Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 14–15 (Volume 1, Chapters 14–15) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14

For days Mrs. Jennings keeps up the gossip about Colonel Brandon's sudden trip to London, guessing at personal and financial crises that may have befallen him. Elinor, meanwhile, wonders what agreement may exist between Marianne and Willoughby, who maintain a "strange kind of secrecy." Perhaps Willoughby doesn't yet control enough of his fortune to marry, Elinor speculates, since he seems to overspend his £600–700 income; certainly he behaves with affection toward Marianne and her family. One evening Willoughby objects to Mrs. Dashwood's plans to improve the cottage. "Not a stone must be added to its walls," he declares passionately, calling the cottage "faultless" because he has been so happy there. When Mrs. Dashwood assures Willoughby she won't change the cottage, he asks that she and her daughters never change and think kindly of him always.

Chapter 15

The next day Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret, and Elinor visit Lady Middleton while Marianne stays home, secretly hoping to steal a few moments alone with Willoughby before dinner. When the family returns, Willoughby's carriage and servant are outside; inside, they see Marianne fleeing upstairs in tears. Willoughby feigns good spirits as he announces his aunt, Mrs. Smith, needs him to go to London; he might be gone for a year. He leaves, clearly distressed, saying, "I will not torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it is impossible for me now to enjoy."

Elinor is puzzled and upset: Did an engagement ever exist between Marianne and Willoughby? She worries that Marianne may overindulge in extreme grief and asks Mrs. Dashwood if she thinks the lovers might have quarreled. Mrs. Dashwood suspects that Mrs. Smith has learned of Willoughby's attachment to Marianne and, disapproving, has ordered him away from Devonshire. Elinor wants to make allowances for Willoughby's actions but insists his behavior toward Marianne hasn't been entirely honorable. Their argument escalates until Elinor agrees that if the couple write to each other often, she will set aside her suspicions about Willoughby. Marianne continues to grieve, later leaving the dinner table early because she is so upset.

Analysis

Earlier the narrator stated that Willoughby is just the kind of man to win Marianne's heart. The feelings Willoughby expresses about Barton Cottage in Chapter 14 reveal one reason for this—he shares her sensibility. His demands that the cottage and its inhabitants remain the same are dramatic, childish, and self-centered: the family must never change, even for their betterment, to suit him.

In Chapter 15 Willoughby's blushing confusion before he leaves puzzles the family deeply, leading to a spirited argument in which Mrs. Dashwood casts about for justifications to excuse Willoughby. She tries to shift responsibility to Mrs. Smith and to defend a view of Willoughby and Marianne's relationship that, Elinor realizes, is as unrealistic as the one Marianne holds. Chapter 15 contains the sharpest contrast between romantic hopes and realistic doubts seen so far in the novel and calls into question Mrs. Dashwood's ability to see clearly what is happening to Marianne and to help her daughter through the crisis. For her part Elinor suppresses her preference for sense over sensibility for Marianne's sake and backs down from her suspicions about Willoughby's secretive actions and sudden departure. But she doesn't forget them. Her concerns over what she perceives as Willoughby's secrecy remind the reader that truth is a necessary foundation for trust, just as trust is a necessary foundation for love.

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