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|Publisher||Thomas Egerton, Military Library (Whitehall, London)|
|Followed by||Pride and Prejudice|
|Publisher||Thomas Egerton, Military Library (Whitehall, London)|
|Followed by||Pride and Prejudice|
Sense and Sensibility is a novel by Jane Austen, and was her first published work when it appeared in 1811 under the pseudonym "A Lady". A work of romantic fiction, better known as a comedy of manners, Sense and Sensibility is set in southwest England, London and Kent between 1792 and 1797, and portrays the life and loves of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. The novel follows the young ladies to their new home, a meagre cottage on a distant relative's property, where they experience love, romance and heartbreak. The philosophical resolution of the novel is ambiguous: the reader must decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged.
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. "Sense" in the book 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. 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.
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. 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. 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 are equally as important but must be applied with good balance to one another.
When Mr. Dashwood dies, his house, Norland Park, passes directly to his only son John, the child of his first wife. His second wife, Mrs. Dashwood, and their daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, are left only a small income. On his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood extracts a promise from his son, that he will take care of his half-sisters; however, John's selfish and greedy wife, Fanny, soon persuades him to renege. John and Fanny immediately take up their place as the new owners of Norland, while the Dashwood women are reduced to the position of unwelcome guests. Mrs. Dashwood begins looking for somewhere else to live.
In the meantime, Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars, a pleasant, unassuming, intelligent but reserved young man, visits Norland and soon forms an attachment with Elinor. Fanny disapproves the match and offends Mrs. Dashwood with the implication that Elinor is motivated by money rather than love. Mrs. Dashwood indignantly speeds her search for a new home.
Mrs. Dashwood moves her family to Barton Cottage in Devonshire, near the home of her cousin, Sir John Middleton. Their new home lacks many of the conveniences that they have been used to; however, they are warmly received by Sir John, and welcomed into the local society—meeting his wife, Lady Middleton, his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings and his friend, the grave, quiet and gentlemanly Colonel Brandon. It soon becomes apparent that 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.
Marianne, out for a walk, gets caught in the rain, slips and sprains her ankle. The dashing, handsome 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. Mr. Willoughby's attentions are so overt that Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood begin to suspect that the couple are secretly engaged. Elinor cautions Marianne against her unguarded conduct, but Marianne refuses to check her emotions, believing that this a falsehood. Unexpectedly one day, 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 then pays a short visit to Barton Cottage but seems unhappy and out of sorts. Elinor fears that he no longer has feelings for her, but feels compelled, by a sense of duty, to protect her family from knowing her heartache. Soon after Edward departs, Anne and Lucy Steele, the vulgar and uneducated cousins of Lady Middleton, come to stay at Barton Park. Lucy informs Elinor of her secret four-year engagement to Edward Ferrars, displaying proofs of her veracity. Elinor comes to understand the inconsistencies of Edward's behaviour to her and acquits him of blame. She is charitable enough to pity Edward for being held to a loveless engagement by his gentlemanly honour.
As winter approaches, Elinor and Marianne accompany Mrs. Jennings to London. On arriving, Marianne rashly writes a series of personal letters to Willoughby, which go unanswered. When they finally meet, 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 of large fortune. Marianne is devastated, and admits to Elinor that she and Willoughby were never engaged, but she loved him and he led her to believe he loved her. In sympathy for Marianne, and to illuminate Willoughby's true character, 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 was his father's ward and forced into an unhappy marriage to his brother; Marianne strongly reminds him of her.
In the meantime, the Steele sisters have 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. In the false confidence of their popularity, Anne Steele betrays Lucy's secret. As a result the Misses Steele are turned out of the house, and Edward is entreated to break the engagement on pain of disinheritance. Edward, honourably, refuses to comply and is immediately disinherited in favour of his brother, gaining widespread respect for his gentlemanly conduct, and sympathy from Elinor and Marianne who understand how much he has sacrificed. Colonel Brandon shows this admiration by offering him the living of Delaford parsonage.
Mrs. Jennings takes Elinor and Marianne to the country to visit her second daughter who has just given birth to her first child. In her misery over Willoughby's marriage, Marianne neglects her health and becomes dangerously ill. Traumatised by rumours of her impending death, 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 felt he had to marry for money rather than love. But he elicits Elinor's pity because his choice has made him unhappy.
When Marianne recovers, Elinor tells her of Willoughby's visit. Marianne comes to assess what has passed with sense rather than emotion, and sees that she could never have been happy with Willoughby's immoral and expansive nature. She comes to value Elinor's conduct in a similar situation and resolves to model herself after Elinor's courage and good sense.
On learning that Lucy has married Mr. Ferrars, Elinor grieves, until Edward arrives and reveals that, after his disinheritance, Lucy jilted him in favour of his now wealthy brother, Robert Ferrars. Edward and Elinor soon marry, and in a very few years Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, having gradually fallen deeply in love with him.
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). She made a profit of £140 (almost £5,000 in 2008 currency) on the first edition, which sold all 750 printed copies by July 1813. A second edition was advertised in October 1813.
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 movie adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee; a version in Tamil called Kandukondain Kandukondain, released in 2000, starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan; 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 premier by the Denver Center Theatre Company in April 2013 staged by Tony-nominated director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, and in 2014, the Utah Shakespeare Festival presented Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan's adaptation of the novel. In 2013, author Joanne Trollope published her own version of the story, bringing the characters into the present day and providing some enjoyable modern satire.
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