Sense and Sensibility

This article is about the novel. For other uses, see Sense and Sensibility (disambiguation).
Sense and Sensibility

Title page from the original 1811 edition
Author Jane Austen
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Romance novel
Publisher Thomas Egerton, Military Library (Whitehall, London)
Publication date
OCLC 44961362
Followed by Pride and Prejudice

Sense and Sensibility is a novel by Jane Austen, published in 1811. It was published anonymously; By A Lady appears on the cover page where the author's name might have been. It tells the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, both of age to marry.

The novel follows the young women to their new home with their widowed mother, a meagre cottage on the property of a distant relative, where they experience love, romance and heartbreak. The novel is set in southwest England, London and Sussex between 1792 and 1797.[1]

The novel sold out its first print run of 750 copies in the middle of 1813, marking a success for its author, who then had a second print run later that year. The novel continued in publication throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Plot summary

When Mr Henry Dashwood dies, his house, Norland Park, passes directly to his son John, the child of his first wife. His second wife, Mrs Dashwood, and their daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, inherit only a small income. On his deathbed, Mr Dashwood extracts a promise from his son, to take care of his half-sisters; John's greedy wife, Fanny, soon persuades him to renege on the promise. John and Fanny immediately move in as the new owners of Norland, while the Dashwood women are treated as unwelcome guests. Mrs Dashwood seeks somewhere else to live. In the meantime, Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars visits Norland and soon forms an attachment with Elinor. Fanny disapproves of the match and offends Mrs Dashwood with the implication that Elinor is motivated by money.

Mrs Dashwood moves her family to Barton Cottage in Devonshire, near the home of her cousin, Sir John Middleton. Their new home is modest; they are warmly received by Sir John, and welcomed into local society — meeting his wife, Lady Middleton, his mother-in-law, Mrs Jennings and his friend, Colonel Brandon. Colonel Brandon is attracted to Marianne, and Mrs Jennings teases them about it. Marianne is not pleased as she considers the thirty-five-year-old Colonel Brandon an old bachelor, incapable of falling in love or inspiring love in anyone else.

A 19th-century illustration by Hugh Thomson showing Willoughby cutting a lock of Marianne's hair

Marianne, out for a walk, gets caught in the rain, slips and sprains her ankle. The dashing John Willoughby sees the accident and assists her. Marianne quickly comes to admire his good looks and outspoken views on poetry, music, art and love. His attentions lead Elinor and Mrs Dashwood to suspect that the couple are secretly engaged. Elinor cautions Marianne against her unguarded conduct, but Marianne refuses to check her emotions. Abruptly, Mr Willoughby informs the Dashwoods that his aunt is sending him to London on business, indefinitely. Marianne is distraught and abandons herself to her sorrow.

Edward Ferrars pays a short visit to Barton Cottage but seems unhappy. Elinor fears that he no longer has feelings for her, but will not show her heartache. After Edward departs, Anne and Lucy Steele, the cousins of Lady Middleton, come to stay at Barton Park. Lucy informs Elinor of her secret four-year engagement to Edward Ferrars, displaying proofs. Elinor understands Edward's recent behaviour towards her and acquits him of blame. She pities Edward for being held to a loveless engagement by his sense of honour.

Elinor and Marianne accompany Mrs Jennings to London. On arriving, Marianne rashly writes several personal letters to Willoughby, which go unanswered. When they meet at a dance, Mr Willoughby greets Marianne reluctantly and coldly, to her extreme distress. Soon Marianne receives a curt letter enclosing their former correspondence and love tokens, including a lock of her hair and informing her of his engagement to a young lady with a large fortune. Marianne is devastated, "...covering her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony."[2] as Elinor reads the letter. After Elinor has read the letter, Marianne tells her that she and Willoughby were never engaged, but she loved him and thought that he loved her. Colonel Brandon reveals to Elinor that Willoughby had seduced Brandon's fifteen-year-old ward, Miss Williams, then abandoned her when she became pregnant. Brandon had been in love with her mother, who had been his father's ward and who had been forced into an unhappy marriage to his brother; Marianne strongly reminds him of her.

The Steele sisters come to London as guests of John and Fanny Dashwood. Lucy sees her invitation to the Dashwoods' as a personal compliment, rather than what it is, a slight to Elinor. Too talkative, Anne Steele betrays Lucy's secret. As a result, the Misses Steele are turned out of the house, and Edward is ordered to break off the engagement on pain of disinheritance. Edward refuses to comply and is immediately disinherited in favour of his brother, gaining respect for his conduct, and sympathy from Elinor and Marianne. Colonel Brandon shows his admiration by offering Edward the living of Delaford parsonage.

Mrs Jennings takes Elinor and Marianne to the country to visit her second daughter. In her misery over Willoughby's marriage, Marianne becomes dangerously ill. Willoughby arrives to repent and reveals to Elinor that his love for Marianne was genuine. When his aunt learned of his behaviour towards Miss Williams and disinherited him, he chose to marry for money rather than love. He elicits Elinor's pity because his choice has made him unhappy.

When Marianne recovers, Elinor tells her of Willoughby's visit. Marianne realises that she could never have been happy with Willoughby's immoral and expansive nature. She values Elinor's conduct in her similar situation and resolves to model herself after Elinor's courage and good sense. Edward arrives and reveals that, after his disinheritance, Lucy jilted him in favour of his now wealthy brother, Robert. Edward and Elinor soon marry, and later Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, having gradually come to love him.


Main characters

Minor characters

Development of the novel

Jane Austen wrote the first draft of the novel in the form of a novel-in-letters (epistolary form) sometime around 1795 when she was about 19 years old, and gave it the title Elinor and Marianne. She later changed the form to a narrative and the title to Sense and Sensibility.[4] The title of the book, and that of her next published novel, Pride and Prejudice (1813), may be suggestive of political conflicts of the 1790s.[5]

Austen drew inspiration for Sense and Sensibility from other novels of the 1790s that treated similar themes, including Adam Stevenson's "Life and Love" (1785) which he had written about himself and a relationship that was not meant to be. A Gossip's Story by Jane West published in 1796, which features two sisters, one full of rational sense and the other of romantic, emotive sensibility is considered to be an inspiration as well. West’s romantic sister-heroine shares a first name with Austen’s: Marianne. There are further textual similarities, described in a modern edition of West's novel.[6]


"Sense" means good judgment or prudence, and "sensibility" means sensitivity or emotionality. "Sense" is identified with the character of Elinor, while "sensibility" is identified with the character of Marianne. By changing the title, Austen added "philosophical depth" to what began as a sketch of two characters.[7]

Critical views

Austen biographer Claire Tomalin argues that Sense and Sensibility has a "wobble in its approach", which developed because Austen, in the course of writing the novel, gradually became less certain about whether sense or sensibility should triumph.[8] Austen characterises Marianne as a sweet lady with attractive qualities: intelligence, musical talent, frankness, and the capacity to love deeply. She also acknowledges that Willoughby, with all his faults, continues to love and, in some measure, appreciate Marianne. For these reasons, some readers find Marianne's ultimate marriage to Colonel Brandon an unsatisfactory ending.[9]

As quoted by the writers at Create Space "Other interpretations, however, have argued that Austen's intention was not to debate the superior value of either sense or sensibility in good judgment, but rather to demonstrate that both qualities are equally important, but must be in balance."[10] The novel is an early example of the category romance novel.[11]

Publication history

The three volumes of the first edition of Sense and Sensibility, 1811

In 1811, Thomas Egerton of the Military Library publishing house in London accepted the manuscript for publication in three volumes. Austen paid to have the book published and paid the publisher a commission on sales. The cost of publication was more than a third of Austen's annual household income of £460 (about £15,000 in 2008 currency).[12] She made a profit of £140 (almost £5,000 in 2008 currency)[12] on the first edition, which sold all 750 printed copies by July 1813. A second edition was advertised in October 1813.

The novel has been in continuous publication through to the 21st century as popular and critical appreciation of all the novels by Jane Austen slowly grew.


The book has been adapted for film and television a number of times, including a 1981 serial for TV directed by Rodney Bennett; a 1995 film adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee; a version in Tamil called Kandukondain Kandukondain, released in 2000, starring Aishwarya Rai;[13] and a 2008 TV series on BBC adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by John Alexander.

Sense & Sensibility, the Musical (book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow and music by Neal Hampton) received its world premiere by the Denver Center Theatre Company in April 2013 staged by Tony-nominated director Marcia Milgrom Dodge. In 2014, the Utah Shakespeare Festival presented Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan's adaptation of the novel. In 2016, the Bedlam theatrical troupe mounted a well-received minimalist production, adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Eric Tucker, from a repertory run in 2014.[14]

In 2013, author Joanna Trollope published Sense & Sensibility: A Novel[15] as a part of series called The Austen Project by the publisher, bringing the characters into the present day and providing modern satire.[16]

See also


  1. Le Faye, Deirdre (2002). Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Frances Lincoln Publishers. p. 155. ISBN 0-7112-1677-0.
  2. Austen, Jane (2004). The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-84022-055-1. ...covered her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony.
  3. Auerbach, Emily (2004). Searching for Jane Austen. London, England: The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-299-20180-5 via Google, Google Books. "...a man resembling "the hero of a favourite story"".
  4. Le Faye, Deirdre (2002). Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Frances Lincoln Publishers. p. 154. ISBN 0-7112-1677-0.
  5. Murray, Christopher John (2004). Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era: A-K. 1. Taylor and Francis Books. p. 41. ISBN 1-57958-361-X.
  6. Looser, Devoney (2015). Introduction. A Gossip's Story,. By West, Jane. Looser, Devoney; O'Connor, Melinda; Kelly, Caitlin, eds. Richmond, Virginia: Valancourt Books. ISBN 978-1943910151.
  7. Bloom, Harold (2009). Bloom's Modern Critical Reviews: Jane Austen. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 252. ISBN 978-1-60413-397-4.
  8. Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Random House. p. 155. ISBN 0-679-44628-1.
  9. Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Random House. pp. 156–157. ISBN 0-679-44628-1.
  10. "Sense and Sensibility". Create Space. February 2014.
  11. Regis, Pamela (2007). A Natural History of the Romance Novel. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-3303-2.
  12. 1 2 Sanborn, Vic (10 February 2008). "Pride and Prejudice Economics: Or Why a Single Man with a Fortune of £4,000 Per Year is a Desirable Husband". Jane Austen's World. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  13. Literary Intermediality: The Transit of Literature Through the Media Circuit. Peter Lang. 2007. p. 76.
  14. Brantley, Ben. "Review: A Whirlwind of Delicious Gossip in 'Sense & Sensibility'". New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  15. Trollope, Joanna (2013). Sense & Sensibility: A Novel. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0007461769.
  16. Craig, Amanda (18 October 2013). "Book review: Sense & Sensibility, By Joanna Trollope". The Independent. Retrieved 15 September 2016.

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