Logo: The Walrus and the Carpenter, from the illustrations to Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking-Glass", 1872

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Illustrated by Hugh Thomson.

Image: Jane Austen's: Sense and Sensibility

Now available in the US and UK: ISBN 1905921047

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About the book

The death of Mr. Henry Dashwood's uncle opens the novel. Upon the uncle's death, Norland estate is inherited by Henry Dashwood, on the condition it should next pass to his son John and John's young son, and not to his three daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. John Dashwood is wealthy, but at Mr. Dashwood's death, the Dashwood women are left with only a small fortune. On his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood made his son promise to provide for his stepmother and stepsisters, but John is easily persuaded by his selfish wife that they should use the money for their "real" family, namely their son. He and his family move into Norland estate.

Elinor and Marianne are two daughters of Mr. Dashwood by his second wife. They have a younger sister, Margaret, and an older half-brother named John. When their father dies, the family estate passes to John and the Dashwood women are left in reduced circumstances. Fortunately, a distant relative offers to rent the women a cottage on his property.

The novel follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the sisters' characters is eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the book's title describes how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love.

Book Excerpts

By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large, and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his own marriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to his wealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was not so really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father’s inheriting that property, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and their father only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for the remaining moiety of his first wife’s fortune was also secured to her child, and he had only a life-interest in it....


....Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart;—her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be
taught.

Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor’s. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great. Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future.

Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne’s romance, without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.


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Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother, was a goodhumoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands; hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. Marianne was vexed at it for her sister’s sake, and turned her eyes towards Elinor to see how she bore these attacks, with an earnestness which gave Elinor far more pain than could arise from such common-place raillery as Mrs. Jennings’s.

Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, seemed no more adapted by resemblance of manner to be his friend, than Lady Middleton was to be his wife, or Mrs. Jennings to be Lady Middleton’s mother. He was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.

There was nothing in any of the party which could recommend them as companions to the Dashwoods; but the cold insipidity of Lady Middleton was so particularly repulsive, that in comparison of it the gravity of Colonel Brandon, and even the boisterous mirth of Sir John and his mother-in-law was interesting. Lady Middleton seemed to be roused to enjoyment only by the entrance of her four noisy children after dinner, who pulled her about, tore her clothes, and put an end to every kind of discourse except what related to themselves.


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Marianne hardly knew what to say. She would not wound the feelings of her sister on any account, and yet to say what she did not believe was impossible. At length she replied: “Do not be offended, Elinor, if my praise of him is not in every thing equal to your sense of his merits. I have not had so many opportunities of estimating the minuter propensities of his mind, his inclinations and tastes, as you have; but I have the highest opinion in the world of his goodness and sense. I think him every thing that is worthy and amiable.”

“I am sure,” replied Elinor, with a smile, “that his dearest friends could not be dissatisfied with such commendation as that. I do not perceive how you could express yourself more
warmly.”

Marianne was rejoiced to find her sister so easily pleased. “Of his sense and his goodness,” continued Elinor, “no one can, I think, be in doubt, who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent. You know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities, as you call them you have from peculiar circumstances been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have been at times thrown a good deal together, while you have been wholly engrossed on the most affectionate principle by my mother. I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. His abilities in every respect improve as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and his person can hardly be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived. At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome; or at least, almost so. What say you, Marianne?”

“I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do in his heart.”


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Sir John was rather puzzled.

“Upon my soul,” said he, “I do not know much about him as to all THAT. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?”

But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr. Willoughby’s pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.

“But who is he?” said Elinor. “Where does he come from? Has he a house at Allenham?”

On this point Sir John could give more certain intelligence; and he told them that Mr. Willoughby had no property of his own in the country; that he resided there only while he was visiting the old lady at Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions he was to inherit; adding, “Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching I can tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger sister, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Miss Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon will be jealous, if she does not take care.”

“I do not believe,” said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good humoured smile, “that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of MY daughters towards what you call CATCHING him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe with us, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however, from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose acquaintance will not be ineligible.”


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Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband’s judgment, that she waited the very next day both on Mrs. Jennings and her daughter; and her confidence was rewarded by finding even the former, even the woman with whom her sisters were staying, by no means unworthy of her notice; and as for Lady Middleton, she found her one of the most charming women in the world!

Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood. There was a kind of cold hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanor, and a general want of understanding.

The same manners, however, which recommended Mrs. John Dashwood to the good opinion of Lady Middleton did not suit the fancy of Mrs. Jennings, and to HER she appeared nothing more than a little proud-looking woman of uncordial address, who met her husband’s sisters without any affection, and almost without having anything to say to them; for of the quarter of an hour bestowed on Berkeley Street, she sat at least seven minutes and a half in silence.


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Elinor made no answer. Her thoughts were silently fixed on the irreparable injury which too early an independence and its consequent habits of idleness, dissipation, and luxury, had made in the mind, the character, the happiness, of a man who, to every advantage of person and talents, united a disposition naturally open and honest, and a feeling, affectionate temper. The world had made him extravagant and vain—Extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish. Vanity, while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment, which extravagance, or at least its offspring, necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Each faulty propensity in leading him to evil, had led him likewise to punishment. The attachment, from which against honour, against feeling, against every better interest he had outwardly torn himself, now, when no longer allowable, governed every thought; and the connection, for the sake of which he had, with little scruple, left her sister to misery, was likely to prove a source of unhappiness to himself of a far more incurable nature.

About the author

Born on December 16th, 1775; Jane Austen was the 7th child among 8 children of Rev. George Austen, and Cassandra Leigh. Jane Austen's only sister, Cassandra, was her closest confidante and friend throughout her life, and the other sibling closest to Jane Austen was her brother Henry, a banker and later Anglican clergyman. Henry also acted as her literary agent and it was through his circle of friends (bankers, merchants, publishers, painters, and actors) Jane Austen formed her views about the social worlds.

Jane Austen’s father tutored her early education until she left for boarding school with her sister. After returning from boarding, Jane Austen continued her education under her father’s and brothers’ tutelage. Her father was quiet liberal on his children’s upbringing and even encouraged Jane Austen and her sister to continue writing (hardly considered an ideal trait in women of those days)

Jane Austen’s writing started during her teenage years, which was later compiled as Juvenilia. Jane Austen's first novel, 'Sense and Sensibility', appeared in 1811, and was followed by the favourably reviewed 'Pride and Prejudice' (described by her as her "own darling child") in 1813. 'Mansfield Park' published in 1814, was a huge hit in the public, and was followed by 'Emma' in 1816. All of Jane Austen's novels were published anonymously (her name being revealed after the publication of her nephew's A Memoir of the Life of Jane Austen, in 1870). 'Persuasion' and 'Northanger Abbey' were published posthumously and a final novel, Sanditon was left incomplete.

One of the most studied and debated pieces of literature, Jane Austen's works still have a tremendous fan following and are regularly adapted in various forms of media.


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