Sense and Sensibility

by: Jane Austen

Chapters 23-27

Colonel Brandon arrives at Mrs. Jennings's London home to speak with Elinor. He asks her if it is true, as everyone claims, that Marianne and Willoughby are engaged. Elinor is surprised that so many people are discussing an engagement that has not been officially announced. She diplomatically informs Colonel Brandon that though she knows nothing of her sister's engagement, she has no doubt of their mutual affection. Brandon leaves after expressing his wish that Marianne be happy--and that Willoughby endeavor to deserve her.

Commentary

Even when Lucy Steele is revealing her greatest secret to Elinor, she must do so in hushed tones and with an atmosphere of concealment. As the rest of the dinner party plays cards, Lucy whispers to Elinor the story of her long and secret engagement to Edward. Although Lucy describes the history of their relationship accurately, her claims about Edward's steadfast faithfulness and their mutual affection are as fabricated as the basket in her hands; Edward, as Elinor assures herself, has eyes for her alone.

Marianne's name suits her well: like the Mariana of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, who waits by the moated grange for her lover, Austen's heroine pines away for Willoughby and awaits his visit from the moment she first arrives in town with Mrs. Jennings and Elinor. Marianne's name is also a mirror image of Annamaria, Lady Middleton's spoiled young daughter, who will be "miserable" if her filigree basket is not completed before she goes to bed. By this close kinship of names, Austen suggests that Marianne's excessive sensibility and romanticism resembles the eagerness and impatience of a spoiled little girl.

Willoughby does not appear in any of these chapters, yet he figures prominently in the thoughts of those characters who do. Mrs. Jennings implies that Marianne would welcome the opportunity to travel to town with her in the hope of seeing Willoughby, and Marianne is enthusiastic about the prospect for this very reason. When they arrive in town, she is increasingly wretched with each passing day that he does not visit. Elinor, too, thinks of Willoughby at length because she is concerned about her sister's welfare. Even Colonel Brandon calls on Elinor in order to discuss Marianne's relationship with Willoughby and to inform Elinor that everyone in town is discussing their engagement. These frequent references to Willoughby heighten our anxiety concerning the true nature of his commitment to Marianne, and enable us as readers to experience some of Marianne's longing for that which is never present.

Though Willoughby does not appear, Marianne mistakes Colonel Brandon for him when the latter comes to visit the Dashwood sisters in London. This is one of many suggestions in the novel that people may be substituted for one another: Marianne had earlier mistaken Edward Ferrars on horseback for John Willoughby; Elinor mistakes Lucy's hair for her own in Edward's ring; and Elinor initially mistakes Robert for Edward as the object of Lucy's affections. These scenes in which some characters fail to recognize others provide subtext for a novel in which one young woman (Marianne) thinks she is in love with one man but ends up loving someone else, and another young woman (Lucy) becomes engaged to one brother but then decides to marry the other.


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