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by Jane Austen



The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estatewas large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre oftheir property, where, for many generations, they had lived in sorespectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of theirsurrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a singleman, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of hislife, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But herdeath, which happened ten years before his own, produced a greatalteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and receivedinto his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legalinheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended tobequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and theirchildren, the old Gentleman's days were comfortably spent. Hisattachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. andMrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely frominterest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solidcomfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of thechildren added a relish to his existence.

By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his presentlady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, wasamply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large,and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his ownmarriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to hiswealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was notso really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independentof what might arise to them from their father's inheriting thatproperty, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and theirfather only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for theremaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to herchild, and he had only a life-interest in it.

The old gentleman died: his will was read, and like almost every otherwill, gave as much disappointment as pleasure. He was neither sounjust, nor so ungrateful, as to leave his estate from his nephew;--buthe left it to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of thebequest. Mr. Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wifeand daughters than for himself or his son;--but to his son, and hisson's son, a child of four years old, it was secured, in such a way, asto leave to himself no power of providing for those who were most dearto him, and who most needed a provision by any charge on the estate, orby any sale of its valuable woods. The whole was tied up for thebenefit of this child, who, in occasional visits with his father andmother at Norland, had so far gained on the affections of his uncle, bysuch attractions as are by no means unusual in children of two or threeyears old; an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having hisown way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise, as to outweighall the value of all the attention which, for years, he had receivedfrom his niece and her daughters. He meant not to be unkind, however,and, as a mark of his affection for the three girls, he left them athousand pounds a-piece.

Mr. Dashwood's disappointment was, at first, severe; but his temper wascheerful and sanguine; and he might reasonably hope to live many years,and by living economically, lay by a considerable sum from the produceof an estate already large, and capable of almost immediateimprovement. But the fortune, which had been so tardy in coming, washis only one twelvemonth. He survived his uncle no longer; and tenthousand pounds, including the late legacies, was all that remained forhis widow and daughters.

His son was sent for as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr.Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illnesscould command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.

Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of thefamily; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature atsuch a time, and he promised to do every thing in his power to makethem comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance,and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much there mightprudently be in his power to do for them.

He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold heartedand rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, wellrespected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge ofhis ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he mighthave been made still more respectable than he was:--he might even havebeen made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, andvery fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricatureof himself;--more narrow-minded and selfish.

When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself toincrease the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousandpounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. Theprospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income,besides the remaining half of his own mother's fortune, warmed hisheart, and made him feel capable of generosity.-- ”Yes, he would givethem three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It wouldbe enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! hecould spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience.”-- Hethought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he didnot repent.

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 herright to come; the house was her husband's from the moment of hisfather's decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much thegreater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood's situation, with only commonfeelings, must have been highly unpleasing;--but in HER mind there wasa sense of honor so keen, a generosity so romantic, that any offence ofthe kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her a source ofimmovable disgust. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favourite withany of her husband's family; but she had had no opportunity, till thepresent, of shewing them with how little attention to the comfort ofother people she could act when occasion required it.

So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and soearnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on thearrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever, hadnot the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on thepropriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three childrendetermined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breachwith their brother.

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possesseda strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualifiedher, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, andenabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all,that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have ledto imprudence. She had an excellent heart;--her disposition wasaffectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to governthem: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and whichone 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, herjoys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable,interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance betweenher and her mother was strikingly great.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; butby Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged eachother now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of griefwhich overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was soughtfor, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly totheir sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection thatcould afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation infuture. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she couldstruggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother,could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her withproper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similarexertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl; butas she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, withouthaving much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equalher sisters at a more advanced period of life.