Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-20

Chapter 11 Summary:

Soon Mrs. Dashwood and the girls are busied with more engagements in the neighborhood than they could have expected. In all social engagements to which the Dashwoods are invited, Willoughby is invited as well; his attachment to Marianne continues to grow, though Elinor believes that they should be more restrained in showing their mutual regard publicly. Marianne is very happy in her relationship with Willoughby, and forgets her homesickness for Norland at last; Elinor is not nearly so content, since she misses Edward's company, and has found none better at Barton. Colonel Brandon is agreeable to her though, and they soon become friends.


The Colonel's past history is insinuated once again, through his own comments about disappointed love, and allusion to his own experience. His disappointment at being ignored by Marianne seems to parallel some past experience of his; and his comments about the tragic history of a girl he knew similar to Marianne foreshadows some misfortune that Marianne will come to because of her open, emotional nature.

Once again, Elinor and Marianne are contrasted to what their differing reactions would be to this conversation with the Colonel. While Elinor decides to leave the delicate subject alone out of respect for the Colonel's privacy, Marianne would have concocted a history of romantic, thwarted love. Elinor perhaps tends to read too little into things, and Marianne too much; they are dramatic foils of each other in terms of views and behavior, each representing opposite extremes in terms of who they are and what they believe.

Chapter 12 Summary:

Marianne informs Elinor that Willoughby has given her a horse that he bred himself; Elinor is taken aback that Marianne does not consider that they have no stables, and not enough money to keep horses besides. Marianne refuses to admit that this might be impractical, and that this is too great a gift from someone she has known for so little time. However, Elinor persuades her mother to tell Marianne to refuse the offer, as she soon does.

Elinor soon starts to believe that Marianne and Willoughby must be engaged, because of their increasingly familiar behavior toward each other. Her view is strengthened when Margaret tells her that she saw Willoughby cut off a lock of Marianne's hair in private. Elinor becomes annoyed when Margaret threatens to disclose her attachment to Edward to Mrs. Jennings and company at Barton Park, for although she conjectures on Marianne's behalf, she cannot bear any such conjecture made publicly of her. Margaret shares the information that he is a gentleman and his name begins with an F, which is enough to assure that Elinor will be quizzed on the identity of this secret beloved by Mrs. Jennings for days to come.


Again, Marianne demonstrates a lack of discretion and sense in wanting to accept the horse, and in her behavior with Willoughby. That the careful Elinor is persuaded of their engagement through learning of their growing intimacy shows that the couple are perhaps behaving with a lack of propriety. And, Elinor's perception of their behavior as being that of an engaged couple indicates that if they do not have such an agreement, then they are acting with too much affection.

Although the situation between Edward and Elinor is unresolved at this moment, that Elinor considers the thought of his name being mentioned painful indicates that all is not right between them. There seems to be something unresolved between them, which is frequently hinted at by Austen, and further foreshadowed by Elinor's reaction.

Chapter 13 Summary:

The party is supposed to go on a picnic to the estate of Colonel Brandon's brother-in-law, but they end up not going at all because Colonel Brandon gets a distressing letter that morning, and is forced to leave to attend to related business. They all try and persuade him to come to the picnic, and then go to town, but apparently the matter is so urgent that he must leave right then to attend to it. Mrs. Jennings figures that it must have something to do with Miss Williams, who is Colonel Brandon's daughter, she says.

The party are very disappointed, but decide to go on a drive, and then have a dance that evening to entertain themselves. Willoughby and Marianne share a carriage, and soon outpace the others and are gone until the evening. Mrs. Jennings finds out that they visited Allenham, the estate of Willoughby's aunt; Elinor is surprised that Marianne would go there, since she has no acquaintance with Willoughby's aunt at all. Elinor advises Marianne that her conduct was improper, which Marianne completely denies. Marianne and Willoughby are acting increasingly more like a couple soon to be married, and Marianne seems far too confident that she and Willoughby are to be together.


The great to-do and secrecy around Brandon's reasons for deserting the picnic foreshadows some great importance relating to this event in the story. The tragic history of his that is often alluded to most likely has something to do with his daughter, Miss Williams, and the girl's mother, whomever that may be.

Marianne is growing increasingly more reckless, and is exposing herself imprudently to the possibility of great disappointment in her relationship with Willoughby. In going to Allenham, she convinced Mrs. Jennings at least that she and Willoughby are engaged, and showed her sister that she believes that she and Willoughby are to be married. Since nothing is for certain, and Willoughby is of a romantic, somewhat unreliable temperament, Marianne possibly assumes too much; things can always change for the worse, and any break with Mr. Willoughby would be even more publicly damaging.

Chapter 14 Summary:

Mrs. Jennings continues to ponder over what exactly drew Colonel Brandon away so suddenly. She believes it must be regarding money, since the Colonel is not so well-off that he might have troubles with money. What Elinor is most alarmed at, however, is how Marianne and Willoughby are refraining from comment on the reason Colonel Brandon went away. This silence seems very unlike either of them, and forebodes some involvement in this affair, probably on Willoughby's part.

Willoughby is becoming an even more attentive guest at the cottage, spending a great deal more time there than Allenham with his aunt. He professes to being so happy there that he would duplicate the cottage exactly, since it is a reminder of the happy times he has had there. Willoughby also openly confesses his affections for Marianne and for all of them, and asks that they remain unchanged always, and always think of him as fondly as he does of them. Willoughby's statements seem sincere and heartfelt, and do declare a real fondness for Marianne, her family, and Barton.


Willoughby's silence in particular on the subject of Colonel Brandon is very peculiar; why he should suddenly refrain from comment, whereas before he seized every opportunity to poke fun at the Colonel, is completely unclear. However, it reflects badly on him, and foreshadows some involvement on his part in Brandon's affairs. Austen's cautious tone in also addressing the couple's silence on the subject of their engagement indicates that there too, all is not well as it might seem. Austen is setting up the revelations and the conflicts that are soon to follow, and asserting the theme of the difference between appearances and reality.

Willoughby's unusually free and affectionate address indicates that if he and Marianne are not already engaged, then that is soon to happen. However, combined with his also unusual secrecy, it also seems to indicate that a change is about to happen. Though Barton Cottage has become a symbol of Willoughby's happiness, it is likely that this will not always be so; Austen hints at secrets of his and at evasiveness in his behavior, that might soon destroy his relationship with Marianne.

Chapter 15 Summary:

Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, and Margaret go to call on Lady Middleton, while Marianne remains behind; although Willoughby has promised all of them he will visit later that day, he also told Marianne that he would visit her while the rest of her family was gone. When they return from Barton Park, Willoughby's carriage is outside; but they find Marianne crying, and Willoughby saying that he must immediately go to London, and will not be back in Devonshire for some time. Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor are completely unsettled by this hasty departure, and Elinor fears that they might have quarreled, or had some kind of falling-out.

Mrs. Dashwood decides that Mrs. Smith, Willoughby's aunt, must have disapproved of Marianne and told Willoughby not to marry her. She suspects that Elinor must think worse of Willoughby, because Elinor is more judgmental than she. But Elinor's notions are founded on Willoughby's tendency to be open with them, and if it were merely a matter of his aunt disapproving of Marianne, she doubts that such an alteration in his character would have taken place. She also doubts that they were ever engaged, although she is sure of their affection. Marianne is torn up by Willoughby's departure, and Elinor is left to hope that Willoughby's intentions are still honorable, and that his relationship with Marianne may continue.


The theme of expectations comes into play, as Willoughby's affections lead the family to believe that Willoughby and Marianne will soon be married, if not already; but, the theme of disappointments counters this, and dashes expectations just as quickly as they are made. Elinor is right to trust her instincts that something is wrong; Willoughby behaves nothing like himself, and once again, his secrecy indicates that he has likely done something terribly wrong.

This mishap brings other themes to the fore; it reasserts the importance of social and economic standing with regard to marriage, and introduces the themes of secrecy and doubt. Secrecy, when it appears in this novel, indicates a deeper level of guilt and perhaps wrongdoing as well; it is always a negative sign, and leads to revelations that have a damaging effect. Doubt also indicates something more than is readily apparent; in this case, Elinor's doubt is good warning that there is something more to Willoughby's behavior than is clear to her.

Chapter 16 Summary:

Marianne is up crying the whole of that night, and is absolutely inconsolable and overly dramatic in her grief. Days pass, and there is no work from Willoughby; Elinor grows anxious, and asks her mother to inquire of Marianne whether or not they are or were engaged. Her mother refuses to discuss this with Marianne, and so Elinor is left to wonder at the state of Marianne and Willoughby's attachment. Marianne is persuaded to go on a walk with Elinor, and on their way back a man rides toward them; Marianne is persuaded that it must be Willoughby, and is let down when it is Edward Ferrars instead. However, she is happy for her sister that he is there, though his formality with Elinor she believes to be unsuitable for a lover.


Here, indulgence is revealed as one of the principal failings in Marianne's character; she makes herself too susceptible to grief, and so lets her life and feelings be overwhelmed by it. She is also too trusting of people, and believes too fervently in Willoughby's blamelessness; trust is a theme of great importance in the relationships in the novel, and unfortunately, Marianne gave hers too dutifully to Willoughby. She also shows childishness in her appraisal of the Middletons as disagreeable, and of Edward as being too reserved; Marianne has a definite tendency toward overindulgence of spirit, and weights romantic virtues too highly as well.

Chapter 17 Summary:

Mrs. Dashwood is happy to see that Edward has come, and welcomes him very warmly as their guest. He becomes more easy and less reserved around them, though it is obvious to them that he is in poor spirits for some reason. Mrs. Dashwood believes this is because his mother has put pressure on him to take up a profession and distinguish himself; Edward says he has no desire to live anything but a quiet, private life, though his mother will not accept this. Small talk follows, about money and character and judging people; then, Marianne remarks that Edward is reserved, and this brings back the dejection they noticed in him earlier in the day.


Again, the theme of money is shown to be of importance to the Dashwood girls; they cannot sustain themselves on their very small fortunes, and this limits their choices. Gender is also a theme in this discussion with Edward; although Edward can choose a profession and make his own money, all that the Dashwood girls can do is rely on inheritances or marriage to sustain them. Elinor also brings up the theme of judgment, and how a person learns to judge other people; she notes how it can be easy to misjudge a person by what people say about them or what they say about themselves, and to not understand who they really are.

Chapter 18 Summary:

It is painful to Elinor that Edward is so obviously unhappy, and doesn't show the same affection for her he once did; she is confused by his mixed signals and alternation of happy and dejected spirits. They discuss the countryside, which Edward admires, but cannot appreciate as Marianne does, with such romantic conviction. Then, Marianne notices a ring Edward is wearing, with a lock of hair in it; she asks if it is the hair of Edward's sister, making him blush. Marianne and Elinor see that the hair looks exactly like Elinor's, but Elinor is puzzled since she never gave him any of her hair.

Mrs. Jennings and Sir John come by to meet Edward, and decide that he must be the ŒMr. F.' that Margaret hinted about. They are invited for tea and dinner at Barton Park, and of course accept the invitations. Sir John mentions Willoughby, and Edward manages to find out that Marianne likes him, although there is little discussion of him.


The lock of hair is a clue about the reasons for Edward's dejection; that Edward seems embarrassed at its notice, just as he was embarrassed by saying he stayed at Plymouth with friends, foreshadows that a secret about Edward is soon to be revealed. Edward's ring is a symbolic representation of this secret, and how closely he guards it. Elinor's situation is somewhat parallel to what Marianne's was, in that she is perceived to be more closely tied to a gentleman than she actually is; even Elinor's discretion cannot stop Mrs. Jennings from imagining that Edward and Elinor are engaged, when this is an overstatement of their relationship.

Chapter 19 Summary:

Edward stays with them for a week, and has a much better time there than at Norland or in London; still, he rejects Mrs. Dashwood's invitation to stay longer, since he feels he must leave. Edward laments that he has no occupation to take up his time, and again shows that he is unhappy in his current state. He takes his leave shortly after, and his unhappiness pains Elinor; she wishes he could be helped out of it, but is also hurt that his old affection seems to have been shaken. Elinor does not wallow in her grief at this, but busies herself about the house and tries not to appear disturbed.

Sir John and Mrs. Jennings come to the cottage to introduce Mrs. Jennings' other daughter, Mrs. Palmer, and her husband to the family. Mrs. Palmer is much like her mother, very merry and chatty, whereas her husband is completely silent and not sociable at all. The girls are invited up to the house to dine with the party, though they expect no great joy in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer; still, they have to accept, as Sir John is a gracious host and they can't possibly refuse him.


Marianne and Elinor are again shown to be foils in their responses to misfortune in their love lives; Elinor does the opposite of Marianne, keeping herself from feeling too much grief, and distracts herself by taking up other activities. However, Elinor's good sense and discipline does not mean that she feels any less than Marianne does, just that she expresses and conducts herself differently.

This chapter shows a certain confrontation between the gossipy mirth of Mrs. Jennings and her daughter, and the propriety, and perhaps even unsociability, shown by Lady Middleton and Mr. Palmer. Manners throughout the party vary, and this makes the society that they form somewhat uneasy, and a little unpleasant, for Elinor and Marianne. Still, the girls are powerless to defy the rules of hospitality, as their indebtedness to the graciousness of Sir John means that they are obliged to accept his invitations, whether they wish to or not.

Chapter 20 Summary:

Mrs. Palmer and Mrs. Jennings begin to encourage Marianne and Elinor to go to town for the winter, and the Dashwood girls politely decline the invitation; and it turns out that the Palmers live near Willoughby's estate at Combe Magna. Mr. Palmer shows his talent at making droll comments at the expense of his wife, Sir John, and Mrs. Jennings; Elinor is taken aback, but sees it as a misguided attempt to gain superiority in situations through ill-bred behavior. She inquires about Willoughby, and Mrs. Palmer says she is glad to hear that Marianne and Willoughby will be married. Mrs. Palmer says that people in town are talking about the match and that even Colonel Brandon thinks them engaged, which baffles Elinor since she does not know as much. But, Elinor is glad that Mrs. Palmer has a good opinion of Mr. Willoughby, which eases her mind on the subject of his character.


It is ironic that Elinor confessed to often being misled by people's opinions and statements about other people, and here puts some faith in Mrs. Palmer's vague but good opinion of Willoughby. It is in Elinor's best interests to think the best of him, but for all her caution, she is certainly not a perfect judge of character.

Mr. and Mrs. Palmer are almost so ridiculous as characters as to have been designed as comic relief; there is much humor in Mrs. Palmer pretending that her husband is good-natured, when all he does is make rude comments to her and others. But, this behavior is also sad and cruel; it shows that Mrs. Palmer is too silly to admit her husband's disdain, and Mr. Palmer abuses her good nature and drives others away in the process.