Study Guide

Sense and Sensibility Wealth

By Jane Austen


Chapter 15

Mrs. Smith has this morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor dependant cousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just received my dispatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by way of exhilaration I am now come to take my farewell of you. (15.3)

Willoughby's excuse for leaving Devonshire is ironclad – after all, in this world, when money says, "Jump," the only possible response is, "How high?"

Chapter 17
Marianne Dashwood

"Strange if it would!" cried Marianne. "What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?"

"Grandeur has but little," said Elinor, "but wealth has much to do with it." "Elinor, for shame!" said Marianne; "money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."

"Perhaps," said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."
Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end." (17.2)

Wealth, we see here, means different things to different people. To Elinor (and Edward), it's simply a certain level of comfort – but to Marianne, there's a base level of luxury that she can't imagine herself living without. Of course, this idea is attuned to what her life with Willoughby would be like.

Mrs. Dashwood

"I should be puzzled to spend a large fortune myself," said Mrs. Dashwood, "if my children were all to be rich without my help." (17.6)

Mrs. Dashwood's vision of wealth, unlike those of Marianne, aren't self-centered – rather, she sees wealth as an asset to the family, and can't imagine what she would spend money on if not her kids.

Chapter 30
Mrs. Jennings

"Poor soul!" cried Mrs. Jennings, as soon as she was gone, "how it grieves me to see her! And I declare if she is not gone away without finishing her wine! And the dried cherries too! Lord! nothing seems to do her any good. I am sure if I knew anything she would like, I would send all over the town for it. Well, it is the oddest thing to me, that a man should use such a pretty girl so ill! But when there is plenty of money on one side, and next to none on the other, Lord bless you! they care no more about such things! -- "

"The lady then -- Miss Grey I think you called her -- is very rich?"

"Fifty thousand pounds, my dear. Did you ever see her? a smart, stylish girl they say, but not handsome. I remember her aunt very well, Biddy Henshawe; she married a very wealthy man. But the family are all rich together. Fifty thousand pounds! and by all accounts it won't come before it's wanted; for they say he is all to pieces. No wonder! dashing about with his curricle and hunters! Well, it don't signify talking, but when a young man, be he who he will, comes and makes love to a pretty girl, and promises marriage, he has no business to fly off from his word only because he grows poor, and a richer girl is ready to have him. Why don't he, in such a case, sell his horses, let his house, turn off his servants, and make a thorough reform at once? I warrant you, Miss Marianne would have been ready to wait till matters came round. But that won't do, now-a-days; nothing in the way of pleasure can ever be given up by the young men of this age." (30.7)

Money, then, is what drove Willoughby to throw over Marianne – and we, like Mrs. Jennings, can understand it, but still feel unsympathetic. It seems like a pretty lame excuse to us.

Chapter 33
John Dashwood

"Your expenses both in town and country must certainly be considerable, but your income is a large one."

"Not so large, I dare say, as many people suppose. I do not mean to complain, however; it is undoubtedly a comfortable one, and I hope, will in time be better. The inclosure of Norland Common, now carrying on, is a most serious drain. And then I have made a little purchase within this half year -- East Kingham Farm, you must remember the place, where old Gibson used to live. The land was so very desirable for me in every respect, so immediately adjoining my own property, that I felt it my duty to buy it. I could not have answered it to my conscience to let it fall into any other hands. A man must pay for his convenience, and it has cost me a vast deal of money." (33.17)

John, obviously feeling guilty about his decision not to give his sisters any of their fair share of the Dashwood inheritance, always feels as though he has to defend his own fortune. Apparently, even the wealthy feel that they're not wealthy enough.

"[Mrs. Jennings] seems a most valuable woman indeed. Her house, her style of living, all bespeak an exceeding good income, and it is an acquaintance that has not only been of great use to you hitherto, but in the end may prove materially advantageous. Her inviting you to town is certainly a vast thing in your favour; and indeed, it speaks altogether so great a regard for you, that in all probability when she dies you will not be forgotten. She must have a great deal to leave."(33.22)

John's tactlessness is legendary – first of all, he clearly only values Mrs. Jennings as a friend because of her wealth; secondly, he's practically salivating over the fact that she might die and leave money to Elinor!

Chapter 37
Sir John Middleton

"It is a melancholy consideration. Born to the prospect of such affluence! I cannot conceive a situation more deplorable. The interest of two thousand pounds -- how can a man live on it! -- and when to that is added the recollection that he might, but for his own folly, within three months have been in the receipt of two thousand five hundred a-year, (for Miss Morton has thirty thousand pounds,) I cannot picture to myself a more wretched condition. We must all feel for him; and the more so, because it is totally out of our power to assist him." (37.29)

John's description of Edward's circumstances make him a clear foil to Willoughby – when offered a bribe (basically) to marry the wrong woman, he chose to take the honorable path instead of the money.

Chapter 44
John Willoughby

To avoid a comparative poverty, which her affection and her society would have deprived of all its horrors, I have, by raising myself to affluence, lost everything that could make it a blessing. (44.13)

Willoughby confesses that he realizes the error of his way – he's basically sold his soul for Miss Grey's fortune, and now can never be happy.

Chapter 50

What she would engage to do towards augmenting their income, was next to be considered; and here it plainly appeared, that though Edward was now her only son, he was by no means her eldest; for while Robert was inevitably endowed with a thousand pounds a year, not the smallest objection was made against Edward's taking orders for the sake of two hundred and fifty at the utmost; nor was anything promised either for the present or in future, beyond the ten thousand pounds, which had been given with Fanny. It was as much, however, as was desired, and more than was expected by Edward and Elinor; and Mrs. Ferrars herself, by her shuffling excuses, seemed the only person surprised at her not giving more. (50.3-4)

Mrs. Ferrars's financial support is more than enough for Edward and Elinor – proving once and for all that wealth is what you make of it. We're confident that they'll be happier with their ten thousand pounds than Willoughby will ever be with his fifty.