Sense and Sensibility: Volume 2, Chapters 1-14
Elinor believes that Lucy is telling the truth about her secret engagement to Edward. Elinor feels badly treated by Edward, but is persuaded to forgive him by her conviction that he loves her. Moreover, she concludes, Edward is the unfortunate one, as he will never be happy with Lucy, whereas she herself will recover.
Elinor carries on her life as normal and hides her feelings from her family, finding it a relief not to have to cause them pain. Elinor believes that Edward has spoken highly of herself to Lucy and that Lucy has become jealous of her. Elinor feels that Lucy’s underhand motive in confessing her engagement is to warn Elinor off Edward.
At the Middletons’, Elinor excuses herself from a card game, ostensibly to help Lucy finish making a basket for Lady Middleton’s spoilt daughter, but really in order to question Lucy further about Edward.
Under Elinor’s questioning, Lucy reveals that Edward has insufficient money of his own to marry, and depends on his mother’s favor. She and Edward have decided that they must wait until Mrs. Ferrars dies, and Edward inherits her fortune, before they can marry. Lucy is certain that if Mrs. Ferrars finds out about their engagement, she will disinherit Edward in favor of his brother Robert. Lucy wants Elinor to use her influence with John Dashwood to persuade him to give Edward the living (paid position as rector, with a house) on the Norland Park estate. Elinor replies that Fanny, as Edward’s brother, should be influence enough on her husband on Edward’s behalf. But Lucy points out that Fanny does not want Edward to go into the church. Lucy says that if Elinor so advised it, she, Lucy, would end her engagement, but Elinor refuses to be drawn. Privately, Elinor believes that Edward is weary of Lucy, but that Lucy is determined to preserve their relationship out of self-interest.
Sir John Middleton persuades the Steeles to stay on at Barton Park for two more months.
Mrs. Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to stay with her at her London home, and promises to do her best to marry them off. Elinor at first refuses on the grounds that they cannot leave their mother alone (privately, she does not want to risk meeting Edward), but Marianne is eager to accept because Willoughby is in London. Mrs. Dashwood insists that they go, and they agree.
Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings reach Mrs. Jennings’ London house. Marianne immediately sits down to write a letter, and the reader is left to infer that it is to Willoughby. After dinner, Marianne expects his imminent arrival with excitement. A knock at the door is heard, and Marianne is certain that it is Willoughby. She is bitterly disappointed when Colonel Brandon enters, and rudely leaves the room, leaving Elinor to make polite conversation.
The next day, Charlotte Palmer visits, and the women go shopping. Marianne takes no pleasure in anything, but only waits for some word to arrive from Willoughby - in vain.
Willoughby does not visit or write. Marianne tries to comfort herself with the thought that he, as a sporting man, is making the most of the good weather by staying in the country. The narrator suggests that she is secretly continuing to write letters to him. Colonel Brandon regularly visits, and his feelings for Marianne seem to grow.
One day, when Elinor and Marianne return from a drive, Marianne is overjoyed to find that Willoughby has called and left his card, but she hears nothing more.
The Middletons organize a ball, which Marianne, Elinor, and Mrs. Jennings attend. Willoughby does not attend, though Mrs. Jennings reveals that he was invited. Marianne feels hurt. Elinor, fearing for her sister’s health, writes to Mrs. Dashwood to urge her to question Marianne about the status of her relationship with Willoughby.
Colonel Brandon calls, and seems agitated. He asks Elinor if Marianne is engaged to Willoughby, as the town gossip proclaims. He appears to be wondering if it is too late to prevent the marriage, or even whether Marianne might consider marrying him instead. Elinor, touched by his love for Marianne, says that she believes that there is affection between Marianne and Willoughby, but she knows nothing for certain. Colonel Brandon only says he hopes Marianne will be happy, and that Willoughby will “endeavour to deserve her.”
Several days pass, with no sign of Willoughby. Elinor and Marianne accompany Lady Middleton to a party. Elinor notices Willoughby in the crowd, talking to a fashionable young woman. He nods to the Dashwoods but makes no attempt to talk to them. Marianne wants to rush up to him, but Elinor holds her back, warning her not to make her feelings obvious to everyone. When he finally turns to face them, he addresses Elinor, as the eldest of the two women, and inquires with cool politeness after her family. Marianne greets him warmly, demands whether he received her letters, and asks him to shake hands with her. On recovering his composure, he coldly states that he received notification that she was in town, and then turns away. Marianne, in shock, sinks into a chair and begs Lady Middleton to take them home.
Elinor believes that while an engagement did exist between Marianne and Willoughby, he has wearied of her. Elinor feels grateful that at least she can still respect Edward.
In great agitation, Marianne writes a letter to Willoughby. She will neither communicate with Elinor nor eat properly. A letter arrives in reply, and Marianne disappears to read it. Mrs. Jennings begs Elinor to reveal when Marianne and Willoughby will marry, as she and Charlotte have been telling everybody that they are expected to do so. Elinor warns Mrs. Jennings that she is doing Marianne an unkindness in spreading such rumors.
Elinor finds Marianne stretched on her bed, grief-stricken. She holds a letter from Willoughby, and some of her own letters to him are spread around. In his letter, Willoughby apologizes for anything in his behavior at the party that may have offended her. He says he remembers his time spent with her family in Devon with pleasure, and regrets it if he gave Marianne any reason to think that he felt more for her. He ends by saying that his affections have long been promised to another, and that he is engaged to marry this other woman. He returns Marianne’s letters and the lock of hair he took from her head.
Elinor decides that Willoughby is a hardened villain and that Marianne has had a lucky escape. Elinor tries to encourage Marianne to pull herself out of her grief for the sake of those who love her. Marianne dismisses her words on the grounds that Elinor cannot understand how she feels because Edward loves her. Elinor reminds Marianne of how much worse it would have been if Willoughby had broken off their engagement at some later time, when Marianne’s attachment would be deeper. Marianne corrects Elinor, saying that there never was an engagement, and that although Willoughby implied that he loved her, he never explicitly said so.
Elinor is shocked that Marianne has been writing to Willoughby in spite of the fact that there was no agreement between them. She reads Marianne’s letters that have been returned by Willoughby, and finds that they are pleas for Willoughby to visit her at Mrs. Jennings’ house, and a rebuke for his insulting snub at the party. Marianne excuses herself by saying that she felt that she and Willoughby were as solemnly engaged as if they were bound by a legal covenant. Elinor explains that unfortunately, Willoughby did not feel the same. Marianne insists that he did, and describes his distress on parting from her. But nothing can alter the fact that he has now deserted her.
Marianne wants to go home immediately, but Elinor insists that they owe Mrs. Jennings the courtesy of staying for a while.
Mrs. Jennings tries to comfort Marianne, but says all the wrong things. She has heard that Willoughby is to be married to a Miss Grey, and dismisses him as a “good-for-nothing fellow.”
Marianne comes down to dinner. Mrs. Jennings gives her every little treat she can think of in order to distract her from her misery, but to no avail: Marianne rushes out of the room. Mrs. Jennings tells Elinor that Miss Grey has a fortune of fifty thousand pounds a year, which proved attractive to Willoughby because he has squandered his own money. She finds no excuse for his behavior: he should, she says, reform his extravagant lifestyle and endeavor to recover financially. Marianne, Mrs. Jennings feels, would wait for him. Mrs. Jennings concludes that Colonel Brandon will now “have” Marianne.
Colonel Brandon arrives, and tells Elinor that he has heard about Willoughby’s intention to marry Miss Grey. Elinor confirms the story.
Marianne avoids Mrs. Jennings because she is convinced that she “cannot feel.” When Mrs. Jennings brings Marianne a letter from her mother, certain that this will cheer her, Marianne is offended because it is not a letter from a contrite Willoughby. To make things worse, Mrs. Dashwood’s letter is full of assumptions that Marianne will soon marry Willoughby.
Colonel Brandon visits, and Marianne, as usual, disappears into her room to avoid him. He has been told of Willoughby’s desertion of Marianne by Mrs. Jennings. In the interests of consoling Marianne, he relates to Elinor, with much emotion, an experience from his own life. He explains that he once loved a woman called Eliza, who returned his love. His father opposed the match and sent him away. Eliza’s uncle married her to Colonel Brandon’s brother, who treated her unkindly. She had an affair, and then was divorced from her husband. When Colonel Brandon returned to England from the East Indies, where he had been posted with his regiment, he lost track of Eliza. He eventually traced her to a “sponging-house,” a type of debtors’ prison, where she was dying of tuberculosis. All Colonel Brandon could do was to move her to comfortable lodgings. He was at her side when she died. She left her child, the product of her extra-marital love affair, in his care. Having no home, he sent the child, also named Eliza (her surname being Williams), to boarding school, and thence to a foster family. All went well until last February, when she vanished during a trip to Bath. It transpired that she had been seduced and then abandoned by Willoughby. Colonel Brandon first heard of this on the morning of the intended outing at Barton Park, when he had to rush away suddenly (and Willoughby had accused him of rudeness in breaking up the party).
Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that he hopes his story might lighten the sufferings of Marianne, who is in a better position than Eliza Williams. He ends by telling Elinor that he fought a duel with Willoughby over his treatment of Eliza. Neither man was wounded. Eliza Williams is now living in the country, having given birth to Willoughby’s illegitimate child.
Elinor tells Marianne the story of Willoughby she has heard from Colonel Brandon. Marianne softens in her attitude to Colonel Brandon, but she does not regain her former good spirits. Mrs. Dashwood encourages Marianne and Elinor to stay in London, believing that the distractions will be good for Marianne.
Sir John Middleton and Charlotte Palmer are united in their disgust at Willoughby’s behavior. Lady Middleton, on the other hand, voices her disapproval but then decides to make Mrs. Willoughby’s acquaintance, on the grounds that she must be wealthy and fashionable.
Mrs. Jennings does not observe any romantic developments between Marianne and Colonel Brandon, and begins to think that Elinor may marry him instead.
Marianne, on hearing that Willoughby is married, goes into a spate of weeping.
Lucy and Anne Steele arrive to stay at the Middletons’.
While Elinor and Marianne are selling some of their mother’s jewels in a jeweler’s shop, they bump into their half-brother, John. He and Fanny have been in town two days, but have been too busy taking their child to the zoo and calling on Mrs. Ferrars to visit his sisters. John does, however, call on Elinor and Marianne the next day, and eyes Colonel Brandon with interest. In private conversation with Elinor, he discovers that Colonel Brandon has a modest fortune, and encourages Elinor to marry him. He takes the opportunity to remind Elinor that a liaison with Edward Ferrars is out of the question. John says that Mrs. Ferrars has decided to settle upon Edward the sum of a thousand pounds a year if he will agree to marry a certain wealthy woman, the Honorable Miss Morton.
Fanny Dashwood, encouraged by her husband’s report, decides that Mrs. Jennings is sophisticated enough for her to associate with, and she visits her and Lady Middleton.
Edward calls on Elinor and Marianne while they are out. Fanny cultivates her relationship with Lady Middleton. She invites the Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, Colonel Brandon, the Steeles, and Mrs. Ferrars to a dinner party at her London home. Elinor is relieved to learn that Edward is unable to attend. At the dinner party, Mrs. Ferrars, an unpleasant woman, pointedly ignores Elinor. Elinor is amused to see Mrs. Ferrars’ and Fanny’s gracious behavior to Lucy and Anne Steele, reflecting that if they had known that Edward was engaged to Lucy, they would not have been so polite. The Steeles, for their part, perpetuate the Ferrarses’ snobbery by their ingratiating behavior. After dinner, the ladies withdraw to the drawing room, where the tedious discussion centers on the heights of Lady Middleton’s and Fanny’s children.
While passing judgment on some screens that Elinor has painted for Fanny, Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars pointedly praise the artistic skills of Miss Morton, the heiress whom they intend for Edward’s wife. Marianne rebukes them for praising a person who means nothing to them over Elinor; she is unaware of Miss Morton’s significance to the Ferrars family. She puts her arm around Elinor and openly tells her not to let these people make her unhappy. John Dashwood laments to Colonel Brandon that Marianne has lost her looks.
Elinor feels relieved that she has escaped having Mrs. Ferrars as a mother-in-law, and is almost grateful to Lucy for being the obstacle to her relationship with Edward.
Lucy calls on Elinor and expresses her joy that Mrs. Ferrars appeared to take a liking to her at the party, though it does not occur to her that (as Elinor points out) this is only because Mrs. Ferrars does not know of the planned marriage between her and Edward. However, Lucy is confident that Mrs. Ferrars approves of her and that all will go well for her and Edward. Since Fanny Dashwood gets along so well with Lady Middleton, and Edward spends much time with Fanny, Lucy expects that she and Edward will be able to see each other often. She makes sly comments to Elinor indicating her triumph at gaining Mrs. Ferrars’ approval when Elinor so obviously did not.
Edward arrives, causing awkwardness for everyone. Marianne comes in, and greets Edward warmly. Marianne says that she hopes he will soon visit them at Barton Cottage, and in reply to a remark from Lucy, praises his scrupulous conscience. She is unaware of any relationship between him and Lucy. Edward, mortified with embarrassment, leaves.
Charlotte Palmer gives birth to a son, and Mrs. Jennings spends much time with her daughter. Elinor and Marianne spend most of their days at the Middletons’, although Lady Middleton does not like them because they do not flatter her. The Steeles also go to the Middletons’.
Mrs. Jennings is baffled by Mr. Palmer’s failure to see any difference in his baby from every other baby.
One day, a lady arrives at John and Fanny Dashwood’s house and, finding Elinor and Marianne present, assumes that they are Fanny’s sisters. She invites all of them to a musical party at her house. There, Elinor and Marianne meet Robert Ferrars, Edward’s brother. Lucy has previously described him to Elinor as a “coxcomb” (fool), and Elinor finds that the description is apt. Robert explains to Elinor, with great conceitedness, that his brother Edward is awkward in company because he was privately educated by a tutor, whereas Robert believes that he himself can mix with all sorts of people because he went to a public school. Robert constantly drops into his conversation the names of important aristocrats of his acquaintance. He gives a fulsome speech in praise of cottages, such as Elinor lives in. It is plain, however, that his idea of a cottage is a large and comfortable rural house in fashionably rustic style, as favored by aristocrats of the time.
John Dashwood suggests to his wife that they invite Elinor and Marianne to stay with them for a short time, as a way of honoring his promise to Henry Dashwood to look after them. But Fanny refuses on the grounds that she has already decided to invite the Steeles. When Elinor learns of Fanny’s invitation to the Steeles, she suspects that Lucy has achieved her goal of being accepted into the Dashwood-Ferrars family. Lucy and Anne arrive at John and Fanny Dashwood’s house, and Fanny is delighted with their company.
Analysis of Volume II, Chapters I-XIV
Volume II contains much dramatic irony (a literary device in which the reader or audience knows more than the characters, lending a deeper or different meaning to an event, thought, or remark), a characteristic feature of Austen’s style. In Chapter II, dramatic irony lies in Mrs. Jennings’ remark about Elinor’s and Lucy’s respective admirers, as neither Mrs. Jennings nor Lucy know that they are one and the same - Edward.
In Chapter VII, there is dramatic irony in Marianne’s insistence that Elinor cannot truly understand Marianne’s grief at Willoughby’s desertion because Edward loves her, Elinor. The reader knows that Elinor has effectively been abandoned as surely as Marianne, since Edward is engaged to Lucy. But the two women’s reaction to a similar situation is very different, continuing the contrast between Elinor’s “sense” and Marianne’s “sensibility.” Elinor, unlike Marianne, carries on her life as normal and ensures that she does not give pain to those around her by indulging in grief. In fact, she finds it a relief not to have to share her discovery about Edward’s engagement with anyone. Marianne, in contrast, declares, “I care not who knows that I am wretched.” Austen’s treatment of the two sisters’ grief both highlights the selfishness of the cult of sensibility, which elevates acuteness of feeling over other considerations such as duty and responsibility to others, and shows how its attendant lack of discretion can expose a person unnecessarily to scandal.
Austen’s critique of sensibility as a way of operating in a cynical society continues in Marianne’s comment to Elinor about Willoughby: “I felt myself … to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest legal covenant had bound us together” (Chapter VII). Marianne means that according to her feelings (sensibility), she considered herself and Willoughby to be engaged. However, her emotional commitment has not prevented Willoughby from callously abandoning her in order to become engaged to a wealthy heiress. Sensibility, it seems, is an imperfect guide to truth in a world in which people do not always act according to their feelings or their conscience. Marianne’s description of Willoughby’s apparently genuine feelings for her (Chapter VII) is graphic and convincing: her acute sensibility has enabled her to grasp a portion the truth, but what is missed out is the crucial part. She has been so bound up in her feelings for Willoughby that she has omitted to consider dispassionately that he has made no formal promise to her. Whatever his feelings for her may have been, he has now turned his back on them, deciding to marry another woman.
Chapters VII and VIII show how fundamentally selfish is the elevation of sensibility. Marianne indulges her grief at great cost to those who love her, which Elinor takes care not to do. Further, she is rude to Mrs. Jennings, who is kind and compassionate to her, as she only sees Mrs. Jennings’ insensitivity to her own feelings.
Willoughby’s behavior is put into moral perspective not only by the hurt feelings of Marianne but by the commonsensical characters, Elinor and Mrs. Jennings. Elinor, on reading Willoughby’s dishonest letter to Marianne, decides that he is “deep in hardened villainy” (Chapter VII). Mrs. Jennings calls him a “good-for-nothing fellow” (Chapter VIII). Mrs. Jennings also makes clear that even though Willoughby is poor from having squandered his money and Miss Grey is rich, he does have a choice about how he acts. Mrs. Jennings asks, “Why don’t he … sell his horses, let his house, turn off his servants, and make a thorough reform at once?” She feels sure that Marianne would have waited until he recovered financial stability. But, she concludes, Willoughby is unwilling to give up his immediate pleasures, even for long-term happiness with Marianne.
For all Marianne’s impatience with Mrs. Jennings, that lady’s kindness and good sense is apparent in this section of the novel. She even proves insightful in her prediction that Colonel Brandon will “have her at last” (Chapter VIII). Elinor, who does not let her feelings rule her, is conscious of Mrs. Jennings’ goodness, while Marianne, in her self-absorption, is blind to it. This is one way in which Austen emphasizes the limitations and selfish tendencies of sensibility.
Austen uses irony to comment on Willoughby’s character, as revealed in Colonel Brandon’s story of himself and Eliza. The reader learns in Chapter IX that when Willoughby accused Brandon of incivility in breaking up the party on the day Brandon was called away from Barton Park so suddenly (in Volume I, Chapter XIII), it was to rescue Eliza from a terrible predicament of Willoughby’s making. It is typical of Willoughby’s charm and plausibility that he is able to score a point over Colonel Brandon and make him appear in a negative light. The truth of the matter is that the Colonel’s actions are noble and self-sacrificing while Willoughby’s have been selfish and destructive.
The literary purpose of Colonel Brandon’s account of the Willoughby/Eliza Williams relationship is to mirror and foreshadow (predict) Marianne’s probable fate, had she entered into a full relationship with Willoughby. Eliza is seduced and abandoned while pregnant. Eliza’s story in turn reflects elements of her own mother’s story. Eliza’s mother was forced into an unhappy marriage by Colonel Brandon’s father and her own parents, for mercenary reasons. She ended up having a child out from an extramarital affair and dying, poor and abandoned, in a debtors’ prison. Eliza Williams’s fate would have been similar to her mother’s, but for the charity of Colonel Brandon. The senior Eliza’s story is Austen’s comment on the unwisdom of parents’ forcing their offspring into marriage for any reason other than love. In her novels, Austen always comes down on the side of marrying for love rather than money, although she also strongly emphasizes the necessity of having enough money in order to be happy.
This section has many examples of Austen’s talent for biting social commentary and satire (a literary genre characterized by mockery). In Chapter X, Lady Middleton voices her disapproval of Willoughby’s behavior but then is quick to seek Mrs. Willoughby’s acquaintance on the grounds that she must be a wealthy and fashionable woman. Austen simply states these facts without overt comment, allowing the shallowness and greed of Lady Middleton’s attitudes (and, by implication, those of fashionable society in general) to speak for themselves.
Another example of satire comes in Chapter XI. Elinor and Marianne encounter their half-brother John whilst they are selling their mother’s unwanted jewels, presumably because the family needs the money. John reveals that he and Fanny have failed to call on their sisters in spite of the fact that they have been in town for two days, because they felt it more important to take their son Harry to the zoo and to call on Fanny’s rich mother. This is a satirical attack on John’s priorities, which are selfish and mercenary. With heavy dramatic irony, John goes on to state his view that the Middletons have a duty to be kind to the Dashwood women, because they are both related to them and wealthy. He seems oblivious to the fact that he and Fanny fulfill both these criteria but have effectively abandoned their Dashwood relatives to genteel poverty.
Chapter XI contains a rare instance (for Austen) of satirical political commentary on wider issues affecting the society outside the narrow confines of her characters’ world. The wealthy John Dashwood complains to Elinor that his enclosure of Norland Common is a drain on his finances. ‘The enclosures’ were a historical process, beginning in the sixteenth century but accelerating in the eighteenth century, whereby powerful landlords enclosed or fenced off common land. Prior to enclosure, this land, though nominally owned by one person, was used for grazing or food cultivation by tenant farmers and villagers, according to rights that had been in place for centuries. In the enclosures, the landlords appropriated such land for themselves and enlarged their farms, often using it to graze sheep. The wool trade generated much income for the landlords but needed little labor in the fields. Thus the enclosures gave rise to a large landless unemployed peasant class, with consequent starvation and poverty.
The mass emigration of English rural populations in the nineteenth century to the United States, Canada, and Australia was in part due to the enclosures (another factor was industrialization, which changed the economic focus of the country from rural agriculture to town-based manufacturing). When Austen has John Dashwood complain of the expense of enclosing common land, she is satirizing the selfishness of the enclosing landlords. John gives no thought to the people he has forced off the land that sustained them, who will be in a far worse position than him. This is a more extreme example of the same moral failure that enabled John to ignore his female relatives’ poverty.
John goes on to complain of other factors contributing to his supposed shortage of money, including the fact that he has bought a small farm to enlarge Norland Park. He also laments that he has been unable to begin building Fanny’s planned greenhouse and garden. The irony lies in his understanding of poverty: he equates it to having to delay possessing a few luxuries, whereas for the Dashwood women, luxuries of any sort are out of the question and simple survival must be prioritized.
Satire against the attitudes of rich and ignorant people also occurs in Chapter XIV, in relation to the foolish and vain character Robert Ferrars. Knowing that Elinor lives in a cottage, Robert makes a fulsome speech in praise of cottages, while revealing that his idea of a cottage is of a rural and rustically styled but large and comfortable house, comprising a dining room, drawing room, library and saloon. Such houses were fashionable among the aristocracy of the time. However, they had as little in common with real cottages lived in by poorer rural people as the French eighteenth-century Queen Marie-Antoinette’s pastoral play-acting as a shepherdess had to do with the lives of real working shepherds. Austen’s mockery of Robert’s ignorance is expressed, as so often in this novel, through the prism of Elinor’s clear and intelligent mind: “Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”
Fanny Dashwood’s dinner party in Chapter XII contains a scene of biting satire and irony that is typical of Austen at her best. The snobbish and unsympathetic character Mrs. Ferrars feels safe in openly ignoring Elinor while being charming to Lucy and Anne Steele. This is because although both Elinor and the Steeles are poor and lack social connections, only Elinor, in Mrs. Ferrars’ mind, poses a threat to her family as a potential fortune-less bride for Edward. Fanny and John Dashwood, too, treat the Steeles with indulgence, on the same grounds. The dramatic irony of the scene lies in the fact that, as the reader knows, Lucy is currently the real threat, and if her secret engagement to Edward were revealed, Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny and John would summarily eject her from their society. Thus Mrs. Ferrars and John and Fanny Dashwood are revealed as greedy and superficial people who only value people for the money and social status that they can offer. The Steeles are as guilty in their own way, since in their flattery of the Ferrars family, they perpetuate their snobbish and venal attitudes.
In a coruscating judgment on the superficial characters, Austen writes that John had “not much to say for himself that was worth hearing, and his wife had still less,” and that the visitors almost all had “Want of sense, either natural or improved - want of elegance - want of spirits - or want of temper.” In this final sentence, these characters are condemned not only for their greed and snobbishness, but for a lack of that crucial Enlightenment value, common sense. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that is generally considered to have begun at the start of the eighteenth century. It was characterized by the elevation of reason as the basis of authority, rather than external sources such as the church. However, ‘men (and women) of sense’ were frequently the heroes of the comic dramas of the later seventeenth century, or Restoration period, in which they were contrasted with fools and fops who lacked sense. Austen wrote firmly in this tradition, populating her novels with people of common sense and setting them in opposition to fools and hypocrites of varying degrees. In Sense and Sensibility, good sense is possessed in abundance by Elinor and to a lesser extent by the over-emotional Marianne; Edward and Colonel Brandon are also exponents of good sense. Other characters fit somewhere along the spectrum of foolishness. John and Fanny Dashwood, and Mrs. Ferrars may be considered to be at the extreme end, where foolishness becomes dangerous to others and vicious. Edward and Marianne both are endowed with a good supply of common sense which is, however, temporarily subdued in unwise youthful romantic ventures.
To an extent, in the moral context of the novel, imperfect common sense can be compensated for by a good heart. Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood, and Edward are well-meaning characters who survive their lapses into weakness and end up with the good fortune they deserve. But those with neither common sense nor a good heart, such as Mrs. Ferrars and John and Fanny, are fated to have their superficial ambitions foiled (Edward goes into the church and marries Elinor, and Robert marries the fortune-less Lucy). They also earn the moral condemnation of the author and readers alike.
As yet, however, such resolutions seem far away. The ending of Volume II mirrors and furthers the ending of Volume I. Volume I ended with Elinor’s learning of Lucy’s engagement to Edward, thus putting an apparently insurmountable obstacle in the way of Elinor’s hopes. The ending of Volume II cements that obstacle and makes Elinor’s prospects seem even more gloomy. Lucy apparently is accepted into the favor of Edward’s sister, Fanny Dashwood, who, along with her mother, represents the main opposition to any union between Edward and Elinor.