When Elinor told Marianne about Willoughby's shocking behavior, she "felt the loss of Willoughby's character yet more heavily than she had felt the loss of his heart." But she was kinder to Colonel Brandon, "even voluntarily speaking, with a kind of compassionate respect." Mrs. Dashwood, on learning the truth from Elinor's letter, was miserable; however, she advised them not to shorten their visit to Mrs. Jennings, for the distraction would do Marianne good. Mrs. Palmer, Sir John, and Lady Middleton were all indignant about Willoughby's behavior and swore they would have nothing more to do with him, although, seeing the future Mrs. Willoughby would be a lady of fashion, Lady Middleton planned to leave her card with her.
Two weeks after Marianne received Willoughby's letter, Elinor had to break the news of his marriage. At first Marianne received it "with resolute composure," but for the rest of the day was in a pitiable state.
The Misses Steele arrived in town and paid a call, behaving with their usual vulgarity. Lucy insinuated that Elinor had stayed in town to see Edward, and it took all Elinor's civility to remain composed in front of the girl.
One day Marianne yielded to Elinor's urging and went shopping with her and Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings left them to do some business in Gray's jewelry shop while she paid a short call on a friend. While waiting to be served, Elinor and Marianne were diverted by a foppish young man who was buying a toothpick case and calling attention to himself. Finally he decided on his purchase, and the girls were served. Just as they finished their business, a gentleman appeared at their side. It was their stepbrother, John, who promised to call on them the next day.
John was punctual and, after exchanging civilities with Mrs. Jennings and Colonel Brandon, went with Elinor to call on Sir John and Lady Middleton. On the way, John questioned her about Colonel Brandon and despite her protests insisted on believing that the colonel was interested in Elinor. He mentioned a prior attachment of Elinor's, saying it was out of the question and, alluding to an engagement for Edward, told her, "It is not actually settled, but there is such a thing in agitation."
Guiltily he tried to persuade his half-sister that, because of his many expenses, he was "very far . . . from being rich" and inquired about Mrs. Jennings, hinting that because of her kindness to Elinor and Marianne, they might well have "expectations" from her. Elinor protested again. He then asked, "What is the matter with Marianne? She looks very unwell, has lost her colour, and is grown quite thin." Elinor told him that Marianne was suffering from a "nervous complaint." John seemed to fear she would lose her looks and thus the chance of a good marriage.
John was well pleased with his visit to Sir John and Lady Middleton and went off satisfied that he would have "a charming account to carry to Fanny." He had feared they would be low-class due to Mrs. Jennings' low connections. But he was much impressed by Lady Middleton's elegance and Sir John's amiability.
Some of Jane Austen's most humorous writing is found in these chapters, especially in the reactions of Mrs. Palmer, Sir John, and Fanny to the news of Willoughby's faithlessness. Mrs. Palmer "was determined to drop his acquaintance immediately, and she was very thankful that she had never been acquainted with him at all." Sir John is appalled by the fact that he had ever offered Willoughby a puppy. Lady Middleton expressed her shock daily and "was able not only to see the Miss Dashwoods from the first without the smallest emotion, but very soon to see them without recollecting a word of the matter."
The description of the stranger in Mr. Gray's shop is a masterpiece of satiric humor — "a person and face of strong, natural, sterling insignificance."
In Austen's novels, good looks are invariably associated with good health, and a "sickly" girl has no allure for the male. John Dashwood is thus alarmed to see Marianne looking so poorly.
John is anxious for his half-sisters to marry as soon and as well as possible to relieve him of the guilt he feels for not having provided for them. However, any pangs of conscience he does feel are quickly assuaged by his rationalizations concerning his own expenses, the Dashwoods' complacency at Barton, and their expectations for good marriages and a possible inheritance from someone as unlikely as Mrs. Jennings.