I admit that I came late to my love of Jane Austen. To be quite honest, I came late to loving all the classic women writers with the exception of Louisa May Alcott. Say what you will, but Little Women was for the longest time the only classic I had ever read in elementary school, and high school seemed to be dominated by male writers. It wasn’t until I was at an all women’s college taking literature courses for fun that I was finally introduced to the women writers I had been thirsting for as a young girl without being fully aware.
It was in a women’s study in fiction that I read my first novel by Jane Austen which happened to be Sense and Sensibility. One of the questions that came up in the class discussion was the idea presented in the very title about the characteristics of sense and sensibility, which Dashwood embodied more of one verses the other, and which I related to more? Of course, it was always unfair to try to pin myself to one because very rarely does any one stay unfaulteringly constant to one set of characteristics as one matures. In the beginning I always thought the two eldest sisters too extreme, but mostly I saw Elinor forced into acting with an overabundance of sense primarily because her mother and closest sister Marrianne over relied on their sensibilities,which seemed to make them overly emotional and reactionary.
Marrianne is a fascinating character because through the novel, she is the one with the most opportunity to grow, having the most adverse experiences from which to learn. Elinor always seems to be the one trying to manage everyone and everything, keeping a tight reign of her own emotions through it all. I am in the minority when it comes to favoring Elinor over Marrianne. I think this is because Marrianne is a more dynamic character with her frolicking about with Willoughby then having her heart utterly crushed then marrying Colonel Brandon in the end. However, though Elinor is a more restrained character she does undergo a dynamic experience with her feelings towards Edward.
Each of the two in turn demonstrate a degree of sense and sensibility. Which did I relate to more? While in college I was disappointed to think myself more like Marrianne while secretly hoping to be more like Elinor. As an older sister myself, I wished I could have been more responsible, seeing Elinor as having the merits of a good and wise sister. The truth is that I was never as reckless as Marrianne in that carefree spirit kind of way, and that I always was Elinor at heart.
As I’m reading through Sense and Sensibility once more before diving head long into Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I remember my first reading–which is aided by the fact that I still have my original copy from college with all my notes in it–and I find myself laughing at my inability to see how Elinor-ish I was back then. It is made even more amusing by the fact that I was a psychology major–so now you can laugh along with me.
If sense is “possessing judgement and intelligence” and sensibility is the “capacity for refined emotional response to feelings and experiences, involving delicate sensitivity to moral and aesthetic issues”, which do you think you embody most, and which sister do you favor?
*Photo: Teapot and tea cup by moonlightbulb, obtained through Flickr.