbade a life outside of it which didn't coincide with her wishes.
Fanny Dashwood, noticing an attachment forming between the two, took the first opportunity of talking to Mrs. Dashwood about Edward's "great expectations, of Mrs. Ferrars' resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in." Deeply offended by these insinuations, Mrs. Dashwood determined to leave Norland Park as soon as possible to spare Elinor from any possible pain. While in this state of mind, she received a letter from a distant relative, Sir John Middleton, "a gentleman of consequence and property in Devonshire," who offered her a cottage on his estate. It was a warm and friendly offer, and she at once wrote an acceptance. Elinor considered the move a prudent one; the rent of the cottage was within their means, and although her true inclinations were not for a move, she felt it would be wise for them to live at some distance from Norland Park. So she agreed that her mother should send her "letter of acquiescence" immediately.
Austen's standards of behavior, reflected in her use of such terms as "civility" and "taste," were more absolute than those of today. While the modern novelist sees life and literature in terms of individual experience, Austen presents all her characters in terms of their relation to a fixed code of values. Elinor, in this chapter, does not seem to assess Edward as an individual; she lists a number of qualities admired at the time: ". . . his mind is well informed, his enjoyment of books exceeding great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure." Therefore, it is proper that she should admire him.
To the modern reader, Edward, living on his mother's money and with no profession, might seem to be a sponger and a waster. But in the reign of George III, young gentlemen with "expectations" did not work. If they took up a profession, it was usually for reasons of prestige. Some entered the Church, but more often for social reasons than for any deep interest in religion.