Sense and Sensibilty
Sense and Sensibilty
The title Sense and Sensibility sets up a juxtaposition between two ways of thinking, behaving and knowing that are embodied in the novel’s two protagonists, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. In these characters Austen ostensibly contrasts practicality with sensitivity, restraint with impulsiveness and strait-laced sense with exorbitant sensibility. Each opposing trait to be found in the Dashwood sisters, Elinor personifying sense and Marianne, sensibility.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines sense as “a sane and practical attitude to situations”, Elinor Dashwood certainly embodies this to the full. Upon first meeting Elinor, we are struck by her rationality and reason. Following her father’s death she becomes the keystone of the family, searching for a new home and managing the family finances. Although it is a common misconception that Elinor is insensitive,which Marianne mistakenly terms “cold-hearted” (18), it is entirely untrue. In fact her sense is quite like the Latin stem of the word, “sentire”, meaning to feel. She is astute and perceptive. Her sense is clearly seen in her ability to analyse those around her. She recognises Lucy’s falseness, pretence and insincerity, and thus, does not trust her. She also sees Colonel Brandon as a gentle, kind-hearted soul “[he] is a sensible man” (43) when Marianne fails to recognise this. Personally I would admire Elinor. She is a pillar of strength, and clearly represents the qualities associated with sense; reason, restraint, and a concern for the welfare of others.
In stark contrast Marianne represents sensibility. Sensibility is defined as both “the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences” and “the tendency to be easily offended or shocked”. It is obvious in the novel that Marianne exemplifies both these traits of sensibility. She is rash and emotional when Mrs Ferrars is rude to Elinor, “urged by a strong impulse of affectionate sensibility, she moved….to her sister’s chair…. And said ‘Dear Elinor, don’t mind them. Don’t let them make you unhappy’”(207). Marianne can also be seen to characterize Sensibility in her fervent love of poetry, literature and music. She is a romantic girl who lives in a self-created world of passions and drama . She is also very aware of nature and her natural surroundings “Dear, dear Norland!” ….. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!- No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!- But who will remain to enjoy you?” (25). This zealous outpour demonstrates her sensibility and reinforces the notion that Marianne epitomises sensibility in this novel.
Love has a key role to play in this novel when demonstrating the differences between the sensitive Marianne and the (in the present sense of the word) sensible Elinor. Upon the dramatic entrance of Willoughby into the novel Marianne is seen to be emotional and obsessive. She falls deeply, madly in love with him and abandons all common sense and propriety. The pair engage in many inappropriate actions, such as the unchaperoned visit to Willoughby’s future estate, and the gift of a lock of hair. This is quite unlike Elinor’s behaviour toward her beloved Edward Ferrars. She remains composed and keeps her thoughts and feelings to herself. When Edward visits Barton, she uses her astuteness to see that he is not himself, yet, she refrains from obsessing and worrying, as Marianne would. This underscores Austen’s view that Elinor is the voice of reason and sense. Following the heart wrenching discovery of Willoughby’s engagement elsewhere, Marianne’s health and humour deteriorate. She, somewhat selfishly, retreats into a near hermit-like state, refusing to participate in various affairs with Elinor, and Mrs Jennings. This is a blatant demonstration of her emotionality and sensibility. However, Elinor suffers in a much different manner. She tells no-one of Edward’s engagement and bears the burden of a broken