Colonel Brandon's partiality for Marianne, which had so early been discovered by his friends, now first became perceptible to Elinor, when it ceased to be noticed by them. Their attention and wit were drawn off to his more fortunate rival; and the raillery which the other had incurred before any partiality arose, was removed when his feelings began really to call for the ridicule so justly annexed to sensibility. Elinor was obliged, though unwillingly, to believe that the sentiments which Mrs. Jennings had assigned him for her own satisfaction, were now actually excited by her sister; and that however a general resemblance of disposition between the parties might forward the affection of Mr. Willoughby, an equally striking opposition of character was no hindrance to the regard of Colonel Brandon. She saw it with concern; for what could a silent man of five-and-thirty hope, when opposed by a very lively one of five-and-twenty? and as she could not even wish him successful, she heartily wished him indifferent. (10.11)
The contrast between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby is painful – it demonstrates the prejudices rampant in the society Austen wrote about, that are still going strong in our own. Despite the fact that Willoughby is hiding a dastardly past (which everyone finds out about soon enough), his outer charm and pizzazz is enough to make him more successful than good, solid, dependable Colonel Brandon.
The manner in which Miss Steele had spoken of Edward, increased her curiosity; for it struck her, as being rather ill-natured, and suggested the suspicion of that lady's knowing, or fancying herself to know, something to his disadvantage. But her curiosity was unavailing, for no farther notice was taken of Mr. Ferrars's name by Miss Steele when alluded to or even openly mentioned by Sir John. (21.24)
We first suspect that there's something going on between Edward and the Steeles here – Elinor, who's already set against the two newcomers, clearly feels both curious and somewhat antagonistic towards them, which is unusual for her.
"I am sure you think me very strange, for inquiring about her in such a way;" said Lucy, eyeing Elinor attentively as she spoke; "but perhaps there may be reasons -- I wish I might venture; but however I hope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to be impertinent." (22.5)
Lucy Steele clearly knows just what she's up to here, from the way she's "eyeing Elinor attentively" – knowing that Elinor's interested in Edward, her decision to tell her rival of her secret engagement is pointed and intentional.
"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "what do you mean? Are you acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be -- -- ?" And she did not feel much delighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.
"No;" replied Lucy, "not to Mr. Robert Ferrars -- I never saw him in my life; but," fixing her eyes upon Elinor, "to his elder brother."
What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment, that would have been as painful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of the assertion attended it. She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement, unable to divine the reason or object of such a declaration; and though her complexion varied, she stood firm in incredulity, and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon. (22.7)
This is totally a veiled declaration of war – and the thing is, the conflict between Elinor and Lucy has to play out in outwardly civil forms! Lucy knows that Elinor can't strike back at her, since she has nothing to go on; Elinor herself is at a total loss for what to do in the face of this declaration.
The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him to everything but her beauty and good nature; but the four succeeding years -- years, which if rationally spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must have opened his eyes to her defects of education: while the same period of time, spent on her side in inferior society and more frivolous pursuits, had perhaps robbed her of that simplicity, which might once have given an interesting character to her beauty. (23.2)
This is about as catty as we see Elinor get. By objectively evaluating Lucy's suitability for Edward (or rather, attempting to be objective), she determines that Lucy is in all ways inferior. By implication, she herself is superior and fit for Edward's love.
That Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her, appeared very probable; it was plain that Edward had always spoken highly in her praise, not merely from Lucy's assertion, but from her venturing to trust her on so short a personal acquaintance, with a secret so confessedly and evidently important. And even Sir John's joking intelligence must have had some weight. But indeed, while Elinor remained so well assured within herself of being really beloved by Edward, it required no other consideration of probabilities to make it natural that Lucy should be jealous; and that she was so, her very confidence was a proof. What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there be, but that Elinor might be informed by it of Lucy's superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him in future? She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of her rival's intentions, and while she was firmly resolved to act by her as every principle of honour and honesty directed, to combat her own affection for Edward and to see him as little as possible; she could not deny herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy that her heart was unwounded. (23.6)
Elinor knows her place in this competition; even though she's the better woman by far, Lucy's the clear winner, and there's nothing anybody can do about it. She just has to grin and bear it.
Lucy went on. "I am rather of a jealous temper, too, by nature, and from our different situations in life, from his being so much more in the world than me, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion, to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had been the slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met, or any lowness of spirits that I could not account for, or if he had talked more of one lady than another, or seemed in any respect less happy at Longstaple than he used to be. I do not mean to say that I am particularly observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such a case I am sure I could not be deceived." (24.6)
Lucy issues a clear warning to Elinor here – back off, sister!
On Elinor its effect was very different. She began immediately to determine that Edward, who lived with his mother, must be asked, as his mother was, to a party given by his sister; and to see him for the first time after all that [had] passed, in the company of Lucy! -- she hardly knew how she could bear it!
These apprehensions perhaps were not founded entirely on reason, and certainly not at all on truth. They were relieved however, not by her own recollection, but by the good will of Lucy, who believed herself to be inflicting a severe disappointment when she told her that Edward certainly would not be in Harley Street on Tuesday, and even hoped to be carrying the pain still farther by persuading her, that he was kept away by that extreme affection for herself, which he could not conceal when they were together. (34.10-11)
Lucy, apparently, simply can't resist the urge to twist the knife at every possible opportunity. Elinor, in order to keep within the bounds of social convention, has no choice but to simply keep taking it.
"Perhaps, Miss Marianne," cried Lucy, eager to take some revenge on her, "you think young men never stand upon engagements, if they have no mind to keep them, little as well as great." (35.27)
Ooh, ouch. That's a low blow on Lucy's part – she's starting to take her jealousy out on Marianne as well as Elinor, with this personal jab at Marianne's breakup with Willoughby.
When the note was shewn to Elinor, as it was within ten minutes after its arrival, it gave her, for the first time, some share in the expectations of Lucy; for such a mark of uncommon kindness, vouchsafed on so short an acquaintance, seemed to declare that the good-will towards her arose from something more than merely malice against herself, and might be brought, by time and address, to do everything that Lucy wished. Her flattery had already subdued the pride of Lady Middleton, and made an entry into the close heart of Mrs. John Dashwood; and these were effects that laid open the probability of greater. (36.26)
Uh oh… Elinor starts to worry that perhaps Lucy might be right – it looks like her cunning ways are winning over the Ferrars. Is it possible that wedding bells are in the near future for Lucy and Edward?
Edward made no answer; but when she had turned away her head, gave her a look so serious, so earnest, so uncheerful, as seemed to say, that he might hereafter wish the distance between the parsonage and the mansion-house much greater. (40.16)
This is a rather odd reaction to the news that someone (namely Colonel Brandon) has come along out of the blue and saved one's future from ruin. However, it's the best reaction Edward can come up with – might he be jealous of the relationship between Elinor and the Colonel?