Sense and Sensibility | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility | Chapters 9–11 (Volume 1, Chapters 9–11) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

While out walking one day, Marianne and Margaret are caught in a sudden storm and rush home. As they descend the hill by the cottage, Marianne stumbles and sprains her ankle. A handsome young hunter sees her fall and comes to her aid, carrying her into the Dashwoods' house. His kindness impresses Marianne's mother, as do his "youth, beauty, and elegance." After introducing himself as Willoughby of nearby Allenham, the man asks to call on Marianne the next day and leaves. The handsome stranger has pleased everyone. To Marianne these events seem suffused with romance and destiny.

Later that day, Sir John reports that Willoughby is a "good humored" man with a fine hunting dog and a small estate nearby. He stands to inherit other property from his aunt and is, Sir John assures Elinor, extremely eligible. Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters object to Sir John's bantering about marriage in this way, but he merely laughs and then pities Colonel Brandon, who is also a good catch for Marianne but will now have to compete with Willoughby.

Chapter 10

When Willoughby visits Marianne the next day, he's impressed by her family's affection and by Marianne's sparkling beauty. For her part, Marianne learns that Willoughby loves dancing and music, as she does, and convinces him to adopt her favorite writers for his own. After he leaves, Elinor teases Marianne that she and Willoughby have already discussed every topic of importance and will soon run out of things to talk about. Marianne takes offense, accusing her sister of critiquing her for not being "reserved, spiritless, [and] dull," until Mrs. Dashwood assures her that Elinor was only teasing her. Willoughby seems "exactly formed to engage Marianne's heart"; they spend time together daily. Thinking of this relationship, not Willoughby's money, Mrs. Dashwood begins to anticipate an engagement.

As the days progress, Elinor becomes aware that Colonel Brandon also loves Marianne. Elinor pities him, all the more because Sir John has hinted at past sorrows in Brandon's life. Willoughby and Marianne belittle Brandon (Willoughby claims, for example, that Brandon is well thought of but not worth noticing), while Elinor reprimands them and defends him as sensible.

Chapter 11

Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters attend balls, parties, and other entertainments at Barton Park planned by Sir John. To Elinor's distress, Willoughby and Marianne show their affection for each other, opening them to teasing. Elinor tries to persuade Marianne to show self-restraint, but Marianne refuses. Marianne is deeply happy, but Elinor is lonely, making do with conversational partners such as the elderly Mrs. Jennings and the quieter Lady Middleton, whose only interest is her children. Only with Colonel Brandon does she find lively conversation and friendship.

One evening as he and Elinor talk, Brandon brings up "second attachments"—marriage after having been widowed or prevented from marrying another. Marianne, Elinor confirms to Brandon, considers these impossible. Brandon speaks of another young lady he knows who, much like Marianne, held romantic views of love that led to "unfortunate circumstances" but can't bring himself to say more.

Analysis

In these chapters readers see an odd denial of reality on the part of Mrs. Dashwood and a hint of foreshadowing concerning Marianne. Mrs. Dashwood is aware of what was often called the marriage market; like Mrs. Bennet in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, she knows that her daughters' future happiness depends on their marrying well. It is the only way for them to work the system of inheritance that favors first-born males. But unlike Mrs. Bennet, who openly schemes to get her daughters married, Mrs. Dashwood seems embarrassed when Sir John speaks transparently about the marriage market. Her daughters, she says, have not been brought up to the "employment" of chasing after men. Marianne agrees, objecting to Sir John's prediction that she will "set [her] cap" at Willoughby, a vulgar phrase for trying to gain a man's affections that disgusts her. Both mother and daughter reject the mercenary notion of the marriage market, even as both are pleased to hear that Willoughby is a man of some property. Both tend toward a romantic view of love, and their pretense of not caring whether Marianne marries a wealthy man denies the facts of her situation.

Both romantic love (the marriage of similar natures and sympathetic minds) and financial concerns matter in Austen's works. As with the combination of sense (reason) and sensibility (emotion, passion), neither goal alone is sufficient, and a stubborn devotion to either can cause trouble. Details in these chapters hint at problems to come. For example, the Dashwoods are instantly charmed by Willoughby's looks and manners. His good looks and gallant manners sweep Marianne and her mother off their feet. Yet right away readers see troubling hints about Willoughby: Sir John's praise of Willoughby has to do with his ability to dance until near dawn and hunt the next day, yet Sir John's praise for Brandon has to do with his upright character—a striking contrast. Also, as Marianne associates daily with Willoughby, her behavior changes for the worse. She behaves immodestly and joins her beau in insulting Brandon. In addition, when Elinor defends Brandon, Willoughby admits his character may be irreproachable but adds that he dislikes Brandon. Willoughby is not the worthy gentleman Marianne thinks him to be.

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