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Free Study Guide-Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CHAPTER 1

Summary

Mr. Henry Dashwood is leading a comfortable and happy life with his family at Norland Estate, which belongs to his uncle. He is the rightful heir to the property. However, after his uncle's death, it is revealed that his son, John Dashwood, and his grandson, Harry, are to inherit the estate. Mr. Henry Dashwood is obviously disappointed. He is concerned about the welfare of his wife and three daughters, who might have to lead a simple life with a very modest income. Before he dies, he calls his son, John, to his side and asks him to support Mrs. Dashwood and the girls. John decides to give his sisters three thousand pounds. In the meantime, Fanny Dashwood, John's wife, arrives at Norland Estate and soon takes charge of the house. She adopts an air of condescension towards her in-laws. Mrs. Dashwood feels slighted. Her daughters, especially Elinor, understand her plight but are helpless to improve their situation.


Notes

In this chapter Jane Austen presents the circumstances which place the main characters of the novel, Mrs. Dashwood and her children, in a difficult situation. The novel opens with the death of the elder Mr. Dashwood, who was a bachelor and the owner of the Norland Estate. His nephew, Henry, and his family have been living with him and looking after his needs. Naturally, they expect to be named the inheritors of the estate. However, they are shocked when the will is read after the old man's death. Mr. John Dashwood, the old man's grand nephew, and his son, Harry, are declared the inheritors of the property. The turn in the fortunes of Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters thus becomes the starting point for the novel.

The chapter also gives a family portrait of the Dashwoods. The reader is presented with sketches of all the characters, from the elder Mr. Dashwood to little Harry. Old Mr. Dashwood is a kind but eccentric man who leaves the best part of his property not to his nephew, who looked after him, but to his grand nephew, who was only a visitor in his house. The nephew, Henry Dashwood, is a good man with a 'cheerful and sanguine' temperament. Mrs. Dashwood is a sensitive woman with "a sense of honor so keen, a generosity so romantic" that she finds it difficult to tolerate the arrogant behavior of her daughter-in-law. Fanny Dashwood is an avaricious, 'narrow-minded and selfish' woman who does not mind hurting her in-laws' feelings. John Dashwood is "not an ill- disposed young man," but he is overpowered by his domineering wife. Elinor is good sense personified, while Marianne is idealistic and romantic. Margaret is a good-natured girl who resembles Marianne in her fanciful ideas. Harry is the spoiled child of Fanny and John Dashwood. His cunning tricks have won over the heart of old Mr. Dashwood and induced him to make the little boy the actual inheritor of Norland Estate.

This chapter also introduces the main theme of the novel: sense versus sensibility. Elinor is presented as a girl who possesses not only good looks but good sense, too, which makes her the decision-maker in the family. Marianne is the opposite of her in temperament. She is impulsive and is guided only by her sensibility (her emotion.)

CHAPTER 2

Summary

This chapter is a continuation of the previous chapter. The presence of Fanny Dashwood at Norland changes the atmosphere of the house. She acts as the mistress of the house and treats her in-laws as mere visitors. Mrs. Dashwood tolerates her daughter- in-law's imposing manner only because of John, who is civil to everyone. However, Fanny succeeds in changing her husband's decision to assist his sisters financially. Therefore, John, who had made up his mind to give his sisters three thousand pounds, now decides against giving them anything. He is obviously under the influence of his wife.

Notes

This short chapter exposes the true nature of Fanny. She is rude, selfish and greedy. She arrives at Norland and immediately takes control of the house, without being asked to do so. She is in a hurry to establish herself as the mistress of the house. Through her imposing manner, she hurts the feelings of her mother-in-law and places her in an awkward position. She is cunning and crafty as well. When John reveals to her his plans to give his sisters money, she is shocked. However, instead of expressing her anger to him, she slowly but surely manages to convince him against providing any aid to Mrs. Dashwood or her daughters. John is dim-witted and does not see through Fanny's scheming nature. In fact, he is thankful to her for her advice and is quite satisfied with her reasoning.

The scene between John and Fanny Dashwood is one of the most humorous scenes in the novel. John Dashwood, like a devoted husband, tells his wife about his plans to give three thousand pounds to his sisters. Fanny is aghast at his generosity, but she does not throw a fit or chastise him. She overpowers her husband with sweet talk, sly reasoning and mild assertion. She appears to agree with him but ends up disagreeing. When John mentions his promise to his father, Fanny argues, "Well, then, let something be done for them; but that something need not be three thousand pounds.

Consider . . . that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could ever be restored to our poor little boy--" She tries to sound reasonable and plays on his sentiments. John is too weak to resist her logic and sees sense in her reasoning. He finds her argument "irresistible. It gave to his intentions whatever of decision was wanting before: and he finally resolved, that it would be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for the widow and children of his father, than such kind of neighborly acts as his own wife pointed out."

It is evident how malleable John is in his wife's hands.

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