Austen for Beginners

Sense and Sensibility - the plot


 

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Here's a summary of the story. If you'd prefer to skip straight to the text of the novel, click here:
Sense and Sensibility - the text

An invitation to Town and the revelation of Willoughby's character
A secret is revealed and some disinheriting goes on
A misunderstanding is revealed, resulting in a happy ending


Setting the scene...
  • The Dashwood family live in Sussex - mother and three daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret. Mrs Dashwood is recently widowed and about to be forced to move out of her house by her stepson John and his wife, who have inherited the house and arrive to take possession of it. Mrs John Dashwood is particularly tactless about this and very protective of her own son's rights (he is only a child). 
  • The widowed Mrs Dashwood is distraught and her second daughter Marianne joins her in weeping and wailing about the whole business. Elinor, the eldest daughter, is much more sensible and practical about it. Margaret, who is only thirteen, takes a romantic view on life.
  • John Dashwood was thinking of settling some money on his stepsisters, but his wife talks him out of it. Consequently, Mrs Dashwood and her daughter are left with a relatively small income.
  • Mrs John Dashwood's brother, Edward Ferrars, pays them a visit, and he and Elinor appear to be falling in love, much to her mother's delight and his sister's disgust. The two Mrs Dashwoods have a bit of a row about it, and are soon hardly on speaking terms.
Moving on...
  • Mrs Dashwood and her daughters are offered a cottage in Devonshire by one of Mrs Dashwood's cousins. She accepts at once in order to get away from her daughter-in-law. They depart within a few weeks, which pleases Mrs John Dashwood very much, and take with them their furniture and china, which doesn't please her at all since she was hoping to acquire it. Edward Ferrars promises to visit them. However, he is dependent on his mother for his income, and Elinor has been warned by her sister-in-law that he cannot marry without her approval.
  • On arrival at their new home, they are introduced to Mrs Dashwood's cousin,Sir John Middleton, and his wife and family. They go to Sir John's house, Barton Park, for dinner, where they meet Colonel Brandon, a friend of Sir John's, and Mrs Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother. Mrs Jennings immediately decides that Marianne would be a suitable wife for the Colonel but Marianne thinks he is far too old for her (he's 35, she's nearly 17).
  • When out for a walk and caught in the rain, Marianne is rescued by Mr Willoughby, who is young, handsome and apparently respectable. He seems to her to be much more fun than Colonel Brandon. She rapidly falls in love with him and an engagement seems imminent.

The gentlemen depart for Town and some visitors arrive
  • Colonel Brandon has to leave suddenly for London. Mrs Jennings tells everyone that it is to see his illegitimate daughter, Miss Williams, but no one knows if this is really the case.
  • Everyone assumes from their behaviour that Marianne and Mr Willoughby are engaged, but nothing has been said. Then Mr Willoughby too suddenly leaves for London, saying he does not know when he will be back. Marianne is distraught and Elinor and Mrs Dashwood cannot understand what has happened. Marianne gets teased about her absent lover, especially by Mrs Jennings.
  • Meanwhile, Edward Ferrars arrives for a visit. He seems a bit quiet and not his usual self. His relationship with Elinor doesn't seem to progress at all, but she thinks he is still in love with her.
  • Soon after Edward leaves, Mrs Jennings' younger daughter, Mrs Palmer, arrives for a visit at Barton Park with her husband. She is young and silly; her husband appears to despise everyone and everything, including his wife. After they leave, the Miss Steeles arrive for a visit. Elinor discovers that they know Edward Ferrars, and much to her horror, Lucy Steele tells her that she has been secretly engaged to Edward for the previous four years. Elinor manages to hide her own feelings and hopes regarding Edward from Lucy, but privately she is very upset. Since Lucy told her this in confidence, Elinor cannot confide in anyone.
An invitation to Town and the revelation of Willoughby's character
  • Mrs Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to join her in London for the winter. Elinor is reluctant; Marianne is delighted. Mrs Dashwood insists on the invitation being accepted and off they go.
  • As soon as they arrive, Marianne writes a secret note to Willoughby. But he does not call or reply to her note. Eventually they meet him at a party, but he is embarrassed to see them, and clearly is no longer in love with Marianne. The following morning, Marianne writes to him again, but he writes back to say he is not in love with her, never has been and is returning her earlier letters. Marianne is distraught and collapses in hysterics.
  • Within two weeks, Mr Willoughby marries an heiress and leaves London. Meanwhile, Colonel Brandon has confided to Elinor that Miss Williams is in fact the illegitimate daughter of his brother's wife. He has recently discovered that Miss Williams has been seduced and abandoned by none other than Mr Willoughby. Willoughby is now confirmed as a complete bounder, which even Marianne has to admit, but she is still struggling to get over him.
  • Some more of their friends and relations arrive in Town: Sir John and Lady Middleton, the Miss Steeles and Mr and Mrs John Dashwood. Mr and Mrs Dashwood hold a dinner party, to which the Miss Dashwoods, the Miss Steeles, the Middletons and Mrs Jennings are invited, as well as Mrs Ferrars. It has been put about that Edward Ferrars may well marry Miss Morton, a wealthy heiress who meets with his mother's approval.
  • The following morning, Edward Ferrars calls on the Miss Dashwoods. Unfortunately, Lucy Steele is already there, and stubbornly stays until after he has left, much to Marianne's indignation, who considers him Elinor's property. It's the first time Elinor has seen Lucy and Edward together. She feels strongly that he is not in love with Lucy, but as an honourable man, having asked her to marry him and been accepted, he must stick with her.
A secret is revealed and some disinheriting goes on
  • Mrs John Dashwood invites the Miss Steeles to stay with her. Encouraged by this kindness, which in reality was only to avoid asking the Miss Dashwoods instead, Lucy's elder sister lets out the secret of Lucy's engagement to Edward. Mrs Dashwood falls into hysterics and banishes the Miss Steeles from the house. Mrs Ferrars summons Edward, and when he refuses to break the engagement, disinherits him on the spot in favour of his younger brother, Robert.
  • Edward offers Lucy the opportunity of breaking the engagement, since he has no money, but Lucy still wants to hang onto him. Edward decides to be ordained as a priest, and on hearing this, Colonel Brandon offers him the living at Delaford, his own estate. He asks Elinor to make the offer on his behalf; Edward accepts. He still won't have much money, though.
  • The Miss Dashwoods leave London with Mrs Palmer; she is to take them as far as her house at Cleveland, near Bristol, and they will make their way home from there. At Cleveland, Marianne falls dangerously ill, and Colonel Brandon is sent to fetch her mother. The Palmers go to stay elsewhere to avoid infection, and before Colonel Brandon and Mrs Dashwood have time to return, an unexpected visitor arrives - Mr Willoughby. He explains to Elinor that he does love Marianne, but was forced to marry for money after being disinherited by his cousin when she discovered his affair with and his abandonment of Miss Williams.
  • Marianne recovers and the Dashwoods return home to Barton. Soon afterwards, Lucy is seen in Exeter, recently married to Mr Ferrars.
A misunderstanding is revealed, resulting in a happy ending
  • Edward  Ferrars arrives at the cottage, and reveals that Lucy is married, not to himself, but to his brother, Robert Ferrars. He promptly proposes to Elinor, who accepts. Mrs Ferrars  relents and gives them some money, but not as much as Edward would have had before. Robert has always been her favourite, and he and Lucy are soon back in favour with her.
  • Elinor and Edward are married and move to Delaford. Mrs Dashwood, Marianne and Margaret are frequent visitors there. Marianne is therefore constantly thrown together with Colonel Brandon, and eventually realises how much he loves her. She is not as passionately attached to him as she was to Willoughby, but does come to love him and they are very happy.
  • Willoughby is stuck with his rich wife; he is not unhappy, exactly, but never forgets Marianne and thinks of her as the perfect woman.



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Austen for Beginners 2006


Austen for Beginners   Pride and Prejudice   Sense and Sensibility   Emma   Mansfield Park   Northanger Abbey   Persuasion