Introducing 'Sense and Sensibility', by Jane Austen
For the rest of this week, we’re going to be looking at some of the writings of Jane Austen, focusing mainly on her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility.
In the following step, we’ll be giving a short introduction to the novel, outlining the plot and explaining why it is a particularly useful text for thinking about heartbreak. We’ll then move on to focus together on three short passages.
To begin with, we wanted to provide you with a short summary of the novel, and also to share some extracts which might help you to get a feel for Austen’s text. These extracts can be downloaded by following the link at the bottom of the page, although this reading is not compulsory.
About the Novel
Published in 1811 and attributed simply to ‘A Lady’, Sense and Sensibility centres on the Dashwood family, and particularly on the two older sisters of the family, Elinor and Marianne. The novel begins with the Dashwood women being forced to leave their home, Norland, which has been inherited by their foolish half-brother John and his manipulative wife. With their mother and younger sister Margaret, Elinor and Marianne move to a small cottage in Devonshire, which lacks many of the comforts they are used to, and significantly reduces their social standing.
Both Elinor and Marianne are thwarted in love during the course of the novel. Elinor is in love with Edward Ferrars, the brother-in-law of her half-brother John. The affection is reciprocated, but the pair are separated when the Dashwoods move to Barton Cottage, and Elinor’s hopes are dashed completely when she learns that Edward has been secretly engaged to another woman for four years.
Marianne, meanwhile, falls deeply in love with John Willoughby, a gentleman who rescues her when she sprains her ankle while out walking, and who shares her passion for Romantic poetry. Her family believe a secret engagement exists between the pair, but when Willoughby leaves for London unexpectedly, Marianne is inconsolable, and her sister gradually learns that no such engagement had been formalised. Willoughby, too, becomes engaged to another woman, and both of the Dashwood sisters are left to deal with their own heartbreak.
We don’t want to spoil the end of the novel for those of you who think you might like to read it, but you can find out more by reading the extracts below, and by listening to our conversations over the next few steps.
© University of Warwick