Sense and Sensibility (novel)

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Sense and Sensibility
Written by: Jane Austen
Central Theme: Passion versus restraint
Synopsis: Two sisters, a passionate one and a more responsible one, enbroil themselves in romantic affairs that may give them more promblens than initially expected.
Genre(s): Romance
First published: 1811
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Written by Jane Austen and published in 1811, Sense and Sensibility is one of her best-known novels, not least because of the 1995 Ang Lee film (which has its own page here). It tells the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, who, on the death of their father, are forced to move (along with their mother and younger sister) into rather more straightened circumstances. The novel follows Elinor's quiet, restrained love affair with Edward Ferrars (her sister-in-law's brother who is expected to marry a rich woman) and Marianne's more overtly-romantic love triangle with the dashing Willoughby and the older, reliable Colonel Brandon.

The main theme of the novel is the contrast between reasonable Elinor's patience and sense of responsibility and Marianne's headstrong love of romance ("sensibility" in the language of the time), which often leads her into trouble.

The 1995 film cast Emma Thompson as Elinor and Kate Winslet as Marianne; a 2008 BBC Miniseries, which drew heavy inspiration from the film and is comparable in quality, cast Hattie Morahan as Elinor and Charity Wakefield as Marianne. There is also a Tamil-language Indian film based on the book and 1995 film, starring Aishwarya Rai and available in the US under the title I Have Found It. In 2010, Marvel Illustrated produced a Comic Book Adaptation, script by Nancy Butler, art and covers by Sonny Liew.

Tropes used in Sense and Sensibility (novel) include:
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Marianne to Elinor, although Elinor has much more affection for Marianne than the trope implies. Their youngest sister, Margaret, is rarely annoying -- and indeed has so little presence in the story that her existence is often forgotten; she does, however, have one moment of fulfilling the trope. When Mrs Jennings asks for information about Elinor's Love Interest, Margaret innocently obliges.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Edward's to Miss Morton -- leave it to Jane Austen to make men victims of this trope.
    • And Colonel Brandon's "Eliza" to his older brother.
  • Birds of a Feather: Marianne desires a relationship like this.
  • Casanova: Willoughby
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Edward and Lucy try to keep it, but it ultimately falls apart.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Disjoining Edward and Lucy so Edward and Elinor can be together. Then pairing up Lucy with Edward's brother and Marianne with Brandon.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Lucy Steele
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mrs. Jennings seems to be one of these; to a lesser extent, Mrs. Dashwood.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Jennings proves herself one of these when Marianne gets sick.
  • Dances and Balls: Sir John is fond of throwing these at his country estate, but only one they attend in London is of great significance to the plot.
  • The Dandy: Robert Ferrars.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Colonel Brandon. He confides it to Elinor, including the part about his childhood sweetheart, his childhood sweetheart's illegitimate daughter, and his childhood's sweetheart's illegitimate daughter's seducer (who happens to be Willoughby.) See? He had a point.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr. Palmer. Elinor too, although she mostly keeps her snarkiness to herself.
  • Damsel in Distress: Marianne
  • The Ditz: Mrs. Palmer and the Steele sisters, especially the elder sister Nancy.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?

Elinor: If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered now.

  • Disposable Fiance: Lucy Steele.
  • Doting Parent: Mrs. Dashwood to Marianne; Lady Middleton to all of her children, who are described as essentially her reason for existing.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Half-siblings John and Elinor Dashwood to siblings Fanny and Edward Ferrars.
  • Emo Teen: Marianne gives into gloom and despair, replacing activities such as eating and sleeping with sobbing, after Willoughby leaves -- not "leaves her," just leaves, as in just going away on business for an indefinite period of time. Needless to say, when he does leave her...
  • Emotionless Girl: Elinor
  • Emotions Versus Stoicism: Marianne and Elinor, respectively.
  • Epistolary Novel: Early drafts were written in this form, under the title Elinor and Marianne.
  • First Guy Wins: Colonel Brandon
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Responsible Elinor and foolish Marianne, albeit one where the "foolish" daughter is portrayed fairly sympathetically. It's even reflected in the title (when you realize that "sensibility" meant to Austen something like what "sensitivity" means in modern-day English).
  • Foreshadowing: Colonel Brandon displaying the "taste" in music (during Marianne's playing at a party) that Marianne considers essential in a lover.
  • Genre Savvy: Elinor is quick at correctly identifying everyone's role in the Love Triangles around her. She deduces that Lucy is a Clingy Jealous Girl probably faster than the reader could at that point.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Elinor pleads with Marianne to see she doesn't have to spend the rest of her life crying and moping just because Willoughby is a Jerkass.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The conflict between Marianne's advocation of her behavior and indulgence in sensibility and Elinor's practical sense and insistence she try to control herself more mirrors the glorious war between Freud's Id and Superego.
  • Gold Digger: Willoughby is a male example.
  • Grumpy Bear: Elinor's mother and sister see her this way.
  • Hidden Depths: Elinor, Edward, Willoughby, and Mrs. Jennings, for starters. In fact, this novel could also very easily have been called First Impressions...
  • Higher Self: Elinor acts something like this for Marianne.
  • I Can't Believe A Girl Like You Would Notice Me: This is part of Edward's explanation for why he stayed in Norland for so long while he was falling in love with Elinor.
  • Ice Queen: Lady Middleton and Fanny Ferrars Dashwood -- it's their mutual coldness that attracts them to pursue a friendship with one another. Later, Willoughby indicates that his wife Sophia is one of these as well, although the reader gets no direct confirmation because she's never seen.
  • I Gave My Word: Edward that he would get married to an illiterate, mean, mercenary girl; Elinor that she would keep said girl's secret, despite the addition to her personal heartbreak, and despite the girl's cat-playing-with-a-mouse behavior. Bonus points for Elinor because, actually, her wording of the promise did not bind her to absolute silence: she said "your secret is safe with me", which is rather vague, and a less scrupulous person would probably feel she could at least tell her sister, or her mother. But no, she keeps her mouth shut and listens to all the snide comments. And all the while she could just drop a hint to her sister-in-law -- Edward's sister -- and the engagement would fall apart.
  • Ill Girl: Marianne, after some time moping about in a damp garden.
  • Informed Attribute: There are only a very few instances of Elinor and Edward's relationship being shown to the reader before it's explained that Elinor has fallen in love with him. We really aren't given any reason why she fell. In truth, the novel does a better job of showing the reader her relationship with Colonel Brandon, which makes it somewhat more understandable why a lot of the other characters ship the two of them. Both major film versions go to great lengths to set up a more believable romance between Edward and Elinor.
  • It's All About Me: Marianne is deeply self-absorbed, considering her feelings (whether positive or negative) absolutely irrepressible and in the process disregarding common politeness and the feelings of others; when circumstances force Elinor to confess that she too has been unhappy, Marianne breaks down in tears of remorse, forcing Elinor to comfort her again, and continues to wallow in her own unhappiness -- with added guilt, now -- rather than provide emotional support for Elinor. It takes near-death to smarten her up. Granted, she's a teenager, but it's a major contrast with Elinor, who's 19 and displays more responsibility and consideration for others than many people much older than her.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Elinor. She still gets him.
    • Even worse, it's more I Want My Beloved to Behave in a Morally Upright Manner; after several conversations with Lucy, Elinor is perfectly certain that Edward will not be happy if he marries Lucy, due to Lucy's poor character and shallow, selfish personality. However, breaking an engagement was a very serious breach of trust in that time, so he still needs to go through with it.
  • Jerkass: John Dashwood and his wife Fanny. Fanny is far more of a Jerkass than John, though; it's shown that John does at least have genuine affection for his sisters and might be a better person without his wife's influence. He's still way too preoccupied with money to be very likeable, however.
    • Fanny's other brother, Robert, is also one of these, as is their mother. One really has to wonder how Edward turned out so nice, coming from such a family.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Willoughby at one point attempts to portray himself as this. It doesn't work.
    • Mr. Palmer actually is one. He's either rude or indifferent to everyone he meets, but later on it's shown that he does love his wife and child, and he goes out of his way to be kind and polite to Marianne and Elinor when events go against them.
  • Kissing Cousins: Colonel Brandon confides his Backstory to Elinor, including the fact that his first love was his cousin Elizabeth.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Colonel Brandon; intentionally subverted with Willoughby.
  • Kuudere: Oh, Elinor.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: The Dashwood sisters finally get their men in the last three pages.
  • Last-Name Basis: Colonel Brandon's first name is never revealed.
  • Love At First Sight: Marianne and Willoughby
  • Love Hurts
  • Manipulative Bitch: Lucy Steele
  • May-December Romance: Marianne is 17. Colonel Brandon is 35.
  • The McCoy: Marianne, the "sensibility."
  • Meaningful Echo: Near the beginning, Marianne describes the man of her dreams as a "connoisseur," with repeated emphasis on his good "taste" in music. Five chapters later, she realizes Colonel Brandon alone lacks the "shameless want of taste" displayed by everyone else as she plays the piano.
  • Never My Fault: A truly despicable version from Willoughby, in a scene that is supposed to make him more sympathetic -- he excuses himself from seducing and then abandoning Eliza by saying it's unreasonable to believe that "because I was a libertine, she must be a saint" (essentially, "it doesn't matter because she was a slut").
  • Not Himself: Marianne at the end of the novel. One fever later and suddenly she is able to deal with the demands of society and ready to accept the attentions of someone she doesn't love.
  • The Not Love Interest: Colonel Brandon and Elinor, who half the cast eventually start shipping as much as Brandon/Marianne. Even Elinor admits to herself that she can understand the logic of their belief.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Mrs. Jennings, though generally in a good-natured fashion.
  • Not So Stoic: Elinor
  • Not What It Looks Like: Colonel Brandon approaches Elinor with a proposition -- since Edward, freshly disinherited for being engaged to Lucy, needs to make a living, the Colonel wants to offer him the position of rector in his home parish, and would like Elinor to act as intermediary since the men have never met. Mrs. Jennings misunderstands what little she overhears, and thinks that the Colonel has proposed marriage to Elinor. Several pages later, the discrepancy is clarified, and both women are considerably amused by it.
  • The Noun and the Noun
  • Oblivious to Love: Marianne seems, through much of the story, like she's deliberately ignoring Colonel Brandon's undeclared love for her. On literally the second-to-last page, it's finally clarified that she honestly had no idea, and is stunned when she realizes it.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Happens as a result of Not What It Looks Like above.
  • Only Sane Man: Elinor, as are most Jane Austen heroines.
  • Passed Over Inheritance: Mr. Dashwood doesn't actually get hit with it, but the terms of the will are effectively so.
  • Passive Aggressive Combat: Elinor and Lucy Steele.
  • Parental Favoritism: It's clear that Marianne is her mother's favorite child; it's even explained in an early chapter that Mrs. Dashwood dotes on her because of her three daughters, Marianne is the most like herself. It's also implied that Mrs. Jennings favors Mrs. Palmer over Lady Middleton, for the same reason.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Colonel Brandon and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth were forcibly separated. Later, Edward's refusal to break off his engagement to Lucy causes his mother to disown him.
  • Parents as People: Mrs. Dashwood is a kind and loving but fallible character. (If Marianne was a modern day student, she would ask her mother if she could go to the prom in Willoughby's car, arguing that he's "so hot and sweet". Mrs. Dashwood would agree, and Elinor would be the one to ask if he actually has a driving license.)
  • Perpetual Poverty
  • Politeness Judo: See Passive Aggressive Combat.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Marianne and Elinor, respectively.
  • Replacement Love Interest: It's implied that Marianne is this for Colonel Brandon, given her strong resemblance in both looks and temperament to his childhood sweetheart, Eliza.
  • Romantic False Lead: Many, the biggest ones being Willoughby for Marianne and Lucy Steele for Edward.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Essentially the point of the novel -- Elinor and Austen alike both fall on the side of enlightenment, whereas Marianne is on the side of romanticism (the "cult of sensibility" of which she is a member was basically Romanticism in its early stages).
  • Sarcasm Mode: Austen's description of the "kindness" John Dashwood intends to show his half-sisters.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Edward
  • Second Love: Colonel Brandon for Marianne (and vice versa, in fact); Elinor for Edward; the trope could also apply to Mrs. Dashwood, who was her husband's second wife.
  • Secret Keeper: Elinor for Lucy and Brandon.
  • Secret Relationship: Edward and Lucy
  • Separated by a Common Language: Being "sensible" had a different meaning in Austen's time than it does now; sensibility in those days referred to an affection for things wild and untamed in nature. Nowadays, sense and sensibility mean pretty much the same thing. If the novel were written today it would probably be called Sense and Sensitivity.
  • Settle for Sibling: Planned by Mrs. Ferrars and ultimately happens... just not at all in the way she expected.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Elinor, who usually ignores the various conjectures and hints everybody makes about her love life, at one point finds herself obliged to tell John that no, she is not going to marry Colonel Brandon. John completely ignores her. He knows better, obviously.
  • Shipper on Deck: At one point half the cast seems to ship Elinor and Colonel Brandon. Elinor and Brandon... don't share their opinion.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Obviously.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Nancy Steele, Lucy's sister, acts this way about her Love Interest, identified only as "the Doctor" (probably not that one). Word of God did say that she doesn't get him.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Elinor's first choice -- and Marianne's second.
  • The Spock: Elinor, the "sense."
  • Spot of Tea: Elinor's solution to everything. It's surprising she didn't think to throw a scaldingly hot cup of tea on Lucy's head.
  • Stepford Smiler: Everyone to some extent except Marianne.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Elinor. Colonel Brandon also qualifies.
  • The Stoic: Elinor, who is actually a Stoic Woobie, suffering in silence.
  • Take Care of the Kids: John Dashwood promises his dying father that he will... and doesn't.
    • Also part of Colonel Brandon's backstory, when his cousin/first love Elizabeth dies and bequeaths her daughter to him.
  • Talk About the Weather: Everyone except Marianne, who complains about this. Elinor on the other hand is able to answer questions about the weather before they are asked.
  • Triang Relations: Elinor and Lucy both love Edward; Brandon and Willoughby both love Marianne.
  • Twice Shy: Elinor and Edward
  • The Vamp: Fanny Dashwood. The woman is a work of art. She talks her husband out of fulfilling his father's Last Request to Take Care of the Kids. Then she treats them with all sorts of coldness and contempt because they're living in what is now her house. Then she resents them for taking their own staff with them when they move out. She even resents the fact that they take their own belongings with them!
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Marianne and her mother
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Fanny, an excellent one. Miss Steele reveals Lucy's engagement. Fanny falls into violent hysterics and kicks them out of the house. Her husband's comment: "She has borne it all with the fortitude of an angel! She says she shall never think well of anybody again."
  • Wrong Guy First: Marianne with Willoughby; Edward goes through Wrong Girl First with Lucy.

Tropes relating to adaptations include:


Elinor: If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered now.

    • Played with in the movie; immediately after Elinor's outburst Marianne bursts into tears, forcing Elinor to console her and once again making it all about Marianne and her feelings.
  • Ill Girl: Marianne, after some time moping about in a damp garden. The movie makes it more believably by turning this into a long walk in a torrential downpour, to the point that some people remember that having happened in the book -- Emma Thompson on the DVD mentions having been very flattered when a fan told her that scene (Marianne walking to see Willoughby's house in the rain) was her favourite one in the book, since it meant Thompson had captured Austen's style perfectly.
  • Last-Name Basis: Colonel Brandon's first name is never revealed in the novel. (The 1995 movie gives him one -- Christopher -- which is mentioned only in the letter that accompanies the piano he buys for Marianne.)
  • Licensed Game: It's one of the three Austen novels that gets mashed up in the PC game Matches and Matrimony; Colonel Brandon is one of the suitors that the player character can potentially marry.
  • Recycled in Space: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters