Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 33–34 (Volume 2, Chapters 11–12) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 33

Marianne and Elinor visit a jeweler's shop. As they wait their turn, Elinor watches a gentleman, who seems familiar to her, order a toothpick case in the finickiest manner possible. (He turns out to be Robert Ferrars.) John Dashwood enters, and his conversation—part pleasant chat, part fact-finding mission—makes Elinor feel somewhat ashamed of him. The following day, after calling on them at Mrs. Jennings's and on a private stroll to the Middletons', John congratulates Elinor on her upcoming marriage to Colonel Brandon. Elinor tries to set her half-brother straight, but he talks past her and adds that Mrs. Ferrars is eager to see Edward married, too, to a Miss Morton, the wealthy daughter of a late noble. He also pronounces that Marianne's illness has damaged her youthful good looks and she will do well to find a husband worth "five or six hundred a-year"; he thinks Elinor would now do better in the marriage market. John's mercenary chatter is cut off by their arrival at the Middletons', where he is pleased to find that the Middletons exhibit elegance and style—and somewhat surprised, too, since Mrs. Jennings's husband made his fortune in trade and business.

Chapter 34

Impressed by the Middletons' wealth, Fanny and John host a dinner for them, inviting Colonel Brandon, the Steele sisters (who are visiting the Middletons), the Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings, and Mrs. Ferrars. Elinor worries Edward will be there but is curious to meet Mrs. Ferrars now that she feels indifference toward Edward's mother's opinion of her. Lucy tells her Edward will skip the event. At the dinner Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny treat Lucy graciously to hurt Elinor, on whom the dramatic irony of Mrs. Ferrars's (and Fanny's) ignorance is not lost. Later the women disagree over whose son is taller, Fanny's or Lady Middleton's. Still later John makes a show of praising screens Elinor has painted to Colonel Brandon and inadvertently gives Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny an opening to insult Elinor. Elinor's work is pretty, Mrs. Ferrars remarks, but agrees at Fanny's prompting that Miss Morton paints beautifully. Marianne defends her sister: whoever this Miss Morton is, she says, "it is Elinor of whom we think and speak." Her outburst angers Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars, hurts Elinor, and upsets John, but Brandon clearly admires her affectionate heart. Marianne goes to comfort Elinor and bursts into tears. John quietly advises Brandon that, unlike Elinor, Marianne is "nervous" and has, regrettably, lost her good looks.

Analysis

Before introducing him by name, the narrator takes time to satirize Robert Ferrars by describing his behavior at the jeweler's. Elinor and Marianne are next in line after the stylish young man and assume that he will conduct his business quickly, as is civil, since people are waiting. He does not. The "correctness of his eye" and "delicacy of his taste" override his manners; he monopolizes the jeweler's time and attention for 15 minutes, fussing over this detail and that. When he finally completes his order, he has no time to apologize to Marianne and Elinor for making them wait but instead leaves with a conceited air.

The narrator's delicious satire has a point. Many characters in the novel have wealth. Some use it well and wisely. They maintain their estates, as Sir John does, appointing agriculture managers and supplying work. Some act charitably, as Mrs. Jennings does when she hosts Elinor and Marianne for three months in London and as Colonel Brandon does with his cousin and her daughter. Others hoard wealth or spend it frivolously, drawing their personal importance from it. Robert Ferrars comes in for criticism because he is in the last category.

What about John Dashwood? He sometimes acts affectionately toward his half-sisters, whose financial support he promised but then abandoned; he's usually glad to see them. But he constantly thinks in terms of money, appraising everyone based on how much wealth they have, how they display or use it, and how his half-sisters can access it through marriage or others' generosity (since he won't provide it). He even assesses the damage Marianne's illness has done to her attractiveness by estimating the worth of whatever man she might now entice to marry her. John gives practical advice about money that isn't bad or wrong in itself but that colors his entire world. He measures people in pound signs. When he meets Colonel Brandon, "he [John] only want[s] to know him to be rich, to be equally civil to him." John is insecure in his position as a landed gentleman, but he knows how to gain security by working the system. In Chapter 1 the narrator critiques him for having married a woman still more selfish than himself. If he had found a more generous woman for a partner or been a more confident man, his own amiable tendencies might have blossomed, but Fanny's greedy, class-conscious nature encourages him.

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