ANALYTICAL EXPOSITION – SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
"There are such beings in the world… as the creature you and I should think perfection; …where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding…” As said by Jane Austen in an 1814 letter to her niece, this balance of “heart and understanding,” or of ‘sensibility’ and ‘sense’, is the crux of a good temperament, and also of her book Sense and Sensibility (1811), in which she illustrates many opposing forces, including sense and sensibility and empowerment and disempowerment.
Another discourse within this book is the importance to a woman of having a man to depend on – whether through familial relations or marriage – which shows Austen’s feministic ideals.
Both of these are reliant on the cultural context of the era, which, for the richer, ‘high’ society that Austen lived in, revolved around wealth, marriage, connections and a great many social rules. Wealth was a indicator of power and social standing and was often part of the reasoning behind a marriage, as shown in Sense and Sensibility by the impoverished and sensibility-imbued John Willoughby’s loveless marriage to Miss Grey, whose dowry contained fifty-thousand pounds. Additionally, marriages, and most types of social interactions, were used to make connections in an attempt to raise one’s standing in society, and all of the above were governed by the social rules that were in themselves part of the problem regarding the discrepancies of power in society.
Sense and Sensibility itself is a witty criticism of society, often utilising an ironically satirical style which allows Austen to put forward her moral values and ideals without having to state them directly. Hence the reader is positioned to agree with the alluded messages in the text. This is achieved through the descriptions of the interactions between different characters, or via the author writing from the point of view of Miss Elinor Dashwood, a main character whose opinion shapes much of the story.
At the beginning of the novel, Elinor Dashwood (the eldest) and her two sisters Marianne and Margaret Dashwood are, along with their mother Mrs Dashwood, disempowered when their father dies and his inheritance goes to their half-brother and his wife, Mr John and Mrs Fanny Dashwood (who represent extreme sense), because of the laws of primogeniture – that of an inheritance belonging to the eldest son. Included in the inheritance is the family home, Norland, and the Dashwood girls are forced to remove themselves from their house and find a new place to stay. Mercifully, a distant cousin of Mrs Dashwood, Sir John Middleton, comes to their aid and offers them Barton Cottage. Sir John is a character who portrays sensibility in this novel, always throwing parties and generally only thinking of enjoying himself and entertaining others, and the contrast between him and the girls is the throws the definition of sensibility into stark focus.
This situation is a prime example of how women in...