Her first published novel, and it sounds a little stilted
in parts to me. She did not have the phrasings quite as smooth as she later got it. I find the heroine Elinor Dashwood
and the hero Edward Ferrars
both rather two-dimensional for Jane Austen characters, but I don't know whether this was perhaps her intention. Although Elinor's thoughts are revealed, she is not open the way her impetuous
, and passionate sister Marianne Dashwood
is. Edward has a reason to hide his innermost thoughts and be melancholic
, as we find out.
Mrs Dashwood and her two daughters Elinor and Marianne, after the death of Mr Dashwood, are dependent on her son-in-law (stepson) Mr John Dashwood for continuance in their old home. He is kind enough, but weak, and is manipulated by his unpleasant wife, Mrs John Dashwood, the sister of Edward Ferrars. She does not wish to see the intimacy between Edward and Elinor encouraged.
So Mrs Dashwood takes her daughters from Sussex to Devonshire, to a cottage called Barton in the estate of a rich relative, Sir John Middleton. Here the impetuous young Marianne, rushing down a hillside, stumbles, and is taken up and brought home by the dashing and handsome Willoughby. Their love blossoms quickly, united in their passion for the same romantic books and arts and notions, and their strong sensibility. Their engagement is soon clear, in all but official announcement. Then Willoughby is suddenly called away on business, leaving Marianne distraught.
The elder sister Elinor has sense and self-command, whicch she has to use to the utmost when she become acquainted with the Steeles, two distant relatives of the Middletons who come to stay. Miss Lucy Steele, in particular, a pretty but sly and calculating creature, has an especial interest in Elinor. At last, with a saintly innocence, she shares her girlish secret: that she, Lucy, is engaged to Mr Ferrars, and has been these four years.
Then we have Colonel Brandon, an elderly gentleman (in his thirties) who watches the lovely Marianne without hope, and who has a secret in his past; the silly and amiable Mrs Palmer, heavily pregnant; and her droll and cynical husband Mr Palmer, one of my favourite characters in all Jane Austen, whose tongue is allowed free rein in his very laconic speeches. Then also there is Mr Robert Ferrars, the stylish and shallow younger brother of the good Edward; and their ogress of a mother.
The Miss Dashwoods are invited to London by Mrs Palmer and her mother, and here Marianne expects to meet and be lovingly reunited with Willoughby. But her world crashes in on her when the ratfink betrays her. Colonel Brandon lets Elinor know of his secret and his knowledge of Willoughby's true character. (A duel is fought, off-stage.)
Marianne falls deeply ill, and a remorseful Willoughby rides across the country to be with her before she die. She does not die; nor does she see him; but the explanation he is forced to offer Elinor is some slight palliation of his inexcusable behaviour. In passing so close to death, Marianne is reformed, sheds some of her more excitable notions, and is comforted by the presence and quiet good sense of Colonel Brandon.
If Mrs Ferrars had disapproved of the attachment between her son and the blameless and upright Elinor, how much worse she feels when she discovers Lucy Steele's claws in him. This disaster frees all parties to make the right matches, and, of course, all the good live happily ever after. (That is what fiction means.)