When Mr. Dashwood dies, he must leave the bulk of his estate to the son by his first marriage, which leaves his second wife and three daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) in straitened circumstances. They are taken in by a kindly cousin, but their lack of fortune affects the marriageability of both practical Elinor and romantic Marianne. When Elinor forms an attachment for the wealthy Edward Ferrars, his family disapproves and separates them. And though Mrs. Jennings tries to match the worthy (and rich) Colonel Brandon to her, Marianne finds the dashing and fiery Willoughby more to her taste. Both relationships are sorely tried. But this is a romance, and through the hardships and heartbreak, true love and a happy ending will find their way for both the sister who is all sense and the one who is all sensibility.
About the Author
Date of Birth:December 16, 1775
Date of Death:July 18, 1817
Place of Birth:Village of Steventon in Hampshire, England
Place of Death:Winchester, Hampshire, England
Education:Taught at home by her father
Read an Excerpt
Sense and Sensibility, the first of those metaphorical bits of "ivory" on which Jane Austen said she worked with "so fine a brush," jackhammers away at the idea that to conjecture is a vain and hopeless reflex of the mind. But I'll venture this much: If she'd done nothing else, we'd still be in awe of her. Wuthering Heights alone put Emily Brontë in the pantheon, and her sister Charlotte and their older contemporary Mary Shelley might as well have saved themselves the trouble of writing anything but Jane Eyre and Frankenstein. Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is at least as mighty a work as any of these, and smarter than all three put together. And it would surely impress us even more without Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815) towering just up ahead. Austen wrote its ur-version, Elinor and Marianne, when she was nineteen, a year before First Impressions, which became Pride and Prejudice; she reconceived it as Sense and Sensibility when she was twenty-two, and she was thirty-six when it finally appeared. Like most first novels, it lays out what will be its author's lasting preoccupations: the "three or four families in a country village" (which Austen told her niece, in an often-quoted letter, was "the very thing to work on"). The interlocking anxieties over marriages, estates, and ecclesiastical "livings." The secrets, deceptions, and self-deceptions that take several hundred pages to straighten out-to the extent that they get straightened out. The radical skepticism about human knowledge, human communication, and humanpossibility that informs almost every scene right up to the sort-of-happy ending. And the distinctive characters-the negligent or overindulgent parents, the bifurcating siblings (smart sister, beautiful sister; serious brother, coxcomb brother), the charming, corrupted young libertines. Unlike most first novels, though, Sense and Sensibility doesn't need our indulgence. It's good to go.
In the novels to come, Elinor Dashwood will morph into Anne Elliott and Elizabeth Bennet (who will morph into Emma Woodhouse); Edward Ferrars into Edmund Bertram, Mr. Knightley, Henry Tilney, and Captain Wentworth; Willoughby into George Wickham and Henry Crawford. But the characters in Sense and Sensibility stand convincingly on their own, every bit as memorable as their later avatars. If Austen doesn't have quite the Caliban-to-Ariel range of a Shakespeare, she can still conjure up and sympathize with both Mrs. Jennings-the "rather vulgar" busybody with a borderline-unwholesome interest in young people's love lives, fits of refreshing horse sense, and a ruggedly good heart-and Marianne Dashwood, a wittily observed case study in Romanticism, a compassionately observed case study in sublimated adolescent sexuality, and a humorously observed case study in humorlessness. "I should hardly call her a lively girl," Elinor observes to Edward, "-she is very earnest, very eager in all she does-sometimes talks a great deal and always with animation-but she is not often really merry." Humorlessness, in fact, may be the one thing Marianne and her eventual lifemate, Colonel Brandon, have in common. (Sorry to give that plot point away; it won't be the last one, either. So, fair warning.) The minor characters have the sort of eidetic specificity you associate with Dickens: from the gruesomely mismatched Mr. and Mrs. Palmer to Robert Ferrars, splendidly impenetrable in his microcephalic self-complacency. The major characters, on the other hand, refuse to stay narrowly "in character"; they're always recognizably themselves, yet they seem as many-sided and changeable as people out in the nonfictional world.
Elinor makes as ambivalent a heroine as Mansfield Park's notoriously hard-to-warm-up-to Fanny Price. She's affectionately protective of her sister Marianne yet overfond of zinging her: "It is not every one who has your passion for dead leaves." She's bemused at Marianne's self-dramatizing, yet she's as smug about suffering in silence as Marianne (who "would have thought herself very inexcusable" if she were able to sleep after Willoughby leaves Devonshire) is proud of suffering in Surround Sound. She can be treacherously clever, as when Lucy Steele speculates (correctly) that she may have offended Elinor by staking her claim to Edward: " '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.' " Yet she can also be ponderously preachy: "One observation may, I think, be fairly drawn from the whole of the story-that all Willoughby's difficulties, have arisen from the first offense against virtue, in his behaviour to Eliza Williams. That crime has been the origin of every lesser one, and of all his present discontents." (In the rest of Austen, only the intentionally preposterous Mary in Pride and Prejudice strikes just this note: "Unhappy as the event may be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson; that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable . . ."). Is Elinor simply an intelligent young woman overtaxed by having to be the grown-up of the family? Or is she an unconsciously rivalrous sibling, sick of hearing that her younger, more beautiful sister will marry more advantageously? Or both? Or what? It's not that Austen doesn't have a clear conception of her-it's that she doesn't have a simple conception. Elinor is the character you know the most about, since Austen tells most of the story from her point of view, and consequently she's the one you're least able to nail with a couple of adjectives or a single defining moment.
Edward bothers us, too. He's a dreamboat only for a woman of Elinor's limited expectations: independent-minded yet passive and depressive, forthright and honorable yet engaged in a book-long cover-up. (It's a tour de force on Austen's part to present a character so burdened with a secret that we see his natural behavior only long after we've gotten used to him.) At his strongest and most appealing-to Elinor, at least-he's a clear-your-mind-of-cant kind of guy: "I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. . . . A troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world." But he can also be a Hamlet-like whiner, complaining about his own idleness and vowing that his sons will be brought up "to be as unlike myself as possible. In feeling, in action, in condition, in every thing." For my money, Edward is the least likable of Austen's heroes, while his opposite number, Willoughby, is the most sympathetic of her libertines: smarter than Pride and Prejudice's Wickham (a loser who gets stuck with the "noisy" and virtually portionless Lydia Bennet) and more warmhearted than Mansfield Park's textbook narcissist Henry Crawford. Willoughby may strike trendy Wordsworthian poses with his effusions on cottages ("I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable"), but at least he has enough sense to abhor his own callowness, and enough sexy boldness to discompose even the rational Elinor. "She felt that his influence over her mind was heightened by circumstances which ought not in reason to have weight; by that person of uncommon attraction, that open, affectionate, and lively manner which it was no merit to possess . . ." His opening line when he at last explains to her what he's been up to ("Tell me honestly, do you think me most a knave or a fool?") is one of those Byronic flourishes that make him the person in Sense and Sensibility you'd most want to dine with and least want to trust.
From the Paperback edition.
Table of Contents
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Reading Group Guide
1. Sense and Sensibility begins with a short history of Norland Park, the Dashwood family's estate. We learn that the late owner has bequeathed the property to his nephew, Henry Dashwood, since he himself was unmarried and without children. Describe Henry Dashwood's family. Who are its members? What is the dilemma that Henry's wife and daughters encounter upon his death?
2. The novel tells the story of two sisters who at first appear to be more different than similar. Elinor, the older sister, is governed by her good sense, whereas Marianne, the younger and less experienced sister, is ruled by a romantic sensibility. Compare the personalities of the two sisters further. To what do you attribute these differences? Are their personalities fixed, or do they change over the course of the novel?
3. In Chapter 13, Elinor is shocked to learn that Marianne allowed Willoughby to show her his house without a chaperon. Marianne defends her action by saying, "If there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong." Is this a valid defense? Does the novel, in the end, support or reject Marianne's notion of propriety?
4. Claire Tomalin has argued that Sense and Sensibility acts out a debate about behavior, in which Elinor represents discretion and privacy and Marianne represents emotional openness. Which side do you think wins this debate? Do you think the novel's attempts to resolve this debate are successful? Why or why not?
5. Over the course of the novel, both Elinor and Marianne experience romantic reversals: Elinor when she discovers Edward Ferrarsis engaged to Lucy Steele, and Marianne when she discovers Willoughby is to marry Miss Grey. What do these experiences teach Elinor and Marianne? Compare the reactions of each.
6. Sense and Sensibility presents a host of memorable minor characters, such as Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Ferrars, and Mrs. John Dashwood. Discuss the role minor characters play in the novel. What issues or ideas do they help illuminate for the protagonists?
7. In Chapter 17, Elinor says the following with regard to the notion of character: "I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes . . . in a total misapprehension of character in some points or other; fancying other people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why, or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what others say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge." Discuss the theme of character in Sense and Sensibility. What does Elinor mean when she uses the word "character"? What, according to her, are good and bad judges of character? Does she follow her own advice? Which sort of character does the novel value?
8. Discuss the character of Lucy Steele. How would you describe her? What does she risk in telling Elinor of her engagement to Edward Ferrars? Does this seem shrewd or foolish to you?
9. At several points in the story, the characters discuss the value of "second attachments." For instance, in Chapter 17, Marianne makes plain that she does not believe a person can be in love more than once in his or her life. She says further, "At my time of life, opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should see or hear anything to change them." Discuss the irony implicit in Marianne's statement. Does the novel itself share her views? Which characters come to have second attachments?
10. Discuss the character of Willoughby. How is he punished for his decision to marry for money, in a way that someone like Lucy Steele is not? Why might this be the case?
"It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do."
Jane Austen (quote from Sense and Sensibility )
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The tale of two sisters - the elder (Elinor) is very sensible, rational, not prone to great tides of emotion, while the younger (Marianne) is much more melodramatic, given to those classic period-drama swoons and faintings - and their misadventures in love. Of course there is a complicated family situation, evil sisters-in-law, conniving rivals, fickle suitors... all the classic elements, as well as a happy ending. Austen has a very impressive skill for constructing romantic cliff-hangers.What impressed me (and I do not remember being impressed by this in Pride & Prejudice when I read it seven years ago) were the beautiful turns of phrase. "The shades of his mind" and "truth was less violently outraged than usual" were my favourites, along with "she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition"! I also took great delight at the eventual fate of the main villain - really the only end for him, but unexpected when it came. Austen's lampooning of the insipid, rude, selfish bystanders among the characters is also distinctly enjoyable.I have my objections too. Elinor's sense apparently prevents her from ever suffering any outburts of emotion, well beyond the limits of the patience of anyone I know! Tempestuous Marianne suffers physically several times (a sprained ankle and a number of colds), while Elinor apparently has one of those miraculously healthy constitutions. Marianne has a relevation post-illness and repents of her former ways, and pre-revelation is just a bit too... dramatic. Like an opera diva. In addition, the speeches (particularly between the sisters) come across as overly lengthy, oratorial and therefore somewhat out of place. Maybe I am doing Austen an injustice and sisters really did speak like that once.By the way, I should mention I was reading a Folio Edition - beautiful red cloth spine and illustrations. And surprisingly, quite well designed for reading as well as just looking at!
Wonderfully written, with terrific insights as to human nature. Better with each reading.
Recently I read Austen's 'juvenalia', and when I started reading this book, I could see a lot of similarities. The beginning of S&S has a tone of satire. The reader can tell Jane is a young writer, mocking many of society's views which were common at the time.However, as the story progresses, I began to see Jane getting more serious about her subject and caring about her characters. That was when I began to love this book. And it just got better and better toward the end.On a personal note, I found some similarities to my own life in this book. When I was young and in love for the first time, I acted a bit like Marianne, wearing my heart on my sleeve. I think many of us probably did. I loved this book and gave it 4 stars - but you can see how I might be a biased reader.Some of Austen's other books are definitely a little better, but this is also a good book. It's amazing to me that hundreds of years can pass, and a modern reader like me can still identify with these characters.
Surprisingly funny and witty.
So you want to read Sense and Sensibility. Great choice! Jane Austen¿s first published novel (1811) can get lost in the limelight of her other `darling child¿, Pride and Prejudice, but is well worth the effort. There are many editions available in print today, and the text can stand on its own, but for those seeking a `friendlier¿ version with notes and appendixes, the question arises of how much supplemental material do you need, and is it helpful? One option is the Oxford World¿s Classics new revised edition of Sense and Sensibility that presents an interesting array of additional material that comfortably falls somewhere between just the text, and supplemental overload. This volume offers what I feel a good edition should be, an expansive introduction and detailed notes supporting the text in a clear, concise and friendly manner that the average reader can understand and enjoy. The material opens with a one paragraph biography of the life of Jane Austen which seemed rather slim to this Austen enthusiast¿s sensibility, and most certainly too short for a neophyte. The introduction quickly made up for it in both size and content at a whopping 33 pages! Wow, author Margaret Anne Doody does not disappoint, and it is easy to understand why after eighteen years publishers continue to use her excellent essay in subsequent editions. Amazingly, the introduction is not at all dated. The material covered is accessible to any era of reader, touching upon the novels publishing history, plot line, character analysis, and historical context. Doody thoughtfully presents the reader with an analysis of the major themes in the novel such as the dichotomy of sense and sensibility as it relates to the two heroines Elinor and Marianne, the portrayal of negligent mothers, men represented as the ultimate hunter, secrecy, deceit and concealment, and the crippling impact of the inheritance laws and primogeniture on women during the Regency era. Interlaced with Doody¿s interpretations are her astute observations of Austen¿s writing style with references to pages in the novel and outside sources. The entire essay is well researched, populated with footnotes, and an enjoyable complement to the text. The notes on the text explain the editorial trail since the novel¿s first publication in 1811, whose subtle changes and their significance I will defer to my more learned colleague Prof. Moody. The select bibliography is indeed select, and includes many editions that deserve recognition as the best of what is available in print on Jane Austen¿s life, works and critical analysis. One of my favorites listed is Jane Austen: A Family Record (1913) by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye (1989). I was also pleasantly surprised to see a category including film versions and commentaries which is often overlooked by other publishers. The chronology of Jane Austen¿s life lists both significant events and what transpired historically in matching columns. The choices are relevant and interesting with the exception of two events that this writer found humorous - 1795 Jane Austen flirts with Tom Lefroy, and in 1815 Humphry Davy invents miner¿s safety lamp. I have yet to be convinced that Austen¿s flirtation with Tom Lefroy had a significant impact on her life, nor am I clear how a clergyman¿s daughter living in southern England would be directly affected by the invention of a miner¿s safety lamp. Just thinking out loud here! The two appendixes on rank and social status, and the intricacies of country dance touched upon both subjects clearly, but briefly, using stories from Jane Austen¿s life to put the era in context. I appreciated the humorous example of how young women attending balls and assemblies were accompanied by chaperones, usually a mother or an older woman, who were expected to pass the time with cards or socializing rather than dancing themselves. In a letter to her sister Cassa
My only complaint is that the pages numbers will not match the ones in the paper version. I know it sounds petty, but that is a pain when dealing with page to page assignments.