Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 21–22 (Volume 1, Chapters 21–22) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 21

The next visitors to Barton Park are Anne and Lucy Steele, sisters to whom the Middletons are distantly related. Sir John invites the Dashwoods to meet them. They find Anne is a plain woman of nearly thirty, and pretty Lucy is in her early twenties. The Steeles act overly pleasantly to both Lady Middleton and her children, an attitude Elinor finds prudent. When the two pairs of sisters are alone, Anne asks questions about potential beaux that offend Elinor as too personal, and Elinor silently judges Anne's "vulgar freedom and folly" and Lucy's "shrewd look." Yet Sir John, pleased to have brought the young ladies together, tries to promote their friendship by arranging daily socializing and filling the Steeles in on the gossip about Marianne's and Elinor's beaux, saying he thinks Elinor's beau is named Ferrars. Lucy and Anne argue about how well they know the Ferrars family, through their uncle, but then drop the topic, raising Elinor's suspicions.

Chapter 22

With Marianne's lack of patience for the Steeles, Elinor is forced to take up the slack, even though she thinks Lucy is both ignorant and insincere. During a stroll, Lucy questions Elinor about Mrs. Ferrars, whom neither Lucy nor Elinor knows personally. To Elinor's "silent amazement," Lucy explains her curiosity by confessing that she and Edward have been secretly engaged for four years. She shows Elinor a miniature of Edward as proof and asks Elinor to keep her secret. Elinor refuses to counsel Lucy on her ill-advised engagement but agrees that Edward seemed out of spirits when last she saw him. Each young women had silently interpreted his melancholy to her own advantage. Lucy shocks Elinor further by saying she gave Edward a ring containing a lock of her hair. Elinor's composure until they part hides "distress beyond anything she had ever felt before."

Analysis

Scenes of domestic comedy open these chapters. Readers see jovial Sir John acting as matchmaker among the young people. His teasing ways delight the Steeles but embarrass Elinor and bruise Marianne's feelings. Lady Middleton also objects to her husband's tendency to invite guests she doesn't know to her home, but since she is well-bred, the narrator remarks, she scolds him about it only "five or six times every day." Reactions to the children provide the most comedy in these chapters. The adults' treatment of the children brings out the narrator's most comically critical tone. As Lady Middleton watches complacently, the children engage in mischief toward the Steele sisters, pulling hair, carrying off scissors, pinching fingers, throwing tantrums to get sweets, and other "monkey tricks," as their mother fondly labels these activities. Marianne and Elinor don't participate; after Lady Middleton exits, Elinor observes that when she is at Barton Park, she "never think[s] of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence."

Volume 1 ends with the introduction of Lucy and Anne, who know just how to react to the children's behavior: They exclaim approvingly over the children and humor them. Lucy, in particular, knows how to ingratiate herself with the wealthy Middletons, who may one day be in a position to assist her. Lucy is pretty and relatively young but offers little in the way of wealth or name. She presents herself as a typical young lady, sweet and slightly daft, but as readers watch her force her way into Elinor's confidence, they realize that Lucy is very savvy socially. In case Edward and Elinor are in love, Lucy takes preemptive action, revealing to Elinor what only she, her sister, and Edward know. She then deprives Elinor of the ability to use the information against her by swearing her to secrecy. Lucy knows how to work the system; knowledge is the biggest advantage she has in the marriage market, followed by her good looks, and she wields this knowledge expertly against Elinor.

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