Chapter 41 Summary:
Lucy is very glad at Edward being offered a position, and also believes, like Mrs. Jennings, that they will be married and settled there by the end of the year. Elinor makes what she sees as a necessary visit to John and Fanny, after Fanny's fits a few days ago; there, she meets Robert Ferrars again, who is to marry Miss Morton now, much to Elinor's surprise that she is given no choice in the hasty arrangement. Elinor's poor opinion of Robert is only confirmed by the fact that he doesn't object to his mother's cruel disowning of his brother, and is enjoying his undeserved gain with no qualms of conscience at all. John and Fanny are acting with far more civility toward Elinor than is usual, but only out of insincerity, and because of the recent shocks about Edward's engagement.
Lucy's manipulative nature is again shown by her resolution to take advantage of the Colonel's wealth and generosity as much as she can, as a result of having him confirmed in her opinion as an extremely kind and giving person. Only an extremely self-involved creature like Lucy would think it perfectly pardonable to take advantage of any obliging person as much as she could. Her delusion that Edward is absolutely overjoyed that they might be able to get married soon again shows her completely blind to the feelings and best interests of anyone excepting herself.
Robert Ferrars shows a lack of compunction similar to Lucy's, as he enjoys his undeserved good fortune at another's expense. He shows very little concern for Edward's situation, or for his means of making a living; in fact, he prefers to make fun of the idea of Edward as a pastor, and addresses the whole affair with flippancy. Insincerity is a theme rife in the book, as Robert, Lucy, John, and Fanny, among many others, freely traffic in it to hide their blatant lack of concern for anyone other than themselves.
Chapter 42 Summary:
It is April, and the Dashwood girls, the Palmers, and Mrs. Jennings, and Colonel Brandon set out for Cleveland, the Palmer's estate. Marianne is still feeling grief at being so near to Willoughby's home, Combe Magna; she indulges herself in her continuing grief, like a stubborn child. The Colonel informs her that Edward is indeed going to take the Delaford parish, after he takes orders and the Colonel improves the property. Mr. Palmer seems much more pleasant, though hardly without flaws; and Elinor finds the company of Mrs. Palmer and Mrs. Jennings far more agreeable after spending so much time with less kind people in London. Marianne, however, soon becomes ill after her walks in the rain, and Elinor must tend to her.
Although Mrs. Jennings and the Palmers were hardly considered desirable company earlier in the novel, contact with so many people of lesser scruples and kindness has made both Elinor and Austen kinder to them. Elinor realizes they are not so bad as she once thought, since they are all reasonably good people, although flawed; Austen herself treats them with a less satirical tone, preferring to highlight their more affable qualities and let their minor follies be forgiven. Elinor has changed somewhat, just as Marianne has, though in a different sense. Elinor is more perceptive about people's characters and intentions after her experience in London, and has learned to take more pleasure in kind, well-meaning people, even if they are dull and their company is less than ideal.
Chapter 43 Summary:
Marianne is more ill than was previously thought, and the Palmer's doctor is sent for. Mrs. Palmer is urged to leave with her child, to prevent it catching the same fever that Marianne has; Mrs. Jennings, though, refuses to leave, and helps Elinor nurse and take care of Marianne in their mother's absence. Mrs. Jennings also insists that Colonel Brandon stays, since he is obviously anxious at Marianne's health and would prefer to stay at Cleveland. Soon Mrs. Jennings and others fear that Marianne might die from her illness; Elinor is alarmed at Marianne's state, and decides that their mother must be sent for. Colonel Brandon offers to go and get her, and Elinor accepts this proposal; at last, Marianne's state improves after a few bad days, which heartens Elinor. Elinor now expects Colonel Brandon and her mother to arrive at any moment; but, when a carriage arrives that night, Elinor is shocked to find that Willoughby has come instead.
In this chapter, Mrs. Jennings emerges as a much more caring, sympathetic person than she has before. Not only does she choose staying and looking after Marianne to going with her daughter, she brings herself to understand how terrible this whole ordeal is for Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood by thinking of her own grief if her daughter Charlotte were seriously ill. Despite her follies earlier in the book, Mrs. Jennings has certainly proved to be a thoroughly good person when put in trying situations; and although her unfounded regard for Lucy Steele persists, she has also proved herself a fair judge of character with regards to John and Fanny Dashwood, whom she appraises as most cold and unkind.
The closeness of the bond between Elinor and Marianne is confirmed in this chapter; for, though Marianne has been foolish, selfish, and sometimes less than considerate to her sister, still Elinor's care for Marianne could not be greater when she becomes ill. For all their differences, Elinor and Marianne are each other's most constant companions and know each other better than most, and Marianne's loss might effect Elinor more for these reasons than it could effect even their mother.
Chapter 44 Summary:
Elinor is horrified at seeing Willoughby there, and shocked when he says his only business is with her. Willoughby asks if Marianne is recovering, and Elinor says she is; Willoughby says he is there to explain himself and gain some forgiveness, if he can. Willoughby says he led Marianne on out of vanity, and didn't know that she actually loved him; he finally began to love her as well, and would have proposed to her, had his aunt, Mrs. Smith, not annulled his legacy, and left him with heavy debts. Willoughby also tries to excuse himself for seducing and dumping Miss Williams, Colonel Brandon's ward, although he is making poor excuses for his truly inexcusable behavior.
Apparently, he also avoided them while they were in town, and watched them to make sure he wouldn't stumble on them accidentally. He also says that the letter he sent Marianne was written by his wife, again attempting to excuse his cruel behavior. By saying that he also has no regard for his wife, and still loves Marianne, he attempts to gain Elinor's compassion; Elinor's opinion of him is somewhat bettered in being assured that he did, and still does, have affection for Marianne. Elinor cannot think him a total blackguard since he has been heavily punished for all his mistakes, and now must endure a loveless marriage for the sake of money; Willoughby leaves with this assurance, lamenting that Marianne is lost to him forever.
The reintroduction of Willoughby seems particularly designed to prove him as callow and cruel as his behavior to Marianne in London suggested. He is little like he was at Barton, and indeed seems like a pure villain at first; there could not be any greater contrast between his former appearance, and how he is acting to Elinor when he tries to make light of his completely irresponsible behavior. He does become somewhat more sympathetic through the course of the conversation, as flashes of sincerity become apparent, and his continuing regard for Marianne is confirmed. Elinor may be right, in believing that he would be of a character wholly as open and good as Marianne's, had he been possessed with less vanity and less tendency toward idleness and irresponsibility. But, Willoughby has been punished and deserves all of this punishment, although with his present bitterness there is perhaps little hope of him amending his character.
Willoughby's cryptic statement about Marianne soon marrying someone he "could least bear" obviously is meant to foreshadow a union between Marianne and Colonel Brandon. However, how Willoughby would be able to guess at this is a mystery. The Colonel is certainly as resolved on Marianne as he always was, and has proved his honor, and his regard for her and her family, repeatedly. Although Marianne has not yet come to love or appreciate the Colonel, this final appearance of Willoughby will probably finally put her grief from her mind, and perhaps prepare her to accept the honorable affections of the Colonel.
Chapter 45 Summary:
Elinor, in spite of herself, feels for Willoughby, as she is assured of his grief at being forever parted from Marianne and from their family. Mrs. Dashwood finally arrives with the Colonel, and Elinor assures her that Marianne is out of danger; both Mrs. Dashwood and the Colonel are relieved, and Mrs. Dashwood observes how glad the Colonel is at this news. Elinor wrestles with telling her sister of Willoughby, and puts it off until her sister is truly better.
Mrs. Dashwood tells Elinor that the Colonel had confessed his love for Marianne during the journey from Barton; Mrs. Dashwood wishes the Colonel and Marianne to be married, although Elinor sees Marianne's lack of regard for him as a certain hindrance. Mrs. Dashwood says she thinks the Colonel far more amiable than Willoughby, and knows he is much more honorable; Elinor knows she is saying this to soothe her own recent disappointments regarding Willoughby, although her perceptions of the Colonel's character are correct. Elinor wishes the Colonel well in securing Marianne's affections, as her mother does, but is more pessimistic regarding Marianne's temperament, and ability to accept the Colonel so readily, after confessing such disdain for him in the past.
That Mrs. Dashwood has seized upon the notion that the Colonel should marry Marianne is another encouragement for the match between them to be made; however, Marianne's affections are still in doubt, and probably still devoted to Willoughby. The difference in the temperaments of Elinor and her mother is fully displayed in this chapter, as her mother wants things to work out, as does Elinor, but does not consider the facts thoroughly, nor take account of Marianne's feelings. Elinor is perhaps too pessimistic in thinking that Marianne could never grow to like the Colonel, but she sees her mother's haste to have them together, and her lack of consideration for Marianne's stubbornness, as foolhardy. Mrs. Dashwood's well-meaning, but false confessions of her former doubts about Willoughby are a prime example of her wishful thinking; Mrs. Dashwood would have things work out to her satisfaction, but also refuses to see that her plans might not prevail.
However, the Colonel shows that he is fully sensible, like Elinor, in not being too convinced in the certainty of a match between himself and Marianne. He is the more realistic of the parties; he has more hope than Elinor, yet knows that his success depends completely on the alteration of Marianne's feelings toward him, which cannot be assured. Elinor's regret on Willoughby's behalf is perhaps a little excessive; by this point, it should be obvious that although he is not a bad person, he is certainly no good for Marianne, and he is better off forgotten. The Colonel certainly deserves Marianne's affections now, and with any luck, Marianne will amend her former opinions and begin to like him.
Chapter 46 Summary:
Marianne makes a quick recovery, and Colonel Brandon is invited to see her, so that she can thank him for bringing her mother. They finally resolve to leave, as Marianne is much improved; Mrs. Jennings is sincerely thanked for her kindness, as is the Colonel. Marianne certainly acts more kind to the Colonel, and he leaves when the Dashwoods do, promising to visit them soon. Marianne has become calm, and seems happy, which Elinor observes with particular satisfaction, and with hope that Marianne is finally recovered from Willoughby's rejection. Although Marianne shows signs of sadness at being reminded of Willoughby by being at Barton, she is far more mature about it, keeping herself busy and refusing to let herself languish in her grief.
Marianne finally speaks of Willoughby, and says she wishes she knew that he felt something for her; Elinor decides she must take the opportunity to tell her what Willoughby had said, and Marianne takes it very well. Marianne also laments at her selfishness toward Elinor, above all people, and her lack of civility and compassion toward most of their acquaintance; she is determined to amend her ways, and to act with much greater delicacy from this point onward.
Marianne has finally seen her errors of being selfish and unjust toward many; her repentance is sincere, and she also laments her impropriety with Willoughby. Marianne seems to have truly learned from her behavior and experience, and though she is still of a passionate, emotional nature, it is a distinctly positive sign that she is turning these to her own advantage, in educating herself and seeking her own improvement. Even Marianne's tone and language has changed; she no longer speaks in impassioned outbursts, with dramatic overstatements, or simply of herself and her own feelings. She considers Elinor above all, and how her conduct affected her sister, and evenly appraises recent events in her past. Marianne sounds levelheaded, and solid in her judgments, as hopefully she will continue to be.
At last, Marianne has learned moderation; this is a theme which will be of great importance to Marianne's future, as it will make her conduct and her judgments more just than they once were. That Marianne also seems to have gotten over Willoughby is a very positive sign; along with the change in her conduct, it is hopeful that this will lead to her beginning to think well of the Colonel.
Chapter 47 Summary:
Elinor tells her mother about her conversation with Willoughby, and though her mother, like herself and Marianne, thinks a little better of him, they do not miss him or have much affection for him anymore. Marianne finally says that she could not have been happy with Willoughby, after hearing of his cruelty toward Miss Williams; Elinor says that Marianne is certainly right in this appraisal, and that Willoughby was too selfish to have made her happy. Mrs. Dashwood takes this as encouragement to recommend Colonel Brandon even more heartily, although Marianne is certainly not ready for that suggestion.
Elinor begins to wonder at Edward, having heard nothing of him since she left London; the family is surprised then, when one of their servants returns from the village with news that he is married to Lucy. Their servant saw them himself, and says that Lucy sends her compliments; Elinor knows now that Edward is lost to her forever, and doomed to an unhappy marriage as well. Mrs. Dashwood sees how upset Elinor is, despite her attempts to hide it; she realizes that Elinor felt more for Edward than she guessed before, and is sorry to have paid less attention to Elinor's disappointments simply because she was less open with them than Marianne was.
Marianne's transformation seems complete at this point; her affections for Willoughby are put to rest, and even her mother, who was once fond of him, has decided to forgive and forget. Marianne sees that Willoughby's selfishness and inconstancy would hardly have made her happy; perhaps she will recognize that the Colonel is very much the opposite, and be attracted to him because he is so steady in his affections and cares very much for her happiness.
It seems at this point that Elinor's hopes for happiness are destroyed, as she does not have a suitor as Marianne still does. Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood do become more sensitive toward Elinor's disappointment, and come to understand her character more; for although Elinor tries hard to conceal her unhappiness, this does not mean that she doesn't feel less than Marianne does.
Chapter 48 Summary:
Although Elinor knew before that Edward and Lucy would probably be married, she is still pained at the news, since she had hope that they might be separated by some mischance. She wishes to hear more news, but none comes; they expect Colonel Brandon any day, so Elinor can ask him if the couple are indeed settled at Delaford. Elinor is convinced that the Colonel has arrived at the cottage, but is surprised to find that it is Edward instead. They all try to hide their anxiety, and their conversation is awkward at best; but, when Mrs. Dashwood inquires about his wife, he informs them that it is his brother who has been married to Lucy, and not him. Elinor immediately runs from the room, crying out of joy; Edward then senses Elinor's regard for him, and is very happy too.
This new development has hardly been foreshadowed in Austen's text; Robert and Lucy hardly seemed to know each other before in town, and Robert had proclaimed Lucy plain and undesirable before. Their personalities being similar, and their scruples almost nonexistent, it is perhaps not a surprise that they would be drawn together. However, perhaps it is a failure of Austen's that this is a bombshell with absolutely no prior indications, and seems more like a convenient development than a natural event in the text.
Chapter 49 Summary:
Edward came to Barton with the intent of proposing marriage to Elinor, now that he is free; Elinor accepts and he gains Mrs. Dashwood's consent to the match during the afternoon. Edward admits that any regard he had for Lucy was formed out of idleness and lack of knowledge of the world; but during the four years they were engaged, he soon came to regret the match, although he could not break with Lucy in good conscience. The entire family is unbelievably happy that Edward got an honorable release from his engagement, and that Elinor and Edward are to be wed; Elinor is absolutely overcome, since she had expected him to be lost forever to her.
Edward also reveals that after leaving London, he received a letter from Lucy saying that she had married his brother Robert, and has not seen her since. After receiving the letter, he also set out for Barton immediately, now at liberty to do as he had wished. Colonel Brandon soon comes to visit, and they are all at Barton for some time; Edward will still accept the position at Delaford, although he and Elinor still will not have enough money to live on comfortably. Edward and the Colonel become good friends, since they are suited in sense and temperament; Edward goes to Delaford with the Colonel to see his new home, and then decides to go to town to attempt reconciliation with his family, and hope to regain financial support from them.
Austen still does not explain exactly how Robert and Lucy managed to become a couple, but Edward's statement that their vanities must have bound them together is probably the best explanation for their sudden elopement. How ironic that Robert commits the grave offense against his family of marrying Lucy, yet it is Edward who is left without support; hopefully this is remedied somehow, although news of Edward's engagement to Elinor will hardly be more welcome than news of his engagement to Lucy.
In the end, Lucy proves just as unscrupulous, vain, and malicious as Elinor suspected she might be. She ditches Edward because of money, when it suits her to do so; she sends the message to the Dashwoods to lead them to the painful conclusion that she has married Edward, and then she even takes all her sister's money and leaves her in town. It would hardly be fair if Robert got to keep Edward's inheritance now, and would be just desserts if Lucy was stuck with Robert, and had even less money than she would have with Edward. But, it is almost certain that considering the selfishness and folly of the couple, theirs will hardly be a joyful marriage at all.
Chapter 50 Summary:
Edward is welcomed back by his mother, although he does not regain his inheritance from Robert. His mother even gives her consent for his marriage to Elinor, however much she is displeased by it and wishes him to marry Miss Morton instead. She also gives them ten thousand pounds, the interest of which will allow them to live securely with the money already have and the small amount brought in by the parsonage. The couple then wait until the parsonage house is ready for them, and are married at Barton that fall.
Mrs. Ferrars and even John and Fanny come and visit them at Delaford; John says he wished to have Colonel Brandon as Elinor's husband instead, and notes how much more wealth and status the Colonel has, and that perhaps Marianne will now be induced to marry him. Mrs. Ferrars is soon induced to embrace Robert again, as her favorite son, despite his and Lucy's offense; they settle in town, and are given plenty of money by Mrs. Ferrars, who grows to love even the cunning Lucy.
Mrs. Dashwood and her two remaining daughters spend most of their time at Delaford, both to be near Elinor, and out of the hope that Marianne might accept the Colonel. In the two years that have passed, Marianne has become more mature and more grounded; and she does finally change her mind about the Colonel, and does accept his offer of marriage. The Colonel becomes far more cheerful, and soon Marianne grows to love him as much as she ever loved Willoughby. Mrs. Dashwood remains at Barton with Margaret, now fifteen, much to the delight of Sir John, who retains their company. And Elinor and Marianne both live together at Delaford, and remain good friends with each other and each other's husbands.
It is thoroughly ironic that Mrs. Ferrars, despite her relative goodwill toward Edward, devises to look displeased and angry with him, although she is not. There seems to be a certain softening toward her son here, in letting him marry against her will and allowing him money, both of which she refused to do before; yet, she covers up her giving-in with the look of being unpleasant and displeased. However, it seems that none of these less-than-pleasant characters have been taught anything in the course of the book. Robert is embraced by his mother again, just as he is; John Dashwood is still trying to get one of the girls to marry Colonel Brandon, so that he will never feel obligated to help them financially. Even Lucy is rewarded for being completely selfish and deceptive; it seems that only Marianne and Elinor have been tested, and their affections and characters cruelly tried.
It is also ironic that Lucy is completely embraced by the family after all that has happened; but, being as selfish and flawed as the Ferrars family, perhaps it is natural that they should all get along. One would wish that this whole tribe might get their comeuppance, but instead "nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together." They are all let off, unpunished but by having to endure as foolish, selfish people.
Sense and Sensibility is not considered Austen's best novel because of the oddness of its conclusion. It might well be expected that Elinor and Colonel Brandon become a couple, since they are best suited in character and temperament; however, Elinor ends up with the rather dull, though kind, Edward, of whom the reader learns little. It is Marianne and the Colonel who become a couple, which is somewhat dissatisfying; they have been infrequent company and know little of each other, yet the Colonel seems to love her because of her resemblance to a woman he once knew. Although Marianne becomes more cordial to the Colonel toward the end of the book, still, Austen must hurriedly add that she does come to love the Colonel on the last pages; we do not see any evidence of this affection, except what is told to us. This conclusion is too hasty to be truly satisfying, and might leave the reader's sympathies with Willoughby, the only man that Marianne is shown to love during the course of the novel. As Austen's first novel, perhaps these faults can be forgiven, and her later novels looked to as better examples of her work.