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Two Sensibilities - on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

  • Date Submitted: 05/24/2011 07:51 PM
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ENG 383

Two Sensibilities

Reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, one is struck at the extreme differences between Elinor and Marianne.   Though sisters, one orchestrates the well-being of the family, while the other brings about a host of hardships and indulges in her emotions.   While this particular reader could not help but fall in love with Elinor's brilliance and maturity, it is very comprehensible why Marianne would captivate the hearts of so many others – not just from beauty, but from the innocence Colonel Brandon so cherishes.   These sisters exemplify two sensibilities – one of sense, and the other of emotion, and while the two have both sensibilities, their predispositions to one or the other cause readers to identify Elinor with sense and Marianne with sensibility.
The novel, largely through the shortcomings of Marianne and blunderings of Willoughby, is intended as a satire of “sensibility” – a movement both in the arts and social sciences striving for a better civility through one's feelings and empathy.   The movement inspired a quixotic following, and Austen admitted to the ranks of those not in its favor.   Yet despite the ridicule Austen imposes on the movement and those influenced thereby, she seemingly cannot help but defend the idea of sensibility at the same time, provided sensibility avoids excess and is checked by sense.   Certain characters warn us of the insidious nature of sense without sensibility, while others are afflicted in various ways – dullness, boredom – from a lack of sensibility.   The novel argues that the ideal for a character is the marriage of sense and sensibility, for without the latter, one is cold, and without the former, one is a fool.
Austen provides many examples of how these two qualities may interact to create vastly different characters.   Sensibility adds a certain color to life, which certain characters lack.   This lacking almost creates a certain boredom for them, and the absence of...


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