Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 16–18 (Volume 1, Chapters 16–18) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 16

After a sleepless night, the next day Marianne walks to Allenham, "indulging the recollection of past enjoyment" and feeding her heartache; that evening, she spends hours at the piano playing her and Willoughby's favorite songs. In a few days she becomes calmer, though still melancholy, but no letters from Willoughby arrive. Elinor wants Mrs. Dashwood to ask Marianne about the engagement, but their mother objects to the pain the question will cause. Marianne expresses confidence in Willoughby.

A week or so after Willoughby's departure, Edward visits Barton Park at last. The sisters spot him while walking and welcome him, but he seems confused and detached. They speak of Norland and compare its grounds to those of Barton Park—restrained small talk that leaves Marianne surprised and Elinor privately "vexed and half-angry."

Chapter 17

Edward becomes more like his old self under Mrs. Dashwood's welcome but is still in low spirits. He admits his hopes for his future clash with his mother's hopes. He wants a private life and has "no wish to be distinguished," while his mother has a public career in mind for him. When Elinor points out that one must have enough money to live, saying "wealth ... has much to do with [happiness]," Marianne argues that "beyond a competence, [money] can afford no real satisfaction"; high values are the source of happiness. Marianne shows her naïveté by stating that she is not extravagant. She could make do with about £2,000 per year, a sizeable amount that is, Elinor realizes, enough to cover expenses at Combe Magna, Willoughby's estate. The sisters dream about suddenly becoming wealthy, and Edward jokes that they would buy more drawings, books, and music than London has to sell. Their banter takes a serious turn as Edward reminds Marianne of "[her] favorite maxim, that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life." Elinor and Edward discuss whether Marianne is more serious and the difficulty of judging people's character accurately. When Edward blames his shyness for his discomfort in public settings, Marianne accuses him of being reserved, and he blushes and remains silent for the rest of the evening.

Chapter 18

Edward's unhappiness worries Elinor. In the morning after Edward's walk to the village, he, Marianne, and Elinor discuss the countryside. Marianne notices that Edward wears a ring set with a lock of hair. When she asks whether the lock is Fanny's, thinking it Elinor's, Edward blushes painfully and says it is. Yet Elinor notices that the lock is exactly the color of her own hair, although she doesn't know how Edward got it. Later Sir John and Mrs. Jennings arrive, suspect Edward is Elinor's beau, and invite everyone to tea. Sir John announces a dance and regrets that Willoughby can't attend. Edward infers from Marianne's blushing that Willoughby matters to her and teases her gently, but her revealing response causes him to regret his little joke about what is a more serious attachment than he anticipated.

Analysis

Not only do these chapters bring Elinor and Edward together again and add intrigue to Edward's attentions, but they also offer a critique of sensibility. First, Marianne's sadness about being parted from Willoughby allows the narrator to mock her overwrought emotions at the beginning of Chapter 16: if she had slept well, she'd think it "very inexcusable"; if she woke refreshed, she'd have felt ashamed. Sleeping heartily is not how a parted lover would act, to Marianne's mind. It might seem as though she wallows in her sorrow, partially enjoying it. Marianne is genuinely sad over Willoughby's departure, but her sensibility causes her to behave as she imagines a romantic heroine would. She has the luxury of exaggerated self-pity because she thinks she has no reason to doubt that Willoughby loves her and will be back.

The chapters also poke fun at romantic, even gothic, sensibilities about nature. In Chapter 16 Marianne speaks, for example, of the "transporting sensation" of delight she felt when she saw dead leaves at Norland, though everyone else regarded them as an unsightly nuisance. She recommends a view of Barton Park to Edward, coaxing him to see beauty and grandeur. Edward, in contrast, sees all of what is there, including both beautiful countryside and "a very dirty lane." Later, in Chapter 18, Marianne tries again to persuade Edward that he must learn to be moved by nature's beauty. Edward rejects the romantic view of the "picturesque" and prefers to see wholesome trees and neat villages. Marianne looks at Elinor with compassion, but Elinor only laughs at her sister's concerns.

Marianne's belief expressed in Chapter 17 "that no one can ever be in love more than once in their life" reminds the reader of Elinor's conversation with Brandon in Chapter 11, when he asks, "Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice ... to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?" This is another instance of sensibility on Marianne's part that has yet to be tempered by sense. As the novel progresses, she will learn what Brandon has already learned: that wisdom comes with experience and that neither overwrites the capacity for love.

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