illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

Start Free Trial

In Sense and Sensibility, how and to what extent does Jane Austen challenge readers to examine values?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Thanks for the answer

Also If this question is presented in a speech form what rhetorical questions can you come up with 

Hi seerboldly, your additional questions actually have to be posted as new posts in eNotes' Homework Help. You can ask a new question here: That way, our educators will be able to read and answer your questions. Thanks!

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is always difficult to take contemporary critical literary theory concepts and apply them retrospectively to literature from an earlier period in which these theoretical concepts were not enunciated or given play (in which the concepts did not exist). Asking how Austen challenged readers to examine values tries to do just this: the question seeks to apply current critical theory to Austen as though she operated within the contemporary system in which she actively, intentionally challenge readers. To elucidate this point, one of the greatest complaints about Austen's stories at the time of their publication was that she challenged and stirred nothing; that she made no social value comment at all. This negative opinion about Austen's books is notably expressed by Charlotte Brontë's letters:

what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; .... (Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams, 12th April 1850)

On the other hand, logician Peter Smith, Ph.D., of Oxford and Cambridge, asserted in 1966 that Austen--having read one or more of the leading moralists of her day, such as Shaftesbury--was a deliberate moralist who was deliberately redirecting their moralism toward her readership through the characterizations of those who peopled who novels. In this analysis, the extent to which Austen was a moralist and challenged her readers to examine their values was great because her characterizations were all oriented to exposing the characters' moral thoughts and values. By Smith's analysis, Austen challenges' readers by exemplifying right moral thinking as expressed by leading moralists like Shaftesbury and others.

    "Like him!" replied [Elinor's] mother with a smile. "I feel no sentiment of approbation inferior to love."
    "You may esteem him." [said Elinor]
    "I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial