Sense and Sensibility Summary

Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility Summary

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Sense and Sensibility, an 1811 novel by English author Jane Austen, was initially published anonymously. Centering on the Dashwood sisters–Elinor and Marianne–as they reach marrying age, and set in England between 1792 and 1797, the novel follows the sisters and their widowed mother to their new home. They move into a small cottage on the property of a distant relative, and the novel follows their romantic travails. Exploring themes such as the nature of femininity, society and class, love, and what really makes a home and a family, Sense and Sensibility was a modest hit upon its initial publication. It has remained consistently in print for over three hundred years now, and is considered one of Austen’s best and most enduring works. It is still widely taught in schools and read popularly, and has been adapted many times into movies, television, and stage productions. The most famous adaptation is a 1995 film directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee.

Sense and Sensibility opens with the death of Mr. Henry Dashwood. His manor passes to his son John, the child of his first wife, while his second wife and their daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, only inherit a small income.  On his deathbed, Dashwood makes his son promise to take care of his half-sisters, but John’s greedy wife, Fanny, convinces him to renege. Treated as unwelcome guests, the second Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters seek a different place to live. Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars, visits the family house and forms a quick connection with Elinor, but Fanny disapproves and sabotages the match by implying Elinor is only motivated by money. Mrs. Dashwood moves her daughters to Barton Cottage, a modest home near her cousin, Sir John Middleton. Sir John greets them warmly and introduces them to his wife, mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, and a family friend named Captain Brandon. Captain Brandon is attracted to Marianne, but Marianne sees the older Brandon as an old bachelor unable to commit.

One day while walking the grounds, Marianne sprains her ankle in the rain and is rescued by the handsome John Willoughby. Marianne is attracted to his looks and his outspoken views. Mrs. Dashwood cautious her daughter about this new romance, but Marianne is too caught up in the relationship to care how they are perceived. Suddenly, John announces that his aunt is sending him to London on business indefinitely. Marianne is distraught, giving up hope that she will find the right person. Edward Ferrars visits Barton Cottage, but is in a sad mood. Elinor fears he no longer has feelings for her. After Edward leaves, Lady Middleton’s crude cousins, Anne and Lucy Steele, come to visit. Lucy reveals to Elinor that she is secretly engaged to Edward. Elinor pities Edward for being trapped in a loveless engagement, and is motivated to help Edward get free of the jealous, petty Lucy.

Elinor and Marianne head to London with Mrs. Jennings, where Marianne rashly writes some personal letters to Willoughby. They go unanswered, and Willoughby is cold to Marianne when they meet at a dance. Willoughby soon sends her a letter enclosing their old letters and mementos of their courtship, and informs her that he is engaged to a rich young woman. Marianne is devastated, despite the fact that Elinor reminds her that she and Willoughby were never actually engaged. Colonel Brandon visits the sisters, and they learn from him that Willoughby’s aunt disinherited him due to his illicit affair with a teenage ward. That is why he is focused on marrying for money. Brandon reveals that he was in love with the mother of the ward when he was younger, but she was forced to marry his brother instead. Brandon tells Marianne that she reminds him of his lost love.

 

The Steele sisters are invited to London and asked to stay and John and Fanny Dashwood’s house. Lucy is flattered, not seeing this as the slight to Elinor and Marianne it is. Always talkative, Anne reveals Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward. The sisters are evicted from the house, and Edward is ordered to break off the engagement. When he refuses, he is disinherited in favor of his brother. Although he loses his money, he gains the respect of Elinor and Marianne, and Colonel Brandon offers him a living at Delaford parsonage. Mrs. Jennings takes Elinor and Marianne to the country to visit her second daughter, but Marianne is becoming dangerously ill due to her grief over Willoughby’s marriage. Willoughby comes and talks to Elinor, revealing that he truly loved Marianne. Although Elinor pities him because he is unhappy now, she is disgusted by how he treated the women in his life. The biggest irony is that his aunt eventually forgave him and restored his inheritance, so he chose money over love for nothing. Marianne eventually recovers, and Elinor tells her of Willoughby’s visit. Marianne realizes she never could have been happy with Willoughby’s caddish ways. She admires Elinor and vows to model herself after her sister. Edward returns and reveals that Lucy ditched him after he was disinherited. Elinor and Edward are soon married, and Marianne eventually marries Colonel Brandon, slowly coming to love his kind, dependable nature.

Jane Austen is one of the most successful English novelists, and one of the first famous female novelists alongside the Bronte Sisters and George Eliot. She wrote six major novels including Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, and the posthumous Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. In addition, she is known for the epistolary novel Lady Susan, as well as collections of short stories and novellas. She is still widely read, honored, and analyzed today, and the places she lived until her death in 1817 are marked as historical sites.