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We begin with a history of the Dashwood family of Sussex, England: the head of the family, old Mr. Dashwood, dies and distributes his estate among his surviving relatives: his nephew, Henry Dashwood, and his children. The children include one son, John, from a first marriage, and three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, from his second.
Even though John and his wife already have plenty of money, old Mr. Dashwood bequeaths the family estate, Norland, to the couple's young son. However, it seems that everything will be fine for Henry and his family, since they receive a good share of the fortune.
Tragically, this arrangement doesn't last long – Henry Dashwood dies, and his estate, including the money he'd recently inherited from his uncle, is re-distributed amongst his wife and children.
John and his wife step in here to take control of Norland. Though his father urged him to take care of his stepmother and half-sisters, John's greedy wife convinces him to give the women as little financial help as possible.
Basically, John Dashwood and his wife move right in to Norland after the funeral, and give Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters no choice but to leave their home and find a new one.
Mrs. Dashwood, who, it must be said, is something of a flighty lady, wants to storm off right away, but her sensible eldest daughter, Elinor, convinces her to stay until they can figure out a new situation.
The middle daughter, Marianne, is just as clever as her older sister, but she's far more emotional – no degree of cleverness can keep her romantic notions in check.
About the youngest girl, Margaret, not much as said – she's as emotional as Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne, but nowhere near as smart.