What literary device can be found in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Jane Austen does not typically use a lot of literary devices in her writing, but instead usually prefers a much more direct approach that allows her story line and characters to be the heart of the book. However, we can find some uses of figurative language in Sense and Sensibility, especially irony in the form of meiosis.

Meiosis is a type of figurative language in which an understatement is made. Dr. Wheeler gives us the example of, "I was somewhat worried when the psychopath ran toward me with a chainsaw" (Dr. Wheeler, "Tropes"). We can especially find a meiosis in the very first couple of chapters in the novel when John Dashwood tells his wife Fanny that, after being asked by his father on his deathbed to help the Dashwood girls, he has decided to give them a thousand pounds each, but Fanny manages to con him into giving a lesser and lesser gift. John's gift diminishes from a thousand pounds each to giving them gifts of "fish and game, and so forth, whenever they are in season," as well as the "china, plate, and linen" Mrs. Dashwood brought with her to Norland upon moving there from Stanhill (Ch. 2). Fanny's argument is that the Dashwood girls would be living very comfortably on five hundred pounds a year. As Fanny phrases it:

What on earth can four women want for more than that?--They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! (Ch. 2)

The irony is that Fanny is speaking of four women who have since then been used to being wealthy and must now suffer poverty. Not only that, three of the women must marry, and preferably marry men with good incomes. Having "no carriage, no horses" and especially not being able to afford to entertain any company, or guests, will of course lessen their chances of mixing with society, thereby lessening their chances of marrying. Therefore, Fanny proclaiming that they'll be perfectly comfortable is not only ironic, but a very absurd understatement because in actuality, the Dashwood girls will be very uncomfortable, making this an excellent example of meiosis.

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