Sunday, 20 January 2013


Sense and Sensibility”,  written in the late 1790s but much revised before publication in 1811,   is a novel by Jane Austen, her first published novel under the pseudonym, "A Lady."                                                                         
This is the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, sisters who respectively represent the "sense" and "sensibility" of the title. With their mother, their sister Margaret, and their stepbrother John, they make up the Dashwood family. 
Henry Dashwood, their father, has just died. Norland Park, his estate, is inherited by John; on his deathbed, he urges John to provide for them and John promises that he will do so. He is already wealthy because he has a fortune from his mother and is also married to the rich Fanny Ferrars.  Immediately after Henry's burial, the insensitive Fanny moves into Norland Park and cleverly persuades John not to make any provision for his stepmother and stepsisters. Mrs. Dashwood, disliking Fanny, wants to leave Norland Park at once, but Elinor prudently restrains her until they can find a house within their means. Edward Ferrars, Fanny's brother, comes to stay and is attracted to Elinor. Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne expect an engagement, but Elinor is not so sure; she knows that Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny will object to Edward's interest in her. 
Mrs. Dashwood is so offended by Fanny’s rudeness that she is delighted to receive a letter from a distant relative, Sir John Middleton, offering at a reasonable rent a house called Barton Cottage on his estate in Devonshire. Mrs. Dashwood immediately accepts the offer.  
In the country,  Marianne, the more romantically inclined of the two sisters, meets the handsome but penniless and unscrupulous John Willoughby, with whom she falls desperately in love, and who seems to fully reciprocate her feelings. 

But after a short time, Willoughby leaves unexpectedly for London without explaining or declaring himself.  Soon afterwards, Marianne discovers that  he has become engaged to a rich heiress, and falls  into despair. 
Meanwhile Elinor discovers from a venal young woman, Lucy Steele, that Edward has been  secretly engaged to her for the past four years. Even so, unlike Marianne, the commonsensical, self-controlled  Elinor conceals  her grief.  However, Elinor’s  fortunes soon change  when Lucy leaves Edward for his richer brother Robert. Freed from his engagement to Lucy, which he has come to regret, Edward  proposes to Elinor who joyfully accepts. 

Meanwhile, Marianne, after recovering from her disappointment with Willoughby, comes to value Colonel Brandon, an old friend of the family who  has long  been in love with her and ultimately she marries him.

Sense and Sensibility” is a study of the problems  women faced as a result  of their being excluded  from inheritance  as well as a meditation on the difficulties  of knowing  others and trusting one’s own feelings. As with many of Jane Austen’s other novels, the plot of  “Sense and Sensibility”  interlinks these two dilemmas. The injustice of a male-dominated society forces single women either  to find  husbands or to rely on the charity of relatives. 
The happiness of Elinor and Marianne depends on their ability  to choose well. As such, it is a problem of knowledge. Marianne’s notion of  “sensibility” refers to the romantic cultivation of  “spontaneous” feelings. When she meets the handsome Willoughby, Marianne sees in him a mirror of this sensibility, but  much of this supposedly refined  sensibility is actually  just  empty convention, borrowed from  poetry and novels;  Marianne’s  fascination with Willoughby’s apparently “romantic”  and “sensitive”  nature  blinds her to his real  intentions. 

When Elinor reproaches her for being too open with Willoughby, Marianne criticises her cautious and self-possessed  sister  for her lack of  “sensibility” and her excess of “sense”. Elinor, for her part, feels as deeply as Marianne, experiencing deep sorrow when she is separated from Edward and when she learns of his secret engagement to Lucy Steele. But the two women manage their emotions very differently. Marianne indulges her emotions, feeding them with melancholy memories. This increases her own suffering and that of the people who love her. Elinor too has “an excellent heart” and her feelings are strong, but, “she knew how to govern them.” Unlike Marianne, she does not become ill from grief or become a worry to her family. 
In fact, it is Elinor who, being capable of  deep devotion and sincere love, achieves strength and balance of  character, and in the end her faith in Edward is rewarded in their marriage and subsequent happiness.

While many modern readers will sympathize with Marianne’s emotional honesty and frankness and associate Elinor’s restraint with the repression and stiffness of a former age, there is no doubt that Jane Austen believed Elinor’s approach to life to be superior. Elinor, unlike Marianne, maintains her public dignity in spite of private sorrow, and her disciplined approach to her own emotions enables her to cope better with the difficulties of life than Marianne does. Jane Austen’s definitive judgment on sensibility, that is to say excessive emotionalsm,  comes with Marianne’s repentance at the end of the novel. Even Marianne, the champion of “sensibility,” finally judges it as erroneous  and embraces her sister’s  “sense.”  When Marianne comes to be less dominated by sensibility, she is rewarded with happiness and peace of mind. 

Here you can  read or download the eBook of Sense and Sensibility”.

I hope you will enjoy the 1995 film version of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility” with Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant.  Absolutely captivating, with great scenery and good acting!

Now let's watch a video from the 2008 British television drama adaptation of Jane Austen's novel.

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