Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility book cover
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What does Austen mean by "sense" and "sensibility"?

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The terms “sense” and “sensibility” are used to describe the personalities of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the two sisters who serve as protagonists in the novel. “Sense” refers to common sense. Elinor is the level-headed one of the two, keeping her emotions in check. She maintains this control throughout the course of the novel, as she watches the man she loves, Edward Ferrars, stay true to Lucy, the woman he is secretly engaged to. Though he has fallen in love with Elinor, he is a man who keeps his promise, putting aside his own feelings, which makes him an ideal companion for Elinor.

“Sensibility,” which describes Marianne, is closer to our current usage of the word “sensitivity.” Marianne’s emotions are worn proudly on her sleeve. She falls in love easily but unwisely with the dashing Willoughby. He breaks her heart, choosing instead to marry a wealthier woman.

Both Elinor and Marianne must take on some of the characteristic of the other in order to resolve their relationships. In the end, Elinor marries Edward (after Lucy marries his brother), while Marianne marries the more stable Colonel Brandon.

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