What characterization techniques does Jane Austen use to tell us about the characters in Sense and Sensibility?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Austen does not usually use direct characterization, but usually prefers subtle indirect characterization. However, we see some very clear examples of direct characterization, as well as indirect, in Sense and Sensibility.

In the first chapter, she devotes one full paragraph to describing Elinor as the eldest and, at the age of 19, so capable of perception and level-headed judgement that she frequently advises her mother. Austen especially points out that "She had an excellent heart;--her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them."

Austen next uses a paragraph that is half the length of Elinor's to describe Marianne as also "sensible and clever," but unable to moderate any of her feelings. She is also described as "everything but prudent."

Austen then employs her more subtle indirect characterization methods in Chapter Three, when we see Elinor make the very sensible suggestion to her mother that she "may esteem" Edward, whom they had recently met. Elinor wisely said this when her mother exclaimed "I feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love." Elinor's comment shows that she has her wits about her and is slowly, calmly and rationally getting to know Edward, unlike her mother who is ready to be in raptures on short notice.

We see further indirect characterization in Chapter Three when we next see Marianne give a very long, emotive speech about Edward's deficits, including the lack of good looks, eyes that "want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence," and lack of taste in music, art, and books. Marianne's speech serves to show just how much Marianne uses her passions and emotions to guide her mind.

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Sense and Sensibility

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