Sense and Sensibility Plot Summary
The death of Mr. Henry Dashwood's uncle opens the novel. Upon the uncle's death, Norland estate is inherited by Henry Dashwood, on the condition it should next pass to his son John and John's young son, and not to his three daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. John Dashwood is wealthy, but at Mr. Dashwood's death, the Dashwood women are left with only a small fortune. On his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood made his son promise to provide for his stepmother and stepsisters, but John is easily persuaded by his selfish wife that they should use the money for their "real" family, namely their son. He and his family move into Norland estate.
Feeling like guests in what had been their home, the four Dashwood women seek a new house on their limited budget. In the interim, the family is visited by Edward Ferrars, Fanny's brother. He and Elinor get along well, and the family expects they will marry. Their courtship is interrupted by a telegram from a relative telling of a cottage they may rent in Southern England. With mixed feelings, the Dashwoods leave their home and travel to Barton Cottage.
They arrive to meet the owners of Barton Park, Sir John Middleton and his wife Lady Middleton. They also meet Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother. She likes the girls very much, as does Colonel Brandon, an older friend of the Middleton's who takes a liking to Marianne. Marianne thinks the Colonel is too old for romance. She prefers the dashing Willoughby, who assists her after she falls down a hill and injures her ankle. After carrying her home, the two would meet often and discuss their many mutual interests. People begin to suspect they will be a match, until one day Willoughby suddenly leaves Devonshire for London, upsetting everyone, Marianne most of all.
Soon after Willoughby's departure, Edward Ferrars makes a belated visit to the Cottage. He seems distant, and Elinor fears he may no longer have feelings for her. After he leaves, the Dashwoods receive two new guests, the Palmers. When the Palmers leave, they are replaced by two young ladies, Ann and Lucy Steele. Sir John tells the Miss Steeles that Elinor is attached to Mr. Ferrars. When Lucy Steele asks Elinor for her confidence, Lucy reveals that she is attached to Edward Ferrars. Elinor conceals her own connection while Lucy tells her about their secret four-year engagement.
Mrs. Jennings invites Elinor and Marianne to her London home. Upon arriving in London, Marianne immediately writes Willoughby, but her letters go unanswered. Elinor becomes increasingly suspicious of their engagement. When they encounter Willoughby at a party, he is cold and formal, and accompanied by another woman.
Marianne writes to Willoughby the next day, and soon receives a letter from him. In it, he denies any feelings for her, apologizes for any confusion, and tells her he is engaged to another woman. This woman, they learn, has a large fortune. Marianne admits there was no formal engagement, but her love for Willoughby is clear. Marianne falls into a terrible emotional and physical sickness.
Colonel Brandon reveals to Elinor how Willoughby seduced the Colonel's young foster daughter, leaving her alone, penniless, and pregnant. When Elinor repeats this story to Marianne, Willoughby's poor character is cemented in her mind.
Soon after they hear of Willoughby's marriage, the two Miss Steele's arrive. John and Fanny Dashwood are also in town. John tells Elinor that Edward Ferrars is likely to be married soon, to a woman with a large fortune. When Elinor next sees Lucy, it is in the presence of Mrs. Ferrars, Edward's mother. Mrs. Ferrars, suspecting no connection between Edward and Lucy, treats Lucy wonderfully, while she coolly ignores Elinor.
Mrs. Jennings has some startling news to tell Elinor. Fanny has learned of Lucy and Edward's long-standing engagement. Feeling angry and betrayed, Fanny threw the Miss Steeles out of her house. They learn from John Dashwood that Mrs. Ferrars asked Edward to end the engagement, and when he would not, she disinherited him, leaving him nearly broke.
While walking in the park, Elinor runs into Ann Steele. She tells Elinor that Edward offered to end the engagement, but that Lucy was firm that it continue. Edward expects to take religious orders in his effort to support them. The next day, Elinor receives a letter from Lucy, telling her what has happened, and that though she urged Edward to end the engagement for his own sake, he would not hear of it.
Elinor and Marianne plan to return to Barton Cottage, but they visit a few weeks at the Palmers' house in Cleveland first. Before leaving, Colonel Brandon tells Elinor of a parsonage on his estate that Edward could manage. With this addition of income, his marriage is likely.
Shortly after arriving at Cleveland, Marianne catches a violent cold. She becomes feverish and delirious. Elinor sends Colonel Brandon to fetch her mother while she calls the doctor, and many anxious moments ensue. Willoughby arrives, anxious to explain himself. He tells Elinor he did and still does love Marianne, and was going to ask her to marry him, when his benefactress became informed of his behavior towards Colonel Brandon's foster daughter. He was dismissed, and to keep his wealthy lifestyle, he had to marry well, which he did, and now deeply regrets. He admits to Elinor that the cruel final letter written to Marianne was actually written by his wife.
Mrs. Dashwood arrives with Colonel Brandon. During the ride, the Colonel revealed to her his love for Marianne, and Mrs. Dashwood hopes to have them married. When Marianne is well enough, the three return to Barton. Several days after their arrival, they learn of the marriage of Mr. Ferrars. The next day, Edward arrives at Barton. When Elinor inquires about Mrs. Ferrars, he tells her that it was his brother, not he, who wed Lucy Steele.
Edward asks Elinor to marry him, and she agrees. Edward attempts to reconcile with his mother, and she gives them a little money. The two are now able to marry, and take up residence at the Colonel's parsonage.
With everyone desiring it, Marianne finds herself unable to resist a marriage to Colonel Brandon. His kindness has made him more attractive to her over time. They are married, and live happily only moments away from Edward and Elinor.