Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 42–43 (Volume 3, Chapters 6–7) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 42

In early April the families set out for their country homes—John and Fanny for Norland; the Palmers, Mrs. Jennings, Colonel Brandon, and the Dashwood sisters for Cleveland. Marianne cries at leaving London, where she arrived with great hopes and suffered great pain and disappointment, but Elinor is glad to escape Lucy's presence and the possibility of Marianne encountering Willoughby.

Cleveland is a modern house with lovely gardens, which Marianne visits right away, looking for a spot from which she might glimpse Combe Magna and indulging in private and still-delicious misery. She plans long walks in the country, but rain confines her to the house (for two days). An evening later, Elinor finds that Mr. Palmer is more pleasant in his own home, but his self-centered love of pleasure makes her recall Edward's more gracious nature. When Marianne shows symptoms of a bad cold two nights later, Elinor perceives in Colonel Brandon the concern of a lover.

Chapter 43

Marianne's illness worsens the next day, and the day after she is too weak to get out of bed. Charlotte's apothecary, Mr. Harris, evaluates her, and his use of the word infection sends Charlotte scurrying with her baby to a nearby relative's home. Mrs. Jennings stays to help nurse Marianne in their mother's stead; Mr. Palmer leaves after another day. Each day, the doctor visits, and Colonel Brandon, shut out of Marianne's presence and under the influence of Mrs. Jennings's dramatization of the illness, fears he'll never see her again. Three days following, after a sudden improvement and then decline in her condition, Marianne calls for "mama" in her feverish sleep. Elinor tells Brandon, who travels 80 miles to Barton Park to fetch Mrs. Dashwood. Elinor, filled with anxiety, sits by Marianne through a night of "pain and delirium." Mr. Harris visits three times and confirms in the afternoon that Marianne is out of danger. At about eight o'clock, Elinor hears the sounds of a carriage arriving and rushes to the drawing room, expecting Brandon and her mother. Instead, Willoughby is there.

Analysis

These brief chapters break up the constellations of characters and move the setting from claustrophobic London to a roomy house in the countryside. Chapter 42 provides a lull in the action of the plot before the drama of the final chapters. The chapter also shows a wavering in Marianne's resolve to be a bit more like Elinor. As she takes in Cleveland's gardens, Marianne is moved by their beauty; nature has inspired some of her most romantic language. Her heart is already full of emotion because she is now closer to Combe Magna and Barton Park, and the gardens offer her solitary walks where no companion can check her sorrows when she chooses to indulge them. Marianne's exploration of the wilder country beyond the gardens, which calls to her desire for solitude, causes her to act unwisely, sitting in the wet grass till she becomes ill. Clearly she is in danger of letting sensibility overwhelm her again.

Meanwhile, in Chapter 43 Elinor, too, is tempted to revert to her more rigid ways. When Marianne falls ill, Brandon is surprised by Elinor's composure, even when the symptoms worsen. Not until Marianne experiences delirious anxieties about her mother does Elinor set aside her natural restraint and act, bringing back the apothecary and accepting Brandon's offer to fetch Mrs. Dashwood. Both sisters, though they have seen the problems of erring toward either rigid sense or irresponsible sensibility, easily fall back into old habits.

It is worth noting that Marianne becomes ill with a cold and fever. While she does develop an infection, which could be very serious in the days before the development of antibiotics, this is an everyday illness. It is in effect a disease born of sense—a logical outcome of her actions. However, it results in emotions running high around her—Mrs. Palmer's flight to protect her baby, Brandon's concern, and ultimately Elinor's decision to take action; thus the results of this disease of sense are in balance with sensibility.

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