Sense and Sensibility (Austen)

Sense and Sensibility 
Jane Austen, 1811
368 pp.
Penguin Random House
ISBN-13: 9780141439662

Two sisters of opposing temperaments but who share the pangs of tragic love provide the subjects for Sense and Sensibility.

Elinor, practical and conventional, is the epitome of sense; Marianne, emotional and sentimental, the embodiment of sensibility. To each comes the sorrow of unhappy love: Elinor desires a man who is promised to another while Marianne loses her heart to a scoundrel who jilts her.

Their mutual suffering brings a closer understanding between the two sisters — and true love finally triumphs when sense gives way to sensibility and sensibility gives way to sense.

The Dashwood sisters are very different from each other in appearance and temperament; Elinor's good sense and readiness to observe social forms contrast with Marianne's impulsive candor and warm but excessive sensibility.

Both struggle to maintain their integrity and find happiness in the face of a competitive marriage market. (From Penguin Classics—cover image, top-right.)

Author Bio 
Born—December 16, 1775
Where—Steventon in Hampshire, UK
Death—July 18, 1817
Where—Winchester, Hampshire
Education—taught at home by her father

In 1801, George Austen retired from the clergy, and Jane, Cassandra, and their parents took up residence in Bath, a fashionable town Jane liked far less than her native village. Jane seems to have written little during this period. When Mr. Austen died in 1805, the three women, Mrs. Austen and her daughters, moved first to Southampton and then, partly subsidized by Jane's brothers, occupied a house in Chawton, a village not unlike Jane's first home. There she began to work on writing and pursued publishing once more, leading to the anonymous publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice in 1813, to modestly good reviews.

Known for her cheerful, modest, and witty character, Jane Austen had a busy family and social life, but as far as we know very little direct romantic experience. There were early flirtations, a quickly retracted agreement to marry the wealthy brother of a friend, and a rumored short-lived attachment—while she was traveling—that has not been verified. Her last years were quiet and devoted to family, friends, and writing her final novels. In 1817 she had to interrupt work on her last and unfinished novel, Sanditon, because she fell ill. She died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, where she had been taken for medical treatment. After her death, her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published, together with a biographical notice, due to the efforts of her brother Henry. Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Jane Austen's delightful, carefully wrought novels of manners remain surprisingly relevant, nearly 200 years after they were first published. Her novels—Pride and Prejudice and Emma among them—are those rare books that offer us a glimpse at the mores of a specific period while addressing the complexities of love, honor, and responsibility that still intrigue us today. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews 
(Older works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

It is now almost exactly two centuries since the first two of Jane Austen's six completed novels—Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice—were published, and for much of that time writers and critics have passionately disagreed about the true caliber of her work. Austen's books received a few respectful reviews and lively attention from the reading public during her lifetime, but it wasn't until nearly thirty years after her death that some critics began to recognize her enduring artistic accomplishment—and others to debate it.
(From Penguin Classics Introduction to Mansfield Park.)

About the Title
Marianne Dashwood, trusting the evidence of her senses, falls passionately in love with a man who in truth is less good than he seems. Elinor Dashwood quite sensibly "thinks very highly of, greatly esteems, and likes" a man whose worthiness in her eyes only increases when she learns why he cannot marry her. Through the sisters' stories, and the moral dilemmas they raise, Jane Austen explores in the form of a delightful and dramatically satisfying romance the limitations and pitfalls of the Romantic aesthetic in a world where money matters.

Though Northanger Abbey (originally called "Lady Susan") was Austen's first novel to be accepted for publication, the publisher never issued it, and by the time Austen bought back the rights in 1816, she didn't think it was good enough to publish. Sense and Sensibility, published in 1811, is considerably more ambitious than Northanger Abbey, both thematically and technically, and is generally considered Austen's first major novel.
(From Penguin Classics, cover image, top-right.)

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

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Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Sense and Sensibility:

1. Talk about the significance of Austen's title. What is the difference in meaning between the words "sense" and "sensibility" ... and which sister represents which word? Which word most represents your own approach to life and love? Which matters more...or are they both equally important in chosing a mate?

2. If you haven't already (in question #1), discuss the differences between the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne? Does Austen seem to favor one over the other?

3. Then, of course, there's Fanny Dashwood. How does she set about working on her husband after his father's death? Later, why does she make it clear that her brother Edward is not for Elinor? What does this suggest about the role of marriage for the upper classes?

4. Are Edward's attentions to Elinor fair and honorable? Why isn't he more open with her? Where does his honor lie—or where should it lie—with Lucy or Elinor? Do you admire him? Is he overly passive, honorable, loyal...or what?

5. What is Marianne's objection to Colonel Brandon? At times, do you find yourself sympathetic to Willoughby despite his abandonment of Marianne? Does Austen plant clues to Willoughby's character early on?

6. Talk about the other characters, as well: Sir John Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings; John Dashwood; Mrs. Ferrars; and Lucy Steele. How does Austen portray them? What about Lucy, for instance, makes her seem insincere, even when we first meet her?

7. Austen explores the function of marriage in Sense and Sensibility (actually, in most if not all of her novels). What social constraints are placed on choosing a mate and for what reasons? Do similar restraints exist today?

8. What gave a woman advantages in the marriage market in Austen's time? What placed her at a disadvantage? Same for men: what made free choice in marriage difficult for them, as well?

9. In the end, does sense triumph over sensibility? Or do you think Austen is sympathetic to both perspectives? What does each sister come to learn from the other?

10. Do you find the ending satisfactory for both sisters? Do you feel the two make the right choice for happiness? Why or why not?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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