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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES
Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are busy attending parties and balls. Marianne is in her element. She is overjoyed in the company of Willoughby, who showers much affection and attention on her. Elinor even feels left out at times. Deprived of friends of her own age, she is often thrown in the company of Mrs. Jennings and Lady Middleton. At such times she welcomes the presence of Colonel Brandon. Brandon often talks of Marianne and asks Elinor about her sister's preferences.
Jane Austen paints the picture of an eighteenth-century upper middle-class society. The Dashwoods and Middletons are shown to be busy attending parties and balls. Their main occupation is socializing, and they take pleasure in entertaining people. Every young girl waits for a respectable young man to woo her, and her parents hope for a match between them. They lead a leisurely life, perhaps unusual to the modern reader.
Marianne is exhilarated by the looks and manners of her lover. She does not care to understand his essential nature. Obsessed with Willoughby, she ignores Colonel Brandon and unconsciously hurts him. Blinded by her infatuation for Willoughby, she is not able to realize the worth of the Colonel or detect the intensity of his feelings.
This chapter again emphasizes the difference in attitudes between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. Both men are attracted to Marianne. Willoughby displays his affection by wooing Marianne, like a dashing hero would, while Colonel Brandon admires his lady love from a distance and silently hopes to win her favor. Willoughby is interested only in flirting with Marianne, but the Colonel, like a sincere person, looks forward to a lasting relationship.
Marianne gets carried away by Willoughby's showy gestures. When he offers her a horse, she accepts it readily and talks about it to her sister. Elinor is shocked to learn this and asks Marianne to decline the offer, as it would prove too costly for them. Elinor observes Willoughby's behavior towards her sister and detects a note of intimacy in it. Margaret tells Elinor about her suspicion of an engagement between Marianne and Willoughby. Later, at Mrs. Jennings' insistence, Margaret gives a hint about Elinor's attachment to Edward, much to Elinor's embarrassment.
The chapter hints at the extent of the involvement of Marianne with Willoughby. Willoughby tries to impress Marianne by offering her a horse as a gift, and Marianne foolishly accepts the offer without giving a thought to the expenditure involved. Willoughby's superficiality and Marianne's gullibility are exposed in this episode.
Chapter 12 also reveals the character of the youngest of the Dashwood girls. Margaret, one of the minor characters in the novel, is otherwise ignored by Austen. Only a few chapters give a glimpse into her personality. Margaret, like a typical teenager, gets excited over little things and jumps to conclusions easily. She derives pleasure from revealing secrets. She informs Elinor about the impending marriage between Marianne and Willoughby because she saw the young man taking a lock of hair from her sister (a custom denoting engagement). At the Park, she gives hints about the relationship between Elinor and Edward to Mrs. Jennings, much to the embarrassment of her sister. Like a reckless teenager, she is always in a hurry to impart information not meant to be disclosed publicly.
Everyone is eagerly looking forward to their picnic at Whitewell. However, on the morning of the outing, a letter arrives for Colonel Brandon and alters the situation. The letter disturbs Brandon, and he informs the others about his decision to leave immediately for the town. The picnic is canceled, much to the disappointment of all, since it is not possible to proceed to Whitewell without the assistance of the Colonel. Sir John Middleton suggests that they should go for a ride in the carriage around the countryside. Marianne and Willoughby take a separate carriage. They visit Allenham on the sly. When Elinor learns about their visit, she is angry with Marianne for not observing the rules of propriety. Marianne justifies her action.
An element of suspense is introduced in this chapter. After the Colonel reads the letter, he turns grave and decides to leave for the town immediately. He evades the questions of Mrs. Jennings and declines to postpone his visit. After he leaves, Mrs. Jennings hints at the possibility of his visiting his illegitimate daughter, Miss Williams. Through this bit of information, Austen arouses the curiosity of the reader regarding the mysterious past of Colonel Brandon.
Marianne and Willoughby are insensitive to the feelings of the Colonel and fail to sympathize with his plight. They criticize Brandon for spoiling the afternoon.
Colonel Brandon comes across as a man in control of his emotions. Even though he is disturbed by the contents of the letter, he does not reveal his misery to others. Like a gentleman, he excuses himself from the party and bows to Marianne before taking his leave. His silence speaks volumes.
The chapter relates one more incident which creates a clash between the good sense of Elinor and the sensibility of Marianne. Marianne makes a secret visit to Allenham with Willoughby but does not feel guilty about what she has done. Elinor's sense of decorum causes her to condemn her sister's actions, as she does not approve of Marianne's visiting a stranger's house with a man to whom she is not even engaged, at least not openly.