Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The first of Jane Austen's published novels, Sense and Sensibility portrays the life and loves of two starkly different sisters: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

The elder Elinor is the epitome of prudence, discretion, and self-control: Marianne embodies emotion, openness, and enthusiasm. This contrast results in their attraction to men of vastly different character - and sparks family and societal dramas that are played out around the sisters' romantic attachments.

Secrets, betrayals, and confessions soon complicate the lives of the Dashwoods, whose goal is nothing less than the achievement of perfect happiness. Beyond the polar differences between the two sisters' characters lies the universal dilemma of balancing what we owe to other human beings against our own needs.

In the pages of this novel, Austen - the most insightful and, at the same time, the most entertaining of novelists - demonstrates her gift for irony. As with many of the greatest works of literature, the resolution of this one is ambiguous: It is for the reader to decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged - if life and love can really coexist.


Sense and Sensibility is my second favorite Austen novel. I have always felt a kinship with sensible Elinor. Of all the Austen heroines, she is the one I feel is most similar to myself. I have always admired her steadfastness, practicality, and stoic manner. I never could quite understand why Marianne was the beloved one of the two sisters. To me, she has always appeared indulgent, flighty, and overly dramatic. 

The sisters represent the polar opposites, which is what makes this the perfect choice for my reading challenge. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sense and sensibility as follows:

Sense (noun):
a. capacity for effective application of the powers of the mind as a basis for action or response : intelligence
b : sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality;also : agreement with or satisfaction of such power 

Sensibility (noun):
a. peculiar susceptibility to a pleasurable or painful impression (as from praise or a slight) —often used in plural
b. awareness of and responsiveness toward something (as emotion in another)

Sensible people are governed by logic. They rely on their heads, their reason. They are willing to sacrifice their own desires in favor of practicality. Where as people who rely on their sensibilities are motivated by their emotions, and are not afraid to respond with unrestrained emotion, positive or negative, in any given situation. Both have their pros and cons, and the message I always got from this novel is the importance of finding the balance between the two. Elinor is often mistaken as being unemotional or detached; Marianne is so easily overcome by any emotion, good or bad, that she appears almost bi-polar.

Of course, there is also Edward Ferrars to consider. As much as I wanted to hate him for it, I have always admired his loyalty and unwillingness to give into the pressures of others. He was a fool to make a promise to Lucy at such a young age, but I have always admired how he refused to break his promise to her, despite the pressure of his family and even to the detriment of his own heart. On the other hand, I always feel an urge to rage at him to forget honor and marry the woman he really loves. Edward is no Mr. Darcy, but he is definitely up there on the list of my favorite leading men.

Even though I have read this book numerous times, I loved it just as much as I did all the other times I read it. Like a pair of comfortable slippers, it was easy to slip into this world created by Austen and lose myself in the language and characters of this novel. This one will never get old for me, and I foresee many more rereadings.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book with antonyms in the title

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