Elinor and Marianne go on an errand to Gray's, the jeweler in town. They are annoyed by the presence of an impertinent coxcomb who stands before them in line and orders an elaborate toothpick case. As Elinor at last conducts her business, her brother enters the shop. John Dashwood confesses that he has been in town for two days but has not had time to visit his sisters. The next day, John pays a visit to his sisters at Mrs. Jennings's home. He takes a long walk with Elinor, during which he informs her that he would be very glad if she married Colonel Brandon. Elinor assures him that she has no intentions of doing so, but John insists on the desirability of the match. He also comments that Mrs. Ferrars expects her son, Edward, to marry the wealthy daughter of Miss Morton. Finally, Edward notes that Marianne's appearance has declined considerably in her time of misery, and thus she will no longer be able to find quite so wealthy a husband.
Fanny Dashwood is initially reluctant to visit the Dashwoods because she is unsure if Mrs. Jennings is sophisticated enough for her, but she consents upon hearing her husband's favorable report. Fanny enjoys the company of Mrs. Jennings, and especially enjoys the company of Lady Middleton. She decides to host a dinner party at her home on Harley Street. She invites the Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, Colonel Brandon, and Mrs. Ferrars. Elinor is very worried about meeting Edward at the dinner party, and is relieved to learn that he is unable to attend. She strongly dislikes Mrs. Ferrars, a sour and sallow woman who seems to care only about seeing her son Edward marry rich.
After dinner, the ladies withdraw into the drawing room. Much to Elinor's dismay, the subject of conversation is Harry Dashwood and Lady Middleton's second son, William, and whether one is taller than the other. When the gentlemen guests enter the room, John Dashwood shows off to Colonel Brandon a pair of screens that Elinor painted as a gift for her brother's family. Mrs. Ferrars insults Elinor's artwork and Marianne, furious at Mrs. Ferrars's rudeness, rushes to her sister's public defense. Colonel Brandon admires the "affectionate heart" of this girl, who cannot bear to witness her sister slighted.
Mrs. Jennings is called away urgently by her daughter Mrs. Charlotte Palmer, who is expecting the birth of a child. Meanwhile, Lucy Steele visits the Dashwoods to tell (brag to) Elinor how pleasantly surprised she was by Mrs. Ferrars's favorable behavior toward her (Lucy) at the party. In the middle of their conversation, the servant suddenly announces the arrival of Mr. Ferrars, and Edward walks into the room. He looks immediately uncomfortable upon realizing that both Lucy and Elinor are in attendance. Marianne, who does not know anything about Lucy's claims of an attachment to Edward, expresses her tremendous joy at his arrival. Marianne is surprised when Edward leaves so soon after, and remarks to Elinor that she cannot understand why Lucy calls so frequently (Lucy has also departed). Elinor, bound by her pledge of secrecy to Lucy, cannot offer a single word of explanation.
Mrs. Palmer gives birth to a son and heir, to the great pride and joy of Mrs. Jennings. Mr. Palmer, however, seems unaffected by the birth of his son and insists that the baby looks like all the other babies he has ever seen.
Fanny's friend, Mrs. Dennison, invites her and John to a musical party and extends the invitation to the Dashwood girls, under the mistaken assumption that the girls are living with their half-brother's family. There, Elinor is introduced to Mr. Robert Ferrars and discovers that he is the very same coxcomb who stood before her in line at the jewelers. At the party, it occurs to John to invite his sisters to stay at his house in London, but Fanny objects on the grounds that she had just been planning to invite Anne and Lucy Steele to visit. Elinor worries that perhaps this invitation is a sign that Fanny has decided to support Lucy's engagement to her brother, Edward.
Austen's biting wit is quite evident here: as the omniscient narrator, she makes direct comments about her characters, and, within the story, she has some of her characters commment on other, less favorable figures. The first, more direct display of her wit is exemplified by her comments about the dinner party, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood:
John Dashwood had not much to say for himself that was worth hearing, and his wife still less. But there was no peculiar disgrace in this, for it was very much the case with the chief of their visitors, who almost all laboured under one or other of these disqualifications for being agreeable: want of sense, either natural or improved; want of elegance, want of spirits, or want of temper.
She passes judgment on her characters by pretending to cast their most negative attributes in a positive light: John Dashwood has nothing to say for himself, but there is "no particular disgrace" in this because his company is just as insipid as he. Usually, these acerbic observations are presented through Elinor's eyes, but here Austen, at her cruelest, satirizes her characters directly.
The more indirect display of Austen's wit is exemplified by the personality and behavior of Mr. Palmer. Just after the lengthy and elaborate debate between doting mothers about the relative heights of their children, Austen informs her readers that Mr. Palmer, the father of a newborn son, did not find his child to be different from any other newborn infant, "nor could he [Mr. Palmer] even be brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being the finest child in the world." Rather than informing her readers directly that Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton are irrational in their motherly affections, she accomplishes this through the character of Mr. Palmer, whose objectivity and indifference enable her to indirectly mock the mothers' excessive sentimentality.
From Fanny's dinner party to Mrs. Dennison's musical party, these chapters underscore the extent to which a seemingly endless series of invitations governs the lives of the women in Austen's novel. The Dashwood women travel to Barton at the invitation of Sir John; Elinor and Marianne travel to London at the invitation of Mrs. Jennings; Marianne visits Willoughby's estate at Allenham at his invitation. Indeed, formal invitations to others' homes structure the social lives of all of Austen's heroines, and thus, although they travel frequently and widely, the wills of others circumscribe their mobility. In contrast, the men of the novel have agency in addition to mobility. They can come and go as they wish regardless of the invitations and expectations of others: Willoughby proclaims unexpectedly that he must go to Devonshire on business; Colonel Brandon suddenly interrupts the outing to Whitwell because he has urgent business in London; Edward comes and goes in no particular pattern. While the plot of the entire novel is structured around the physical movement of characters, only the male characters fully control their travels.
I fail to understand Colonel Brandon's attraction for Marianne - to all intents and purposes Elinor would seem, to me, a much more suitable partner. So Marianne's ultimate marriage to Brandon at the end of the novel leaves the only jarring note of what is, otherwise, a most enjoyable book. One last thing, I can't fathom why a younger daughter, Margaret, is introduced at all and would love to hear others' takes on my opinions.
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