Early the next morning, Elinor found Marianne writing a letter, but she would not say what she was writing. Elinor wanted to soothe her sister, but Marianne didn’t want her to talk to her at all. Marianne ate nothing at breakfast, when a letter was brought in for her. She ran to her room to read it. Unaware of what had happened with Willoughby, Mrs. Jennings joked to Elinor about Marianne and asked when she was to be married.
Elinor is sympathetic toward her dear sister, but Marianne tries to keep her romantic affairs to herself. Mrs. Jennings is trying to have some good-natured fun, but, unbeknownst to her, her joke could not be more poorly timed.
Elinor answered that Marianne and Willoughby were not going to be married, and told Mrs. Jennings not to spread that rumor. Elinor went to her room to see what Willoughby had written to Marianne. She found Marianne lying on her bed, “almost choked by grief.” Elinor tried to comfort Marianne but cried herself. Marianne gave several letters to Elinor to read.
Elinor does her best to stop the rumor of Marianne’s engagement to Willoughby from spreading throughout society anymore. Marianne has been thrown into such extreme sadness that she can hardly communicate with her sister.
The first letter was from Willoughby, which said that he enjoyed his time with the Dashwoods, but felt no more than esteem for Marianne and her family. He was in fact already engaged to someone else. He had sent back all of Marianne’s letters to her, along with the lock of hair she had given him.
Willoughby now denies any affection for Marianne. Without a formal engagement, all his earlier love can be easily denied. The returned lock of hair symbolizes the end of Marianne and Willoughby’s romance.
Elinor was astonished and angry. Mrs. Jennings was ready to go out into town, and Elinor had to excuse Marianne and herself from going with her, saying that Marianne was not feeling well. She returned to Marianne, and told her she wished she could do something to comfort her.
Elinor again politely uses Marianne’s health as an excuse to save her sister from having to go out in public in such a state. She is a caring sister, trying to do whatever she can to help Marianne.
Marianne continued to sob, and Elinor urged her to keep her composure. Marianne said that Elinor had no idea how she felt, unaware of what had happened with Edward. Marianne insisted that nothing could take away her misery. Elinor learned that Marianne and Willoughby had never been formally engaged, and that he had only ever implied his love for her.
Elinor read the letters Marianne had sent to Willoughby. First, an excited one telling him that she was in London. Then, a concerned one asking when they might be able to see each other. Finally, there was an angry letter that she had written after seeing him at the dance. The highly emotional letters were “full of affection and confidence.”
The letters show Marianne’s romantic sensibility, full of affection and emotion, in great contrast to the cold, heartless letter that Willoughby sent her in reply.
Elinor thought it was improper that Marianne had written such letters when she and Willoughby were not even engaged. Marianne said that she felt “as solemnly engaged to him, as if the strictest covenant had bound us to each other.” She said that Willoughby had felt the same, but something must have changed him.
Elinor would prudently wait until an engagement was guaranteed to act as Marianne had, whereas Marianne let her feelings guide her and treated Willoughby as if they were already engaged.
Marianne refused to believe that Willoughby was “capable of such cruelty,” and thought that people had spread rumors about her, ruining her reputation to him. Elinor begged Marianne not to show her unhappiness so demonstrably to everyone, but Marianne said she could not appear happy when she was actually miserable.
Marianne struggles to maintain her noble idea of Willoughby after his recent behavior. Elinor again tries to get Marianne to moderate her sadness to some degree, and not to appear so demonstrably distressed to other people.
Rereading Willoughby’s heartless letter, Marianne called him “barbarously insolent” and asked whether anything could justify his behavior. She asked if they could go home to their mother immediately, but Elinor said that they owed it to Mrs. Jennings not to leave so suddenly, as it would be impolite. Marianne lay down again, and was hysterical for a while, before calming down and lying “quiet and motionless.”
Marianne goes back and forth now as to what she thinks of Willoughby’s character. She wants to go back to her loving mother, but Elinor knows that it would be rude to leave Mrs. Jennings so suddenly. Marianne continues to indulge in an extreme, hysterical sadness.