How are the sisters in Sense and Sensibility like the women in "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" and The Importance of Being Earnest?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Indeed, it is a challenge to compare Elinor and Marianne to the two sets of women in "The Daughter's of the Late Colonel" and the Importance of Being Earnest. One reason for the difficulty is that, regardless of the narrator's ironic voice, Sense and Sensibility is written as a realistic novel; the characters, silly as some of them might be, are realistic and represent types of people that readers of Austen's day recognized from their own social circles, as was confirmed by remarks from Sir Walter Scott. Whereas, on the other hand, the characters in the other two pieces are extremes of one sort or another. Mansfield makes Josephine and Constantina extremes of incompetence while Wilde's satire makes Gwendolyn and Cecily extremes of ridiculousness. Nonetheless, comparisons can be drawn if one uses a large brush (as opposed to Austen's "fine brush").

The overriding theme of Sense and Sensibility is an exploration of sense versus sensibility as embodied in the sensible approach to life and emotions embodied by Elinor and the violently demonstrative approach to life and emotions embodied by Marianne. Within the other two sets of women, though they are extremes, can be found a similar division between sense and sensibility, a division preeminently demonstrated by Elinor and Marianne.

As a brief example of this, in the one case, Gwendolyn sets her opinions upon her concept of facts that seem to enlighten her. For example, she wants to marry a man named Earnest because of the virtues that are attached to the name. In her satirized way, she lives by sense. Cecily does nothing but daydream and record her daydreams in a journal; she wants to marry the brother with an ill reputation so she can reform him and render him undyingly devoted. In her satirized way, she lives by sensibility.

In the other case, Constantina acts on her concept of sense that overrides emotion, which she briefly demonstrates by locking up the wardrobe containing their father's clothes. In her extreme characterization, she is guided by sense. In the same scene, Josephine yields to the immobilization of her feelings and stands unable to break free from the affects of her emotions. In her extreme characterization, she is being guided by sensibility. Finally, Josephine and Constantine may be called similar to Elinor because they are more subdued in their expressions of emotions, whereas Gwendolyn and Cecily may be called similar to Marianne because they are more flamboyant in their demonstration of emotion.