Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1998

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin 1995 edition.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary. 

Overall Impression: Enjoyable if perhaps a little less memorable compared to Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice.


 

Mr. Henry Dashwood has died and his house (Norland Park) is taken over by his son John and his greedy wife Fanny Ferrars Dashwood. The widow Mrs. Dashwood is made to feel unwelcome in her own former home and elects to move out with her daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. Fanny's brother Edward Ferrars seems to court Elinor, but Marianne despairs at his lack of sensitivity and feeling and expresses her reservations about him. Fanny also objects to the relationship.

Fanny talks John out of showing any generosity to his mother and sisters. In September they move to Barton Cottage in Devonshire, owned by a wealthy relation Sir John Middleton and his wife Lady Middleton. The Middletons are very hospitable despite Mrs. D's coolness, and invite them frequently to Barton park. There they meet Mrs. Middleton's mother Mrs. Jennings and Colonel Brandon, who is 35 y/o and Sir John's friend. Mrs. Jennings is very outspoken and predicts a match between Marianne and Brandon. They all sadly note the absence of Edward.

Marianne and Elinor walk in the hills. Marianne sprains her ankle and is rescued by the handsome and dashing John Willoughby, who stays nearby with his relation Mrs. Smith (she owns property he will inherit). Marianne and Willoughby seem to be in love and Elinor criticizes her excess openness and lack of reserve. Brandon seems also to have an interest in Marianne but he is disparaged by Willoughby and Marianne-- Elinor defends him. As Marianne and Will. have eyes only for each other and exhibit growing intimacy, Elinor nurses her hurt feelings regarding Edward and enjoys talking with Brandon. He wonders at Marianne's prejudice against second attachments. Will. obtains a lock of hair from Marianne and plans to buy her a horse. 

They plan an outing to Whitwell, Brandon's brother-in-laws property. But Brandon receives a letter and is called away suddenly, receiving criticism from Will. He is said to have a natural daughter Miss Williams. Marianne and Will. sneak off to view his future property where Mrs. Smith lives. Mrs. Jennings speculates on why Brandon had to leave. 

Willoughby suddenly departs for London leaving Marianne bewildered and sorrowful and Elinor suspicious. Edward Ferrars shows up and is cold and repellent, in low spirits. He is seen to have a ring with a lock of hair-- is it Elinor's? Mrs. Dashwood advises Edward to get a profession. Mr. Thomas & Mrs. Charlotte Palmer (Lady Middleton's sister) arrive for a visit. They discuss Willoughby and Brandon. Lucy and Nancy Anne Steele pay a visit-- cousins of Lady Middleton. Lucy confides to Elinor (in a partially preemptive move) that she and Edward have been secretly engaged for 4 years and the problems that have resulted. 

Elinor and Marianne accept Mrs. Jenning's invitation to travel to London. There, Marianne writes Willoughby and Brandon pays a visit. Will. fails to come and shuns Marianne at a party. He is seen with another woman. Marianne receives a cold letter from him advising that he is engaged to the wealthy Miss Sophia Grey and he returns her letters and the locket with hair. Brandon arrives to share the news.

Brandon tells of his former love for Eliza, who instead was forced to marry his brother, and who was later divorced, fell into disgrace, was seduced, had a child (Eliza Williams) by her seducer, and died of TB. Brandon provides for this child's education. She had disappeared and was found to have been seduced by Willoughby and abandoned pregnant. Brandon and Will. fought a duel without either being injured. 

John Dashwood arrives and again rationalizes his neglect of his mother et al due to great expenses. They visit at the John Dashwoods, where Marianne defends Elinor against the rude and sour mother of Fanny, Mrs. Ferrars. Edward, Elinor, Marianne, and Lucy have an uncomfortable visit together. Elinor meets Edward's brother, Robert Ferrars. Fanny invites the Miss Steeles for a visit. When Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars learn (from Nancy) of Lucy's engagement to Edward, they explode in violent opposition. Mrs. Ferrars disinherits Edward, but Mrs. Jennings speaks supportively of him. Anne Steele tells of overhearing Edward and Lucy planning their uncertain future and deferring the marriage.

Brandon arranges a 200 pound/year "living" for Edward. Mrs. Jennings thinks Brandon is courting Elinor. Elinor conveys the generous offer to Edward. John Dashwood questions Brandon's motives for such generosity. Robert Ferrars condemns Edward's choice. 

Elinor and Marianne leave to visit the Palmers at Cleveland, accompanied by Mrs. Jennings and Brandon. Marianne develops a putrid infection and nearly dies. Brandon is sent to fetch Mrs. Dashwood. Willoughby arrives to declare his love for Marianne to Elinor, his need to marry for money due to debts, his wife's insistence that he write the cruel letter, and other extenuating circumstances explaining his poor behavior, seeking forgiveness. Brandon and Mrs. Dashwood arrive, he having confessed his love for Marianne to her mother. The mother and sisters return to Barton Cottage and Marianne reflects on her selfishness and self-destructive behavior. Elinor tells her of Willoughby's visit and confession-- this is a great relief to her-- she concludes she could never have been happy with him.

The servant says he has seen Lucy and that he is married to Edward. But Edward soon arrives to inform them that it is in fact his brother Robert Ferrars who has married Lucy Steele. (His mother had insured his prosperity when disinheriting Edward.) Edward asks Elinor for her hand in marriage, explains that he stayed with the engagement to Lucy only out of a sense of duty. Edward and Brandon become friends. Edward is reconciled with his mother and receives some financial support. Robert even gets back in favor with her. Lucy's full cunning is revealed. Elinor and Edward marry. Marianne loves and marries Brandon. Willoughby eventually gets over Marianne. Marianne and Elinor remain close.