Study Guide

Sense and Sensibility Chapter 21

By Jane Austen

Chapter 21

  • The Palmers return to their home at Cleveland the next day, but there are more visitors in store for Barton Park. Mrs. Jennings has discovered some distant relatives (two sisters) on a brief trip to Exeter, and invited them to come stay. Lady Middleton is shaken by this rather odd invitation, but comes around.
  • When the young cousins arrive, they don't disappoint – they're quite polite and fashionable. They simply love everything about Barton, and go out of their way to flatter Lady Middleton, who decides that she likes them after all.
  • Sir John rushes over to fetch Marianne and Elinor, wanting them to meet the new arrivals. He's sure they'll all get along.
  • Sir John can't believe that the Dashwoods aren't stumbling over themselves to get there – instead, they promise him that they'll come and visit within the next couple of days. He goes back to brag about them to the new arrivals, the two Miss Steeles.
  • Elinor and Marianne finally go to see the visitors a couple of days later. The elder Miss Steele is nothing to write home about – she's almost thirty (practically middle aged in those days), and not very pretty. The younger sister, Lucy, is a different story, though. She's about 22, and is very pretty – she's very sharp and put-together, though not exactly elegant.
  • Elinor admits to herself that the two sisters do have some common sense; they've figured out that the way into Lady Middleton's heart is by praising her children.
  • Everyone sits and admires the children, even though one of them, Annamaria, has a screaming fit. The Miss Steeles pamper her wholeheartedly.
  • Lady Middleton carries the screaming child away, leaving her four guests alone. They make small talk about Lady Middleton and Sir John; Marianne can't bear to participate in such niceties, so Elinor bears the brunt of the small talk.
  • Miss Steele (the elder) asks if they've been enjoying their new home in Devonshire, and comments that they must have been sad to leave Norland.
  • Whoa – this is kind of a personal question for someone who's practically a stranger! Elinor is a little taken aback, and responds rather cautiously that she was.
  • There's some small talk about Norland's beauties, in which Lucy seems a little apologetic for her rude older sister.
  • Miss Steele then pushes forward, asking if the Dashwoods had many handsome beaux there – that is, did they have a lot of boyfriends?
  • Lucy's embarrassed again by her sister's forthrightness.
  • Miss Steele goes on and on about "beaux" – what men should be like to be a good beau. She's totally ridiculous, and it's obvious that this is all she ever thinks about. Everyone else is kind of mortified by the turn of conversation. Lucy changes the subject, but the damage is done – the Dashwoods leave, certain that they don't want to hang out with the Steeles anymore. Elinor can't stand the older one, and even pretty Lucy kind of turned her off with her obvious shrewdness.
  • Unfortunately, the Steeles don't feel the same way – they simply loved the Dashwoods, and think they're going to be BFFs.
  • Sir John joins the side of the Miss Steeles, and insist that the young ladies all hang out together.
  • The Miss Steeles (especially the elder) join in the Middleton family pastime of teasing Elinor and Marianne about their suitors. It's not a welcome addition.
  • Sir John lets slip the name of Elinor's supposed "beau" – Ferrars. It turns out Lucy and Anne know him through their uncle. She wonders what exactly they know about him.