Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is about two close sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. In the beginning of the novel, their family has been living with their wealthy uncle at Norland Park. When their uncle passes away, their father, Mr. Henry Dashwood, was supposed to inherit the property and home, and then it was to pass on to Henry’s son from his first marriage, John. Unfortunately, Henry took ill quickly after his uncle died. He makes John promise to take care of his sisters, but John and his wife Fanny are sour about his step-family, so quickly after Henry passes away, they plot to turn out Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters.
While Mrs. Dashwood is trying to figure out how to leave Norland Park without much inheritance from her husband, Fanny’s brother Edward visits, and he and Elinor quickly become attached to one another, but Fanny disapproves and gets really rude about it. This is the final straw for Mrs. Dashwood, so she and her daughters move out to Barton Cottage in Devonshire, near her cousin Sir John Middleton. As the Dashwoods settle in, they are welcomed into the local society by their cousins, and Lady Middleton introduces Marianne to Colonel Brandon… of which she is less than impressed.
Both Elinor and Marianne are of marrying age, but they have different takes on romance. Elinor is the elder of the two, and the more sensible and reserved one when it comes to matters of the heart. Younger Marianne is much more sensitive and emotional. With Elinor and Edward, the two had similar interests and they enjoyed each other’s company. Marianne wants romance, and receives it when the dashing John Willoughby comes to her rescue. They are quickly enchanted by each other and start a whirlwind romance, and then he is suddenly called to London, leaving Marianne behind and distraught. Soon thereafter, Elinor learns from two society girls, Anna and Lucy Steele, that Edward is secretly engaged to Lucy, leaving Elinor brokenhearted. Because she is sensible, she understands that the girls told her the news to make her jealous, so she pities Edward for being engaged to the awful girl. Then Marianne learns that Willoughby is engaged to a woman named Miss Grey. Colonel Brandon reveals that Willoughby planned to marry for money, not love, and that he was disowned by his aunt for past wrongs to other girls.
Both girls deal with their heartache in their own way. Eventually, they both find that they each needed a little sensibility and a little sense to find their true loves. Elinor ends up marrying Edward after Lucy broke off their engagement for a wealthier man, and Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, whom she comes to love when she sees what an awful person Willoughby was.
What makes this book a classic?
In typical Jane Austen form, she writes from a strong female (and in this case, females) perspective, allocating her main characters strong personalities, values, and morals. For the time period (publication in 1811, setting est. 1792-1797) this was considered very modern and forward thinking, yet set a good example for her readers. In this novel, she’s teaching them that you indeed need sense and sensibility when it comes to finding love, as well as the importance of sisterhood. Because the novel is both exciting and pleasant, it has continued to entertain many generations of readers over the last 200 years.
I personally thought it was just okay. I had a hard time keeping the story line straight with all the side characters, and though Austen’s writing is timeless and beautiful, there were periods of time where I had to slowly reread for context to figure out her meaning. Sense and Sensibility has yet to overtake Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel.