Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 37–39 (Volume 3, Chapters 1–3) | Summary



Chapter 37

Mrs. Jennings brings strange news to Elinor over two weeks later: thinking that Fanny was fond of Lucy, Anne (whom Mrs. Jennings calls Nancy) revealed the secret of Lucy and Edward's engagement. Fanny "fell into violent hysterics" and screamed at Lucy, who fainted, while Anne cried. Fanny then threw them out, although John begged her to let them pack first. Edward, Mrs. Jennings thinks, will be angry at this treatment of his fiancée. Elinor realizes that the time has come to tell Marianne what she knows, in words that avoid her own emotions. Marianne weeps over the information, forcing Elinor to comfort her when Elinor herself needs comfort; to Marianne, Edward seems to be a second Willoughby. When Marianne grasps that Elinor has carried this painful secret for months—and Elinor makes clear that she "was very unhappy"—all while caring for Marianne during Willoughby's betrayal, Marianne is amazed at Elinor's self-command and horrified at how she might have hurt her sister.

The next day, John visits Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings with further information: Mrs. Ferrars demanded that Edward break off the engagement and tried to bribe him to marry wealthy Miss Morton. She warned that if he persisted in his engagement to Lucy, she would disinherit him. Nevertheless, Edward has chosen to honor his promise to Lucy. John points out the immediate consequences: Edward, with £2,000, is now too poor to marry, and his younger brother, Robert, will have the family fortune. The chapter ends with Mrs. Jennings, Elinor, and Marianne discussing these events.

Chapter 38

Elinor rejoices in Edward's honorable choice. Marianne excuses the faults she once found in him and insists he still loves Elinor as she reproaches herself for her own behavior.

The next Sunday, Elinor and Mrs. Jennings go to Kensington Gardens, where Anne greets them and shares the latest news with Elinor: After the engagement was made known, Edward spent three days away, and Lucy almost despaired. When Edward finally arrived (on the same Sunday), he offered to let Lucy out of the engagement to find a wealthier husband. She did not desert him, and they agreed to wait to marry until he could take orders and find a position in the church. Elinor is shocked to learn that Anne gathered this news not in conversation with Lucy, but by eavesdropping on Lucy and Edward. Lucy writes Elinor a letter claiming that she offered to end their engagement but Edward would not desert her.

Chapter 39

Elinor agrees she and Marianne will visit the Palmers at Cleveland with Mrs. Jennings before going home. Marianne has misgivings because Cleveland is only 30 miles from Combe Magna, Willoughby's estate. Mrs. Jennings overhears bits of conversation between Colonel Brandon and Elinor that lead her to believe Brandon is proposing to Elinor. In fact, moved by the cruelty of separating young people in love and recalling his own separation from Eliza, Brandon asks her to pass his message offering the living at Delaford to Edward. Of this generous gift, Brandon apologizes: it has a low yearly salary (£200)—later he clarifies it will support a bachelor's expenses—and the parsonage will first need repair. Elinor is grateful for Brandon's kindness but is also despondent because she thinks Edward and Lucy's marriage prospects are brighter.


Chapter 37 begins Volume 3 in editions that are divided into three parts. The scene in this chapter in which Elinor reveals her knowledge of the engagement to Marianne develops the theme of head and heart (sense and sensibility). A quick glance at Elinor's revelation shows that her usual calm, reasonable speech has been disrupted by short sentences, repeated phrases, and many interruptions, represented by dashes. The pain of carrying the burdensome secret for four months finally overwhelms Elinor, who knows that Marianne thinks that she hasn't ever felt much, and Marianne is subdued as she hears Elinor's words. Conflicting thoughts, hopes, and sorrows have been banging around in Elinor's mind; she can't reconcile them using logical thought alone. The composure she has displayed was the result of constant work on her part. Elinor realizes that her passionate, emotional self cannot be denied.

At the same time, Marianne realizes that her own emotional state, which she has nursed, has caused her to overlook Elinor's distress. "How barbarous have I been to you!" she exclaims. To show her remorse, Marianne agrees to be discreet, to help Elinor keep the secret, and to act civilly toward Lucy. The sisters, who at the beginning of the novel had opposing characteristics, have matured and begin behaving in less extreme ways, each blending sense and sensibility.

Colonel Brandon's gift to Edward is significant. In Georgian England, sons of wealthy families who did not inherit often went into one of several respectable professions. They might buy a commission in the military, study law, go to the university, or take orders in the church. When taking orders, they studied for ordination tests and became clergymen. Though doubtless some men felt a calling to church work, many others entered this field as a profession, just as they might go into the law or military. A living was a position in the church associated with a particular place. The clergyman who took the living usually held it for life, receiving a salary and a tenth of the agricultural products of the estate or village in exchange for ministering to the people's spiritual and pastoral needs. Because the post was secure and respectable, competition for livings could be robust. Usually, wealthy landowners appointed clergy, and families sometimes purchased livings for their ordained sons. So in giving the Delaford living to Edward, Brandon is providing a living wage for the rest of Edward's life—a generous gift indeed.

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