Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 4–5 (Volume 1, Chapters 4–5) | Summary



Chapter 4

Elinor and Marianne discuss Edward, whose taste seems lacking to Marianne. Elinor defends Edward as intelligent but shy. He loves books and has a lively imagination and good taste. "I know him so well," she says, "that I think him really handsome." Yet Elinor blushes at Marianne's assumption that she loves Edward. When Elinor admits that she esteems Edward, Marianne replies indignantly that Elinor is cold-hearted. Her older sister laughs, saying, "my own feelings" are "stronger than I have declared," but reminds Marianne that Edward is "far from being independent" and may need to marry into wealth. Elinor doesn't know what Edward feels for her—perhaps "no more than friendship."

Fanny picks a fight with Mrs. Dashwood, hinting that Elinor is trying to "draw [Edward] in." Then a letter arrives for Mrs. Dashwood. A wealthy cousin, Sir John Middleton, has offered the Dashwoods a cottage on his Devonshire estate on affordable terms. This is a timely solution for Mrs. Dashwood, who is tired of the misery of being Fanny's guest and newly offended by Fanny's accusations. Elinor agrees that the solution is wise, though she regrets being parted from Edward.

Chapter 5

Mrs. Dashwood announces their move and invites John and Fanny—and of course Edward—to visit them in Devonshire. John, in a typically self-serving remark, responds that the distance will "prevent his being of any service to her in removing her furniture." Mrs. Dashwood hurries the preparations along, following Elinor's wise advice to sell the carriage (since they no longer have horses) and hire only three servants. After all, John will provide only minimal financial help. Within weeks, the cottage is ready, the Dashwoods cry over leaving their beloved home, and Marianne wanders through Norland Park, wondering "when [she will] learn to feel a home elsewhere!"


These chapters further contrast Elinor and Marianne, developing the theme of head and heart, as the sisters dispute Edward's worthiness as a lover. Comically, their dispute begins because Marianne, dramatic as always, decides Edward "has no taste for drawing"; he doesn't react with rapture, as she does. Generous and enthusiastic by nature, Marianne, however, means something larger than the example she has chosen to discuss: Elinor's primary accomplishment is drawing, as Marianne's is music, and Marianne may worry that Edward will disappoint her sister by not loving her drawings enough. Elinor, in contrast, is prone to overthinking her relationship with Edward. She analyzes scenes with him, parsing them for evidence that he may have feelings for her, and she reminds herself and Marianne that "there are other points to be considered," such as the idea that Mrs. Ferrars wants her son to marry well. Marianne lets her feelings over any little thing sweep her away; Elinor, by contrast, can't stop ruminating. Their contrary approaches to life shape how they respond to events throughout the novel.

The importance of having a secure home, especially for women, becomes clear in these chapters. Mrs. Dashwood is thrilled at the offer of Barton Cottage because there, though clearly due to Sir John's benevolence, she will be mistress of her own home. With few exceptions, women in Austen's day had little authority over their lives, but the home was their domain to manage as they saw fit. The image of a woman of the home, with her bundle of keys, her plans for stocking the pantry, and her pride in her garden, shows up in many stories in Georgian England. Barton Cottage, although much less grand than Norland, restores Mrs. Dashwood's dignity, which Fanny and John's cold behavior damaged at Norland. The quest to marry well is, for a woman of this time, the quest for a secure, respectable home to manage as she decides.

Marianne's grief over leaving Norland is a different sort of affinity for a house. She is leaving her childhood home. Rather than authority, that home represented security and family. Leaving it means that she is entering a new and unknowable phase of her life. So when she wonders when she will "learn to feel a home elsewhere," she is expressing her insecurity about her future.

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