Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, first published in 1811, explores the social and cultural expectations of this period through the moderation of the important characteristics of sense and sensibility. The novel is a sharply detailed portraiture that represents the large difference between power and disempowerment relating to that time of between the English eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the many areas surrounding such themes as courtship, the importance of marriage, the role and power of women, love, money and social classes.
The novel contrasts the two sisters opposite personalities and the plot follows Elinor and Marianne as members of the upper class in the early 19th Century, who, as women, cannot “work” for a living and must make a suitable marriage to ensure their livelihood (Enotes. com, 2010, Sense and Sensibility). The dichotomy between “sense” and “sensibility” is most clearly symbolised by the emotional contrast between the novels two main characters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.
Austen compares the two different personalities of the two main characters in order to find favour with one position and therefore argue against another to allow the reader to arrive at the conclusion that to become successful in life and love, you must balance and have the two important characteristics of sense and sensibility. The eldest sister, Elinor, exemplifies the characteristic of sense with the representative qualities including common sense, diplomatic behaviour, reason, clear-headedness and a rational nature being portrayed throughout the novel.
She suffers through various trials and tribulations especially after being abandoned by Edward Ferrars. However, following her feature of sense, she seldom shows her emotions, and never lets her own disappointments affect her behaviour towards others. Unlike Marianne, she always remains sensitive to others feelings and strives to behave with social graciousness. For these reasons, Austen portrays Elinor as the heroin of the novel and successfully positions the reader by showing that the sensitive approach to ocial interactions is much more superior to a selfish abandonment to emotions. While in contrast, her younger sister, Marianne, follows the characteristics of sensibility through such qualities as, showing no emotional control, spontaneity and impulsiveness. This over emotional feature of sensibility is portrayed by Austen as selfish and is gradually led to position the reader to believe that the characteristic of sensibility is weak and unrealistic compared to Elinor’s diplomatic characteristic of sense.
Marianne’s situation is similar to Elinor’s with her love, Willoughby, abandoning her, however while Elinor remains reserved about her emotions with a sensible philosophy, Marianne had a constantly hysterical and inconsolable behaviour with no concern for how she treated those around her which ultimately results in her becoming emotionally and physically weak. Willoughby is also another character that exemplifies sensibility. His exaggeration of emotions is shown in the example found on p62 where he responds to Mrs Dashwood’s idea of altering the cottage saying: “What! he exclaimed – ‘Improve this dear cottage! No. That I will never consent to. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded. ’ Another main theme followed throughout the book is that of marriage. For that time in history, and for Marianne and Elinor, marriage was not a choice, but a necessity. Austen showed that the importance that many families placed on the wealth of a potential partner during that time in society.
A good marriage was necessary to secure their social positions to ensure financial stability for the future. For this reason, marriage was not always chosen for love, rather for money. Elinor’s characteristic of sense effects her opinions on marriage, believing that love is not enough to marry upon. While Marianne’s passionate nature of sensibility positions the reader to believe that a person does not need wealth to be happy. These two contrasting opinions are shown on p78 during a conversation between Elinor and Marianne where they say: “Strange if it ould! ” cried Marianne. “What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness? ” “Grandeur has but little,” said Elinor, “but wealth has much to do with it. ” “Elinor, for shame! ” said Marianne; “money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned. ” The role and status of women is also a strong theme portrayed throughout the book. The power of women in this novel was largely influenced by the historical and cultural context of that time.
Austen portrays Elinor and Marianne as examples of young ladies of the professional class in the early 19th Century. At that time, gender played a major role when deciding the amount of power a person had socially in society. The women had very little power and were limited in what they could accomplish in society. The sisters had very little option open to them other than marriage. Women were excluded from being able to take up a profession and were expected to stay in the home, and marry and be polite and good company socially (Enotes. om, 2010, Sense and Sensibility). Because of being women in that class, Marianne and Elinor depended upon a suitable marriage of the generosity of male relatives for financial support and they had virtually no economic or social freedom. Men however, were allowed more power both socially and economically. They were allowed to choose more freely when and whom they married, however similar to the situation placed on women, money was also a major contribution to secure their futures when deciding on a suitable, wealthy companion.
For these reasons, it can be seen that women in that society at that period in history were very much disempowered both socially and economically, while the men of that period had an increased amount of freedom and power. The particular language styles including ironic satire and a narrative voice placed in line with Elinor’s beliefs, not only verify the comparison between the amount of power and disempowerment found at that time but they also position the reader to feel certain negative connotations relating to the ver emotive feature of sensibility and the not so sensitive feature of sense which then further leads to the positive connotations created towards the sensible moderation between having both sense and sensibility. Eventually both Elinor and Marianne Dashwood find there respective men and both come to realise that a “suitable match” does not only mean choosing a man of compatible nature but also a man with enough means to support a marriage and family (Enotes. com, 2010, Sense and Sensibility). This balance of love and money compares to the eventual balance between having sense and sensibility.
Jane Austen successfully creates a descriptive plot which extensively elaborates on the many themes such as the limitations on the power of women, the importance of marriage, social ranking, money and love in the time of the early 19th Century. By using the plot to compare the two personalities of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, Austen successfully positions the reader to believe that to have a successful life both economically and in marriage, you must have the correct moderation and balance of both sense and sensibility.
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