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Reading Sense and Sensibility

Sense \ˈsen(t)s\ Noun. 3: conscious awareness or rationality —usually used in plural 6 a: capacity for effective application of the powers of the mind as a basis for action or response : intelligence b: sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality
Sensibility \ˌsen(t)-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ Noun. 2 : peculiar susceptibility to a pleasurable or painful impression (as from praise or a slight) 4 : refined or excessive in emotion and taste with especial responsiveness to the pathetic
[from Merriam-Webster Online]

In order to fully comprehend Austen’s meaning, I have to look up these two words of which the meaning I often confuse. No, they cannot be used interchangeably or one will perpetrate an usage error. Sense pertains to common sense, rationality and practicality and sensibility emotions. No sooner has one delved into the first few pages of this novel than one would perceive that Elinor Dashwood is the more sensible sister and Marianne the emotional one:

“Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs. Daswood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction.” [6]

“To satisfy me [Marianne], those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.” [13]

“Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolised by each—or, if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm…” [34]

The novel follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the sisters’ characters is eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the book’s title describes how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love. Marianne’s biggest flaw is her blinding sensibility—her being too rash and preoccupied with opinions she thinks are most important in relationship. Not waiting until Willoughby’s sentiments are fully known, she proceeds to her partiality for him. Her anxiety of expectation and pain of disappointment know no bound. Her prejudice against Colonel Brandon for being neither lively nor young, which seems resolved to undervalue his merits, leaves her no sympathy from me. I gloat over love’s woe that will descend on Marianne who so much on the strength of her own imagination has decided on the imperfections of a sensible man.

4 Responses

  1. I find this book perhaps the most poignant of all of Austen’s novels in its dealing with the pain of unrequited love, though Persuasion also deals with that theme in a somewhat different way. I think Jane Austen must have been very familiar with the anguish which accompanies the loss of love, even a mistaken love, to have depicted it so powerfully and with such sympathy in this novel. I find myself very drawn into the emotional worlds of both of the main characters in this work, especially Elinor who seems to be the dominant viewpoint character, though Marianne perhaps is more a character of movement–the one who grows the most.

  2. Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Marianne is punished in the end so you have that to look forward to 🙂

  3. Greg S:
    The poignancy of unrequited love is probably why I would esteem Sense and Sensibility higher than Pride and Prejudice. The anguish of one sister and the agony of the other hit a sore spot in me.

  4. Marie:
    I actually become a bit more sympathetic to her and cheer her on her transformation. 🙂

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