How does Jane Austen's use of two settings in Sense and Sensibility affect the story?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One major theme in Sense and Sensibility compares the lives of the working class to the gentry class. The Dashwood women, due to the fact that their half-brother, their mother's step-son, inherited the estate, are forced to leave and accept a cottage from a relative as a residence. The two settings of Norland and Barton Cottage serve to help illustrate this theme.

We do not see much description of Norland, except that it is "so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance" (Ch. 1). In other words, it is a very large, very wealthy, very elegant manor house and estate. Other than laying out the theme, Norland also serves to help characterize both Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood who both feel the grief of their losses with such passion that "[t]hey gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it" (Ch. 1). Marianne is especially seen giving a farewell speech to Norland that greatly resembles an ode from her favorite romantic poets (Ch. 5).

Barton Cottage serves to portray the Dashwoods in their new working-class situation because the house and the rooms are a great deal smaller than what they are used to, and the staircase is not grand. Mrs. Dashwood hopes to save up enough to build extensions and widen the staircase, all on £500 a year.

Besides being the backdrop for their new life, it also helps serve as a backdrop to paint Marianne's romantic sensibilities.  In other words, like Norland, Barton Cottage also aids to develop characterization. From the beginning we learn that the cottage does not quite match Mrs. Dashwood's, nor Marianne's romantic vision of what a cottage ought to be. For instance, "The roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles" (Ch. 6). It is also described as being situated in front of high, woody, rolling hills and they have a view of the whole valley. Additionally, it is surrounded by beautiful high downs Marianne is drawn to climb and which aid in plot development (Ch. 9).

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sense and Sensibility, the women in the Dashwood family—Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, and their mother—are more at home in the countryside of Devonshire than in London. One setting in the book is Barton Park, the cottage in Devonshire that they must move to when their father dies and the house is passed to his eldest son from his previous marriage and his wife. While at first the Dashwoods feel that a cottage in Devonshire is not their rightful home, it is there that Marianne meets the dashing Mr. Willoughby and falls in love with him. Devonshire is a place of apparent innocence.

The second setting, London, is the place where they are stripped of their innocence. While the guests of Mrs. Jennings, Elinor, and Marianne realize that Willoughby is engaged to a wealthy woman. The sisters feel ill at ease in London, partly because of Willoughby's deceit and partly because they do not have the income to keep up with the people around them. In London, they must rely on others for hospitality, as they have only a small inheritance on which they must live. When they return to Devonshire, both Elinor and Marianne find happiness in love and settle in the country, where they clearly feel more comfortable than around the pretentiousness and wealth of London.