Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-40

Chapter 31 Summary:

Marianne still cannot see Willoughby for the blackguard that he is; she wants to believe him innocent, though wavers in her convictions. A letter from their mother arrives, and Marianne expresses her desire to be home immediately, though Elinor decides that they will wait for further advice from their mother. Colonel Brandon calls, and Marianne avoids his presence; he has come to speak to Elinor, and tells her of Willoughby's true character.

Colonel Brandon was once in love with a ward to his family, Eliza, who was forced to marry his brother while he was sent into the army; the marriage was not happy, and after their divorce, she became a fallen woman and had an illegitimate daughter. Colonel Brandon finally found her when he came back from India, but she was dying in a poorhouse, with her young daughter. Colonel Brandon placed the daughter, Miss Williams, in care after her mother's death, but she had disappeared some months ago after becoming pregnant by Willoughby and then being abandoned by him. Colonel Brandon received news of Miss Williams's state on the day of the Delaford picnic, and this was the reason he left Barton so suddenly and could not return. The Colonel hopes that knowledge of Willoughby's blackness will help console Marianne about her loss, as she is lucky not to have been married to such a thoughtless, cruel man.


Here, Colonel Brandon's much hinted-about past is finally discussed, and explains much about his character and his present affections for Marianne. Marianne's great resemblance to his long-lost love is surely the reason why the Colonel has such affection for Marianne, and a wish to protect her as he failed to do with Eliza. A theme of recurring history is evident in the Colonel's story, as he is again in love with a passionate, imperiled woman at risk of losing herself and her reputation. But the Colonel's present knowledge and awareness that Eliza's and Marianne's "fortunes cannot be the same" foreshadows that the outcome of his concern for Marianne will be much less tragic.

The story of Colonel Brandon's adopted daughter shows that although Marianne was flighty and indiscreet, she is lucky that she was not taken in as the other girl had been. Again, Willoughby's character is shown to be far more reprehensible than it ever appeared; the divide between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon becomes even greater, as the Colonel shows himself to be the kind of honorable, caring man that Willoughby only appeared to be.

Chapter 32 Summary:

Elinor tells Marianne of the Colonel's story, and though Marianne is now convinced of Willoughby's guilt, it does not ease her mind. Marianne also stops avoiding the Colonel's company and becomes more civil to him, which is a positive development. They receive word from their mother, who thinks coming back to Barton at such a time would only remind Marianne constantly of Willoughby; they are to remain in town for the time being. Mrs. Palmer and Sir John, although they do not mention Willoughby in Marianne's company, express their great distaste for him to Elinor; they resolve to break off their acquaintance with him forever. Willoughby is soon married, which Marianne is grieved to hear; then, the Miss Steeles come to town, much to Elinor's regret.


Again, Marianne's selfishness and childlike behavior begins to be ruled by compassion for others; she decides to bear the rest of her time in London because she thinks it will give Elinor a chance to see Edward, and she wants to see her sister glad. It is ironic then that Marianne's justification for staying is also Elinor's reason for leaving; Elinor decides to risk the painful chance of seeing Edward because she believes Marianne will be better off in town, though Marianne certainly would prefer to be with her mother at such a time.

Although Sir John, Mrs. Palmer, and Mrs. Jennings certainly mean well toward Marianne, their constant inquiries and expressions of concern are certainly too much of a good thing. Although all three are of fairly high status in their society, Austen's depiction of them places them in a hierarchy of manners, in which they are fairly low. In addressing her characters and determining the tone in which she speaks of them, Austen uses valuation of their manners as prime consideration; therefore Edward and Colonel Brandon are treated in a much more dignified tone and depicted more positively than the others, who are lightly mocked, and discussed with much less regard and esteem.

Chapter 33 Summary:

Marianne is persuaded to go out on a short errand to the jeweler's. They find John Dashwood there, as he and Fanny had just gotten into town. He comes to visit them the next day, to be introduced to Mrs. Jennings and to Sir John and Lady Middleton. Colonel Brandon comes in during his visit, and John is somehow convinced that the Colonel and Elinor will probably be married. He congratulates Elinor on the match, though she tries and fails to convince him that there is no such plan. John also tells her that Edward is to be married to Miss Morton, an orphan with a great deal of money left to her.

To excuse himself from helping the Dashwood women, he goes on for some time about how little money he has, and the poor state of his finances. He also insists that Mrs. Jennings will probably leave some money for the girls in his will, thus convincing himself that he has no need to help them in their tough circumstances. He also laments that Marianne has lost her beauty and bloom through illness, and will hardly marry well now; he is then introduced to Sir John and Lady Middleton, and determines that Fanny will certainly find them charming and worthy company.


John Dashwood's meanness and miserly nature is displayed again here, as he makes a long, involved argument convincing himself that he has no obligations to the Dashwood girls. That he has to justify this before Elinor shows that he is not altogether cold-hearted, but shows him to be petty and wholly ungenerous. His condescension toward Elinor is also rather appalling, and serves to show Elinor in an even more positive light through the juxtaposition of their characters. Snobbery is also evident in John as he says that Fanny thought Mrs. Jennings and her daughters were below her because they got their money through trade. John Dashwood is a symbol of the petty, greedy type found often in the upper classes, and Austen is sure to expose all his foibles through his conversation and excuses.

Chapter 34 Summary:

Fanny takes the trouble to visit Mrs. Jennings and Lady Middleton, and deems them worthy company. Edward too is in town, but manages to drop by when Elinor happens to be out. The Dashwoods decide to give a dinner for the Middletons, to show their delight for their new company; Colonel Brandon is invited, much to his surprise, as John wishes to do everything possible to speed up the non-existent match between the Colonel and Elinor. The Miss Steeles are also in town, staying with the Middletons; they too will be at the party as Lady Middleton's guests, along with Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny's mother.

Mrs. Ferrars turns out to be sallow, unpleasant, and uncivil, much like Fanny; Marianne is hurt by Mrs. Ferrars' slight to Elinor, knowing that any match between her sister and Edward will have to be approved by this horrible woman.


Austen's diction here reveals the flattery and overstatement to which many, like the Miss Steeles and Fanny, are prone to. That Fanny could find the dull and cold Lady Middleton to be "one of the most charming women in the world" is certainly flattery and shows poor judgment on Fanny's part; the statement is meant in an ironic way by Austen, as the exclamation point at the end of the statement suggests the insincerity and ridiculousness involved in such a false appraisal. Austen satirizes the two women by noting that "cold hearted selfishness" attracted them, as they mirror each other's failings and flaws. Although Mrs. Jennings often appears ridiculous and overbearing, Austen exposes her more sound judgment; she senses how cold Fanny is, and disapproves of how little regard she shows for her sisters-in-law.

Austen again finds the company ripe for mockery as the conversation is poor, seeing as most of the company, aside from the Miss Dashwoods and Colonel Brandon, lacks wit or good sense. That Austen describes the debate about whose child is taller as if each participant were a juror or judge, highlights the absurdity of such a debate, and the poverty of wit in such company. Colonel Brandon's behavior in this chapter reasserts his affection for Marianne; and although she shows no signs of returning his affections, her growing sensitivity toward her sister shows that she is gaining in sensibility.

Chapter 35 Summary:

Elinor wishes no connection with Mrs. Ferrars after seeing her rudeness, and is somewhat glad that because she cannot marry Edward, she will never have to suffer Mrs. Ferrars' company. Lucy is overjoyed at the greater civility with which Mrs. Ferrars treated her, though this "civility" amounted to little more than not insulting Lucy. Lucy comes over to speak with Elinor, which annoys Elinor; unfortunately, Edward calls while Lucy is still there, which creates a very awkward situation among the group. Elinor recovers herself and dutifully plays the hostess, though Lucy watches her like a hawk. Elinor leaves them to fetch Marianne; Marianne is exceptionally happy to see him, since she thinks his visit will please her sister. Edward soon decides to leave, and Lucy soon follows. Marianne is upset at her sister for showing little affection for Edward while he was there, but Elinor knows how little she could say to him, with jealous Lucy sitting right there.


If Lucy seemed merely jealous before, here she exposes a more vicious side; she comes to Elinor to gloat over what she sees as her success with Mrs. Ferrars, and to rejoice in being in Edward's company a great deal in the near future. Lucy may be silly and without sense, but she is rather conniving as well; she abuses her acquaintance with Elinor to try and win out over her by making Elinor jealous. There is a great deal of dramatic irony in the scene with Edward and the three women; Edward does not know that Elinor is aware of the engagement, and so feels guilty and falls silent. Marianne believes that Edward loves only Elinor, and so discounts Lucy and tries to encourage Edward and Elinor. And Lucy has absolutely no idea that Edward, if he were free to choose, would choose Elinor over her; although she is jealous, she is also arrogantly assured of being foremost in Edward's affections.

Chapter 36 Summary:

Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Jennings' daughter, has a son; Mrs. Jennings is with her daughter most days, which means Elinor and Marianne are obliged to spend their days at the Middletons'. Lady Middleton does not care for them because they do not flatter her or the children, and the Miss Steeles are too jealous of the Dashwood girls to like them. The Dashwood girls are invited to a party, although the invitation is mistakenly sent to their brother's house; Marianne, who is much recovered, goes, although she gets little pleasure from any company in town. Robert Ferrars, Edward's brother, is there; he is arrogant and a fool, like the whole of his family, excepting poor, modest Edward. John wishes to invite the Miss Dashwoods to stay with them; but, as usual, Fanny talks him out of it in favor of inviting the Miss Steeles. Elinor worries that Lucy might be able to gain the favor of the Ferrars family, and marry Edward after all.


How dear, sweet Edward could have sprung from such a miserable, poor-spirited family is a complete mystery; the juxtaposition of Edward with his relations makes him seem even more of a good-hearted, rare sort of man. Robert is as condescending toward her as John is, though he makes far more of an effort to speak to the Dashwood girls than his sister Fanny ever attempts. Austen serves up more of her understated wit to mock Robert; her comment Elinor deems him unworthy of "the compliment of rational opposition" perfectly displays how Austen infuses proper diction with irony, to achieve a unique brand of social criticism.

Chapter 37 Summary:

Mrs. Jennings returns home one day, to inform Elinor that Miss Steele told Fanny of Lucy and Edward's engagement. The Ferrars family are in an uproar, and Fanny in particular, who went into hysterics at the news, and forced the two girls from the house. Elinor is concerned about how this whole uproar will effect Edward, and tells her sister of it; Marianne is much grieved to hear of it, and cannot believe that Elinor has also kept her knowledge of it a secret for so long. John Dashwood visits, and tells them that Edward is to be disinherited if he chooses to marry Lucy; John laments that Edward has given up an estate and his fortune for this match, although Elinor and Marianne are even more grieved that Edward will have to marry a woman he no longer loves.


Fanny and her mother's goodwill toward the Miss Steeles proves as short-lived as it was ill-founded; this incident displays Fanny's true ugliness, and shows her hypocrisy in accepting someone as a friend and guest whom she would despise as a sister-in-law. Indeed, hypocrisy seems to be a theme of this entire section of the novel, as there is a great divide between what people say and what they think, and since friendships can be so quickly cast aside as Fanny demonstrates. Elinor, however, is a paragon of the opposite of hypocrisy, which is civility; although she does not speak her mind, she does not profess to feelings which are not hers, nor does she flatter as indiscriminately as the Miss Steeles.

Marianne's reaction upon hearing of Edward's engagement once again shows progress for her; she forgets about her own troubles and wishes to console Elinor, and show her thankfulness at being taken care of by Elinor during the past weeks. Marianne again loses part of her selfishness, as she sees that her sister has suffered a disappointment equal to her own. Marianne also makes progress toward being as discreet as her sister, in concealing her feelings about the whole affair from anyone besides Elinor. In this situation, Marianne seems to express all the grief that Elinor has concealed; Marianne seems like a kind of surrogate for her sister, in allowing herself to show emotion while Elinor tries to suppress all her feelings.

Chapter 38 Summary:

Elinor and Marianne think that Edward's resolve to marry Lucy is honorable, all the more since he probably knows he will not be happy marrying her. Elinor has the bad luck of meeting Miss Steele on a walk in Kensington Gardens, and she offers up all the latest news of her sister and Edward that Elinor so desperately wishes to avoid. Elinor does gain the information that the date of Edward and Lucy's marriage is altogether uncertain, since he must find a position within the church and save a good deal of money, which could take a good deal of time; this could be seen as a hopeful thing, as much could happen in that indefinitely long stretch of time. Lucy writes Elinor a letter, saying that she and Edward are happy, but need assistance so that they can marry. Elinor hands the information over to Mrs. Jennings, who thinks the letter does Lucy "great credit," and makes Mrs. Jennings more resolved to help her.


For almost the first time, Marianne is enduring feelings of "self-reproach"; she is examining her behavior and its merits, and correcting herself for not being as strong as Elinor about her disappointments. Self-reproach and self-correction are Marianne's only hope if she is to get over Willoughby and learn how to shield herself from gossip and impertinence in the future.

Miss Steele's presence in the chapter again shows the low manners of herself and her sister, and how unworthy they are of a connection with a fine man like Edward. Lucy is emboldened by Edward sticking to their engagement, and her letter to Elinor reeks of pure self-interest and selfishness; she seems to be trying to abuse Elinor's patience and good nature for her own possible gain. That Lucy also uses this letter to Elinor as an obvious ploy to attain Mrs. Jennings' help again shows her selfish, unrefined nature.

Chapter 39 Summary:

Marianne is desperate to finally be gone from London; but they are to stay until they go to the Palmers' with Mrs. Jennings, which is part of the way home from London. Marianne refuses to go there, however, because of the proximity to Willoughby's estate, although Elinor convinces her that this is the best plan. Mrs. Jennings is convinced by an overheard conversation between Elinor and the Colonel that they will soon be a match; but, their conversation has nothing to do with themselves, but rather Edward's difficult situation. The Colonel, although he barely knows Edward, generously offers the parish at Delaford to him, though it will hardly enable him to marry; Elinor is to convey the offer to Edward, to see if he will accept.


Despite Elinor and the Colonel's friendship, it seems quite obvious at this point that they will not become a couple, although ironically, they are considered to be almost betrothed by many. Ironically, the conversation they have is not about themselves, as Mrs. Jennings figures it is, but about Edward, despite the fact that the Colonel is little acquainted with him. The Colonel's generous, good spirit is again demonstrated through his concern for Edward. Even more of an irony is that Elinor is to offer Edward some means for him to get married, when she is the last person who wishes this to happen.

Chapter 40 Summary:

Mrs. Jennings at first thinks that Elinor and the Colonel were discussing an attachment between them, but soon is able to catch on that they were discussing Edward and his need for a position. Elinor now has to write a letter telling Edward of the proposal; but, before she can do this, Edward himself comes by to speak with her. Elinor tells him of the proposal, at which Edward is surprised, since he did not expect such generosity from the Colonel, as they hardly know each other. Edward thanks Elinor, although she tries to convince him that his honor is the reason he has gotten this offer; and Edward determines to thank the Colonel himself, and accept the position. Elinor clears all this up with Mrs. Jennings, and convinces her that none of it referred to Elinor or the Colonel being married. Mrs. Jennings also believes that the parsonage, however small, will allow Lucy and Edward to marry soon; Elinor is disheartened by this, although she is convinced that the next time she sees Edward, he will already be married to Lucy.


The beginning of this chapter presents a prime example of dramatic irony at work in Austen; Mrs. Jennings speaks out of presumption for what she believes the Colonel and Elinor discussed, while Elinor replies out of her own knowledge, and neither suspect a disconnect in the information they are discussing. Presumption is a wider theme in the novel, with respect to earlier beliefs about Marianne and Willoughby's relationship, as well as Mrs. Jennings' and John Dashwood's misinformed idea of Elinor and the Colonel being engaged. And it seems that those who are most prone to presuming incorrectly are so stubborn that they cannot be dissuaded, even John when Elinor flat-out denies that his ideas are correct.

But Edward, too, is also victim to presumption, although he is less stubbornly convinced and far more discreet about his suspicions. That he now believes Elinor and the Colonel to be more than friends creates even more of a divide between himself and Elinor; not that they have a chance of being together at this time, but it must make the situation all the more painful for him.