illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

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In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, who are Elinor and Marianne and what roles do they play?

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These two names were originally intended as the title of Jane Austen's novel which was published as "Sense and Sensibility."  A writer of the genre, novels of manners, Miss Austen portrays early upper-class English society in which women of this class were forbidden to work.  As a result, their main avocation in life was to find a suitable husband.  With Elinor as representative of the "Sense" of the title and Marianne representative of the "Sensibility," Auten writes a didactic, or instructive, novel in which the reader may decide which attribute is of greater importance.  The plot, therefore, revolves around a comparison of the two sisters.

Elinor, the oldest girl of the Dashwood family is quite mature by the age of nineteen.  Unlike Marianne, she is careful not to offend people and is concerned with diplomacy and decorum.  Valuing rational thought more highly than emotional reactions, Elinor holds the family together in conflicts.  For the author, Elinor is set forth as a paragon of virtue. 

On the other hand, Marianne, the middle daughter of the Dashwood family is a young woman whose "sorrows, her joys, could have no modertion."  Much like Shakespeare's Romeo, she is absorbed in her feelings and believes that she can only love once.  Her extended depression after being jilted by this one love, Mr. John Willoughby, leads her to finally reexamine her values and realize that the "sense" of her sister is what one can better live with.

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