Sense and Sensibility By Jane Austen Summary and Analysis Chapter 31

Summary

Mrs. Jennings continued her good services, all of which were unappreciated by Marianne, who felt that the woman was using her as a source of gossip. When she came to Marianne's room, glowing, with a letter which she believed would cheer the girl, Marianne assumed the correspondence was from Willoughby, and her distress was heightened when she realized it was but from her mother. What was worse, her mother spoke continually of Willoughby with the greatest confidence in his good intentions. Marianne longed to go home, but Elinor persuaded her to wait for their mother's advice.

Elinor started a letter to her mother but was interrupted by the arrival of Colonel Brandon, who was very desirous of finding Elinor alone. Warning her that she would find him "a very awkward narrator," he began to tell her about Eliza, a girl who "in some measure" resembled Marianne.

Eliza, an orphan and wealthy, was under the guardianship of Colonel Brandon's father, who was a close relative and grew up with him in his home. They planned to elope, but a housemaid betrayed them, and, at seventeen, against her inclination, Eliza was married to Colonel Brandon's older brother. This was done so that her large income could save the Brandon estate, which had gone to his older brother. He treated her badly, and after two years they were divorced. Eliza was then seduced by one man after another. After serving in the East Indies for three years, Colonel Brandon came home and began to search for her. He at last found her a consumptive, "so altered — so faded — worn down by acute suffering of every kind!" He did all he could for her and "was with her in her last moments."

Eliza left her only child, three-year-old Eliza, in his charge. He put her in a good school, visited her whenever he could, and often had her to stay at Delaford.

Twelve months ago, she had asked permission to go to Bath with a friend. There she had disappeared, and it was eight months before Colonel Brandon found what had happened to her. He received a letter — the same letter which had caused him to leave Barton Park so abruptly on the day of the planned excursion to Whitwell. She had been seduced by Mr. Willoughby, who "had left her, promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her." At present she lived in the country with the child who was the product of that event. Colonel Brandon had challenged Willoughby to a duel, but neither had been wounded, "and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad." He told Elinor to tell Marianne whatever she saw fit. "You must know best what will be its effect."

Analysis

In this chapter, Jane Austen makes use of one of the conventions seen commonly in the novels of that period — the inset story. The story of the young woman ruined by a ruthless young man was always popular. The seduction usually happened at a seaside resort, as here, in Bath.

As we learn more and more about Willoughby, he appears to be a totally different person from the man who courted Marianne at Barton Park. Both men, the good and the evil Willoughby, are not convincing, for they are both extreme.

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