Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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How does the relationship between Elinor and Marianne change over the course of the novel Sense and Sensibility?

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The relationship between the Dashwood sisters is that of the title: Sense and Sensibility. While each sister begins clearly representing one quality rather than the other, by the novel’s end, Jane Austen shows each as having acquired some of the other’s characteristics, although they do not completely trade places. Elinor, as the older sister, initially embodies “sense”: she is rational, level-headed, and moderate. Marianne felt justified in behaving irresponsibly, as she knew she could depend on Elinor. The younger sister stands for “sensibility,” or emotion: she is impetuous, impractical, and easily swayed.

Elinor undergoes substantial changes in part because of her love for Edward, which finally can be reciprocated. In many ways, Elinor had been behaving as a second mother to her younger sisters as she tried to ease their mother’s burden. The gradual inclusion of Colonel Brandon in their lives not only helps Marianne learn what true love means, but also helps relieve some of Elinor’s family burden. With both sisters married to the appropriate partners, their relationship is more of one between equals.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Sisters Elinor and Marianne have always been very close. Elinor is the "sense" of the novel: she is always logical, practical, and sensible, and she doesn't like to betray what she is feeling.

Marianne is the "sensibility" of the title. That is not a word we use (at least in this sense) anymore, but the closest synonym today would be "sensitivity." You could think of the novel being called Sense and Sensitivity. Marianne is very emotionally sensitive. She feels everything very deeply, and she sometimes alarms Elinor because she always wears her heart on her sleeve. If she likes a person, they know it, but if she hates a person, she will also let them know. Elinor is the one who always has to smooth everything over.

As the novel progresses, Marianne's excess sensibility and Elinor's excessive sense drive the two apart. Elinor becomes increasingly alarmed that Marianne isn't really engaged to Willoughby, as she has led everyone to believe. Marianne, because Elinor hides her emotions so completely, doubts that Elinor is really in love with Edward.

Elinor feels a great deal of frustration with Marianne over her behavior regarding Willoughby. First, she is frustrated with Marianna for assuming they were engaged when Willoughby had no intention of marrying a woman like Marianne with no dowry. Second, Elinor becomes upset that Marianne has an excessive emotional reaction to Willoughby's engagement to another woman. However, when Marianne almost dies from her excessive response to Willoughby's betrayal, the two become closer again, especially at the end of the novel, when Marianne develops enough sense to marry Colonel Brandon, and Elinor opens up more about her sufferings over Edward, whom she eventually marries.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Elinor and Marianne, London

Elinor and Marianne are invited to London by Mrs. Jennings. Elinor expects that Marianne, despising Mrs. Jennings, will reject the offer out of hand. Yet Elinor did not take into account the effect upon Marianne of Willoughby's sudden departure, and the lengths to which Marianne will go to see Willoughby.

Marianne, no matter the company she must keep (Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton, Lucy and Anne), suddenly must get to London--which is where Willoughby has gone to for the purpose, as we learn later, of securing an engagement to the wealthy Miss Grey. Marianne must see Willoughby again at any cost, even the cost of accepting the invitation of a woman she loathes, the kindhearted though somewhat vulgar Mrs. Jennings.

To say that Elinor and Marianne go to London to visit friends is a misreading a critical element that sets up complications in Marianne's conflict leading to her eventual epiphany: Marianne pursues the object of her sensibilities despite the claims of sense by reducing herself to misusing people she loathes to attain her desired ends. Marianne accepts an invitation from people who are...

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