Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 6–8 (Volume 1, Chapters 6–8) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6

Mother and daughters are too upset for the journey to their new home to be pleasant, but Barton Valley's lovely scenes overcome their sorrow, and the "comfortable and compact" cottage, though small on a scale with Norland, is tidy and in good repair. Mrs. Dashwood immediately begins planning improvements to make in the spring (although, the narrator comments, it is unlikely she will be able to afford them).

The next morning, Sir John visits to offer them produce and game from his estate. He is genuinely pleased to have the Dashwoods near and to have the chance to supplement their stores. The Dashwoods meet Lady Middleton (and her oldest son) the following day. She is an elegant but cool woman—a contrast to her familiar, friendly husband, Sir John, but not unkind.

Chapter 7

The Middletons' large, attractive house, a half-mile from the cottage, often hosts friends, family, and neighbors. When the Dashwoods dine there, they quickly grasp what matters to the Middletons: Sir John likes hunting, and Lady Middleton dotes on her children. The narrator criticizes the "total want of talent and taste which confined their employments ... within a very narrow compass." Both enjoy entertaining—Sir John because of the lively company and Lady Middleton because parties allow her to showcase "the elegance of her table, and ... domestic arrangements."

The Dashwoods meet Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother, a wealthy widow who is very unlike her daughter. A "merry, fat, elderly woman," she laughs and talks freely. Another guest, Colonel Brandon, is quiet, though gentlemanly. Marianne and Margaret regard him as a confirmed bachelor because he's in his thirties. After dinner Marianne plays the piano and sings to the open admiration of Sir John and Lady Middleton. Brandon appreciates her talent but doesn't gush about it. Marianne decides he has genuine pleasure in music but cannot express ecstasy over it because of his advanced age: he "might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment."

Chapter 8

Mrs. Jennings is quick to perceive romantic attachments among her young friends. Observing the young people at Barton Park, she decides that Marianne and Colonel Brandon make a good match because "he was rich and she was handsome." She teases them separately about it. Brandon is indifferent and Marianne offended at Mrs. Jennings's impertinence. Elinor defends the colonel as a good man with many lively years ahead of him, but Marianne scoffs at the thought that a pretty young woman would settle for a loveless marriage with an older husband; even for a 17-year-old, Marianne thinks, it would be a mere "compact of convenience." Later Marianne wonders to her mother why Edward hasn't visited and admits she found his and Elinor's farewell behavior to be cold, given their supposed love for each other.

Analysis

These chapters introduce characters soon to become important to the Dashwood sisters and who provide a further glimpse into the lives of the landed gentry. For Sir John Middleton, the arrival of new neighbors is "always a matter of joy." Gregarious to a fault, Sir John is hardly refined in his social behavior but redeems himself by his generosity. He loves to hunt, ride, and entertain. He doesn't actually work; work, especially in terms of manual labor, is not the province of his class. A silent, invisible crew of managers, housekeepers, and servants keeps the estate at Barton Park running; income from farmland and rents funds the balls, the dinners, the parties, the picnics, the grand house, and its grounds. Lady Middleton, too, epitomizes this leisured life. She is free to "spoil her children all the year round" and show off the elegance of her home while her staff handles the daily domestic tasks of actually raising the children.

The system of inheritance and nobility successfully gathered and maintained wealth for landed families such as the Middletons. This is the life into which the Dashwood girls were born at Norland. Now, though, they may lose it if they don't make appropriate marriages. The danger to Elinor and Marianne, and eventually to Margaret, their little sister, is that a landed man often hopes to add to his wealth through marriage, and they have little to offer. They have allies in Sir John, who enjoys a house full of young people, and Mrs. Jennings, a willing and wealthy matchmaker.

Marianne's reaction to Mrs. Jennings's suggestion that Marianne and Brandon would make a good match reveals the "sensibility"—the romantic and somewhat impractical nature—of Marianne's idea of love. At 17 she finds the idea of marrying the 35-year-old Brandon absurd; she thinks the woman who marries him would be little more than a nurse. When added to her later complaint that Edward and Elinor's behavior toward one another was too cool and composed, her view of love becomes clear: Marianne is waiting to be swept off her feet by a passionate and handsome young man. While she objects to the idea of marriage as a "commercial exchange," she nevertheless assumes that her future suitor will be wealthy.

It is worth considering that Marianne has good reason for thinking of Brandon as older; he is, in fact, much closer to her mother's age than to her own. He is 35, and Mrs. Dashwood is 40. However, at no time does anyone mention that Brandon might be a match for Mrs. Dashwood; she is, after all, a newly widowed woman of no particular wealth. What's more, at her age, she would be unlikely to provide Brandon with heirs. Still, Mrs. Dashwood remarks, "at this rate you must be in continual terror of my decay," showing her sensitivity to Marianne's remarks about Brandon's age and condition.

In Austen novels the narrator makes insightful comments about how people interact. A good example occurs in Chapter 6. When Lady Middleton first visits Barton Cottage, she brings her oldest child with her, and the narrator comments that every formal visit needs a child as a topic of conversation. If people have nothing else to talk about, they will happily chat about the child.

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