While they were breakfasting the next day, a letter was delivered to Marianne, who, "turning of a deathlike paleness, instantly ran our of the room." Following her, filled with foreboding, Elinor found her sister "stretched on the bed, almost choked by grief, one letter in her hand, and two or three others lying by her." When Marianne's spasm of weeping was over, Elinor read Willoughby's letter. In it, he said that his "esteem" for Marianne's family was "very sincere." However, it was impossible that he could have "meant more" towards Marianne because his affections had "been long engaged elsewhere." He thus returned Marianne's letters and the lock of hair she had given him.
Aghast at such "depravity of . . . mind," Elinor did her best to comfort her sister. Eventually Marianne admitted that she and Willoughby had never been engaged; he had never actually declared his love, only implied it. Elinor was amazed at Marianne's indiscretion, for without an engagement as sanction, her conduct (the letters and the openness of feeling) could not be excused. But Marianne cared little for public opinion and wanted to leave for home immediately. Elinor reminded her that they owed Mrs. Jennings "much more than civility" and persuaded her hysterical sister to stay another day or two.
John Willoughby seems scarcely to be credible in this chapter. He first appeared in the romantic role of rescuer and completely captivated Marianne. But in London he ignores her completely, until she finally forces him to speak. He leaves her with blatant rudeness and sends her a letter which is a masterpiece of callousness. After this behavior, the reader is prepared to believe anything of him and is not surprised when later chapters reveal more of his depravity.
In this chapter, Elinor's devotion to Marianne is shown in a most moving way. Without saying a word, she sits on her bed, holds Marianne's hand, and then gives way to "a burst of tears, which at first was scarcely less violent than Marianne's." Knowing that Marianne's grief must take its course, she watches by her "till this excess of suffering had somewhat spent itself." Remember that she, too, has experienced disappointment but is too concerned with the feelings of those that love her to tell them of Edward's deceit. In comparison with this unselfish behavior, Marianne is hardly likeable. She has been rude to everyone except her family and Willoughby — rudeness which is often undeserved. People like Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Jennings, who have been genuinely kind to the girl, have met with a callousness which is only equaled by Willoughby's to her. Even people like Lady Middleron and her husband, definitely not sympathetic characters, have always been cordial to the girl and yet have been treated by her with definite incivility. It is thus difficult to really feel sorry for Marianne.