Sense & sensibility, written by Jane Austin was written in 1811, when society was quite different. Chivalry and Honour were much more important then today, because these equalled respectability. To get anywhere in the eighteen hundred’s aristocratic society, you needed to be respected. The 19th century was also heavily based around decorum, to have a seemingly modest behaviour.
In this coursework, I will be looking into how the characters comply with the standards of the age. I will also be looking at the relevance of the title to the text, and how the English language is used to purvey what the author is trying to tell us.
The Novel starts off with a narrative on the family of dashwood, telling the reader of their estate and where it is situated. The owner of the estate, Mr John Dashwood, When married to his late wife, had one son, Mr John Dashwood. When His first wife died he married a second wife, who had 3 daughters from a previous marriage. They all lived in the Sussex estate quite happily until Mr Dashwood finally caught a disease and was about to die. Although he considered his three daughters to be closer to him then his son, who was now married and lived in London, he was obliged to leave the estate and finances to his son, as that was stated in the will. “To him, the succession to the Norland estate was not so really as important as to his sisters…” this quote clearly shows the state of affairs, as the sons wealth is nearly equal to the Norland estate itself, whereas the young miss Dashwoods will have nothing. He was not happy about this, so he asked his son to give each of the young Miss Dashwoods a small sum of money each.
Mr John Dashwood’s wife however was not happy about this, and tried to persuade him to give as little as possible to the three daughters. “How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum?” is but one of her arguments. But this one stands out the most, as she is trying to say that, merely because his not related to the daughters by blood, and merely through marriage, then they are not worthy of his inheritance. This is a clear sign of the times, as back then, if you had stepdaughters, it was considered only acceptable to not show any affection to them.
The Young Miss dashwoods were therefore reduced to “guests” in their own home, and pressurised to move out.
With the lack of money and experience, they were struggling to find accommodation, until an offer from Sir John Middleton, a cousin of theirs, was made to let them live in a small cottage. This is another statement of how times have changed, as this “small” cottage may be small to the aristocracy, but to a common middle class family, it is really quite large. This stark definition in classes has now faded away through time, and although there is still a vague definition in classes today, it isn’t half as clear as it used to be.
Now, when they had settled down into their new lodgings, they were able to continue normal life.
Marianne was the first to fall in love, when she bumped into Sir Willoughby. Their relationship was quite poetic, which was, in a sense, Marianne through and through. She had a great sensibility, and did not care much for the decorum of the time. She would quite happily show her love and affection for a man, without the vows of marriage. Although this sort of behaviour is accepted today, in the 19th century, this was frowned upon, and it brought shame upon the whole family.
Elinor, although she had strong sensibility like her sister, she also had sense to hide her love to Edward. “… I think very highly of him- that I greatly esteem him, that I like him.” This quote clearly shows my point, as it is clear she loves him, but she still denies it.
The past two paragraphs show the relevance of the title to the book. The title was quite a revelation in its time, actually questioning the balance of sense in abiding to the standards of the time, and sensibility in showing your emotional influences, and telling people how you actually feel. When looked at in a certain context, this novel was showing up the system and standing against the traditions of the time.
Elinor is the eldest of Mrs Dashwoods three daughters, at 19. She is described as having “a delicate complexion, regular features and a remarkably pretty figure”. She has sensibility, but tries to hide to stick to the social context of the era. “I do not attempt to deny… that I think very highly of him – that I greatly esteem him, that I like him.” This quote shows that although she does love him, in order to comply with social standards, she mustn’t show it.
Marianne is considered in many respects to have the same qualities as her elder sister, she is much more of a romanticist. “She could have no moderation”, this shows that she would rather show her true feeling then bide by the decorum of the day.
Edward, younger brother of Mrs Ferrars, is purveyed as a quite character, but is easily controlled by his older sister. Although is friendly, does not have the sensibility, or romanticism. “He admires as a lover, not a connoisseur”, this shows that he would be a good man to love, but not to converse in the arts with.
Willoughby is the perfect gentleman; he is gallant and has great sensibility. He instantly has a liking for Marianne, as his every taste appears to coincide with hers. He has Perfect etiquette for the era of which he is in.
“Brandon is the kind of man … whom everybody speaks well of and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.” This quote describes Brandon as someone who is not a bad man, if anything he is a good one, but he just doesn’t make much of an impression.
In conclusion, this novel shows how the social society has changed over the many years since it was written. Aristocracy has become a thing of the past, and boundaries derived through social status and class are nearly non-existent. The novel tries to make a point that social status should not hold boundaries in the name of love, and that people should be allowed to interact with each other regardless of their class.