The Dashwoods of Norland Park
Norland Park was a fine old house in the county of Sussex.
The house and the land around it had belonged to the Dashwood family for very many years. For hundreds of years, members of the Dashwood family had lived at Norland Park.
Eleven years before the start of this story, the owner of Norland Park — Mr Dashwood — invited his nephew and his family to live with him. Mr Dashwood was an old man and he had never married and had children, so his nephew was his heir. The name of the old man’s nephew was Henry Dashwood. Old Mr Dashwood wrote in his will that when he died, Henry Dashwood would inherit the property.
Henry had married twice. His first wife had died several years after their son, John, was born. Henry and his second wife had three daughters — Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. Old Mr Dashwood liked his nephew, his nephew’s wife, and their young daughters very much and for many years they all lived happily together at Norland Park.
Old Mr Dashwood died and Henry and his family read his will. They were very surprised at what they read there. Only a few years before his death, old Mr Dashwood had changed the words of his will.
John Dashwood, Henry’s son, was about twenty-seven years old and he was rich. He had inherited money from his mother and he had also married a rich woman. John and his wife, Fanny, had one child — a boy called Harry. Harry was now four years old. Little Harry had often visited Norland Park with his parents and old Mr Dashwood had become so fond of the young child that he had changed his will. The will said that while Henry Dashwood lived, he was the old man’s heir, and Henry and his family could live at Norland Park. But the will also said that when Henry died, his wife and his three daughters would not inherit the property. Instead, the house and the land would belong to little Harry Dashwood — John Dashwood’s son. Henry’s second wife and his three daughters would have nothing.
‘Do not worry, my dear,’ Henry said to his wife after old Mr Dashwood’s funeral. ‘Norland Park is our home now and I hope that it will be for many years. Our daughters will get married one day and they will look after us. We will all have many happy years here together.’
However, a year after old Mr Dashwood’s death, Henry himself became very ill. When he knew that he was dying, he sent for his son, John. John Dashwood came to Norland Park immediately and stood by his father’s bed.
‘My dear John, you must look after your sisters and their mother,’ Henry Dashwood said. ‘Please promise me that you will do this. Your stepmother and her girls will not have much money. When I am dead, Norland Park will belong to your son. But he is a very young child. You will be looking after everything. Promise me that you will help my dear wife and daughters.’
John Dashwood was not an unkind young man, but he was very careful with money.
‘Yes, father,’ John said. ‘I promise that I will look after them.’
A few days later Henry Dashwood died and, very soon, everything changed. As soon as Henry’s funeral had taken place, Fanny Dashwood, John Dashwood’s wife, arrived at Norland Park. Little Harry and all her servants were with her. The house was Fanny’s home now and she wanted to make sure that Mrs Dashwood and her girls understood this.
Fanny Dashwood was a cold and very selfish woman. She had no kind feelings and she only thought of herself. She did not care about Mrs Dashwood and her daughters, but she was polite to them at first.
‘You must all stay at Norland Park for as long as you wish,’ Fanny told them. ‘John and I will make changes, of course. But you will always be welcome guests here.’
Mrs Dashwood was now a guest in her own home and she was very unhappy. She had very little money and she was dependent on John and Fanny. Fanny now gave orders to the servants and she decided how much money was spent. Mrs Dashwood had never liked Fanny, and she did not want to live at Norland Park any longer. But her eldest daughter, Elinor, persuaded her to stay.
‘John is our brother, mama,’ Elinor said. ‘We do not know him very well. We should spend some time with him. It will be better to stay here for a few months. Later, we can find a smaller house to live in, and remain friends with John too.’
Elinor Dashwood had a pretty face and a fine figure. She was a kind and sensible girl. She always thought about things carefully. She had strong feelings, but she had good sense too. She had learnt to control her feelings.
Marianne, Elinor’s younger sister, was clever, interesting and beautiful. She felt very strongly about everything and her feelings were always clear to everyone. Sensibility was more important than good sense to Marianne. Marianne was either very happy or completely miserable.
Mrs Dashwood behaved in the same way as her daughter, Marianne. She could not hide her feelings easily. Both Marianne and Mrs Dashwood were now very miserable. They could not believe that they would ever be happy again.