Sense and Sensibility is Jane Austen’s first published novel. It was originally under the pseudonym “A Lady.” Like her later novels, Sense and Sensibility is a piece of romantic fiction. It is set between 1792 and 1797 in southwest England. It focuses on the lives of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood when they move to their new home and experience the turbulence that comes along with romance and heartbreak.
Mathuri and I are happy to bring all of you our discussion on a few themes and characters in Sense and Sensibility. Our names precede our respective answers. Note that there are a couple of spoilers. We hope you enjoy reading!
What is the difference in meaning between the words “sense” and “sensibility” … and which sister represents which word? Which word most represents your own approach to life and love? Which matters more…or are they both equally important in choosing a mate?
Mathuri: I’d like to start by saying that it took me by surprise how focused the book was on Elinor and Marianne’s relationship, but I loved that it was so focused on the sisters. Having an older sister who I also consider the polar opposite of me (though neither of us are much like Marianne or Elinor), I could definitely relate to the struggles they went through, and easily see their relationships grow. To me, it’s obvious that Elinor was sense and Marianne was sensibility. From my definitions, sense was related to logic, and Elinor was definitely the more logical, reserved sister. Sensibility is more about emotions, and appreciating and reacting to these emotions, which to me clearly describes Marianne.
As for myself…a part from the lack of love life, I definitely think I’m more sense than sensibility. I feel like my sister and I have been raised to be more practical and reserved when it comes to visiting family and friends. Even if something emotional happens, I wouldn’t show it in front of anyone (I think my sister is more Marianne while I’m more Elinor…she’s the mature older sister, but also the more emotional). If I’m being honest here, my emotions usually only come out late at night, when I’m feeling particularly sad and decide to watch a romantic movie (why can’t I find my Mr. Darcy?). Though I did feel like I could learn a little from Marianne. She might be “reckless” in her emotions, but atleast she puts herself out there! (SPOILERS) She wears her heart on her sleeve and it worked; Willoughby did truly fall in love with Marianne even though they didn’t end up together.
Jessica: I have to echo your opinion on Elinor as sense and Marianne as sensibility. My thing with defining the terms is that the words themselves are so close together. So while I do see sense as logic and sensibility as emotion, I wonder if there is still some overlap or a “fine line”, so to speak. Maybe that’s reflected in the fact that they are sisters. As much as siblings will say they are polar opposites, I think that all siblings are probably more similar than they might realize.
I don’t know that I can really define myself in terms of a romantic life with these terms, only because I don’t have one. But I can give a prediction? I think that I would definitely be more Elinor prior to a relationship, at least now. I do internalize a lot where Marianne/sensibility would probably speak more. I also think that along with logic comes more cynicism and I for sure have that in spades. Logic is evidence-based, and I run primarily on evidence nowadays.
In the end, does sense triumph over sensibility? Or do you think Austen is sympathetic to both perspectives? What does each sister come to learn from the other?
Mathuri: I don’t think it’s a situation where one triumphs over another. I think it’s a display of both, and how two different people can react to different situations. I loved the character development these sisters had. For me, a good character is when I can place them in a setting (or even a different time period), and know how they’ll react. They’re well written characters because you feel like you know them. (Spoilers again) I can easily picture Marianne with a bowl of ice cream watching Nicholas Sparks movies on Netflix. Elinor and Marianne definitely learn from each other, they acknowledge how different they could be but why they are who they are. Elinor shows her sensibility in the end, and Marianne shows her sense.
Jessica: I didn’t get the feeling that it was a triumph either. With these approaches, I don’t know that anyone can really say which way is right or which way is wrong. It’s all about what works for the individual and if they are happy with their particular perspective. If it’s not working out and you’re not happy, choose sense over sensibility, or sensibility over sense. Whatever works. Granted, I don’t know that anyone should always go with one thing. They could lean primarily towards one, but even just dipping a toe in the water of the other side is a good thing.
Was Elinor right in holding her secret about Edward from her mother and Marianne? Is there a difference between being emotionally composed and lying about your feelings?
Mathuri: I don’t think there’s one answer to whether Elinor was right or not. Because I feel like I can relate to Elinor, I can completely sympathize with her. I would react the same way; I’d bury any hurt feelings so I wouldn’t have to deal with it, and use being “emotionally composed” as an excuse to do so.
Jessica: Again, this one is situational. If I was in her shoes, I’d say that she would be right in that it’s what I would do. I don’t always believe that I am right, but in the sense of keeping the secret…it’s certainly a complicated subject. I do hold lots of things back from certain people whether it is out of fear, hurt, or other things that’d have no relation to this book. You could make the argument that things like this might be lying by omission, but I don’t think it’s like that.
I would have to have a long debate to determine my answer in Elinor’s specific situation, but I think a lot of the time when someone may accuse another of lying about their feelings, there comes a certain point where “revealing” the secret causes more harm than it does good. In which case, isn’t being emotionally composed the best option?
Neither Edward nor Colonel Brandon is an archetypical romantic hero. Would you change them in any way? Who would you rather marry?
Mathuri: The last thing I expected myself to do was fall in love with Colonel Brandon. While I feel like I didn’t connect to Edward as much, the Colonel had the greatest character development, and I liked everything about him. Maybe it’s because Edward’s story started at the very beginning, and I was having difficulties with the beginning of the book (trying to get into the Austen language after not reading her for a while was hard!), or maybe it was because of Elinor’s sense, but I never fell for Edward like Elinor did. (Spoilers) In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only one in saying that I would have much preferred Elinor and Colonel Brandon end up together. They had great chemistry, and a strong friendship (I love stories where a strong friendship turns into a romantic relationship). The Colonel trusted and admired Elinor and it looked like Elinor felt the same about the Colonel too.
I also want to give a shout out to the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie. Hugh Grant as Edward and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon? Of course Alan Rickman is the Colonel. I could easily see Rickman doing the calm and reserved Brandon at the beginning, to the emotional backstory and the openness of his personality near the end. Now I want to watch this movie as soon as possible!
Jessica: I don’t know that I would change them. They definitely aren’t representations of an archetypical romantic hero, but I doubt that Jane Austen intended them to be. I could be wrong on this, but I am going off of what I know of her romantic heroes in later novels and I fully believe she could have done that if she wanted to. As such, I think that they are good the way that they are in the book and they need to be that way in order to fulfill their role in the overall story. Plus, this one is more about the sisters rather than the romance in the first place.
I don’t know that I’d want to marry either in terms of the roster of Austen men…but between the two I’d have to go with Colonel Brandon as well. I think that his relationship with the Dashwoods is a good one and, I do agree with you Mathuri, I am definitely a sucker for the close friendships that turn into relationships stories. I’d have to review parts to say if I think that Colonel Brandon and Elinor should have gotten together, but the situation feels familiar to me in any case.
If you have read Sense and Sensibility, how would you answer some of these questions? Would you oppose anything that Mathuri or myself said in our answers? Do you agree with us?
In two weeks, Mathuri and I will discuss Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If you have any ideas for questions we should look at, send messages through Twitter or my contact page on this blog and we will see what we can do!
Talk to us on Twitter: