In Sense and Sensibility what does Edward Ferrars's behavior say about his personality, or that of men of his generation, in general?
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The character of Edward Ferrars is far from an ideal consort to the main character. In presenting Edward, Jane Austen introduces us to a man who is described as "not handsome", and with
manners [that] required intimacy to make them pleasing.
This alone moves him away from the heroic and ideal love interest that many women would want for themselves. With the previous words, Jane Austen is basically saying that Edward is plain and possibly somewhat annoying.
Moreover, Edward is not to be deemed as "the sharpest tool in the shed" either. His engagement to Lucy Steele came to be from a combination of a strong-willed temperament, of emotional vulnerability, and also from a possible inner desire to displease his overwhelming mother; after all, she would have never approved of such a match. Also, Edward was not honest about his engagement to Elinor and was quite embarrassed to be "found out" during the sudden meeting between himself, Lucy, and Elinor in London. His secrecy denotes dishonesty, and the lack of honesty with both, Elinor and Lucy, color his character with a tone of chauvinistic carelessness.
When Edward comes back to Elinor he does not do it because he voluntarily broke the engagement between he and Lucy; it was Lucy's choice to switch Edward for his brother, Robert. This made Edward comfortably able to pursue Elinor. Yet, his character has no inkling to being as passionate about Elinor as the latter seems to be for him. What if Lucy had never switched Edward? Would Edward have gone all the way to the altar, even if against his own wishes?
In all, Edward Ferrars is not a hero. In any case, he is an anti-hero of a sort, and he is clearly not meant to shine. His behaviors are not those of a man who wishes to impress anybody except, perhaps, his mother so that she would not turn against him. He is far from a romantic ideal and not the best example of a smart man. However, it is the love that Elinor feels for him what makes him a likable character with "tolerable" qualities that could still render him worthy of the heroine of the novel.
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