Sense and Sensibility 46-48: Exit, Willoughby; Enter, Edward

My notes from Chapters 46-48 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

Having left Cleveland after Marianne’s illness, the Dashwoods return to Barton Park, where Marianne continues to recuperate. Meanwhile, Colonel Brandon returned to his home in Delaford. Elinor first debates the propriety of, then follows through on, the retelling of Mr. Willoughby’s confession, to which Marianne reacts in an uncharacteristically calm spirit. It is generally decided—encouraged by Elinor and accepted by Marianne—that Willoughby would have been an unfortunate match for Marianne, and that the two are incompatible. Marianne conjectures that Willoughby’s problems stem from his initial error in the Eliza Williams situation.

Word is brought to Barton Park that “Mr. Ferrars is married.” The Dashwoods, especially Elinor, are disturbed by this. Elinor had thought that she would hear more from her other friends on the state of Edward and Lucy, and displays an uncharacteristic sensitivity to the affair. As a reversal of these thoughts, Edward unexpectedly arrives with news that his brother Robert had married Lucy, to which the Dashwoods are shocked.

Character Commentary

Marianne undergoes a period of self reflection in Chapter 46 that I believe is an important turning point in that character’s theme (see below). Marianne says that her illness has caused her to think seriously: “I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave. … Had I died, it would have been self-destruction.” She continues to claim that she had been unkind to many, including Mrs. Jennings, the Palmers, etc.

Marianne both claims and appears to be unencumbered by thoughts of Willoughby. Thoughts of Edward, however, seem to plague Elinor, who worries about him and reacts emotionally to thoughts of and address from Edward.

Themes and Threads

In these chapters, the attitudes of the Miss Dashwoods seem to undergo changes. Marianne’s usual oversensitivity is largely held at bay, while Elinor’s reactions and states of mind are uncharacteristically emotional. As they are exiting the carriage upon arrival at Barton Park, Elinor notices that Marianne is calm even though she’d been crying:

“In the whole of her subsequent manner, she traced the direction of a mind awakened to reasonable exertion; for no sooner had they entered their common sitting-room, than Marianne turned her eyes around it with a look of resolute firmness, as if determined at once to accustom herself to the sight of every object with which the remembrance of Willoughy could be connected.”

One problem that the Miss Dashwoods have is their now tendancy to conjecture about other people. For instance, Marianne is quick to conclude the Willoughby saga by explaining off his actions as part of or caused by his actions toward Eliza Williams, and generally writes him off as a scoundrel. Elinor is led by her imagination to new psychological and interpretive ends. In Chapter 48: “She saw them in an instant in their parsonage house…”, and “In Edward, she knew not what she saw, nor what she wished to see; … (emphases added)” Elinor imagines Edward and Lucy together, their having traveled together on a trip to her uncle’s house.

Such an imagination in Elinor causes her to overreact to external stimuli in an uncharacteristic way. She has, up to this point, been held up as strong-minded and thoughtful above being affected by emotion. But, here she is worrying about Edward and, when he arrives at Barton Park unexpectedly to relay the news that Robert had in fact been the “Mr. Ferrars” who had married Lucy, Elinor “almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.”

It seems as though the process of illness had affected Marianne, and that the process of attending to the long-term troubles of Marianne has affected Elinor.

Out of Context

I especially appreciate this line of Marianne’s as she is wanting to explore new ways to occupy her mind: “I have formed a plan, and am determined to enter on a serious course of study.” Not only does this notion make psychological sense, but I myself have used this method of distracting from either unpleasant or unwanted experiences. I’m sure that preoccupying one’s mind to escape relationship troubles is commonplace.

Looking Ahead

In the final 2 chapters, I hope to be able to determine “who” this novel is about. Throughout, Austen has shifted focus as various points, consistently between the sisters Marianne and Elinor.

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