Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 12–13 (Volume 1, Chapters 12–13) | Summary



Chapter 12

The next day, Marianne tells Elinor that Willoughby has given her a horse—an extravagant and inappropriate gift. Lost in a "dream of felicity," Marianne dismisses the significant expenses of keeping a horse (stables, a second horse, another servant) and the questionable propriety of such a gift from a man who is not her fiancé, but Elinor convinces her Mrs. Dashwood would be inconvenienced by the gift. Elinor later overhears Marianne explain to Willoughby the financial burden the horse would impose. When he agrees to keep the horse at his estate till Marianne can claim it in a "more lasting home," Elinor assumes Willoughby and Marianne are secretly engaged. The next day, Margaret tells Elinor that Marianne allowed Willoughby to cut a lock of her hair, further persuading Elinor of the engagement. Later, Margaret nearly reveals the name of Elinor's beau to the Middletons. Lady Middleton smoothly changes the topic to the stormy weather, and Brandon joins in. A picnic is planned for the next day.

Chapter 13

Before the Middletons and their guests can leave for the picnic the next morning, a letter arrives during breakfast for Colonel Brandon. Clearly upset, he announces he must leave at once for London on urgent, but secret, business. Since the Whitwell estate where the group plans to picnic belongs to Brandon's brother-in-law, they can't go without him, and the outing must be postponed despite protests by Willoughby and Marianne, who criticize Brandon for spoiling the fun.

Before Brandon departs, he asks Elinor whether she and her sisters will be in London that winter and, when she says no, bows to Marianne and leaves. Immediately, gossip ensues led by Mrs. Jennings's hints about a Miss Williams, who she says is Brandon's illegitimate daughter. The party goes driving in separate carriages, with Willoughby and Marianne paired off. At dinner Mrs. Jennings teases Marianne about having spent her morning touring Allenham with Willoughby, an improper outing if her allegation is true. When Elinor confronts Marianne later, Marianne's anger flares. Had her behavior been immodest, she says, she would have been "sensible of it ... for we always know when we are acting wrong," yet she experienced nothing but pleasure in the outing. Marianne deflects Elinor's criticism by plunging into a delighted description of the grand house she expects to be hers one day.


Elinor is the character whose sense guides many decisions in the novel, while Marianne's sensibility provides the emotional and sometimes impractical approach. However, Marianne is not lost to reason, as these chapters reveal. For example, though at first she rejects Elinor's claim that upkeep for the horse Willoughby gives her will burden their mother's finances, she later realizes the truth and persuades Willoughby to keep the horse. Marianne is young and in love for the first time. But she is not a silly, unkind, or wicked girl—just immature. She can check her behavior when necessary. In addition, though she behaves immodestly with Willoughby—allowing him to address her by her first name, a privilege reserved in Austen's day for family and very close friends, and to cut a lock of her hair—when Elinor confronts her about the trip to Allenham, her defensiveness suggests that she's aware of her improper choices.

These chapters also develop the theme of trust and truth. Whatever urgent matter calls Brandon to London, his choice not to discuss it leaves him open to gossip and speculation, which reflect badly on him. He's not the only character with suspicious secrets; Willoughby seems to enjoy the secretive nature of his time with Marianne, whispering little jokes and insults to her at Barton Park, driving her to Allenham unchaperoned, and asking her to take her hair down in his presence—a privilege generally reserved for a husband. Their behavior is at the other extreme from that of Elinor and Edward's reserved relationship, and hints, given the social expectations of the day, at threats to Marianne's reputation.

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