by Jane Austen
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, the daughter of the rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, England, and received her education from her father, a former Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. Her life was spent in the country or in country towns, chiefly at the village of Chawton, near Winchester. She died, unmarried, at Winchester on July 18, 1817, and was buried in the cathedral. Her realism, irony and social commentary in tales of the minor gentry has made her one of the most widely read writers in English literature.
For more works by Jane Austen, see The Index
Mr. Henry Dashwood, of Norland Park, Sussex, died leaving his widow and his three daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, to the generosity of Mr. John Dashwood, his son by his first wife and the heir to his estate. Mr. John, who, apart from the family inheritance, had received one fortune from his mother and another with his wife, was at first disposed to increase the portions of his sisters by giving them a thousand pounds apiece; but under the persuasion of his wife he finally resolved that it would be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for his father's widow and children than such kind of neighbourly acts as looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping them to remove their things, and sending them presents of fish and game whenever they were in season.
Taking account of this resolve, as expressed in Mr. John Dashwood's frequent talk of the increasing expenses of housekeeping, and of the perpetual demands made upon his purse, and exasperated, too, by the manifest disapprobation with which Mrs. John Dashwood looked upon the growing attachment between her own brother, Edward Ferrars, and Elinor, Mrs. Henry Dashwood and her daughters left their old home with some abruptness and went to live in Devonshire, where their old friend, Sir John Middleton, of Barton Park, had provided them with a cottage close to his own place.
Elinor, the eldest of the daughters, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart. Her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them. It was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught. Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever, but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting; she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great, and her excess of sensibility, which Elinor saw with concern, was by Mrs. Dashwood valued and cherished.
Margaret, the other sister, was good-humoured; but she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense, and, at thirteen, she did not bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
But whatever the virtues or failings of the Dashwood ladies, their society was very welcome at Barton Park. Sir John Middleton was a good-looking man about forty, thoroughly good-humoured in manner and countenance, friendly and kind-hearted in disposition, who delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold.
Lady Middleton was a handsome woman of six-and-twenty, well-bred, and graceful in address, but deficient in frankness, warmth, or anything to say for herself. She piqued herself upon the elegance of her table appointments and of all her domestic arrangements; and this kind of vanity it was that constituted her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. Sir John was a sportsman; Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education - supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good-breeding of his wife.
Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother, who formed one of the party on the first occasion of the Dashwoods dining at Barton Park, was a good-humoured, fat, elderly woman, who talked a good deal, and seemed very happy, and rather vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands, hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. In fact, this lady was a born match-maker; and she at once proceeded, by hints here and raillery there, to promote a match between Marianne, aged seventeen, and Colonel Brandon, a grave but sensible bachelor on the wrong side of thirty-five. Marianne, however, scorned and laughed at the idea, being reasonable enough to allow that a man of five-and-thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment; and having met with an accident which led to her being carried home by a handsome and vivacious young gentleman called Willoughby, who had a seat called Combe Magna in Somersetshire, she rapidly developed a liking for his society, and as quickly discovered that in regard to music, to dancing, and to books, their tastes were strikingly alike.
"Well, Marianne," said Elinor, after his first visit, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what to think of Cowper and Scott; you are aware of his estimating their beauties as he ought; and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."
To this Marianne replied, "Is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease - too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum. I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."
From which it will be gathered that Marianne began now to perceive that that desperation which had seized her at sixteen-and-a-half of ever seeing a man who could satisfy her ideas of perfection had been somewhat rash and quite unjustifiable.
Willoughby's society soon became Marianne's most exquisite enjoyment. The mutual attachment was obvious - amusingly obvious. They read, they talked, they sang, they danced, they drove together, and they even agreed in depreciating Colonel Brandon as "the kind of man whom everybody spoke well of and nobody cared about; whom all were delighted to see, and nobody remembered to talk to." Then, after cutting off a lock of Marianne's hair, after offering her a horse, and after showing her over the house which would eventually be his on the death of Mrs. Smith, the elderly relative on whom he was partially dependent, the young lover suddenly took leave of the family, having said not a word to Mrs. Dashwood of an engagement, and having offered no other explanation of his hasty departure than the flimsy pretext of being sent by his relative on business to London.
Willoughby left for London a few days after Colonel Brandon had also been unexpectedly summoned to the same place, and he expressed no hope of any rapid return into Devonshire. On such an occasion Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she not given way to all her feelings; and for some days she courted misery and indulged in tears, in solitude, and in sleeplessness. But she was soon set a better example by Elinor, who did her utmost to remain cheerful under the depression of heart caused by a visit paid to the family about this same time by Edward Ferrars. He was obviously uneasy, low-spirited and reserved, said he had already been a fortnight in Devonshire stopping with some friends at Plymouth, and, after a week's stay with the Dashwoods, left them, in spite of their wishes and his own, and without any restraint on his time. But Elinor and Marianne were not long allowed leisure to be miserable. Sir John's and Mrs. Jennings' active zeal in the cause of society soon procured them some other new acquaintance to see and observe. One of these couples was Lady Middleton's brother-in-law and younger sister, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. It was impossible for anyone to be more thoroughly good-natured or more determined to be happy than Mrs. Palmer. The studied indifference, insolence, and discontent of her husband gave her no pain, and when he scolded or abused her, she was highly diverted. "Mr. Palmer is so droll," she used to say in a whisper to Elinor; "he is always out of humour." One day, at dinner, his wife said to him, with her usual laugh, "My love, you contradict everybody. Do you know that you are quite rude?" To which he replied, "I did not know I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred." But the good-natured old lady was in no wise affronted, "Ay; you may abuse me as much as you please," she said. "You have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip-hand of you."
The other couple of new friends whom Sir John's reluctance to keep even a third cousin to himself provided for them were the Misses Steele. In a morning's excursion to Exeter Sir John and Mrs. Jennings had met with two young ladies whom Mrs. Jennings had the satisfaction of discovering to be her relations; and this was enough for Sir John to invite them directly to the Park as soon as their engagements at Exeter were over. The result was that Elinor and Marianne were almost forced into an intercourse with two young women, who, however civil they might be, were obviously underbred. Miss Steele was a plain girl about thirty, whose whole conversation was of beaux; while Miss Lucy Steele, a pretty girl of twenty-three, was, despite her native cleverness, probably common and illiterate.
Marianne, however, who had never much toleration for anything like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference of taste from herself, soon checked every endeavour at intimacy on their side by the coldness of her behaviour towards them; but Elinor, from politeness, submitted to the attentions of both, but especially to those of Lucy, who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or of striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frank communication of her sentiments, until one day, as they were walking together from the Park to the cottage, she asked Elinor if she were personally acquainted with Mrs. John Dashwood's mother, Mrs. Ferrars, and, in explanation of her question, proceeded to confound her by confessing that she knew Mr. Edward Ferrars, who had been at one time under the care of her uncle, Mr. Pratt, at Longstaple, near Plymouth, and that she had been engaged to him for the last four years.
Distressed by this news, which she was quite aware that Lucy had confided to her merely from jealousy and suspicion, indignant at Edward's duplicity, though convinced of his genuine attachment to herself, Elinor resolved not to give pain to her mother and sister by telling them of the engagement. Indeed, her attention was soon withdrawn from her own to her sister's love affairs by an invitation which Mrs. Jennings gave the two girls to spend a few weeks with her in town at her house near Portman Square, an invitation which was accepted by Marianne in the hope of seeing Willoughby, and by Elinor with the intention of looking after Marianne. Mrs. Jennings' party was three days on the road, and arrived in Berkeley Street at three o'clock in the afternoon, in time to allow Marianne to write a brief note to Willoughby. But he failed to appear that evening; and when a loud knock at the door resulted in Colonel Brandon being admitted instead, she found the shock of disappointment too great to be borne with calmness, and left the room.
As it happened, a full week elapsed before she discovered, by finding his card on the table, that her lover had arrived in town. Even then she could not see him. He failed to call the next morning, and though invited to dine on the following day with the Middletons in Conduit Street, he neglected to put in an appearance. Which strange conduct moved Marianne to send another note to him; and Elinor to write to her mother, entreating her to demand from Marianne an account of her real situation with respect to him.
A meeting between Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby at last took place at a fashionable party, where the latter greeted the two sisters with great coldness and reluctance; and a third letter from Marianne, now frantic with grief, elicited a reply from him in which he announced his engagement to another lady, "reproached himself for not having been more guarded in his professions of esteem for Marianne, and returned, with great regret, the lock of her hair which she had so obligingly bestowed on him."
A day or two later Colonel Brandon called on Elinor to give her certain information about Willoughby. He told her that his sudden departure from Devonshire to London, which had surprised his friends so much, had been due to an affecting letter he had received from his ward, Miss Williams, the natural daughter of a beloved sister-in-law. Willoughby had met this lady - a pretty girl of sixteen - at Bath, and, after a guilty intimacy, had abandoned her. Colonel Brandon had gone to her rescue and to fight a bloodless duel with her betrayer.
One day Elinor and Marianne were at Gray's, in Sackville Street, carrying on a negotiation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels belonging to their mother, when they came upon their half-brother, Mr. John Dashwood. He paid a visit to Mrs. Jennings the next day, and came with a pretence of an apology for his wife not coming, too. To his sisters his manners, though calm, were perfectly kind; to Mrs. Jennings most attentively civil; and on Colonel Brandon coming in soon after himself, he eyed him with a curiosity that seemed to say that he only wanted to know him to be rich to be equally civil to him. After staying with them half an hour, he asked Elinor to walk with him to Conduit Street, and to introduce him to Sir John and Lady Middleton; and as soon as they were out of the house he began to make inquiries about Colonel Brandon. Which inquiries having elicited the satisfactory information that the gentleman had a good property at Delaford Park, in Dorsetshire, Mr. Dashwood - indifferent to his sister's disclaimers - proceeded to congratulate her on the prospect of a very respectable establishment in life, to insist that the objections to a prior attachment on her side were not insurmountable, and to inform her that the object of that attachment - Mr. Edward Ferrars - was likely to be married to Miss Morton, a peer's daughter, with thirty thousand pounds of her own.
Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband's judgment that she waited the very next day on both Mrs. Jennings and her daughter. She found the former by no means unworthy her notice, and the latter one of the most charming women in the world. The attraction was mutual, for Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood.
There was a kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanour and a general want of understanding. Indeed, the Dashwoods were so prodigiously delighted with the Middletons that, though not much in the habit of giving anything, they determined to give them a dinner; and soon after their acquaintance began, invited them to dine at Harley Street, where they had taken a very good house for three months. Mrs. Jennings and the Misses Dashwood were invited likewise, and so were Colonel Brandon, as a friend of the young ladies, and the Misses Steele, as belonging to the Middleton party in Conduit Street. They were to meet Mrs. Ferrars.
Mrs. Ferrars turned out to be a little, thin woman, upright even to formality in her figure, and serious even to sourness in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow, and her features small, without beauty, and naturally without expression; but a lucky contraction of the brow had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas; of the few syllables which did escape her, not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she eyed with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events; whereas towards the Misses Steele - particularly towards Lucy - both mother and daughter were ostentatiously gracious. On this occasion Marianne created something of a scene by openly resenting this treatment of her sister; while Mr. Dashwood, seeking to interest Colonel Brandon in Elinor, showed him a pretty pair of screens which she had painted for his wife, and informed him that "a few months ago Marianne was remarkably handsome, quite as handsome as Elinor."
The next morning Lucy called on Elinor to exult in Mrs. Ferrars' flattering treatment of her; her joy, however, was somewhat diminished by the unexpected appearance of Edward Ferrars in Berkeley Street, for though both Elinor and Lucy were able to keep up their respective poses towards him, Marianne confused all three by an open demonstration of her sisterly affection for him. But an invitation from Mrs. John Dashwood to the Misses Steele to spend some days in Harley Street soon restored Lucy's equanimity, and almost made Elinor believe that her rival was a real favourite.
At any rate this was the view taken by foolish Nancy Steele.
"Lord!" thought she to herself, "they are all so fond of Lucy, to be sure they will make no difficulty about it." And so away she went and told Mrs. Dashwood all about Lucy's engagement to Edward Ferrars; the result of which was that the married lady fell into hysterics, while the Misses Steele were hastily bundled out of the house.
Elinor, on hearing this news from Mrs. Jennings, soon saw the necessity of preparing Marianne for its discussion. She lost no time, therefore, in making her acquainted with the real truth, and in endeavouring to bring her to hear it talked of by others, without betraying that she felt any uneasiness for her sister or any resentment towards Edward. At first Marianne wept in grief and amazement; then she began to ascribe Elinor's long reticence about the engagement to lack of real depth of feeling; and it was not till the latter had done a deal of protesting that the younger girl was able to give her sister due credit for self-sacrifice and generosity. So when Mr. John Dashwood came round to his sisters to tell them how Edward had refused to break off his engagement, and how Mrs. Ferrars, on hearing of this, had resolved to cut him off with a shilling, and to do all in her power to prevent his advancing in any profession, and had settled on his brother Robert an estate of a thousand pounds which she had intended to bestow on him, Marianne let her indignation burst forth only when her brother had quitted the room. A few days later, Elinor met Nancy Steele in Kensington Gardens, who gave her a certain information, which subsequently turned out to have been derived from listening at the keyhole. This was to the effect that Edward, out of consideration for Lucy, who would be marrying a man with no prospects and with no means save two thousand pounds, had offered to give her up; but that Lucy had protested her affection for him, was determined not to give him up, and was building hopes on his taking orders and getting a living. Fortunately, the much desired living came far sooner than Lucy could have expected, for Colonel Brandon, with characteristic kindness, offered the presentation of the rectory of Delaford to Edward through Elinor.
Anxious though the Misses Dashwood were to get back to Barton, they could not refuse an invitation from the Palmers to spend a few days with them. But, thanks to the romantic folly of Marianne - who, because she fancied she could see Combe Magna, Willoughby's place, from Cleveland, must needs take two evening walks in the grounds just where the grass was the longest and the wettest - the house-party enjoyed not the pleasantest of times. Marianne had to take to bed, and became so feverish and delirious that Colonel Brandon volunteered to fetch Mrs. Dashwood himself.
The next evening Elinor, who was acting as her sister's most devoted nurse, and was hourly expecting her mother's arrival, was astounded by a visit from Willoughby, who, having met Sir John Middleton in the lobby of Drury Lane Theatre the previous night, and thus heard of Marianne's serious illness, had set forth post-haste to make inquiries, and was now delighted to find her out of danger. Attempting an exculpation of himself, he confessed that at first meeting Marianne he had tried to engage her regard without a thought of returning it; that afterwards he grew sincerely fond of her, but put off from day to day paying her his formal addresses and that just at the moment when he was going to make a regular proposal to her, Mrs. Smith's discovery of his liaison with Miss Williams, and his refusal to right matters by marrying the young lady, dismissed him from his relative's house and favour, prevented him from declaring his love to Marianne, and, in the embarrassed state of his finances, seemed to render marriage with a wealthy woman his only chance of salvation. He repudiated the charge of having deserted Miss Williams, declaring that he did not know the straits to which she had been reduced. He also alluded to the violence of her passion, and the weakness of her understanding, as some excuses for the apparent heartlessness of his own conduct.
He then went on to explain his treatment of Marianne's letters; how he had already - previous to the arrival of the Dashwoods in town - become engaged to Miss Sophia Grey; how, with his head and heart full of Marianne, he was forced to play the happy lover to Sophia; and how Sophia, in her jealousy, had opened Marianne's third letter and dictated the reply.
"What do you think of my wife's style of letter-writing? Delicate, tender, fully feminine, was it not?" said he.
"You are very wrong, Mr. Willoughby," said Elinor. "You ought not to speak in this way either of Mrs. Willoughby or my sister. You have made your own choice. It was not forced on you. Your wife has a claim to your politeness - to your respect, at least." She must be attached to you, or she would not have married you."
"Do not talk to me of my wife," said he, with a heavy sigh. "She does not deserve your compassion. She knew I had no regard for her when we married. And now, do you pity me, Miss Dashwood? Have I explained away any part of my guilt?"
"Yes. You have certainly removed something - a little," said Elinor. "You have proved yourself, on the whole, less faulty than I had believed you."
When Mrs. Dashwood arrived at Cleveland, Elinor at once gave her the joyful news of Marianne's material improvement in health and, after an affectionate but nearly silent interview had taken place between mother and sick child, the former proceeded to express to Elinor her admiration for Colonel Brandon's disposition and manners, and her expectation that he and Marianne would make a match of it. The Colonel, it seemed, had told Mrs. Dashwood on the way of his affection for her daughter.
Marianne, however, at first seemed to have other plans. When the family got back to Barton Cottage, she announced that she had determined to enter on a course of serious study, and to devote six hours a day to improving herself by reading. But with such a confederacy against her as that formed by her mother and Elinor - with a knowledge so intimate of Colonel Brandon's goodness - what could she do?
As for Elinor, her self-control was at last rewarded, thanks to a strange volte-face on the part of Lucy Steele who, finding that Robert Ferrars had the money, married him and jilted his brother. The way was thus cleared to Elinor's union with Edward, whose mother was induced to give the young couple her consent, and a marriage portion of £10,000.
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