The novel can be summarized by listing a whole bunch of doubles: thematic, ideological, charaterological, etc. In short, Marianne Dashwood, with much “sensibility,” is educated into being more sensible, like her sister, Elinor Dashwood. The parallel lives of these sisters, one marrying the reserved, old Colonel Brandon and the other the somewhat irresolute, flaky Edward Ferrars, constitute the plot. Willoughby, who picks up and drops Marianne, is a free radical of sorts, playing double to many different characters. How he is read determines the interpretation of the novel as whole (much like the reading of Heathcliff determines Wuthering Heights).
The setting moves between Delaford, Barton, and London, the latter being completely fraught with chaotic social upheavel and emotional crises. THe countryside is pastoral in all the expected ways. There is a long discourse on COTTAGES, which are at once picturesque and genuinely authentic emblems of simple, rustic, moral living, but also (in Robert Ferrars’ judgment) objects of tourism and vacation…
The novel is in dialogue with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Elinor and Brandon epitomize Smith’s ideal of deservedness and propriety, concealing emotion and accommodating expressiveness according to the given situation—the betterment of the community is first and oremost. Marianne (with a name that harkens back to the French revolution and the jacobins) is dangerously individualistic, and this also turns out to be Willoughby’s error, rather malicious deceit. Likewise, Fanny Dashwood (wife of Elinor and Marianne’s brother John) and Lucy Steele (one time lover of Edward and later wide of Robert) are portraits of individualistic and selfish desire gone unchecked. [Put this in dialogue with the shifting attitudes to community in Wuthering Heights as it moves between romantic and Victorian mores…)
Connect Smith with larger tropes of concealment, veiling, propriety, etc.
Narration: Imbedded narrators include Willoughby (competent self-narrator), Brandon (awkward narrator), Mrs. Jennings (rumor mill), and others. Austen imbeds these narrators and uses them to focalize and counter-focalize the action. There is also an explicit training of the reader, especially in the mode of correct comparison—which demands not only the correct drawing of contrasts, but also the correct choice of binary. Reader is trained alongside Marianne.
Cause and Effect (Cynthia Chase) is complicated in the novel.
Eliza, an orphan loved by Brandon and disabused by Willougby, is yet another portrait of the problems of urbanism. Counterpoint Petter Brooks’ claim that orphan status represents social mobility and possibility rather than misery.
Edward, like Daniel Deronda, is unemployed and undirected man to begin with, and needs other to set his course for him. This is the case with many characters: their happy outcomes are shownt o be the explicit result of a social web that is not entirely savory. Elinor and Edward’s union is premised on Lucy’s selfish ambition.