Title: Sense and Sensibility (1811 book)
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Classics, Historical Fiction, Romance, British Literature
Rating: 5 stars
“She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract by her conduct her most favourite maxims.”
Plot (from Goodreads)
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
Meaning of the title: “Sense” applies for Elinor’s, the elder sister’s, social discretion and composure when it came to dealing with personal issues. “Sensibility” applies to Marianne’s conspicuous emotions whenever she dealt with personal (love issues). The title seemed so befuddling when I first came across it, but it makes all the sense in the world after one has read the book.
Like the title suggests, the two main themes are
- Sensibility: The vulnerable and emotional love affair between Marianne and Willoughby. What started as something purely based on free loving emotions, both characters suffered greatly from the freedom of their initially innocent actions: though Marianne’s heart was broken by Willoughby’s engagement to someone else, she later finds her happiness with Colonel Brandon; Willoughby, however, suffers his deed at the end.
- Sense: The relationship between Elinor and Edward Ferrars. Elinor never loses touch with reality and her concern towards her sister’s distress and other people enables her to maintain her level-headedness all throughout the book. Though this relationship was, until the very end, doomed to disintegrate as the novel progressed, it is the one relationship that truly lives.
- Materialism: I would say that this is the connecting factor of the first two themes. Living in the 18th century, marriages were arranged to ensure financial stability and social status. To marry for anything other than that – e.g. love – would cause a disgrace upon the family. Willoughby ended up marrying someone else because of her wife’s rich inheritance, while Lucy only kept her engagement with Edward due to his inheritance.
As a female, I found it easy to relate to both Elinor and Marianne, as I saw a bit of myself in each of them, who are each one year apart from my age (Elinor is 19; Marianne is 17). Elinor is the heroine of the novel, and her good judgement resonates with the reader all throughout. Marianne, though more immature and still emotionally undeveloped, is someone that I could highly relate to as well. Her actions were purely emotionally-driven, something that I believe is in the nature of every human being.
Elinor reflects one’s best self; Marianne reflects one true self, both in the face of agony.
This novel has possibly made me love historical fiction books even more. Set in southwest England a few centuries back, the setting is almost always in motion: Elinor and Marianne travel to several places in the course of the plot. Austen enabled the reader to feel close to the culture associated in the novel, and I could practically feel the struggles and nuances that came with living in that time, at that place. For instance, one thing to be noted is how the men are almost always in control of where and when they travel, whereas the women (including the two sisters) are more bounded to go along their superior’s wishes.
I loved Jane Austen’s writing style in this novel. I would have read the book just to analyse her structure, use of vocabulary and lexis, etc. The flair in her language is incomparable.
Though I found it hard to follow the plot at the beginning, due to the complexity of her language and the number of characters (I find it hard to remember who’s who, with many of them being relatives of one another), but as I delved into book more and more, I found that I was gradually adjusting to Austen’s style.
“Sense and Sensibility” is a timeless classic because a very simple, even mundane, issue, and breaks it down meticulously to analyse every contributing factor to such extent that a beautiful story is created. Personally, I thought I only enjoyed reading a certain type of classics (e.g. dystopian, apocalyptic, etc.) but this novel has triggered a closer connection with this form of literature.