Course Hero. "Sense and Sensibility Study Guide." Course Hero. 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sense-and-Sensibility/>.
Course Hero. (2016, August 17). Sense and Sensibility Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 22, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sense-and-Sensibility/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Sense and Sensibility Study Guide." August 17, 2016. Accessed April 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sense-and-Sensibility/.
Course Hero, "Sense and Sensibility Study Guide," August 17, 2016, accessed April 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sense-and-Sensibility/.
Some editions of Sense and Sensibility number the chapters consecutively, while others divide the text into three volumes. In this guide, chapters have been combined into groups for the purpose of analysis.
Henry Dashwood, owner of Norland Park, has a son, John, by a previous marriage and three daughters—Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret—by his current wife. Mr. Dashwood inherited Norland from his uncle, who "left [the estate] to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of the bequest." Mr. Dashwood's uncle arranged that Norland would pass to John and then his son after Mr. Dashwood's death; John also inherited his mother's fortune. The will's terms prevent Mr. Dashwood from leaving the estate to his second wife and their daughters. Mr. Dashwood has the estate for a year before becoming unwell. After John promises to meet the financial needs of his stepmother and half-sisters, Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving John the estate and Mrs. Dashwood and their daughters £10,000. John means to keep his promise, thinking to give his sisters £3,000, but after he and his wife, Fanny, move into Norland, tension between Fanny and Mrs. Dashwood builds. Oldest daughter Elinor uses her sound judgment to persuade her mother to endure Fanny's hostility and stay at Norland, since Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters have nowhere else to live. The chapter ends by describing each Dashwood daughter.
Fanny, now mistress of Norland, treats the widowed Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters like visitors in what was for years their home while whittling away at John's plans to support them. She argues that treating Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters generously will rob their little boy of what should rightfully one day be his. She reminds him that "when money is once parted with, it can never return" and convinces him to reduce his generosity from £3,000 to gifts of fish and game. Fanny complains that Mrs. Dashwood already owns the good breakfast china from her and Mr. Dashwood's former home, Stanhill, which is much too fine for whatever house she ends up in. John gives in, deciding that it is unnecessary and even "highly indecorous" to behave generously toward his stepmother and half-sisters except for the sort of acts that a neighbor might extend.
As Mrs. Dashwood recovers from her grief, she looks for a suitable home near Norland, expecting her stepson's assistance. As for Fanny, the better Mrs. Dashwood knows her, the less she can bear her. But Fanny's brother, Edward, a "gentlemanlike and pleasing young man" who is spending time at Norland, is another story. Mrs. Dashwood doesn't want to separate Edward and Elinor, who she thinks will marry soon. Edward is not a handsome, charming beau, but he is intelligent, educated, and suited to Elinor. He may also become very rich. However, his mother controls his considerable potential inheritance; Edward is "the eldest son of a man who had died very rich." Marianne, who prefers a more romantic view of courtship, can't understand what attracts Elinor to the shy, restrained Edward.
The first three chapters of Sense and Sensibility introduce important characters and reveal their natures, set the scene, and explain central conflicts in a way that gets readers thinking about important themes.
In particular, readers meet the Dashwood family. The narrator notes that Henry Dashwood's son and heir, John, is "not an ill-disposed young man" unless "ill-disposed" can be defined as "rather cold hearted, and rather selfish," which of course it can. But more than that, John proves to be a weak man, easily manipulated by his greedy wife, Fanny. Upon becoming mistress of Norland, Fanny quickly demonstrates her extreme selfishness. Readers notice in these descriptions that the narrator is observant, wryly comic, and unsparing of characters who fail to live up to decent, kind behavior. The narrator is not neutral about characters, showing their foibles and flaws with particular strength when they behave selfishly toward others. Fanny, for example, dismisses John's promise to care for his stepmother and half-sisters by declaring that Henry Dashwood had been light-headed on his deathbed and "had no [real] idea of your giving them any money at all." Chapter 2 examines how Fanny questions John's intentions until she convinces him that his stepmother and sisters are more likely to present him with gifts than he is to support them.
Thus wealth—along with the system that allows families to gather and maintain it—inserts itself as a driver of the plot immediately. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, both old enough to enter the marriage market, are painfully aware that they must balance the desire to marry men they love with the need to secure their financial future. Elinor's attachment to Edward Ferrars seems to satisfy both requirements; like her, he is practical and composed, and as the older son, he is provided for, "depend[ing] on the will of his mother." But for romantic Marianne, only a man who can share her emotions and be charmed by the same books and music she enjoys is a worthy lover, regardless of his financial hopes.
The first chapters also introduce Austen's narrative voice, which is characterized by verbal irony and clever observations about her characters and society in general: for example, "Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favorite with any of her husband's family; but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of showing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it." Far from being a favorite, in fact, Fanny was never particularly liked by Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters; now that they see and interact with her on a daily basis, they are learning just how unpleasantly she can behave.