Chapter 21 Summary:
The Palmers leave, but Sir John and Mrs. Jennings manage to find new guests right away. They happen to be cousins of Lady Middleton, though she is displeased to learn that she is to entertain unfamiliar company. The Dashwoods are also invited, though they are in no rush to meet with more of the Middleton's company right away; they find the elder sister, Miss Steele, to be nothing remarkable, while Lucy is very pretty but not much better company. They instantly gain Lady Middleton's admiration by paying endless attention to her obnoxious children, which Elinor and Marianne are too sensible to do.
Although Marianne and Elinor do not wish to know the girls better, Sir John sees that they spend a good deal of time together. The Steeles seem to have been acquainted on all the particulars of Elinor and Marianne's lives by Mrs. Jennings, as they know about Willoughby too. It appears they also know Edward Ferrars, though Miss Steele's remarks leave Elinor believing that Miss Steele knows more about Edward than she would announce.
In this chapter, Austen writes a gentle satire on the manners of the upper class. Lady Middleton acts as a "well-bred wife" does, resigning herself to having the Steeles as company, but this gracious resignation also means she will "reprimand [her husband]five or six times a day" on the subject. Sir John's tendency toward overstatement and overly generous praise is also poked fun of by Sir John's claims that the Steeles are the "sweetest girls in the world," and Elinor's contrary observation that the "sweetest girls in the world" can be met all over England, and often aren't very sweet at all.
Lady Middleton's vanity is also shown to be ridiculous, since she is vulnerable to even the most obsequious flattery, and accepts the Miss Steeles immediately because of it. Lady Middleton's ceaseless delight in her children's misbehavior also shows her to be a far too doting mother, to an almost absurd degree. Even Sir John's good-natured tendency to wish everyone friends does not escape, as he pushes the Dashwood girls into an undesired acquaintance with the Miss Steeles.
Chapter 22 Summary:
Marianne cannot stand the Miss Steeles and is cold toward them out of ill-spirits and dislike, so Elinor becomes the preferred companion of Lucy. Elinor thinks Lucy decent company, though she lacks education and refinement, has an insincere tendency to flatter people. Lucy inquires of Mrs. Ferrars, which strikes Elinor as odd; Elinor asks of her acquaintance with the Ferrars family, and Lucy reveals that she is engaged to Edward. The engagement, though, is a secret to all but Lucy's sister and now Elinor; Elinor questions Lucy to try and prove that this is not true, but it turns out that it was Lucy that Edward had visited in Plymouth before his arrival at Barton, and Lucy says she gave him a ring with a lock of hair, which Elinor and Marianne had noticed him wearing. Elinor is overcome by grief at this discovery, but she must keep this knowledge a secret, and hide her great disappointment as best she can.
Disappointment hits Elinor just as hard as it had with Marianne; her expectations, once again a theme in the story, are immediately dashed. The secret symbolized by Edward's ring is finally revealed, though Elinor, unlike Marianne, has not the luxury of expressing her grief on this occasion. Elinor's complete oppression of her feelings here shows her to be as opposite to Marianne as she can be; the juxtaposition between Marianne's indulgent grief and Elinor's complete restraint shows that both feel disappointment keenly, but are driven to react in very different ways. Austen's diction upon conveying Elinor's disappointment is as keen and sharp as Elinor's own feelings; she is "mortified, shocked, confounded" by Lucy's confession, and is so affected that she "can hardly stand."
Chapter 23 Summary:
Elinor does not have the luxury of doubting the truth of Lucy's confession; yet, she is convinced that Edward loves her, and not Lucy. She feels at first that he wronged her by not being forthright about his engagement; but any anger she feels is softened by her considering his situation. Although she is only temporarily disappointed, he will have to marry Lucy; and any affection he once had for her has probably been quenched by the four-year engagement, and Lucy being selfish, unpolished, and uneducated. Elinor does not doubt that her defects have probably become painfully obvious to him, and that he will have even more trouble with his family in marrying Lucy than he would have had in marrying Elinor.
Elinor decides to speak to Lucy again, to find if her affection is genuine and to assure her that Elinor has no interest in this matter than as a friend. She gets the opportunity at Barton Park, when they are invited to supper while Sir John is away. She helps Lucy work on a basket for one of Lady Middleton's children, while Marianne's piano playing assures that they will not be overheard.
Again, Elinor is shown to be the rational foil of Marianne; instead of dwelling on her own miseries, she immediately considers what Edward's might be, and is sorry for him. Elinor is very mature in her lack of selfishness, and her ability to understand what the predicaments of others might be; it is this great understanding which helps Elinor to deal more fairly with others than her mother or sisters are able to. But, Marianne too seems to have gained more sense through her disappointments; Austen remarks that she, like Elinor, does not appear to be forlorn, as she too has begun to internalize rather than externalize her feelings.
Jealousy becomes apparent as a theme, and as a motive of Lucy's behavior; indeed, Elinor's discovery that Lucy must have confided in her in order to assert her claims to Edward does not reflect well on Lucy. However, any rivalry that might exist between them is dampened by Elinor's unfailing civility, and her successful attempts to reassure Lucy that she and Edward are merely friends.
Chapter 24 Summary:
Elinor broaches the subject of Lucy's engagement, on the pretense of wanting to be of more help to Lucy; Lucy admits that she is of a jealous nature, and Elinor does all that she can to get Lucy to believe that she has no designs on Edward. Elinor advises Lucy that to reveal the engagement to Edward's family might lead to his disinheritance in favor of his brother, who is rather foolish, and that to encourage Edward into the church so that they might marry would also prove unsuccessful. Lucy, frustrated, says that maybe she should call off the engagement because there are too many difficulties; Elinor says she should not advise this, though Lucy flatters Elinor as if she were a close advisor, and says whatever Elinor says she will do.
Their conversation comes to an uneasy end, and though Elinor has made a good attempt to try and prove that she is not interested in Edward, it is not certain whether this has worked. The Miss Steeles end up staying at Barton Park for two months, because of Lady Middleton's favor of them. Elinor tries to avoid speaking of Edward with Lucy, since she is fully aware of Lucy's jealousy and thinks Lucy's confidences self-indulgent.
Lucy's insincerity disturbs Elinor, although Elinor is lucky that she senses Lucy's traps and avoids them. Lucy proves to be jealous, just as Elinor suspected, and acting with what seems like pure self-interest on her own part in holding Edward to such a long engagement. It is unfortunate for Edward that decorum will not permit him to break off the engagement himself, and that he also is bound to a woman who seems to think mostly of her own satisfaction rather than his.
The delicacy required of such social interaction is revealed by Austen; one needs keen powers of perception, like Elinor's, the ability to convincingly state convictions that one does not feel, and a diplomatic ability to resolve situations adequately. In order to be successful, a person must have as much sense and caution as Elinor; for an incorrect statement or look in her conversation with Lucy would reveal Elinor's true feelings to her rival, and be disastrous. Austen's tendency toward understatement of these perils, and her calm, appraising tone in discussing them obscures somewhat the perils of such polite society, and its complex codes and requirements.
Chapter 25 Summary:
Mrs. Jennings invites Marianne and Elinor to spend the winter with her in London; Elinor isn't excited by the prospect, though Marianne wants to go for the chance of seeing Willoughby. Mrs. Dashwood urges them to go and enjoy themselves; Marianne is determined to go, and Elinor decides she must go too, because Marianne is often uncivil to Mrs. Jennings and needs Elinor's guidance and good judgment. They accept Mrs. Jennings' invitation, and leave in the first week of January.
Marianne's lack of good manners and civility leaves her at a disadvantage; she is lucky that Elinor is always there to guard her and make apologies for her, since Marianne would never do so herself. Marianne's lack of delicacy is childlike, and shows that her character has been indulged a bit too much; however, only experience can teach her, since she is too stubborn to take the good advice of her sister Elinor on matters of society. Self-sacrifice becomes a theme in this chapter, as Elinor decides to go to London against her wishes because it will make her sister happy. Marianne's determination to go looks a little selfish in comparison, considering that she has no thought of repaying the hospitality of Mrs. Jennings with any good company at all.
Chapter 26 Summary:
Elinor finds the company of Mrs. Jennings somewhat awkward, given a lack of things in common and the brevity of their acquaintance, but she is cheered that Marianne is obviously looking forward to the chance of seeing Willoughby. Elinor however is determined to figure out what Willoughby's intentions are, as she is not entirely assured that he is good. Elinor also has to make up for Marianne's coldness toward Mrs. Jennings, by being sociable and kind all the time. They find Mrs. Jennings' house in town very comfortable, and Marianne immediately writes and sends a letter for Willoughby.
Marianne is convinced by a knock that Willoughby has come, and is very disappointed when it is Colonel Brandon; he does not stay long, and is upset at being slighted by Marianne. Marianne is more upset when several days pass with no word from Willoughby, and Elinor becomes worried about their relationship.
Austen writes with a sense of urgency regarding Willoughby and Marianne's relationship; within a "very short time," discoveries will be made that can either strengthen or destroy their attachment. Austen creates a bit of suspense through Marianne's hopeful expectation that Willoughby will come any second; the reader, too, becomes anxious to see him, since so much is still in doubt.
Chapter 27 Summary:
Sir John and Lady Middleton are expected in town in just a short time; Marianne continues to look forward to seeing Willoughby, and Elinor finds her greatest enjoyment in Colonel Brandon's daily visits. They return one day to find Willoughby's card, which gives Marianne great pleasure that he is in town and managed to drop by. Elinor still has not managed to find out if Marianne and Willoughby are engaged; she is much disturbed when Colonel Brandon approaches her and tells her that their engagement is widely known throughout town, though Elinor does not know of it. Elinor says that she is sure of their mutual affections, but when Colonel Brandon says that Willoughby should try to deserve Marianne, Elinor's doubts about Willoughby's character and intentions resurface.
Marianne makes a very pointed remark that again highlights the contrast between the characters of the two sisters. Marianne says they have nothing to tell each other because Marianne "conceal[s] nothing" and Elinor "communicate[s nothing]." Marianne's statement may be too harsh in its appraisal of Elinor's character, however the two girls are distinctly different in how they express themselves and in the amount of discretion with which they govern their behavior. Perhaps it is ironic that Elinor is trying to "press for greater openness in Marianne" at this point; indeed, Marianne may communicate nearly everything, except for the crucial information regarding her and Willoughby's relationship.
Prudence becomes a theme of most importance, as rumors of Marianne and Willoughby's engagement could be very damaging if such an engagement is not real. Marianne will be exposed as flighty and subjected to even more damaging gossip, and her reputation could be at stake merely because she chooses to be open concerning her affections. Colonel Brandon shows himself to be a dramatic foil of Willoughby, in his concerns for prudence and reputation; his inquiry also foreshadows unpleasant realizations about Willoughby's character and intentions.
Chapter 28 Summary:
Marianne and Elinor are obliged to accompany Lady Middleton to a party, though Marianne clearly has no heart for it. At the party, Elinor and Marianne see Willoughby; Marianne approaches him, although he turns and addresses Elinor instead, trying to avoid Marianne. Willoughby turns away from them abruptly when Marianne plies him with questions, and Marianne becomes faint and disturbed at this. Elinor takes her home, and is convinced that they must have been engaged, though Willoughby seems to have since discounted their relationship. Elinor is glad that at least she can continue to like Edward, although they cannot be together; Willoughby's conduct does not allow Marianne that luxury, and it will be hard for her to realize their relationship is finally over.
Elinor's prudence has triumphed over Marianne's passion, with grave consequences for Marianne; her very nature is offended by Willoughby's rejection, and her innocent hopes are also destroyed. It seems that there is no hope of Marianne and Willoughby getting back together after this incident, as Austen even describes it as an "immediate and irreconcilable rupture." This asks the question, will Marianne find a new love for herself, and overcome her indulgent, romantic tendencies which will probably make her grieve over Willoughby for a long period to come.
Chapter 29 Summary:
Marianne gets up at dawn to write a letter to Willoughby; one comes in reply, in which Willoughby denies having loved Marianne, and says he hopes he didn't lead her to that conclusion. The letter is an insult to Marianne, and she is deeply grieved at being dumped so coldly; Marianne feels weak and ill, but Elinor feels only anger at the cruel way in which her sister has been discarded. Marianne then reveals that she and Willoughby were never engaged; the text of Marianne's letters to Willoughby is revealed, as Elinor examines them to see if Marianne has been indiscreet. Marianne indeed was too open with Willoughby, as is in her nature; she tells Elinor that she wants to go home immediately, though Elinor knows they must stay out of obligation to Mrs. Jennings.
The letter hearkens to the theme of appearance vs. reality; for although Willoughby appeared in every way to be kind and honorable, this letter confirms that he is cold, inconstant, and cruel, traits which were hardly apparent while he was with Marianne. Willoughby's tone and diction in the letter are also completely unlike any he has shown before; his language is detached and unyielding, whereas before all his communications with Marianne had been very affectionate and warm in their address.
It is uncharacteristic of Marianne to note, when she is most upset, that she is concerned about her unhappiness affecting Elinor; this is Marianne's first step toward becoming more sensitive about other people's needs, although she unfortunately relapses into a selfish focus on her own miseries. The contrast in tone and speech of the two girls shows that there is still great difference between them; Marianne speaks haltingly and passionately, in outbursts, and Elinor speaks carefully, her statements complete and considered.
Chapter 30 Summary:
Mrs. Jennings returns, with news of Willoughby's fiancée and his coming marriage. Marianne doesn't want Mrs. Jennings to trouble too much about her, and decides to pull herself together and be with company; and Mrs. Jennings dotes on her, offering her treats and paying much attention to her. Apparently, Willoughby is to marry Miss Grey, who was left a great deal of money by her parents, probably out of want of money. Mrs. Jennings posits that now Colonel Brandon will probably become Marianne's favorite; indeed, he comes the next day, and is deeply concerned about Marianne's situation.
Despite Mrs. Jennings kindness, this chapter shows a great contrast between her own rough manners and Elinor's polished gentility. Mrs. Jennings means well, but going on about how Marianne will probably marry Colonel Brandon any day now is quite insensitive and foolish. Elinor would never speak so foolishly or in such an ill-informed manner; but Mrs. Jennings is a gossip and a busybody, and such protestations are part of her character.
As foolish as Mrs. Jennings' prating on the subject may be, her remarks, coupled with the Colonel's great concern for Marianne's situation, do foreshadow a future relationship between the two. As a foil of Willoughby, Colonel Brandon will probably be more appealing to Marianne because he is constant and clearly good-hearted; and the Colonel's polite, concerned inquiries about Marianne betray that he still feels strongly for her despite her misfortune.