Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 23–25 (Volume 2, Chapters 1–3) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23

Elinor has every reason to believe that Lucy and Edward are engaged, which explains much of Edward's behavior. Persuaded that Edward loves her, she excuses his engagement as youthful folly but considers his situation hopeless. He's trapped in a commitment to a woman ill-suited to him and of whom his mother won't approve. Elinor cries for him, "more than for herself," and resolves to keep the secret for Edward's sake. Needing to learn more from Lucy, Elinor reflects that Lucy's motives for confiding in her are clearer now, too: Lucy had to demonstrate her superior claims on Edward. Elinor goes through social engagements with the Middletons until an evening when the others play cards and Marianne plays the piano; she takes an opportunity to speak with Lucy alone.

Chapter 24

Elinor points out to Lucy that Edward depends completely on his mother for his income; Lucy affirms that he has just £2,000 of his own but that she would "struggle with any poverty" for his sake. She admits they must wait for years, possibly until he inherits after his mother's death, but says Edward's unfailing devotion encourages her; if they reveal the engagement sooner, Mrs. Ferrars could disinherit Edward in favor of Robert. Briefly overhearing, Anne compares Lucy's beau to Elinor's, upsetting both Elinor and Lucy.

Lucy also offers an alternate plan: Edward could become a clergyman, and Elinor could persuade John to employ him at Norland's vicarage. This, with his small personal income, would allow them to marry. When Elinor expresses doubts, Lucy sighs dramatically and wonders insincerely whether she and Edward should break off the engagement. Elinor has no answer, and the conversation awkwardly stalls. Lucy asks if the Dashwoods will be wintering in London. Her eyes sparkle when Elinor says they won't; this is valuable information since Fanny Dashwood will be there—as will her brother Edward. After this conversation, Elinor never brings up the engagement again, while Lucy takes every opportunity to do so; her and Anne's visit to Barton stretches to nearly two months.

Chapter 25

Mrs. Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to join her at her London house after Christmas. After Elinor declines, Mrs. Jennings half-jokes that she's had such good luck in marrying her own daughters well that Mrs. Dashwood will think her the perfect person to help them make a good match, too. Sir John approves the plan and says Marianne would not object. When Elinor sees Marianne's rush of gratitude, she realizes how desperate Marianne is to find Willoughby and agrees to go despite her own concerns about leaving their mother and spending a lot of time with Mrs. Jennings. In January, Elinor and Marianne go with Mrs. Jennings to London.

Analysis

Chapter 23 begins Volume 2 in editions that are divided into three parts. In this and other Austen novels (for example, Pride and Prejudice), young women know they are competing in a game for husbands. The prize in this game is not necessarily love, though love is welcome. The prize is financial security. In the class that Austen's characters inhabit, the prize is the man who has or stands to inherit land, wealth, and, sometimes, political influence. Since marriage was the main path available to women, any unmarried woman was in the game whether she liked it or not, even if, like Elinor, she chose not to play. Even heiresses—often women whose family wealth came from trade and business rather than land—had to marry, though they had greater power to choose husbands.

Some characters play the game well. Lucy is an expert. She is young and pretty—her main advantages, since she has low family connections and no money of her own—and she's clever. Manipulative, cunning, playing the long game, Lucy pits herself against Elinor for the same husband, a man Lucy claims to love and Elinor actually loves. Chapters 23 and 24 show Lucy at work. Having piqued Elinor's interest by confiding in her about the secret engagement, Lucy attempts to force her rival to work as her ally. It's a smart tactic that will simultaneously advance Lucy's goal and wound Elinor—if it works. However, Lucy underestimates Elinor, who correctly assesses Lucy as "illiterate, artful, and selfish" (in Chapter 23) and refuses to compete with her. Elinor finds such competition distasteful. Chapter 25 presents the one condition under which Elinor will fight for a marriage: to assist Marianne in her love for Willoughby.

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