Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 26–28 (Volume 2, Chapters 4–6) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26

After a three-day journey, Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings arrive in London. Marianne wastes no time sending a letter to Willoughby before dinner. When a carriage arrives after dinner, she flings herself toward the drawing-room door, expecting Willoughby, but flees the room in disappointment when Colonel Brandon arrives instead. Elinor and Mrs. Jennings speak with Brandon, who mentions the Palmers, and the whole group has tea. After Brandon's departure, no one else arrives, nor do any letters. Marianne's spirits revive in the morning when Charlotte Palmer stops in and then invites them to go shopping; she hopes to see Willoughby while they're out but does not and returns disappointed to find he still hasn't written back. Observing Marianne's distress, Elinor heartily wishes Mrs. Dashwood had not allowed Willoughby to court Marianne "in so doubtful, so mysterious a manner!" Both sisters are perturbed during the evening's engagements with Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Palmer, and others.

Chapter 27

Beginning the following morning, Marianne takes comfort in the thought—based on Mrs. Jennings's comments about Sir John's hunting—that mild weather will have kept Willoughby hunting at his country estate. Colonel Brandon visits often to "look at Marianne and talk to Elinor." A week after their arrival, Willoughby calls while they are out. Marianne anxiously awaits his return the next morning, but he neither returns nor writes. Marianne refuses to confide in Elinor, saying Elinor doesn't confide in her. Meanwhile, Lady Middleton has sent Mrs. Jennings an invitation for the next evening; Mrs. Jennings and both Dashwood sisters go.

When they return from the gathering, which included an unplanned dance, Marianne is sad and tired. Mrs. Jennings is surprised Willoughby wasn't there, because Sir John had met Willoughby in town that day and invited him personally. Now Elinor worries even more about Marianne, who writes another letter to Willoughby the next morning; Elinor prepares a letter to Mrs. Dashwood. Brandon arrives to speak with Elinor privately. Hesitantly, he asks whether rumors of Marianne and Willoughby's engagement are true, reveals his love for Marianne, wishes Marianne "all imaginable happiness," and hopes that Willoughby will try to deserve her.

Chapter 28

Days later Elinor and Marianne attend a party with Lady Middleton; Marianne has been so despondent that she merely sits quietly at home until Lady Middleton arrives. At the party, Elinor sees Willoughby speaking with a "very fashionable young woman." He bows slightly to Elinor as Marianne, glowing, rises to go to him. Elinor holds her back, but Marianne calls Willoughby affectionately and holds out her hand. He greets Elinor formally, asking after her mother. Marianne blushes deeply and demands to know the meaning of Willoughby's strange behavior as he is obliged by politeness to take her hand and tries to master his emotions. After a brief, proper exchange, Willoughby bows and returns to the young woman's side. Marianne, close to fainting, wants to force him to explain, but Elinor persuades her to wait for a more private time. Willoughby soon leaves, and Lady Middleton helps Elinor takes Marianne home. Marianne goes to bed, and Elinor sees with anger that whatever understanding had existed between her sister and Willoughby is over.

Analysis

These chapters offer insight into the characters of Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings. Elinor's character is most clearly seen in contrast with Marianne's—sense contrasted with sensibility. During the three days' travel to London, Marianne broods silently, speaking little to her hostess or Elinor. Because she travels in silence, she is, the narrator says with verbal irony, a good companion to Mrs. Jennings. In addition to her tendency to indulge her emotions, Marianne, it has become clear (see Chapter 25, for example), looks down slightly on Mrs. Jennings because of her less-than-elegant manners. Marianne's uncivil silence while going to London leaves Elinor to entertain Mrs. Jennings with conversation and pay attention to the chatty woman who has so generously opened her home to them.

Mrs. Jennings is hardly perfect; the narrator seems to enjoy teasing about her love of gossip and tendency to speak too freely, embarrassing Elinor and Marianne. But her heart is large. Earlier, the reader may have been tempted to agree with Elinor and Marianne in their assessment of her as a bored busybody for whom matchmaking, like gossip, is a kind of occupation. But her care of the young women is "invariably kind" as she acts as a surrogate for the absent Mrs. Dashwood, who so far seems incapable of advocating for her daughters or, in Elinor's case especially, even understanding them. Prompted perhaps by happy memories of her own marriage and secure home, and having seen her own daughters well married, Mrs. Jennings now wants to ensure that Marianne and Elinor enjoy the same happiness.

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