So what does she decide to do? She decides to lie to Lucy. Not just for the pleasure of fooling Lucy—although Elinor does enjoy doing that—but to solicit information.
Now, a bit of a digression on morality. If you believe that morality consists of dutifully following rules—and most people do—this will come as a bit of a shock. That ethics, which is formally called deontology is the dominant way of thinking about ethics in our time. Jane Austen's ethics are virtue ethics. That ethics is based on performance and character.
So let's look at the performance. Elinor doesn't just lie, she lies really well.
"Thank you," cried Lucy warmly, "for breaking the ice; you have set my heart at ease by it; for I was somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I told you that Monday.""Elinor spoke with the truest sincerity." And she did. Nothing could be further from her intention than to give Lucy reason to believe that she was offended. It's a nice trick BTW. If you need to lie, emphasize any phrases you speak that are actually true.
"Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me," and Elinor spoke it with the truest sincerity, "nothing could be farther from my intention, than to give you such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust that was not honourable and flattering to me?"
And then this beautiful dig: "Could you have a motive for the trust that was not honourable and flattering to me?" But of course Lucy did. She only mentioned her engagement to Elinor to open up a wound in Elinor that she now plans to rub salt in.
It's not that Lucy is a bitch and Elinor isn't. To the contrary, Elinor is much better at being a bitch than Lucy. Quite frankly, we have good reason to believe she is better at everything than Lucy; and and is going to be be better at everything she undertakes if you catch my drift.
And on we go. In the course of a chapter in which neither of the women stops lying for even a second, Elinor learns want she wants to learn. She confirms that Lucy is self-serving and has a weak character. And she demonstrates her own strength of character. Do go and read it again. It is is something of a measure of Austen that she shows us more with lies than most writers can do with truths.
Off to London
And then we get the manœuvering to get the two sisters off to London. There is a bit of story telling going on here. I mean by that that I'm reminded of certain action movies wherein the hero deplores violence even though he is a great martial arts expert. Luckily for him, his opponents keep putting him in situations where he has no choice but to reluctantly use his power. And so poor Elinor, who only wants to stay at home and do needlepoint and read to her mother, is reluctantly obliged to go to London where she will be in her very element.
Elinor submitted to the arrangement which counteracted her wishes, with less reluctance than she had expected to feel. With regard to herself, it was now a matter of unconcern whether she went to town or not; and when she saw her mother so thoroughly pleased with the plan, and her sister exhilarated by it in look, voice, and manner, restored to all her usual animation, and elevated to more than her usual gaiety, she could not be dissatisfied with the cause, and would hardly allow herself to distrust the consequence.With "less reluctance" indeed. Had this been a martial arts movie—and it bears more similarity than some Austen fans might be willing to admit—this would be the moment when the hero quietly packs his or her Ninja gear. Elinor's Ninja gear doesn't need packing, however, because she carries it with her all the time in her character. Like any person of real virtue, she thrives on using her virtue to achieve things. (And not, I will point out for the umpteenth time, by sheltering it like Pamela and her virginity.)
We also see a brief glimpse of something positive in Marianne in this paragraph. Now that she is going to London, where she might see Willoughby, Marianne is again hopeful.
Unfortunately, hope for Marianne is just a feeling and it is focused entirely on her goal. Pretty soon we see her at her old selfish ways, caring only for the things her sensibilities validate and otherwise treating opther people as conveniences.
They were three days on their journey, and Marianne's behaviour as they travelled was a happy specimen of what her future complaisance and companionableness to Mrs. Jennings might be expected to be. She sat in silence almost all the way, wrapt in her own meditations, and scarcely ever voluntarily speaking, except when any object of picturesque beauty within their view drew from her an exclamation of delight exclusively addressed to her sister. To atone for this conduct, therefore, Elinor took immediate possession of the post of civility which she had assigned herself, behaved with the greatest attention to Mrs. Jennings, talked with her, laughed with her, and listened to her whenever she could ....Okay, Austen does rather lay it on with a trowel at times. The first part here describing Marianne's selfishness is perfectly apt. We rebel a little, and rightfully so, at the description of Elinor atoning for Marianne. This writing is bad enough to be something by one of the Brontës—and for the same reason—Elinor is being a demure little romantic victim just like the insufferable Jane Eyre or the even more insufferable Agnes Grey will be.
What redeems her, however, is her sense; something no one would accuse a Brontë or one of their heroines of having . I mentioned up at the top that Elinor has little reason to be hopeful—an issue she dwells on herself during a quiet moment. But she does have reason to continue to esteem Edward even if it now looks as if her chances of marrying him are minuscule.
And she continues to esteem him for the very quality that she worries that Willoughby lacks, constancy. Edward, and Brandon as we see when he appears, has constancy. And so does Elinor. If we read Austen well, we will recognize that the actual outcome matters little at this point. Elinor's life will be one of virtue whether she marries Edward or not.
That, by the way, is the big reason Austen's comedic endings are so successful. Her endings would be less pleasing if the heroine did not get the right kind of marriage for her troubles but they would still be convincing from a moral perspective either way