Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's first published novel, is the story of the lives, loves, and dreams of two sisters. The plot of the story centers on the possibility that both sisters may have to put up with the banality of country life, which was full of gossip superficiality, rather than being loved by the men of their dreams.
The distinction between "sense" and "sensibility" is one of the main themes of this novel, and is best seen in the psychological contrast between the novel's two main characters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor, the older sister, epitomizes the word sense, as she is reserved, socially responsible and concerned with the well-being of others. Her younger sister, Marianne, epitomizes the word sensibility, as she is ruled by emotion, spontaneity, impulsiveness, and devotion. According to Austen, men "came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor (p. 142)."
The differences can be seen in many aspects of their lives, including love. For example, while Elinor is reserved about her feelings for Edward, the object of her desire, Marianne is openly passionate about her feelings for John, her love interest.
Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve, which was considered to be improper during her time by traditional standards. However, Austen shows how women were changing through Marianne. She cannot lie or flatter or behave in ways contrary to what she feels. When she grieves, she lets everyone see and feel her grief. She is convinced her opinions are permanent, and that people can never love twice. She also believes lovers should only be young and passionate. This makes Willoughby perfect, Edward less so, and the Colonel completely unacceptable. But by the end of the novel, Marianne gives into the traditional point-of-view and begins to see the Colonel in a more favorable light, and they marry.
Elinor is the more rational person in the family, often having to remind her mother how to behave or handle money. She notices all the little inconsistencies in polite society, and the hypocritical nature of many people around them. She falls in love with Edward, but he breaks her heart.
However she wants to spare her family the pain she is suffering, so she keeps it to herself, unlike Marianne, who shares her misery and heartbreak with the world. Austen shows that she agrees most with Elinor's behavior, as she rewards her in the end., Elinor marries Edward, her first love, whereas Marianne marries the Colonel, whom she did not want to marry at all.
In the regard, the relationship between "sense" and "sensibility" has many cultural and historical implications. This novel was written the turn of the eighteenth century, a time period in between two cultural movements: Classicism and Romanticism.
Elinor represents the characteristics associated with eighteenth-century neo-classicism, such as practicality, intuition, judgment, moderation, and balance. She is focused on such things as propriety, economic practicalities, and perspective. She is constantly advising her whimsical sister to be more practical and reserved. For example, Elinor scolds Marianne for going off alone with Willoughby, which was considered very improper conduct back the. Marianne argues that the trip was completely innocent; had there been anything wrong with it, she would have felt it, and would not have been able to enjoy herself.
Austen's novel first developed as a literary genre during the Classical period and its cultural Enlightenment. Therefore, Austen uses Elinor as a gesture toward her predecessors and recognizes the influence of their legacy on her generation. On the other hand, she uses Marianne to represent the qualities associated with the newly formed "cult of sensibility," which was characterized by romance, imagination, idealism, excess, and passion for nature.
Austen uses many scenes and symbols to add historical elements to her story, which help give her readers a sense of the time period and how it influenced her characters. The first chapter of Sense and Sensibility discusses the laws of inheritance and succession that govern the future of the Dashwood family property. According to the laws of the mid-nineteenth century, estates were left to the closest male descendant of the original owner.
Since Mr. Dashwood bore no sons, his estate was given to his nephew, Henry Dashwood. Henry, in turn, left the estate to his eldest son, John. Austen uses this scene to show her distaste for the laws of the time, stressing that Dashwood's money was far more important to his daughters than to his son, because John was already financially set up by both by his mother's fortune -- which he inherited as eldest son -- and by the money he received when he married his wife. During this time period, a man took control of his wife's money when they married.
Austen begins her story with this discussion of money and the old laws, as common economic affairs will play a major role in her novel. Unlike the authors of sentimental novels that were common in her day, Austen does not romanticize; instead she stresses that material realities constrain love and marriage. She uses Elinor as the perfect example of a sensible and rational woman.
Austen followed the eighteenth-century pattern of moralistic fiction by calling her novel Sense and Sensibility. She used her novel to confront stereotypes and discuss moral points. The novel's two heroines, Elinor and Marianne, represent the qualities of sense and sensibility, which represent two cultural opposites.
While Austen mocks readers' romantic interest in "the flushed cheek, hollow eye, and quick pulse of a fever" (34), she often uses medical crises to drive her plot. A twisted ankle dramatizes the dangers of Marianne's naive, romantic sensibility, after her foolish decision to set off on a long walk under a "showery sky" and her impulsive dash down "the steep side of [a] hill" when set upon by a "driving rain" (37).
Austen was conservative and set in her ways. She supported the aristocracy and believed in the conservative values of the English upper-middle class. In Sense and Sensibility, elinor and Marianne belong to this class, and her characters are either titled landowners or clergymen.
Both Elinor and Marianne are cultured and educated. They spend their time reading, singing, dancing or socializing, as women of this time often did. They do spend time with the men of their choice, but both are adamant about preserving their chastity. However, the men of the novel are allowed to engage in vices, such as flirting and trying to make sexual moves on women.
The novel reveals a great deal about early nineteenth-century class divisions. Most of the proper families lived in the houses built by their forefathers. John Dashwood, along with his family, moves into the family's Norland Estate soon after the death of his father, regardless of the presence of his stepmother and his three sisters in the house. He also displays a "craving to augment family wealth, power, and prestige" by marrying Fanny, the daughter of the wealthy Mrs. Ferrars. He keeps acquiring wealth, but never helps his sisters.
Austen explains the rationale behind his actions in Chapter 2. "And what possible claim could the Dashwoods, who were related to him only by half blood, which she considered no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount? It was very well-known, that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages; and why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving away all his money to his half sisters? (p. 7)" this attitude shows how important wealth and status were during this era.
Dashwood was also strongly influenced by his greedy wife, Fanny, who convinces her husband he owes his stepmother and stepsisters nothing. She argues: "that when the money is once parted with, it never…