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Jane Austen And Sense Over Sensibility English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4406 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Sense and Sensibility is a novel about how Dashwood sisters found their love with sense and sensibility in their hearts, perfect combinations bring a happy ending to these two sisters, but it makes me wonder if there were not combination and then they to choose one between sense and sensibility, what would happened? Which one is the more realistic in the relationship world? This article will discuss these two sisters: Elinor and Marianne respectively and try to imagine what would happen if they did peruse sensibility instead sense. After the discussion, we may find out what is the more realistic in the relationship.

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1. Introduction

Jane Austen is one of the great novelists of English literature. Having completed six classical novels in all her life time, Jane Austen has attained highly artistic achievements. Sense and Sensibility, the first novel of Austen is a good representation, which has been reproduced several times since its first publication in 1811.The story is about Elinor and Marianne, two daughters of Mr Dashwood, about how they encounter the conflict between sense and sensibility of life and love after all the events they've been through in the novel. Impetuous Marianne Dashwood tumbles into a fairytale romance that goes sour, and her practical elder sister Elinor copes with the family's financial problems while she tries to hide her own frustrated romantic hopes.

A lot of analysis focus on novels of Jane Austen. When literature and art critics study Sense and Sensibility, they always wonder whether sense dominates sensibility or not. There is a complicated relation between sense and sensibility. By reading this novel, readers would find out Austen wandered up and down about sense or sensibility on the surface. But if readers go further to the main characters, Elinor and Marianne,readers will find Austen attempted to combine sense and sensibility, even let sense dominate sensibility.

Though the context, Elinor and Marianne overcame every heartbreak and found true love, but what if they had not had enough sense in their hearts when they encountered all the unexpected events? Consequently, it's necessary to probe into Jane Austen's experiences of life and emotion.

The present essay will introduce researches about Sense and Sensibility at home and abroad , then it will discuss the battle of Dashwood sisters based on their different personalities. It will also try to analyze the sense and sensibility of the author, Jane Austen, via her real life and social background. Eventually, this paper primarily demonstrates how sense conquers sensibility.

2. Literature Review

Jane Austen and the fiction of hers has been delved widely since A Memoir of Jane Austen which was written by Austen's nephew James E Austen, has published in 1870.Studies on Sense and Sensibility are numerous. For instance, John Wiltshire has analyzed cultural connotation of Austen's novels in the perspective of gender and psychology(Zhangqun,2008).Janet Todd has introduced Austen's six novels including Sense and Sensibility .She held that the contrast in sense and sensibility is integrate inside."The intensity of Marianne dominates a first reading of Sense and Sensibility, but a second may be more attuned to the interiority and suffering of Elinor"(Todd,2008:54).Gergana V. Adams has examined and analyzed the sisters' actions and thoughts, Gergana V. Adams pointed out they achieved a balance between sense and sensibility(Adams,2003).

In China, many scholars have studied Sense and Sensibility in the past few decades. For example, Huang lixiu has analyzed and classified some classic conversations of the characters in Sense and Sensibility. She pointed out that some rhetoric patterns in the conversation explored the characters' personality as well as reflected the social phenomenon at that time¼ˆHuang xiuli,2004:10¼‰.Zhaoyu analyzed three Austen's novels which includes Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma and found that all the female protagonists experience the same growth pattern, making mistakes, error correction, and then ultimately finding new places in society(Zhaoyu,2010:5).

Sense and Sensibility attracts scholars' attention since its first version was published and its popularity lasts until today. Studies of this novel have been covered many aspects such as its plot, images of characters and history background when it comes to the elements of a novel. There are researches on diction grammar and pragmatics when it comes to linguistics.And discussions about incitation of feminism when it comes to historical sociology.

Based on the previous researches of scholars, this article aims at analyzing the typical characters, the Dashwood sisters, and Austen's reason and emotion. It points out that(加上你的论æ-‡ç»“论¼Œæ³¨æ„ç”¨æ­£ç¡®çš„表达)

The Battle between Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility is a story about two heroines, Elinor Dashwood and Marianne Dashwood, with Elinor representing'sense'and Marianne representing'sensibility'. Along with their mother and younger sister Margaret, these two sisters were left impoverished after the death of their father, and the family was forced to move to a country cottage, offered by a generous relative Sir John Middleton. Elinor formed an attachment to the gentle and courteous man Edward Ferrars, unaware that he has already engaged with Lucy Steele, the niece of his tutor. Marianne met John Willoughby after her family moved to Barton .Willoughby is a dashing figure who charms Marianne and leads her into behavior which is generally understood that they engaged among their mutual acquaintances (?). After Elinor and Marianne experienced both romance and heartbreak ,the contrast between the sister's characters are eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness.

3.1 Elinor's Sense

Elinor, the stander of sense,is a rational girl with strong feelings and cool head. Elinor embodies a discreet and rather quiet form of good sense.

Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual,possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence.She had an excellent heart;-her disposition was affectionate,and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn;and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.(Austen,1992:4)(引用多æ-‡å­-的格式¼Œè¯·æŸ¥)

To put the matter in another way, there is a conflict between "sense" and "sensibility" within the mind of the character(Geng,2006:91). Every stage in the progress of her thinking sees one tendency militating against another and each step taken constitutes a serious moral consideration.

Elinor and Edward Ferrars, who was a pleasant, unassuming, intelligent but reserved young man , were clearly attracted to each other and Mrs Dashwood cherished hope that they would marry. But Elinor didn't share a lot about her feelings with Edward that she was sorry of the warmth she had been betrayed into(?), when she talked about Edward with Marianne. She believes Edward has the same feelings as she has, but it's impossible for her to feel easy on this subject. Therefore when Edward pays the Dashwoods a short visit at Barton Cottage but Elinor seems unhappy and out of sorts. She feared that he no longer has feelings for her. But as rational she always is, she does not allow anyone to see her wallow in her sadness, feeling it her duty to stay calm for the sake of her mother and sisters, who dote on Edward and have firm faith in his love for Elinor .

Elinor is a character capable of showing strong emotions even though she is also capable of controlling them (Geng,2006:91). Her composure as a sign that she is emotionally more stable than her younger sister, a point of no less importance is how Elinor exemplifies her contemporary society's unhealthy obsession with secrets. Elinor always thinks how her actions or behavior would reflect on others around her. It appears that every person who is acquainted with the sisters tends to trust some sensitive information to Elinor, most likely because they observe her quietness and judge that their secret will be safe with her. Very few of these secrets reach Marianne without first going through Elinor.

When Lucy knows that Elinor has attachment to Edward, the selfish Lucy tells her secret engagement to Elinor and asks her to keep it. Because Lucy senses a rival's interest and wants to forestall her. From then on, Elinor keeps the secret and listens to Lucy complain about Edward, holding her breath to let everything happen smoothly. Lucy knows that her taunting provocation will not dent Elinor's courtesy .Elinor is obliged to tease from Lucy what she wants to know about Edward but gives no sign of being rattled or jealous . Her manner of pushing Lucy for details about Edward's constancy and probing about Mrs Ferrars are both manipulative. She is trying to deceive others that she is indifferent to this match in order to avoid social scandal .And when Elinor knows that the engagement is discovered and Edward is disinherited in immediate favor of his brother, Robert, she feels sorry and helps Edward find a parsonage on Brandon's estate at Delaford .

Finally when Edward came to Barton to propose to her and in the process of explaining that Lucy actually married his younger brother Robert. "Elinor could stand it no longer. She almost run out of the room; and, as soon as the door is closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease "(Austen,1992:278).She has lost her composure. Fortunately Edward eventually becomes reconciled with his mother, who give him ten thousand pounds. He also reconciles with his sister Fanny. Edward and Elinor marry and move into the parsonage at Delaford.

From the story we can see that Elinor is considerate and trys her best to conceal her true feeling from Edward for the sake of Edward. No one has ever sensed her sorrow and unhappiness. What's more , she has to take care of Marianne, who get a heartbreak from Willoughby . Her sense leads her through every unhappiness she has suffered to a happy ending with Edward.

3.2 Marianne's Sensibility

Marianne is another heroine of the story, the stander of sensibility. She is quite different from her sister Elinor.

Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great. (Austen,1992:4)

With intelligence but with great romantic illusion of love, this personality makes her love a dashing young man, Willoughby¼ˆ¼Ÿ¼‰. Marianne met Willoughby when she go out on such a jaunt ,when Marianne was running down the hill on the rainy day, she tripped and sprained her ankle .Then She's assisted back home by a mysterious gentleman who's out hunting. Marianne is overwhelmed by his courtesy, handsomeness, and general romantic nature .She falls head-over-heels for Willoughby in a matter of minutes. Her emotional state calls for all her attention to be given to Willoughby. Though others may consider her behavior improper or be offended , it does not enter her mind. "She even let Willoughby take up her scissors and cut off a long lock of her hair, for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book"(Austen,1992:44), that has made every mutual acquaintances think that Willoughby was engaged with Marianne.

But happiness won't last long, Willoughby has got to leave Devonshire for the town. Marianne is completely overwhelmed by sorrow and self-pity. She does nothing but cry and swan around, thinking of her good times with Willoughby.

She was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself .The slightest mention of anything relative to Willoughby overpowered her in an instant; and though her family were most anxiously attentive to her comfort, it was impossible for them, if they spoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which her feelings connected with him .(Austen,1992:62)

When she went to London , she wrote several letters to Willoughby hoping that he would pay a visit, but Willoughby never showed up. Therefore when she saw Willoughby at a ball, Willoughby snubbed her coldly. Marianne effectively ignores her hostess and society, and is being rude to her well-intentioned sister because she is upset that Willoughby fails to contact her. Later Willoughby wrote to Marianne, basically tells her that he doesn't care for her, and never has.

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Marianne goes into a social shell, disregarding the way she looks or dresses in public, because she has no interest in society without Willoughby being in it and thinks that no one around her can understand her pains. In addition, "Marianne ignores the social circles like this because she despises their concerns and their interests "(Fox, 2009). Meanwhile Colonel Brandon , who Marianne never admires and regards as an old bachelor incapable of falling in love or inspiring love in anyone else ,tells Elinor that Willoughby has seduced Brandon's ward and abandoned her when she became pregnant .Marianna is shocked but she decides to keep the secret.

When they begin their return trip to Barton via Cleveland from London, Marianne takes long, melancholic walks in the rain, thinking about how close Willoughby's home, Combe Magna. Marianne neglects her health as a natural consequence of her long walks, and becomes dangerously ill that everyone thinks she's going to die. Hearing of Marianna serious illness, Willoughby arrives suddenly and reveals to Elinor that he truly loved Marianne, but since he was disinherited when his benefactress discovered his seduction of Miss Williams, he decided to marry the wealthy Miss Grey who he didn't have any affections for. Elinor tells Marianne about Willoughby's visit. Marianne admits that although she loved Willoughby, she could not have been happy with the libertine father of an illegitimate child, even if he had stood by her. Readers may firmly find that Marianne becomes rational after her recovery. She starts living more quietly when they come back home, and eventually learns to return to Colonel Brandon's affections and get married.

Marianne's romantic sensibilities almost lead to her death. She make herself so vulnerable, so dependent on her love for Willoughby that when he was gone she almost "died for love." And it wasn't quite as glorious a situation as she may have imagined it in her mind. She, followed her feeling to Willoughby, ignored Elinor's suggestion and feelings, which made her grief-stricken and she cries her eyes out for days, eats little When Willoughby dumped her. Apparently her sensibility would lead her to death if she didn't wake up from her painful dream.

3.3 The Inclination from Sensibility to Sense

In Sense and Sensibility, the foreground contrast is the characters between Marianne and Elinor. Marianne insists on claiming intimacy with Willoughby in a crowded ballroom. She judges the rightness of her actions by her feeling alone. Her behavior causes her to suffer, and severely postpones her happiness. In contrast, prudent Elinor painfully hears out Lucy Steele's story of Edward Ferrars' secret engagement with her. Elinor's self-control is contingent, dependent on her control of others. She seeks to find out the hurtful truth while convincing Lucy of her perfect serenity and propriety.

Giving readers an overview of Sense and Sensibility, readers can find that this novel proceeds in two phases. In the first, the Dashwood sisters are shown in their original circumstances. Besides, readers are shown their basic temperaments, and the qualities of their nature which make for their happiness in this environment. In this phase the irony is cheerful and overt; the intriguers are ingenuous rather than ingenious; it is usually not yet clear to what fatalities the Marainne's nature is endangering her(?).In brief, the first phase exhibits Marianne surrounded by bars of her cage. The second phase begins with the appearance of the intriguers, Lucy Steele and Willoughby. This phase also brings to a crisis whatever in Marianne's nature constitutes an obstacle to her favorable destiny. The effect of both elements is usually to make Marianne aware of her confinement, or of the painfulness of it, as never before, and secondly to make the confinement seem inevitable and permanent just when she is developing urgent desires for a release.

Thus the society of this novel is set in opposition to true personal relationship. Society sets constraints on the individuals. It also offers deceitful opportunities of escape from these constraints. Marianne has to discover her own way of release. First she has to recognize the deceits for what they are. Then she must reach a deeper understanding of mutual relationship than society as such can offer(?), which is (?我加的)not abolishing the constraints but making them irrelevant, since they do not exist to constrain this inner freedom of love.

Society is opposed to the personal¼ˆæ„æ€ä¸æ˜Ž¼‰ because it tempts Marianne to seek the superficial and factitious in place of the genuine and deep. But it won't oppose Elinor's manner and behavior to which she is expected to conform. Some odd paradoxes result from this independence of personal relationship as Jane Austen presents it. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne is the romantic heroine who wants to marry without deference to society's prejudices, but her romantic lover plays her false because he loves money too much. And it is her prudent sister Elinor, and Elinor's very unromantic lover who make the "romantic" match, while Marianne ends by marrying the safe and reliable Colonel Brandon. Marianne's mistake is not that she wants her marriage to be a love match or nothing, but that she insists on behaving as though the social circumstances are unreal. Elinor and Edward, on the other hand, marry because they love each other, in indifference to his family's indignation, but not before they can find a means of living together above the level of misery.

"Sense and Sensibility alerts the readers to the potential complication not only between 'sense' and 'sensibility', but also within each of 'sense' and 'sensibility'" (Geng,2006:82). It's clear that neither of the two sisters monopolizes a set of values signifying purely either "sense" or "sensibility". The first chapter acknowledges that Elinor has an excellent heart, and string feelings as well as prudence, and that Marianne has sense as well as sensibility. Marianne depends for her identity on Elinor's standards; Elinor fears the force of Marianne's sympathy. Sometimes it is difficult to identify who is sensible, who is sensitive, because the battle between them becomes obscure as the plot develops. The two sisters combine both sense and sensibility. And the combination of sense and sensibility brings a happy ending to them. But what if Elinor became not rational enough and Marianne still been so sentimental, and what if these two sisters followed their feelings and listened to their hearts, ignored the significace of sense, what would happen? So readers can conclude that sense is more important, versus sensibility.

4. Jane Austen's Reason and Emotion

By discussing the battle between sense and sensibility, it can be obviously found that Austen is in favor of the domination of "sense" rather than "sensibility". "Elinor's view of the self as social, not isolated, is also the narrator's"(Brownstein,1997:43).

Like all Jane Austen's novels, Sense and Sensibility is a comedy that ends in marriages, which traditionally affirm the connections between desire and social convention. Through the novel, conventional polite behavior is dominated by the perception of sensible emotions rather than the convention of sensibility. According to Ian Watt,"Austen does not visualize the course of the individual life as a process of climbing to higher and higher planes of aesthetic perfection and moral insight"(Watt,qtd. in Geng 2006:115).To some extent, she is not a Romantic.

Dating back to Austen's time, she lived in a graceful countryside with her middle-class family. Her family offered her a good condition for study. Though her school experience was brief and insignificant, most of her education was received at home. The traditional education taught Austen to focus on the reason rather than the domination of feeling and imagination. She prefers to the social conventions rather than romanticism.

Jane Austen's youthful horizon was dominated by Samuel Johnson and William Cowper. Johnson was the greatest man of letters in the literary scene in the mid-eighteenth century; Cowper was the most eminent poet in the later of eighteenth century. Johnson seems to have been the prose-writer she most admired, and Cowper her favourite poet. They both strongly religious, but were obsessed with a awe of death; they were strongly critical of society and often of the same social vices, tough with differences of emphasis. But the deepest quality that they shared may seem a relative one: both men abhorred affectation profound truth fullness of nature which gives their writings, dissimilar as they are.

4.1 The Root of Reason

"Johnson's conception of the human condition is closer to Jane Austen's than is that of Cowper, for Cowper's belief in predestination distorted his vision" (Todd,2008:62). Johnson believed that living is striving,and that he has the deepest satisfaction. Jane Austen did not agree with Johnson merely in the sense that she modelled characters upon him. She was an engrained Augustan of his sort in her way. Her works express a faith of the incongruity between pretence and reality,which makes irony to become a prevalent tone in eighteenth-century writing. It is most conveniently observes in this novel.

Thus it is worth pointing out a few of their characteristics that show them to be in line with Johnson's opinion. With a few significant exceptions, those of her characters who take life easily and lightly achieve success for themselves , are commonly just those happiness for themselves or for others. Here one thinks particularly of the "charming" young men, Willoughby. That who achieve at least the prospect of true happiness are often that who begin with the worst prospects and have to undergo the greatest difficulties. The obvious example is the heroine, Elinor Dashwood, burdened with a sense of responsibility, unlike her pretty, romantic sister Marianne. There is also the hero of Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars ,Elinor's lover, whose deep feelings and oppressed conscience dull any natural charm he may possess, in contrast to the facile and irresponsible Willoughby who is Marianne's lover.

Austen makes clear her limited point that the word "heroine" need not connote romantic extravagance , and the character and her story are not likely to have much to do with real experience. Toward the end of her life , Austen seems to have felt that the point was no longer worth making. But the passage retains its freshness,"because its point carries beyond the ephemeral problem of the relevance to life of just one kind of fiction to the perennial one of the relevance of all fiction, and indeed of all art"(Geng, 2006:57).

4.2 The Root of Emotion

In Jane Austen's background there is Cowper influence as well as a Johnson's. Cowper has side of the later eighteenth-century mind which contrasts with Johnson's, showing in his poetry. "They shared an immense contempt for affectation and emotional flightiness, but whereas Johnson attacked them with excoriating contempt of his scenes which evoked for him the most solemn and purest feelings"(Todd,2008:68).

"It is poetry of an intense, personal sensibility, reading it is often like experiencing an intimate conversation with a truthful but very private mind "(Todd, 2008:55). Austen's recurrent themes are always reflected in the literatures. Those shape and nourish a character's attitudes to the world.

Johnson's reason and Cowper' emotion complement each other like the masculine and feminine principles of her art. But they do so because neither writer denies or contradicts the other's premises. On the contrary these premises supplement each other, by a common basis of good faith in the concern of both writers for human need.

5. Conclusion

In this novel, "sense" and "sensibility " are dialectical elements. Although Elinor is set up as the representative of the traditional moral values, on the contrary, Marianne is sentimental and enthusiastic."Sensibility", like "sense", play an important role in one's real life. However, sense must first be given to the complex human matters. Austen perceives that sense encourages realistic behavior. "Elinor's sense avoid her extreme behaviors,and control her emotion. While Marianne's sensibility excruciatingly dramatized her life"(Geng,2006:117).

Therefore, it can be found that Elinor's sense is more realistic than Marianne's sensibility. Although Jane Austen's thinking is full of contrast, she still endorses Elinor's reason and thinks Marianne's behavior is unwise. Austen argues how overwhelmed Maraianne is by expectations of female passion leading to death. At the end of this novel, it can be demonstrated that Marianne's idealism is guided by sense. Thus the two narratives come together in the conclusion. After suffering some of the sharpest struggles that can human beings overcome tough circumstances by sense rather than sensibility.


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