Elinor Dashwood, a young woman representing the “sense” of the title. She is much attracted to Edward Ferrars, Mrs. John Dashwood’s brother, and believes him to be attracted to her. His seeming indifference puzzles her until she learns from Lucy Steele that the two are engaged but cannot marry because of Mrs. Ferrars’ opposition. Elinor arranges for a living for Edward when he shall have taken Holy Orders so that he and Lucy can be married. Elinor is led to believe that the marriage has taken place but soon learns that Lucy has jilted Edward in favor of his brother Robert, because Edward has been disinherited. Edward is forgiven by his mother, and he and Elinor are married.
Marianne Dashwood, Elinor’s younger sister, representing the “sensibility” of the title. She is emotional and impulsive, with highly romantic ideas of love and marriage. Beloved by Colonel Brandon, she considers him too old for her and falls in love with John Willoughby, an attractive young man. When the sisters visit London, Willoughby ignores Marianne, and this rejection makes her emotionally ill. While stopping at a country estate on her way home, she becomes physically ill as well. Willoughby, having heard of the illness, comes to confess to Elinor that his family, incensed at his seduction of Colonel Brandon’s ward, had cut off his allowance, and, having no money, he had been compelled to marry a rich wife. Cured of her infatuation, Marianne learns to appreciate Colonel Brandon’s good qualities and marries him.
John Willoughby, the villain of the story, a handsome and fashionable but dissipated young man. He encourages Marianne Dashwood to fall in love with him. It is revealed that he has seduced Colonel Brandon’s ward and, rejected by his family, been forced into a loveless but wealthy marriage.
John Dashwood, the half brother of Elinor and Marianne and owner of Norland Park. Because he is wealthy both by inheritance and by marriage, he had been urged by his father to provide for his stepmother and his half sisters; being cold, selfish, and easily influenced by his wife, he does nothing for his relatives.
Fanny Dashwood, his wife, the daughter of the rich Mrs. Ferrars. She is even colder and more selfish than her husband and persuades him not to carry out his plan of settling three thousand pounds on his half sisters and stepmother.
Mrs. Dashwood, the stepmother of John and mother of Elinor and Marianne. She is a warmhearted, impulsive woman, not endowed with much practical sense.
Mrs. Ferrars, the mother of Mrs. John Dashwood, Robert, and Edward. She is rich, ill-tempered, and domineering, using her money to coerce her children.
Robert Ferrars, her older son. He marries Lucy Steele.
Edward Ferrars, her younger son. He wishes to take Holy Orders. When young, he had become engaged to Lucy Steele and thus cannot woo Elinor Dashwood, whom he really loves. His mother, learning of his engagement, disinherits him, and Lucy jilts him for his brother. Thus freed, he is able to marry Elinor.
Lucy Steele, a vulgar, mercenary young woman, engaged to Edward Ferrars. When he is disinherited, she marries his brother Robert.
Anne Steele, her equally vulgar sister.
Colonel Brandon, a quiet man of thirty-five, in love with Marianne Dashwood. She considers him too old. When his ward is seduced by Willoughby, Marianne, horrified by the latter’s conduct, finally appreciates the colonel, and they are married.
Sir John Middleton
Sir John Middleton, a wealthy and hospitable man who befriends his Dashwood cousins.
Lady Middleton, his wife, who also is kind to the Dashwoods.
Mrs. Jennings, her mother, a kindly but silly old lady.
Mrs. Palmer, Lady Middleton’s sister, good-natured and rattlebrained.
Mr. Palmer, her husband, sensible but cold and sarcastic.