even if the company there were more enjoyable. As it is, Elinor and Marianne are subjected to constant teasing from Mrs. Jennings, coldness from Lady Middleton, and a complete absence of any sensible conversation from anyone except Colonel Brandon. While the Dashwoods are below the Middletons in terms of wealth and social status, they are far above them in terms of manners and intelligence. They find themselves in the unpleasant position of being under an obligation to people whose company it is impossible to enjoy. Marianne is less tolerant of the situation than Eleanor: she tells Edward Ferrars when he is visiting them that, "we could not be more unfortunately situated" (p. 114) and remarks pertinently that

"the rent of this cottage is said to be low; but we have it on very hard terms, if we are to dine at the park whenever anyone is staying either with them, or with us." (p. 133)

Sir John's original kind action, then, has placed Elinor and Marianne in a position of dependence from which they do not escape until the very end of the novel. It is notable how often they find themselves having to do things they would rather not do; they are more powerless than any of Austen's other heroines. This is made clear through their relationship with the Miss Steeles. Elinor decides immediately after meeting them that she does not want to know them better; however, she is not able to act on this decision. The Miss Steeles are determined to become "better acquainted" with Elinor and Marianne,

"And to be better acquainted therefore, Elinor soon found was their inevitable lot, for as Sir John was entirely on the side of the Miss Steeles, their party would be too strong for opposition, and that kind of intimacy must be submitted to, which consists of sitting together for an hour or two in the same room almost every day." (p. 146-47)

Similarly, Elinor and Marianne are forced to spend time with Anne and Lucy Steele in London just after Mrs. Palmer has had a baby:

"This event, highly important to Mrs. Jennings' happiness, produced a temporary alteration in the disposal of her time, and influenced, in a like degree, the engagements of her young friends; for as she wished to be as much as possible with Charlotte, she went thither every morning as soon as she was dressed, and did not return until late in the evening; and the Miss Dashwoods, at the particular request of the Middletons, spent the whole of every day in Conduit-street. For their own comfort, they would have much rather remained, at least all the morning, in Mrs. Jennings' house; but it was not a thing to be urged against the wishes of everybody. Their hours were therefore made over to Lady Middleton and the two Miss Steeles... " (p. 250)

Austen then goes on to explain the reasons why none of these people thus thrown together really want to see each other at all. Elinor and Marianne, by being at the top of the hierarchy of manners, are implicitly suffering the most. Their discomfort and lack of control over their own lives finds an apt metaphor in the description of the party at which Marianne is slighted by Willoughby:

"They... entered a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When they had paid their tribute of politeness by curtsying to the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and take their share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add." (p. 189)

The crowded nature of the room and the public nature of the event taking place in it mean that when Willoughby tries to ignore Marianne she cannot move directly to him and demand an explanation. She can move no more easily through a crowded room than she can cut through the complex web of social rules which forbid speaking honestly and acting openly. There is a similar scene in Northanger Abbey, in which Austen emphasises Catherine Morland's nervousness at making her first appearance in Bath society by making the assembly at which she does so extremely crowded and restricting. As well as showing the impact of external factors on her heroines, Austen is making their physical discomfort stand for their mental and emotional discomfort.

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