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Notes on Characters from Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility Major Characters

Mrs. Henry Dashwood: The second wife of Mr. Henry Dashwood, and mother of Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. She is most like Marianne in temperament—romantic, impractical, and loving. Not believing that money should keep lovers apart, she sees nothing wrong with her girls marrying above them. She trusts her daughters, and chooses to believe that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged, rather than ask them as Elinor suggests. Not concerned about money or custom, it is Elinor who must act the parent in such matters.

Elinor Dashwood : The eldest of the Dashwood sisters. Elinor is the most rational, often having to remind her mother what is the proper way to behave or handle one’s money. It is she who notices all the little inconsistencies in polite society, and the hypocritical nature of many with whom they associate. She falls in love with Edward, but she is cautious, unsure if he feels the same way. She is not so romantic as to assume that money cannot help make you happy, or help you to marry the right man. Sensitive, she feels pain when Edward treats her coldly, but she hides it, and treats him as manners dictate. With Lucy Steele, Elinor is placed in an awful position. To be Lucy’s confidante, when Lucy confesses it is she who is engaged to Edward, is nearly more than Elinor can stand. But she pretends nothing is the matter, and does so for four months. When Marianne is hurt by Willoughby, she hides nothing, and shares her misery with the house, everyday. But Elinor wants to spare her family the pain she is suffering. Perhaps as a reward for this behavior, Elinor marries Edward, her first love, whereas Marianne marries the Colonel.

Marianne Dashwood: The middle daughter, Marianne is seventeen. She is emotional and romantic. Very intelligent, she reads the Romantic poets and plays the piano. Unwaveringly honest to her feelings, Marianne cannot lie or flatter or behave in ways contrary to what she feels. When she loses Willoughby, she lets everyone see and feel her grief. She is convinced her opinions are permanently set, and one of her main opinions is that people can never love twice. She also believes lovers should only be young and passionate. This makes Willoughby perfect, Edward less so, and the Colonel unacceptable. But by the end of the novel, Marianne begins to see the Colonel in a more favorable light, and they marry.

Mr. John Dashwood: The son of Mr. Henry Dashwood from his first marriage. John has a large inheritance from his mother, and also money from his wife Fanny. They have a young son, Harry. John, in his bad qualities, is a weaker version of his wife. He promises his father he will help take care of his stepmother and stepsisters, but he is easily persuaded to give them nothing. He complains about being poor, which he isn’t, to avoid giving away any of his money. John usually sides with his wife and his mother-in-law on most issues. He does not think Elinor has enough money to marry Edward, and does not try to help them wed.

Mrs. John (Fanny) Dashwood: Cold and mean, John’s wife Fanny moves her family into Norland right after Mr. Dashwood’s funeral. She is Edward’s sister, and she does not approve of his marrying Elinor. It is most important that he marry someone wealthy. Money is in fact her main concern—how much they have, how to get more, and how to not give any of it away to the Dashwoods. The Dashwood women do not like her, and she does not like them.

Edward Ferrars: The brother of Robert and Fanny. Edward is not attractive or dashing, and he is not a smooth talker. He is also not very interested in art or literature. But he is honest and loyal, and does what he thinks is right. Though he no longer loves Lucy Steele, he will not break off the engagement, even though he does not love her. He has made a promise, and that bond is most important to him. Like Elinor, he will sacrifice his own feelings to do what is right. Thinking of others before himself, he does all he can to make his marriage to Lucy possible, and when his mother asks him to break it off, and marry a more wealthy girl, his good character will not let him do it. So he is disinherited, and hopes to take orders in an effort to support Lucy. Lucky for him, Lucy falls in love with his brother, and marries Robert. This leaves Edward free to marry his real love, Elinor.

Mrs. Jennings: The widowed mother of Lady Middleton and Charlotte Palmer. Her husband was a craftsman, and her class is not as high as the Middletons. Not reserved at all, she is happy and boisterous, loving to match-make and tease the young girls about their loves. Such comments are often improper in polite society, and Marianne does not like Mrs. Jennings, but Elinor tolerates her. Mrs. Jennings has Elinor and Marianne stay with her in London. Though she can often make hurtful and ill-timed comments about Willoughby or Edward, they come to appreciate her as caring, loyal, and more honest than other people they know. She acts as a surrogate mother while they are in London, and by the end of their stay and Marianne’s sickness at Cleveland, her good character is shines through all of her teasing and vulgar remarks.

Colonel Brandon: An older friend of Sir John Middleton. Thirty-five, he is an attractive, distinguished older man. Quiet, dependable, and caring, his good qualities seem to increase as time goes by. Saddened by the death of his first love, Eliza, he has taken care of her daughter for many years. He is hurt again when Willoughby runs off with this daughter, gets her pregnant, and then leaves her. Though he loves Marianne, he suffers seeing her with Willoughby. Marianne thinks the Colonel is too old to be a lover, and the Colonel does not try to change her mind. Instead he watches quietly, and acts the hero by bringing Marianne her mother when Marianne falls ill. After her illness, Marianne begins to respect the Colonel more, and the two soon marry.

Willoughby: Marianne’s first love. He is attractive and graceful, and a lover of good literature. They meet in a romantically: Marianne sprains her ankle and Willoughby carries her home in the rain. He falls in love with Marianne, but he does not respect her reputation, giving her large gifts and spending time with her only in private. He leaves suddenly, and we later learn it is because Mrs. Smith disapproved of his behavior towards Miss Williams. Mrs. Smith disinherits him, and he is broke. Money is very important to Willoughby, as he enjoys living well. So he leaves Marianne, whom he loves, and becomes engaged to Miss Grey, who has a large fortune. He also treats Marianne terribly, ignoring her letters, treating her coolly at a party, and sending her a cruel last letter in which he denies any relationship. When Marianne is ill, he realizes the mistakes he has made, and apologizes to Elinor for all the pain he caused. Willoughby is a rake, seducing women without thinking of either their feelings or the consequences of his actions. He favors money over love, and treats those who love him with indifference. His punishment is not an unhappy marriage, but an unextraordinary one.

Mrs. Ferrars: Mother of Edward, Fanny, and Robert. A mean and controlling woman, Mrs. Ferrars only wants her sons to do what she wants them to do. She doesn’t care what profession Edward would like, she only cares what will make the family look best. So concerned with appearances, it is not surprising that she wants Edward to marry a wealthy woman. Knowing of Elinor’s affection for Edward, she treats Elinor terribly when they meet, while she gushes at Lucy. When she learns of the secret engagement, she disinherits Edward, making Robert the eldest son. When Robert, her favorite, commits the same offense and marries Lucy Steele, he is forgiven much more quickly.

Robert Ferrars: Edward and Fanny’s brother. He is a silly and superficial man, a fop or coxcomb. He debates long and hard over the details of his tooth-pick case. He cares so little about his brother that he will marry Edward’s fiancee, and then weasel his way back into the family’s good graces.

Lucy Steele: Cousin of Mrs. Jennings, she is the younger Steele girl. Fashionable, somewhat attractive, her manners are perfect but her character is not. She is uneducated, and can often be cruel. Ambitious, she flatters and lies to get what she wants. She met Edward several years ago while he was studying with her uncle, and the two of them became engaged. The engagement is kept a secret for four years. Suspecting Elinor may have feelings for Edward, Lucy brings Elinor in on the secret. Then Elinor must sit quietly, while Lucy cruelly relates her love for Edward, and the forces keeping them apart. Lucy has a very small fortune, and doubts that Edward’s mother would agree to the marriage. Lucy wants Elinor to be jealous, but Elinor is too composed to show what she feels. Lucy weasels her way into Fanny and John’s house, and while she is staying there, her secret is revealed. She is thrown out, but soon becomes secretly attached to Robert, Edward’s brother. She sends Edward a letter telling him what has happened. As a final stroke of meanness, Lucy tells Elinor’s servant to tell Elinor that she is now Mrs. Ferrars, knowing what Elinor will assume and how awful it will make her feel.

Ann/Nancy Steele: Cousin of Mrs. Jennings, the older Steele girl. She is not very attractive, lacks manners, and makes lots of improper comments. She is silly and unintelligent. She likes Dr. Davies, and since nobody cares to ask her about him, she talks about him constantly.

Minor Characters

uncle of Mr. Henry Dashwood: The owner of Norland estate. When his sister dies, he invites Mr. Dashwood, his wife, and their three children to live with him. He loves them and they get along well, but the uncle is charmed by Harry, the grandson of Mr. Dashwood, and decides to leave Norland to Henry Dashwood on the condition that it will next pass to John Dashwood, Henry’s son from his first marriage. The uncle still leaves each girl a small fortune, but the small sum is not comparable to Norland.

Mr. Henry Dashwood: The husband of Mrs. Dashwood, the father of John, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. His first wife, the mother of John, died, and after her death, Mr. Dashwood married Mrs. Dashwood, and they had the three girls. Mr. Dashwood is sad that Norland will go to John, and worries that his daughters will not have enough money to marry. Dying only a year after his uncle, Henry makes John promise to take care of his stepmother and stepsisters. Then he dies, leaving his wife and girls with what little money he had.

Margaret Dashwood: The youngest of the Dashwood girls. She is like Marianne in her romantic notions and high emotions, but Elinor is doubtful Margaret is going to be as intelligent as Marianne. Too young for dances or travel, Margaret is far in the background for nearly the entire novel.

Mrs. Henry Dashwood (first wife): John’s mother. When she died, she left him a large fortune.

young Harry Dashwood: The young son of John and Fanny. The child so delights the uncle of Henry Dashwood that Norland Estate is left to him. Most of Fanny’s concerns about money center around Harry. She worries that if they give away even a pound, Harry will be impoverished.

Sir John Middleton: The owner of Barton Park, husband to Lady Middleton. He is pleasant and friendly, and does all he can to make the Dashwoods feel at home. He hunts, and that is his primary amusement. He also enjoys getting dances and parties together so the young people can enjoy themselves.

Lady Middleton: The wife of Sir John Middleton. She has two concerns: looking good to others, and the care of her children. She is very concerned with how people view her, and she always wants her house and her parties to be the best. She is cold and quiet, and the Dashwoods find her personality “repulsive.”

Miss Williams: The foster daughter of Colonel Brandon. Mrs. Jennings assumes she is his natural daughter, but she is not. She is the illegitimate child of the Colonel’s first love. After her mother died, the Colonel took on the care of Miss Williams. The fate of Miss Williams parallels that of her mother, Eliza. When away on a trip, Miss Williams meets Willoughby and the two run away together. He leaves her pregnant and penniless, and the Colonel must come to her aid. Willoughby’s benefactress is informed, and asks Willoughby to marry the girl. When he refuses, she disinherits him. This causes his removal from Barton, and his desire to marry a rich woman instead of Marianne.

Mrs. Smith: Willoughby’s benefactress, who lives at Allenham near Norland. She does not approve of Willoughby’s behavior toward Miss Williams, and when he will not marry her, she disinherits him.

Mr. Palmer: The husband of Charlotte Palmer. His estate is Cleveland. He is a rude man, who likes to imagine himself superior to everyone in the room. He treats his ridiculously cheerful wife worst of all, usually ignoring or insulting her, which she finds hilarious. Elinor imagines he is still angry that he married such an attractive but silly woman. Quite a common occurrence, and he should get over it and behave civilly.

Mrs. Charlotte Palmer: The wife of Mr. Palmer, and daughter of Mrs. Jennings. She is in the early stages of her first pregnancy. Mrs. Palmer is pretty, and she smiles constantly, unlike her sister Lady Middleton. Her excessive happiness can often be annoying.

Miss Grey: The wealthy young woman whom Willoughby marries. Jealous and vindictive, she writes the letter Willoughby sends to Marianne, making him recopy it in his own hand. Willoughby chose her because of her money, but he does not love her. He later greatly regrets choosing her over the sweet Marianne, but he let his pocketbook choose his wife.

Eliza: Colonel Brandon’s first love, whom he compares in spirit to Marianne. An orphan, the Colonel’s father was her guardian. They fell in love, but she was wealthy and his family wanted her to marry the Colonel’s older brother, because their family estate was in debt. The two try to elope in Scotland, but Eliza’s maid betrayed them. Eliza was locked up until she would agree to marry the Colonel’s brother, who did not love her. The loveless marriage hurt her terribly, and she soon divorces, which is scandalous for the times. The Colonel finds her in a debtor’s prison, sick with consumption. The Colonel helped her get out of prison and cared for her until she died. She left the Colonel her three-year-old daughter, whose father was unknown. The Colonel cared for her and loved her like his own daughter, and is saddened by what Willoughby has done to her.

Miss Morton: The woman Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny want Edward to marry. When they learn of his engagement to Lucy, they suggest she marry Edward’s brother instead. It is so unimportant who a person marries, so long as they have a big fortune, that they can pass fiancees around like objects.

Mr. Pratt: The uncle of Lucy Steele. He lives at Longstaple, and he tutored Edward at his home for several years. It was during this time that Edward and Lucy became acquainted and got engaged.

Dr. Davies: The supposed beaux of Ann Steele. She loves to go on and on about him, but nobody really cares.

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