illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

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What literary devices does Jane Austen use in Sense and Sensibility?

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Three literary devices that contribute to the success of the novel are antithesis, point-of-view, and irony.

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The title itself could be construed as symbolic. Elinor is the sensible Dashwood sister in the story, whereas Marianne is given to sensibility, or emotions. In the long run, however, once Marianne comes to her senses, she will find a suitable husband for herself instead of lavishing her attentions on the likes of Mr. Willoughby. As well as her undivided attention, Marianne gives Willoughby a lock of her hair. The bestowal of something so intimate symbolizes the giving of Marianne's heart to her new beau.

There are also a number of metaphors in the book. A metaphor can be defined as a person, place, thing, or event that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself. In the scene where Mr. Willoughby assists Marianne after her accident, he's out hunting, and he's introduced to us as carrying a gun, with two pointers playing around him. Metaphorically speaking, Willoughby is hunting Marianne; she is his quarry. And just as a hunt's quarry ends up being put through a lot of pain and suffering, so too does poor Marianne suffer emotionally from her ill-advised involvement with the frightful Willoughby.

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Although Austen does not typically use figurative language, but rather prefers to be very direct in her writing style, Sense and Sensibility is one novel where she does employ a tiny bit of figurative language. The reason is that, although Austen wrote during the Romantic movement, she actually abhorred and protested against the movement. In fact, Sense and Sensibility is a blatant protest against romanticism. Romanticism valued intense, unrestrained emotions above reason. It also valued the individual above the greater good, or society. Hence, we see that, with its main argument to promote the use of reason and sense above unrestrained emotions, Sense and Sensibility is a protest against the movement. As a protest, Austen chose to parody things commonly found in romantic novels, such as figurative language.

One example of figurative language we see is personification. Marianne personifies Norland when saying goodbye to it the evening before they move to Barton Cottage. Just like many romantic poets, Marianne practically composes her own ode to the house, personifying it as a real person. We especially see the personification in the lines:

Dear, dear Norland! ... when shall I cease to regret you!--when learn to feel a home elsewhere--Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! (Ch. 5)

We also see Austen using one little simile in the novel. A simile is a type of analogy in which two objects are compared using the words like or as. We see a simile used when Mrs. Jennings later relays the long story of Fanny Dashwood being told about Lucy Steele's secret engagement to Edward Ferrars. In this long account, Mrs. Jennings describes Fanny's rage by using a simile, saying that Fanny "scolded [Lucy] like any fury" (Ch. 37). In Greek mythology, the furies were "female spirits of justice and vengeance" ("Furies"). Their job was to punish people on earth and torture those already in the underworld. Hence, with this analogy, Mrs. Jennings is describing Fanny as being so angry with Lucy that Fanny is acting like a torturous spirit bent on correcting Lucy's wrongful engagement.

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What literary devices does Jane Austen use in Sense and Sensibility, such as foreshadowing and allusion?

Among others, Jane Austen alludes to William Gilpin, author of essays on the picturesque, when Marianne says:

Every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was.

Marianne is saying here that she has a real appreciation for Gilpin while other people just pretend to because it is fashionable to do so.

Elinor manages three allusions in one sentence when she says to Marianne:

You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper.

The "he" Elinor refers to is Marianne's beloved Willoughby. The poets described are significant. Cowper and Scott would be identified with the emotion and sensibility (sentiment) most admired by Marianne, who lives too much out of her heart. Elinor is commenting that like Marianne, Willoughby appreciates these poets of sensibility—or at least says he does to Marianne. It is also significant that Willoughby's admiration of Pope is much more measured. Pope was a neoclassical poet who wrote in balanced couplets about more intellectual subjects than Cowper and Scott. It would be a problem for Marianne if Willoughby enjoyed Pope's restrained poetry too much.

We have much foreshadowing of Willoughby's eventual abandonment of Marianne in Elinor's worries and anxieties that the engagement both Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood believe is in place has not been publicly formalized. It is a complete shock to Marianne when she later finds out that Willoughby is engaged to a woman of fortune, but it is not necessarily a shock to the reader, because we have been privy to Elinor's concerns.

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What literary devices does Jane Austen use in Sense and Sensibility, such as foreshadowing and allusion?

Jane Austen's actually doesn't make use of a whole lot of different literary elements in her writing. Instead, Austen prefers a much more direct style, letting the story and the characters make her point. However, she does make use of a few literary devices in Sense and Sensibility, including foreshadowing and allusion.

One instance of foreshadowing can be seen when Marianne first meets Willoughby. It is no coincidence that Marianne meets Willoughby while ascending the downs behind Barton Cottage on a rainy day. The rain had let up enough to inspire both Marianne and Margaret to venture outdoors, but it starts raining again, leading Marianne and Margaret to run for the house, which is why Marianne twists her ankle and falls. Hence, not only does Marianne injure herself in the rain, but Willoughby also appears in the rain and carries her home in the rain. Since rain can symbolize dark emotions, it is clear in this instance that Austen is using the rain to foreshadow that Willoughby will not prove to be trustworthy and to foreshadow the pain he will soon cause her. Her sprained ankle likewise foreshadows the pain she will soon endure. In addition, As Austen describes, after seeing Marianne safely home, "[Willoughby] then departed, to make himself still more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain" (Ch. 9). His departure into the rain portrays him as a very dark and mysterious figure, despite how charming and handsome he appears to be at first, which further foreshadows the discovery of his untrustworthy nature and the heartbreak he soon gives Marianne.


Allusion is when an author makes a reference to another piece of literature. After Willoughby announces that he is leaving for London, leaving Marianne brokenhearted, Austen makes a very interesting reference to Hamlet. Several days after he has left, Mrs. Dashwood, also missing Willoughby, picks up a book of Shakespeare and sadly remembers, "We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went away before we could get through it" (Ch. 16). Hamlet is an interesting allusion for Austen to make in the book since, in the play, Ophelia is driven insane by Hamlet. Hence, not only is the reference to Hamlet an allusion, it also foreshadows Marianne's illness, which was the result of Willoughby's treatment of her.

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What literary devices does Jane Austen use in Sense and Sensibility that contribute to the success of the novel?

Three literary devices that contribute to the success of the novel are antithesis, point-of-view, and irony.

Antithesis is the putting of opposites together. As the title of the novel indicates, the story is about as antitheses between the overly sensible and emotionally self-controlled sister, Elinor, is contrasted sharply with the overly sensitive, emotional, "drama queen" sister, Marianne. This antithesis allows for an exploration of both extremes: emotional over-control and emotional excess. The antitheses go beyond that, however. For example, the overly honorable Edward provides an antithesis to Lucy Steele's crass opportunism, and Elinor's education and good manners are an antithesis to both Miss Steeles' vulgarity.

The novel is told from the point-of-view of Elinor, and this is another successful strategy. Only we, as readers, know what Elinor knows. For example, since Elinor doesn't know if Marianne and Willoughby are engaged, we don't know either. We also don't know that Lucy and Edward are secretly engaged until Lucy tells Elinor. This strategy is effective in both misleading the reader and building suspense.

It is impossible to talk about Jane Austen without mentioning the literary device she is most famous for: irony. Verbal irony occurs when statements mean the opposite of their literal meaning, and situational irony is when events work out the opposite of how they are intended.

Irony permeates this novel in small vignettes (such as Marianne's assertion of her embrace of a "simple" life that would be quite costly to attain), but the most famous example of irony in this novel is the thought processes through which John Dashwood and his wife Fanny disinherit Mrs. Dashwood and her girls.

Through a process of ironically—and hypocritically—"interpreting" what his father meant in beseeching him on his deathbed to provide for his half-sisters, John and Fanny manage to whittle this plea down to giving them occasional gifts and nothing more: no provision at all, in other words. This is an ironic reversal of the father's intent.

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What literary devices does Jane Austen use in Sense and Sensibility that contribute to the success of the novel?

Imagery is certainly one literary device Austen uses to make Sense and Sensibility effective. Unlike most of Austen's work, she uses imagery in detail to describe things such as Barton Cottage, the scenery, and even certain scenes. Below is a description of how Austen used imagery to effectively describe a particular scene.

Austen uses a lot of effective imagery to paint particularly dramatic moments. One example of this can be seen in the moment that Mrs. Jennings relays the story of Fanny Dashwood finding out about Edward Ferrars secret engagement to Lucy. As Mrs. Jennings relays the story to Elinor, she paints it in vivid detail. For instance, we learn that when Lucy's older sister Anne, sometimes called Nancy, informs Fanny of Lucy and Edward's engagement, Fanny immediately falls into "violent hysterics," which serves to paint a very vivid image of the scene taking place. In addition, she describes Lucy as falling into a "fainting fit" and Nancy crying bitterly on her knees, both of which are also very vivid images (Ch. 37).

Another literary device Austen employs to make the novel effective is diction. Austen frequently uses diction to express emotions. For example, when Marianne first learns that Elinor has known of Edward's engagement to Lucy for four months, in bewilderment, she asks Elinor, "How have you been supported?" Supported is an excellent word choice because it paints the picture of Elinor needing to sustain her weight on something, as if what she has suffered has taken all of her strength. Other good diction choices are "suffer" and "disappointment," which show just how much Elinor has been hurting. In addition, the words "triumph" and "exultation" show just how much Elinor feels Lucy to be at a greater advantage than Elinor to be engaged to Edward (Ch. 37).

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How does Jane Austen use literary devices, such as allusion, in Sense and Sensibility?

Allusion is definitely one literary element Austen frequently uses in Sense and Sensibility. One allusion can be found in Chapter 5 in which Marianne is saying adieu to Norland. Her long, dramatic speech at the end of the chapter is very reminiscent of an ode, even though it lacks a rhyme scheme. In fact, it is very similar to William Cowper's poetry, who is mentioned in Chapter 4. Some of these lines are very similar to Cowper's lines in The Task: Book III--"The Garden." For instance, the line, "But who will remain to enjoy you?" is very similar to Cowper's line, "Or tasting long enjoy thee" and "Happy house" is very similar to "Domestic Happiness."

Another allusion found in Sense and Sensibility is to Shakespeare's Hamlet (Ch. 16). A parallel can be drawn between Ophelia killing herself in Hamlet for love and Marianne nearly dying from a fever induced by a broken heart.

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

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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What literary devices does the author use in Sense and Sensibility for describing female characters?

Austen uses juxtaposition to show the contrasts and similarities among the Dashwood sisters and their mother. Elinor Dashwood is described as possessing a "strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment" that made her a good counselor to her more emotional mother. While Mrs. Dashwood could be somewhat melodramatic and imprudent, Elinor is measured and calm. She is certainly "affectionate" and has "strong" feelings, "but she knew how to govern them," which is a quality that her mother had never learned. Her sister, Marianne, refused to learn it. In "ability," Marianne and Elinor are equals, but Marianne is "eager in everything" and lacks the coolness and judgment possessed by Elinor because she values intense emotion so highly. Marianne is "everything but prudent" and is very much like her mother in this way. The youngest of the three sisters, Margaret, has "imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance," though, at thirteen, she lacks Marianne's sense.

The character of these four female characters are revealed through their juxtaposition with one another so that we can more clearly see how they are dissimilar or similar. In this part of the text, the female characters are certainly most often characterized via direct characterization, when the narrator describes or reveals character with descriptions such as those above.

Mrs. John Dashwood, the wife of the Dashwood daughters's half-brother, is more indirectly characterized. Instead of describing her directly by saying, perhaps, that she is selfish and manipulative, the narrator describes her behavior and allows the reader to extrapolate. This shows how reluctant she is to help her husband's half-sisters, despite their loss of father, home, and fortune. She even tries to persuade her husband that his father did not actually want him to give the girls any money.

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What are two literary devices used in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility?

One literary device Jane Austen uses in Sense and Sensibility is didacticism. The didactic novel was a popular form in the 1790s, which compared two ideologies and preached that one was right and one was wrong. In the case of Sense and Sensibility, Austen used didacticism to preach that the emotionally uncontrolled perspective taught by the Romantic movement is the wrong way to live your life, while governing your emotions through prudence and rational thought is the correct way.

Austen's classic use of irony can also be found in Sense and Sensibility. For instance, Dramatic Irony can be seen in Marianne's claim that love can only happen once. We see this claim of Marianne's made when Colonel Brandon asks Elinor if "her sister...does not believe in second attachments" (Ch. 11). Later during the story Marianne's perspective comes back to haunt her when, not only does Colonel Brandon fall in love with her after being brokenhearted, but Marianne falls in love with Colonel Brandon even after having her heart broken by Willoughby.

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