"Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen

Con estilo, humor y una buena dosis de crítica social, el debut (bajo pseudónimo) de la genial novelista inglesa es una obra cumbre de la letras universales, piedra fundacional de la literatura para, sobre y de mujeres.

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Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility is structured around two sisters: Elinor (aged nineteen) and Marianne (aged sixteen). In fact, Austen had planned to call the book Elinor and Marianne. The siblings have a close relationship, but are very different from each other. Marianne falls passionately in love with John Willoughby, a young man with a small estate, after he rescues her in a storm. But it turns out that the handsome stranger has a devastating secret. Meanwhile, Elinor tries to accept the fact that marrying the not-so-handsome and quite shy Edward Ferrars will be impossible, as his mother would never accept it. There is then the shocking discovery that he’s already engaged to a woman called Lucy Steele. Unexpectedly, it’s the quiet, slightly boring Colonel Brandon, who intervenes and unintentionally changes everyone’s fortunes.

Head versus heart

Sense and Sensibilty is a novel of contrasts. Elinor embodies sense: she’s rational, reserved, and driven by responsibility. Marianne, on the other hand, embodies sensibility: she’s completely governed by her own powerful emotions. For example, when Willoughby rejects her, she’s so unhappy she becomes dangerously ill. But Austen hints that Marianne is actually enjoying the drama of her emotions: 

“This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening. She [Marianne] was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself. The slightest mention of anything related to Willoughby overpowered her in an instant.”

“Esta inexorable tristeza continuó durante toda la tarde. Marianne era impotente frente a ella, porque carecía de todo deseo de control sobre sí misma. La más pequeña mención de cualquier cosa relativa a Willoughby sobrepasaba de inmediato en ella toda resistencia”.

Money, money, money

Money is an important topic in Sense and Sensibility as in all of Austen’s novels. Because the characters don’t make money by working, it has to come through either inheritance or marriage to a wealthy partner. Some characters seem ready to sacrifice anything for money. For example, John Dashwood the elder half-brother of Elinor and Marianne, keeps all the inheritance (with encouragement from his wife Fanny) that his dying father asked him to share with his sisters and stepmother. Mrs. Ferrars would prefer to reject both her sons than see them marry a poor woman. And, at least according to local gossip: 

“[...] nobody in their senses could expect Mr. Ferrars to give up a woman like Miss Morton, with thirty thousand pounds to her fortune, for Lucy Steele that had nothing at all.”

“[...] nadie en su sano juicio podría esperar que el señor Ferrars renunciara a una mujer como la señorita Morton, dueña de una fortuna de treinta mil libras, por Lucy Steele, que no tenía nada en absoluto”.

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POLITE society

Being polite was, in theory, the number one priority in this society. But, as Austen shows, some characters criticise impoliteness in other people while being completely selfish, greedy and thoughtless themselves. The formidable Mrs. Ferrars is a good example. Austen also points out that in order to appear polite, characters might have to lie, something that passionate Marianne cannot do. 

“Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell.”

“Marianne se quedó callada. Le era imposible decir algo que no sentía, por trivial que fuera la ocasión; y de esta forma siempre caía sobre Elinor toda la tarea de decir mentiras cuando la cortesía así lo requería”.

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One the main reasons why Jane Austen’s books are still popular is because they’re so funny. In Sense and Sensibility the characters of Mrs. Jennings and her daugher Mrs. Palmer, who both love to gossip, generate a lot of the humour. When Mrs. Palmer discovers how badly Willoughby has behaved towards Marianne, Austen introduces a humourous contradiction, a typical display of her wit:

“Mrs. Palmer, in her way, was equally angry. She was determined to drop his acquaintance immediately, and she was very thankful that she had never been acquainted with him at all […] She hated him so much that she was resolved never to mention his name again, and she should tell everybody she saw how good-for-nothing he was.”

“A su manera, la señora Palmer estaba igualmente enojada. Estaba decidida a romper de inmediato toda relación con él, y agradecía al cielo no haberlo conocido nunca [...] Lo odiaba tanto que más su nombre, y le diría a todos los que viera que era un badulaque”.

Still popular

The drama of ‘head versus heart’ when it comes to love is a theme that’s as popular today as it was in the early 1800s. There have been several modern adaptations of Sense and Sensibility but the classic is, without doubt, Ang Lee’s 1995 film version. Emma Thompson plays the rational Elinor, while Kate Winslett is the emotional Marianne. The film, like the book, suggests that success in life and love actually involves a mixture of sense and sensibility.   

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