Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 40–41 (Volume 3, Chapters 4–5) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 40

After Colonel Brandon leaves, Mrs. Jennings congratulates Elinor and asks whether she is free to tell others, but Elinor, not realizing Mrs. Jennings thinks her engaged to Brandon, urges her to wait until she writes to Edward and he works out the details of his ordination. Mrs. Jennings decides that Brandon wants Edward to perform the ceremony. Mrs. Jennings goes out, and Edward arrives. Both Edward and Elinor feel distressed, as this is the first time they've met since his engagement became public. Elinor explains Brandon's plan, which "she so much dread[ed]" doing, and adds that Edward should be glad to have such a good man as his friend. She has to convince Edward she had no part in Brandon's suggestion. Edward, who suspects Brandon's aid is based on attachment to Elinor, leaves to meet Brandon at his London house and accept the offer. Elinor reflects that when she next sees Edward, he will be Lucy's husband. Later Mrs. Jennings asks why Brandon wants to wait several months for Edward to perform the wedding. Elinor realizes her misunderstanding and explains Brandon's plan. Mrs. Jennings "exchange[s] one form of delight for another" and assumes Brandon will propose to Elinor later.

Chapter 41

A day later Mrs. Jennings visits Lucy, who is full of praise for Elinor and Colonel Brandon and hoping to be settled in Delaford's parsonage by early fall. She's already planning how to make use of Brandon's wealthy estate, since a tenth of its produce will be part of Edward's income.

Elinor feels obliged to visit Fanny to check on her health, though Marianne and Mrs. Jennings refuse to go with her. When she arrives a servant says that Mrs. Dashwood is not at home, a polite lie told to unwanted visitors; but John, who happens to be going out, happily invites Elinor in. He is astonished that Brandon gave Edward the Delaford living when he could have sold it for a good price. He asks Elinor not to talk about the gift with Fanny, who finds the topic distressing, or to Mrs. Ferrars, who hasn't heard about it. Elinor angrily wonders why Mrs. Ferrars, having thrown her son out of the family, can still feel parental anxiety about his career. But John assures her that Mrs. Ferrars is a loving mother who, despite her displeasure, cares about her son. He reports that Robert now plans to marry Miss Morton, joining their fortunes, and offers a word of comfort: Mrs. Ferrars told him that between Elinor and Lucy, she would have preferred Elinor as the "least evil" choice.

Robert arrives, and John goes to fetch Fanny. Robert is by turns amused by the idea of his brother as a clergyman, remorseful about Edward's losses, and certain that Edward's education led him to this "most serious" situation. He regards marriage to Lucy as a "most disgraceful connection" and plans to cut Edward out of his life. Briefly, Elinor sees Fanny, who is more polite to her than usual.

Analysis

Chapter 40 includes another scene in which incomplete information results in both comedy and hurt feelings. Mrs. Jennings is too polite to actively eavesdrop, but in Chapter 39 she sees Elinor's agitated reaction to Colonel Brandon's words and catches two phrases—Brandon's regret about the "badness of his house" and his comment that "it cannot take place very soon." She assumes, based on her hopes, that Brandon has proposed. Her Chapter 41 conversation with Elinor after Brandon leaves is comic in that neither Elinor nor Mrs. Jennings can figure out what the other is talking about. Yet the exchange is painful, too, as Mrs. Jennings speaks of the happy couple with enthusiasm. Fortunately the misunderstanding lasts only a few hours, and Mrs. Jennings restrains her tendency of sharing the latest gossip, so no lasting harm is done.

The chapter deals not only with the thematic element of truth, but also with trust. Colonel Brandon, though he loves Marianne, converses most with Elinor and confides critical information to her. Because Brandon has proven trustworthy and willing to serve others, Elinor accepted what he said earlier about Willoughby and in this chapter relies on the propriety of his decision to give Edward the living. Her gratitude is great, despite her sorrow over losing Edward.

In Chapter 41 Austen uses Elinor's reactions to John and Fanny to express criticism of the insincerity and materialism that too often characterize the upper class. Typically, John is suspicious of anyone who doesn't exploit the system of wealth and connections. John is so puzzled by Brandon's gift to Edward that he comes up with an explanation: Edward will hold the living only until Brandon sells it. When Elinor assures him that the living is a permanent appointment, he can hardly believe it. And when John says that Fanny is handling the news well, Elinor has to bite back her opinion of a sister who would begrudge her brother good fortune that does not take away from her own.

Elinor also speaks at length with Robert Ferrars about his brother and in so doing "confirm[s] her most unfavorable opinion of his head and heart." This mention of the novel's pervasive theme reminds the reader that a person may be possessed of both sense and sensibility but use them selfishly. In that regard Robert may be seen as a reversal of his brother Edward, who is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to keep his word.

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