Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Miss Dashwood Sisters
Though not the first novel she wrote, Sense and Sensibility was the first
Jane Austen published. Though she initially called it Elinor and Marianne,
Austen jettisoned both the title and the epistolary mode in which it was
originally written, but kept the essential theme: the necessity of finding a
workable middle ground between passion and reason. The story revolves
around the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Whereas the former is
a sensible, rational creature, her younger sister is wildly romantic--a
characteristic that offers Austen plenty of scope for both satire and
compassion. Commenting on Edward Ferrars, a potential suitor for Elinors
hand, Marianne admits that while she loves him tenderly, she finds him
disappointing as a possible lover for her sister: Oh! Mama, how
spiritless, how tame was Edwards manner in reading to us last night! I felt
for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she
seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those
beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced
with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference! Soon
however, Marianne meets a man who measures up to her ideal: Mr.
Willoughby, a new neighbor. So swept away by passion is Marianne that
her behavior begins to border on the scandalous. Then Willoughby
abandons her; meanwhile, Elinors growing affection for Edward suffers a
check when he admits he is secretly engaged to a childhood sweetheart.
How each of the sisters reacts to their romantic misfortunes, and the
lessons they draw before coming finally to the requisite happy ending
forms the heart of the novel. Though Mariannes disregard for social
conventions and willingness to consider the world well-lost for love may
appeal to modern readers, it is Elinor whom Austen herself most evidently
admired; a truly happy marriage, she shows us, exists only where sense
and sensibility meet and mix in proper measure. --Alix Wilber
Personal Review: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
One of the Dashwood daughters is smart, down-to-earth and sensible. The
other is wildly romantic and sensitive.
And in a Jane Austen novel, you can guess that there are going to be
romantic problems aplenty for both of them -- along with the usual
entailment issues, love triangles, sexy bad boys and societal scandals.
"Sense and Sensibility" is a quietly clever, romantic little novel that builds
up to a dramatic peak on Marianne's romantic troubles, while also quietly
exploring Elinor's struggles.
When Mr. Dashwood dies, his entire estate is entailed to his weak son
John and snotty daughter-in-law Fanny. His widow and her three
daughters are left with little money and no home.
Over the next few weeks, the eldest daughter Elinor begins to fall for
Fanny's studious, quiet brother Edward... but being the down-to-earth one,
she knows she hasn't got a chance. Her impoverished family soon
relocates to Devonshire, where a tiny cottage is being rented to them by
one of Mrs. Dashwood's relatives -- and Marianne soon attracts the
attention of two men. One is the quiet, much older Colonel Brandon, and
the other is the dashing and romantic Willoughby.
But things begin to spiral out of control when Willoughby seems about to
propose to Marianne... only to abruptly break off his relationship with her.
And during a trip to London, both Elinor and Marianne discover devastating
facts about the men they are in love with -- both of them are engaged to
other women. And after disaster strikes the Dashwood family, both the
sisters will discover what real love is about...
At its heart, "Sense and Sensibility" is about two girls with completely
opposite personalities, and the struggle to find love when you're either too
romantic or too reserved for your own good. As well as, you know, the
often-explored themes in Austen's novels -- impoverished women's search
for love and marriage, entailment, mild scandal, and the perils of falling for
a sexy bad boy who cares more for money than for true love... assuming
he even knows what true love is.
Austen's formal style takes on a somewhat more melancholy flavor in this
book, with lots of powerful emotions and vivid splashes of prose ("The wind
roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows"); and she
introduces a darker tone near the end. Still, there's a slight humorous tinge
to her writing, especially when she's gently mocking Marianne and Mrs.
Dashwood's melodrama ("They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow,
seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it").
And Marianne and Elinor make excellent dual heroines for this book -- that
still love and cherish each other, even though their polar opposite
personalities frequently clash. What's more, they each have to become
more like the other before they can find happiness. There's also a small
but solid supporting cast -- the hunting-obsessed Sir John, the charming
Willoughby (who has some nasty stuff in his past), the emotional Mrs.
Dashwood, and the gentle, quiet Colonel Brandon, who shows his love for
Marianne in a thousand small ways.
"Sense and Sensibility" is an emotionally powerful, beautifully written tale
about two very different sisters, and the rocky road to finding a lasting love.
Not as striking as "Pride and Prejudice," but still a deserving classic.
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