Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 46–48 (Volume 3, Chapters 10–12) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 46

Colonel Brandon loans the Dashwoods his carriage for the trip home and returns to Delaford. Marianne endures the two-day trip well but is pensive as she watches the familiar countryside of Barton Park from the carriage window: "every field and every tree brought some peculiar, some painful recollection." Her first day in the cottage is full of sad mementos of Willoughby, but Marianne bravely plans for future days, telling Elinor, "I know we shall be happy." Elinor, pleased by Marianne's newfound self-discipline, worries that she will relapse into grief when she learns Willoughby's story.

A few days later Marianne feels well enough to walk; she and Elinor pass the spot where Marianne met Willoughby, and she finds she is ready to talk about him. She has put regret behind her but says that if she could believe that he was "not always acting a part," she would have greater peace of mind. Marianne regrets her conduct, her treatment of Mrs. Jennings, and especially her blindness to Elinor's own griefs. In the future, she says, she will temper her emotions, and her memories of Willoughby will be "checked by religion, by reason, by constant employment." Heart brimming with love for her sister, Elinor reveals what Willoughby told her. Marianne weeps over the knowledge that Willoughby indeed loved her. Back at Barton Cottage, Marianne asks Elinor to tell Mrs. Dashwood about Willoughby.

Chapter 47

That evening Marianne tells Elinor and their mother she's satisfied to have escaped marriage to Willoughby. Elinor agrees; he and Marianne would have been poor and, given his habits and her lack of management experience, unable to improve their situation. Willoughby's defining characteristic, Elinor says, is selfishness: "His own enjoyment, or his own ease, was, in every particular, his ruling principle." Even his current regrets are self-centered, having to do with his unhappiness with his wealthy wife. Mrs. Dashwood inserts, at nearly every opportunity, heavy-handed contrasts between Willoughby's despicable behavior and Colonel Brandon's merits, but Marianne seems not to notice.

Meanwhile Elinor wishes for news of Edward. One morning their servant returns from town and announces he has seen Mr. Ferrars, who was recently married. Elinor becomes pale, Marianne has hysterics, and Mrs. Dashwood realizes for the first time the depth of Elinor's love for Edward. The servant reports seeing Miss Steele, now Mrs. Ferrars, who offered the Dashwoods the couple's "best compliments" and promised to visit. He could see Mr. Ferrars in the carriage, but not well. After dinner, Mrs. Dashwood hesitates to talk to Elinor, aware that she has been almost unkind to her daughter.

Chapter 48

Elinor admits to herself that she had continued to hope, as long as Edward was not married, that he would break his engagement with Lucy. Now she must let that last hope go, knowing also that if Marianne does one day marry Colonel Brandon, Elinor will be forced into the painful company of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ferrars at Delaford. No news to confirm the marriage comes from London, however, as days pass. One day Elinor sees a man arriving on horseback—not Colonel Brandon, as she expects, but Edward. Elinor tells herself, "I will be calm; I will be mistress of myself." Edward enters, filled with agitation, and then blushes when Mrs. Dashwood welcomes and congratulates him. They sit and talk about the safest topic available—the weather—until Mrs. Dashwood hopes Mrs. Ferrars (meaning Lucy) is well, and Edward replies that she (his mother) is. Edward then mentions his mother in answer to another question about Mrs. Ferrars. To the Dashwoods' confusion, Edward, perplexed, asks whether they mean "Mrs. Robert Ferrars." He explains that Lucy has married Robert. Elinor slips quickly out of the room and, shutting the door behind her, cries tears of joy. Edward exits the cottage.

Analysis

A sweetness marks the long conversation Elinor and Marianne share as they walk near Barton Cottage in Chapter 46. Both have suffered, and both have learned from their experiences. Marianne, still recovering from her illness, leans on her sister for physical support, and they lean on each other figuratively as well now. Marianne's long recovery has given her time to reflect on her behavior toward the generous, well-meaning people in her life. She regrets deeply that in "the fretful selfishness" of her attitude she treated Mrs. Jennings snobbishly; was unkind and unfair to the Middletons, Palmers, and Steeles; and even undervalued John and Fanny. She can hardly think of these regrets without despising herself. Earlier in the chapter, she says she plans to catch up on her reading (the only form of education available to women in Georgian England who could not afford to attend boarding school or hire a governess) and guard her feelings. Yet even in these efforts to tame her tendency toward sensibility, Marianne is extreme. As for Elinor, Marianne is now privy to her sorrows and can comfort her rather than scorn her naturally reserved personality, as she did before their months in London. The sisters seem to have achieved a workable blend of head and heart.

Another touching moment occurs in Chapter 47 when Mrs. Dashwood suddenly grasps her failure to understand, guide, and comfort her oldest daughter. Like Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood tends toward sensibility. At Norland it was sensible Elinor, not her mother, who dealt civilly with Fanny, Elinor who played the peacemaker, and Elinor who budgeted for life in the cottage. It was also Elinor who begged her mother to keep more careful watch over Willoughby's behavior and to find out whether he and Marianne were engaged. Had Mrs. Dashwood behaved with more motherly and mature considerations, much pain might have been prevented. Like Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood now realizes both head and heart matter and that she needs to use her head more often.

Reconciliation and reunion mark these chapters, but the peaceful content that descends on Barton Cottage is marred for a time by Lucy's continued attacks on Elinor (as reported by the Dashwoods' servant). Lucy lacks the education and talents that the Dashwood sisters value, but she is clever and knows how to use her charm and beauty to get what she wants. That Lucy exploits the system is not in itself wrong in her class and culture; women have limited assets with which to secure husband and home. What makes Lucy despicable is her open malice and repeated rudeness to Elinor earlier in the book. As explained in Chapter 49, she "meant to deceive" and made sure the Dashwoods' servant saw her clearly but only glimpsed Robert in order to cause Elinor pain and flaunt her own success—and success it is, given her lack of wealth, education, and influence. She is not unlike Willoughby; both are selfish and seek their own ends, and both callously use and discard people. Lucy does so logically and within respectable cultural norms, while Willoughby violates those norms for pleasure's sake. They are the novel's two antagonists.

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