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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 35–36 (Volume 2, Chapters 13–14) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 35

At Mrs. Jennings's home the next morning, Elinor and Lucy discuss Edward's mother, whom Lucy found to be very pleasant. When Elinor suggests that Mrs. Ferrars might be less kind if she knew about the secret engagement, Lucy insists that "it will all end well." Edward arrives, creating an awkward moment, and Elinor welcomes him as Lucy watches her closely. Elinor then excuses herself to fetch Marianne, leaving the supposed lovers alone. Marianne, clueless about Lucy's hopes, is delighted to see Edward. He asks after her health, but Marianne redirects his attention to Elinor as Lucy watches and seethes. Lucy's attempt to insult Marianne about Willoughby's marriage misses the mark, and Edward hastily departs, followed by Lucy. Elinor, bound to keep Lucy's secret, offends Marianne by refusing to explain the uncomfortable conversation.

Chapter 36

After Charlotte Palmer's son Thomas is born, Mrs. Jennings spends her days with her daughter, and Elinor and Marianne are forced to spend every day with Lady Middleton and the Steele sisters. An acquaintance assumes that Elinor and Marianne are staying with Fanny and so includes the sisters in an invitation for Fanny to a musical party. At the party Elinor notices the arrogant young man from the jeweler's shop; he speaks with John, who introduces him to Elinor as Robert Ferrars. Robert's conceited greeting and bow remind Elinor of how Mrs. Ferrars treats people, and as Robert drones on condescendingly, Elinor develops a disdain for his opinions. John later suggests to Fanny that perhaps his half-sisters should, as family, be their guests. Fanny raises objections and finally tells him that she intends to invite the Steeles instead; Elinor and Marianne can stay with them another time. Fanny quickly writes Lucy, sparking Lucy's hope that Fanny intends to advance her cause with Mrs. Ferrars. The Steeles take up residence with John and Fanny.

Analysis

The question of who knows what in the novel drives important plot events. In Chapter 35 each character's knowledge, or lack of it, leads to misunderstanding and moments both comic and painful. Lucy exults in thinking Mrs. Ferrars favors her, but Mrs. Ferrars has no idea Lucy intends to marry Edward. Elinor predicts—correctly—that if Mrs. Ferrars knew the truth, she would aim her violent dislike in Lucy's direction. Lucy, Edward, and Elinor know about the secret engagement, but Edward doesn't know Lucy has told Elinor, which leads to awkwardness. Marianne's knowledge is most limited; she thinks Edward and Elinor are still conducting their oddly reserved courtship, so she greets Edward as a brother, embarrassing him, infuriating Lucy, and causing Elinor pain. Certainly Marianne is hurt when Elinor, keeping her promise to Lucy, does not confide in her. Often when truth is withheld or a secret shared strategically, the result is distressing.

Chapter 36, which ends Volume 2, develops Lady Middleton's character by revealing her thoughts about Elinor and Marianne. Whereas the Steeles fawn over and flatter Lady Middleton's four young children—her primary delight—Marianne and Elinor do not, so she cannot think of them as good-natured. In addition, they read, so she imagines that they must be "satirical" in their speech. Still worse, the Dashwood sisters are a check on her own idleness; she is "ashamed of doing nothing" when they are present. Lady Middleton is a bit of a mystery, since she is so unlike her generous, fun-loving mother, her excitable sister, or her outgoing husband.

Chapter 36 also identifies Robert Ferrars, who is as unlike his brother, Edward, as Lady Middleton is unlike her lively sister, Charlotte. And Robert is proud of this difference, complaining of Edward's awkwardness in social settings. He's a know-it-all, weighing in on any topic with authority, as when he praises the delights of cottages, though he himself would never be content to live so humbly as Elinor and her family do. His summation on cottages is pompous and comical as he describes a cottage with a dining parlor, library, saloon, and room to entertain 36 people.

It is worth noting that in Chapter 36 Austen's voice clearly intrudes into the narrative when she says, "I come now to the relation of a misfortune, which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood." This use of the first person by the narrator is rare in most of Austen's novels, but here, as with other instances of authorial intrusion, it allows her to indicate her dislike of a character. The situation is a trivial one—the invitation of her sisters-in-law to her party by another guest—but the introduction calls it out as if it were a great misfortune, highlighting Austen's verbal irony.

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