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The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex (1). Their estate was large (2), and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner, as to engage (3) the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper (4) in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate (5), and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old Gentleman's days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.
By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age (6). By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth (7). To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father's inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life interest in it (8).
The old Gentleman died; his will was read, and like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure (9). He was neither so unjust, nor so ungrateful, as to leave his estate from his nephew;—but he left it to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of the bequest. Mr. Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wife and daughters than for himself or his son:—but to his son, and his son's son, a child of four years old, it was secured, in such a way, as to leave to himself no power of providing for those who were most dear to him, and who most needed a provision, by any charge on the estate (10), or by any sale of its valuable woods (11). The whole was tied up for the benefit of this child (12), who, in occasional visits with his father and mother at Norland (13), had so far gained on the affections of his uncle, by such attractions as are by no means unusual in children of two or three years old; an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise, as to outweigh all the value of all the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters (14). He meant not to be unkind however, and, as a mark of his affection for the three girls, he left them a thousand pounds a-piece.
Mr. Dashwood's disappointment was, at first, severe; but his temper was cheerful and sanguine, and he might reasonably hope to live many years, and by living economically, lay by a considerable sum from the produce of an estate already large, and capable of almost immediate improvement (15). But the fortune, which had been so tardy in coming, was his only one twelvemonth. He survived his uncle no longer; and ten thousand pounds, including the late legacies, was all that remained for his widow and daughters (16).
His son was sent for, as soon as his danger was known (17), and to him Mr. Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illness could command, the interest of his mother-in-law (18) and sisters.
Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of the family; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature at such a time, and he promised to do every thing in his power to make them comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance, and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much there might prudently be in his power to do for them.
He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable (19) than he was:—he might even have been made amiable (20) himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself;—more narrow-minded (21) and selfish.
When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself to increase the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousand pounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. The prospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income, besides the remaining half of his own mother's fortune (22), warmed his heart and made him feel capable of generosity (23).—"Yes, he would give them three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It would be enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! he could spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience."—He thought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he did not repent (26).
No sooner was his father's funeral over, than Mrs. John Dashwood, without sending any notice of her intention to her mother-in-law, arrived with her child and their attendants. No one could dispute her right to come; the house was her husband's from the moment of his father's decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much the greater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood's situation, with only common feelings, must have been highly unpleasing (27),—but in her mind there was a sense of honour so keen, a generosity so romantic, that any offence of the kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her a source of immoveable disgust (28). Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favourite with any of her husband's family; but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of shewing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it.
So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever (29), had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on the propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three children determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breach with their brother.
Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen (30), 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 (31): 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 (32). She was sensible and clever; but eager in every thing; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting (33): she was every thing but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.
Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility (34); but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again (35). They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it (36), and resolved against ever admitting (37) consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.
Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humoured well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance (38), without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
1. Sussex: A county south of London.
2. The gentry that dominates this and other Jane Austen novels were based in rural estates, whose agricultural proﬁts formed the principal source of their income.
3. engage: gain.
4. “Housekeeper” was often used to refer to a high-ranking female servant. Here it means that his sister supervised the household, which would include directing and managing the servants, deciding on meals, ordering supplies for the house, and attending to the needs of residents and guests. These tasks were normally performed by women, so a man without a wife would usually have a sister or other unmarried female relative live with him for this purpose. Since unmarried women rarely had homes of their own, she would beneﬁt by gaining a secure home in which she exercised a position of importance and inﬂuence.
5. When a landowner lacked sons, a paternal nephew, as Henry Dashwood’s name indicates he is, would normally be the sole heir. The idea was to preserve the family estate intact, and in the male line— if a woman inherited and then married, the estate would become her husband’s property, thereby transferring it to a different family. Thus even landowners who had daughters would usually leave the property to a nephew or other male relative.
6. The mother’s fortune would have come under the control of her husband upon her marriage, but the marriage settlement would have dictated that the son receive it upon turning twenty-one, the legal age of adulthood. Elaborate ﬁnancial settlements, concerning the husband and wife and any children they might have, were standard for marriages among the gentry.
7.A woman almost always brought a dowry to a marriage: its size would signiﬁcantly determine her marital desirability, as will be seen at various pointsin this novel. In return for the dowry, which would fall under the control of the husband, he, or his family in the event of his death, would be obligated to provide for her. Pin money, a certain annual sum for her personal use, would usually be part of the marriage settlement.
The dowry here, as revealed later, is ten thousand pounds. Thus it is more than what Mr. Henry Dashwood is shown below to have at his disposal. One mark of Jane Austen’s novels is precision about monetary sums, along with an appreciation of the important role money plays in life.
8. This means Henry Dashwood is able to use the income from the remaining moiety, or half, of his wife’s fortune but cannot touch the principal,which will go to his son after he dies. The family of the bride would often secure such an arrangement in the marriage settlement. It ensured that her fortune would ultimately go to her children, even if the husband turned out to beﬁnancially irresponsible, or if he, after she died, married again and was persuaded by his second wife to leave all his money to his second set of children.
9. Jane Austen herself, along with the rest of her immediate family, experienced disappointments on learning of the wills of some relatives.
10. He could not give them money from the estate, or money he borrowed using the estate as collateral.
11. Timber was often a leading product of estates. Wood was central to the economy of the time, used to make a variety of items that are currently made of metal or plastic.
12. It was standard practice for estates to be bound by such a settlement. By allowing the current holder of the property only to draw income from it, it ensured the estate would pass intact to the succeeding heir. At the same time, most settlements did not restrict the current holders quite this severely, and while they almost all gave the bulk of the estate to the eldest male of the next generation, they usually made more generous provision for other children than this one.
13. That they paid only “occasional visits” to the man’s father and grandfather hints at the lack of family feeling that will shortly be on full display.
14. Jane Austen, while described by nieces and nephews as a kind, attentive aunt, often criticizes in her novels excessive or blind fondness for children.
15. For more than a century many landowners had undertaken improvements to their estates, through clearing unproductive land for cultivation or increasing yields by agricultural innovations. The resulting increases in the food supply and population were important factors in the industrial revolution that began in England in the late eighteenth century. Greater income over the years, along with economical living, would allow Mr. Dashwood to accumulate a substantial sum that he then could pass on to his wife and daughters.
16. This would come from their three thousand pounds and the seven thousand pounds already mentioned as under the father’s control.
17. Meaning the danger of his dying soon.
18. mother-in-law: stepmother.
19. respectable: worthy, decent. The term, like the just-used “propriety,” was thoroughly complimentary, with none of the negative connotations sometimes found today.
20. amiable: kind, friendly, good-natured. The word then suggested general goodness and not just outward agreeableness.
21. narrow-minded: mercenary, parsimonious. In a letter Jane Austen expresses doubt of someone’s ability to “persuade a perverse and narrow-minded woman to oblige those whom she does not love” (Jan. 25, 1801).
22. The four thousand would be the income from the estate. His wife’s dowry of ten thousand would, at the standard 5% rate of return on investments then, yield ﬁve hundred a year. Since his mother’s fortune was described as large, his annual income would now be at least ﬁve thousand pounds a year, perhaps even six or seven. This is far more than Mrs. Dashwood, who would get only ﬁve hundred pounds a year from her ten thousand.
It is hard to translate these amounts into current terms, for relative costs of things were very different then. Goods tended to cost a great deal, while services, including full-time live-in servants, were relatively cheap. But, allowing for that, a pound then is worth approximately 55 pounds today, which at 2010 rates is the equivalent of 80 to 85 U.S. dollars. This would make John Dashwood’s income somewhere around half a million dollars a year. For the time, this would probably put him in the top .1 or .2% of the population.
23. That John Dashwood feels capable of generosity only after inheriting such a considerable fortune signals that he is far from naturally generous.
24. liberal: generous.
25. easy: comfortable ﬁnancially.
26. That he thinks of it so continually suggests that he may be ﬁnding it difﬁcult to reconcile himself to it.
27. Once the house became her husband’s Mrs. John Dashwood would takeover the position of mistress and housekeeper from Mrs. Dashwood (see above, note 4). This is why nobody disputes her right, but a more delicate, or sensitive, person would have refrained from displacing so quickly a woman who had just lost her husband from a position she had long held.
28. disgust: distaste. The word did not have as strong a connotation then.
29. Mrs. Dashwood will often display the same impulsiveness shown here, along with the same tender affection for her children. The impropriety of hastily leaving probably refers to the insult it would be to John Dashwood.
30. In calling Elinor “only nineteen” the author raises a possible point of criticism, namely whether someone of Elinor’s youth could display the extraordinary wisdom and self-command that she does throughout the novel.
31.This sentence provides an excellent summation of Elinor’s character. She represents the “Sense” of the title, but this does not mean she is a creature of pure reason. She shows at various points the strong feelings mentioned here. What distinguishes her is her willingness and ability to control them and act rationally and sensibly, even in the most trying circumstances.
32. The generally equal abilities of Marianne to Elinor, referring particularly to her intellectual abilities, are an important point, as is Marianne’s generally equal goodness. Their acute differences stem from their different outlooks on life and opinions on how to act and feel.
33. interesting: engaging; inclined to arouse curiosity or emotion.
34. “Sensibility,” a word used often then, had a variety of meanings, with the most important revolving around the capacity for sensation or feeling. It was a term often used positively, by Jane Austen as well, for she never regards an incapacity to feel, something displayed by various characters in her works, as laudable. This is why Elinor regrets only the “excess of her sister’s sensibility.”
“Sensibility” in the eighteenth century had also come to refer to a broad cultural movement that extolled acute feeling and sensitivity (for more on this background, see introduction). Many literary works expounded and celebrated this idea, even as others criticized it. The cult of sensibility exercised an important inﬂuence on, and shared much with, Romanticism, which by Jane Austen’s time had become a powerful cultural force in Europe. Thus this novel is responding quite explicitly to contemporary matters of great concern and debate.
35. This indulgence in grief and deliberate cultivation of it would be appropriate for a devotee of sensibility. Its advocates believed in fostering and intensifying a variety of emotions, and saw a capacity for grieving and weeping copiously as a mark of tenderness and virtue.
36. They turned to every reﬂection that would make them more wretched.
37. admitting: allowing; permitting themselves.
38. romance: imaginative or romantic qualities.
From the Trade Paperback edition.