illustration of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's faces

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

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In Vindication of the Rights of Women, a classic feminist work published during Austen's lifetime, Mary Wollstonecraft argues that because women are enslaved to their weaker sensibilities, they must become completely dependant on the more rational men to survive. Wollstonecraft believes that women can only gain their independence through the complete rejection of their sensibility in favor of a strict course of rational education. Based on your reading of Sense and Sensibility, how do you think Jane Austen would respond to this argument? Do you think she was a supporter of Wollstonecraft's views?

One of the major political movements of the eighteenth century was taking place in France during the time that Jane Austen began her writing career. The Jacobins had just taken over France from the aristocracy; their cry for individuality and personal freedom, or sensibility, was revolutionary at the time and would come to profoundly impact all of European politics. How do you see the political events in France affecting Austen's writing of Sense and Sensibility? Does she side with the Jacobins' cry for individual freedoms, or do you think Austen was more conservative and would have wanted to retain the status quo?

Sense and Sensibility is often described as a "didactic" novel, that is, a novel that pits two opposing viewpoints against each other. Didactic novels were popular at the time Austen was writing and were known for being formulaic: one viewpoint always won over the other. The opposing viewpoints in this novel are obviously sense and sensibility. Do you consider Sense and Sensibility to be didactic in the classic sense of the word? In other words, is there a clear winner and loser in the struggle between sense and sensibility?

One of the curious characteristics of Sense and Sensibility is the almost complete absence of father figures from the main action. The father of nearly every adult child in the novel who has to make a decision about matrimony is either dead or absent, and for some it is the mother who has sole authority over them. In fact, mothers play a leading role in the upbringing and education of many of the novel's leading characters. Can you discern Austen's view of motherhood from your reading of Sense and Sensibility? How are the mothers in the novel represented, and what point do you think Austen is attempting to make?

Sense and Sensibility very much centers around a small minority of the English population at the beginning of the nineteenth century, namely, the upper class. There is little mention of workers or farmers, yet agrarian reform and the earliest stages of the Industrial Revolution were having a profound affect on these lower classes and, in turn, were affecting the upper classes that Austen was writing about. Research the class structure of England at the time of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. Describe the reforms that were affecting farmers at the time and discuss the ways the working classes were being affected by changing technologies. How did these changes come to impact the classes represented by the characters in Sense and Sensibility?

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