Now that John has given his approval to his sisters' new friends, Fanny deigns to visit them. She and Lady Middleton, who are both cold, fashionable, and selfish, immediately hit it off. The good-natured Mrs. Jennings, however, immediately dislikes Fanny.
Elinor wants to know what Edward's deal is, but can't ask. Fanny, of course, doesn't want to bring up Edward in front of her sister-in-law.
Elinor ends up hearing about Edward from Lucy, who stops by later to complain that she hasn't seen him, even though he's in town.
Soon enough, Edward himself stops by, leaving his calling card at the Jennings abode on Berkeley Street.
Fanny and John like the Middletons so much that they decide to throw a dinner party for them, including Mrs. Jennings, Elinor, Marianne, Colonel Brandon, and the dreaded Mrs. Ferrars (Fanny and Edward's mother) – as well as the two Miss Steeles.
Elinor is very interested in how this party will play out, though she's not exactly looking forward to it.
The Miss Steeles, it turns out, are on the guest list simply because they're guests of the Middletons, not because Fanny and John are interested in them.
Elinor doesn't know how she will be able to bear the discomfort of Mrs. Ferrars, Edward, Lucy, and herself all in one room.
Lucy tells Elinor that, fortunately, Edward probably won't be there – she thinks he won't be able to hide his affection for her in front of the group.
Finally, the day of the party arrives. Lucy is all aflutter with anxiety about meeting her potential mother-in-law. Elinor restrains herself from saying that it's most likely to be Miss Morton's future mother-in-law, not Lucy's.
Mrs. Ferrars sounds like a wholly unpleasant woman – she takes an instant dislike to Elinor.
Elinor, from her current position outside of the Edward-Lucy-Miss Morton love triangle, doesn't really care that Mrs. Ferrars doesn't like her. She's amused to see that both Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars dote upon Lucy, not knowing that she's actually the one who endangers their plans to marry Edward off to Miss Morton.
The dinner is extravagant, and demonstrates the great wealth (and pretension) of the Ferrars family. The whole event is grand but still unremarkable – and definitely not very much fun.
The ladies and gentlemen separate after dinner; the guys go talk about sports, while the women retreat to the drawing room to chat about children. They quibble about which of the Middleton and Dashwood children are taller.
The gentlemen rejoin the ladies for coffee, and John praises some screens that Elinor painted that are on display. He conspicuously asks Colonel Brandon for his opinion. The Colonel admires them, as does everyone else. When they get to Mrs. Ferrars, though, she dismisses them rather rudely, upon finding that Elinor painted them.
Fanny, feeling torn, says that they are very pretty – but Miss Morton paints better. This is what her mother wants to hear; she emphasizes how good Miss Morton is at everything.
Marianne stands up for her sister, saying that Miss Morton doesn't matter – after all, it's Elinor they're concerned with!
This is a rather shocking exclamation, and everyone is thrown off by it. Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny are both infuriated.
Marianne can't control her feelings; she hugs Elinor, telling her not to let everyone bring her down, then bursts into tears. Everyone notices (of course!) and a big fuss ensues. Marianne calms down after a few minutes, but still looks seriously stressed.
John comments rather cattily to Colonel Brandon that Marianne is very fragile – after all, it must be stressful to know that one's youth and beauty have already faded.