Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jane Austen
Jane Austen was the seventh child of the parish rector in the town of Steventon, where she and her family resided until moving to Bath in 1801. Though her parents were members of the English gentry, they remained relatively poor. Modest to a fault about the value of her work, Jane Austen nevertheless produced some of the enduring masterpieces of English literature, including the novels Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion. Her novels were published anonymously until after her death, when her authorship became known. While it was not unheard of for women to publish under their own names in Austen's lifetime, it was still a rarity. Despite the fact that her books focus on the intricate rituals of courtship and marriage among the British middle class, Austen herself remained single throughout her life, preferring the life of a writer over that of a wife and hostess.
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Historical Context of Sense and Sensibility
Austen's novels are famous for the way they seem to exist in a small, self-contained universe. There are almost no references in her work to the events of the larger world. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Austen's depiction of life in the tranquil English countryside takes place at the same time when England was fighting for its life against the threat of Napoleon, and all of Europe was embroiled in war and political chaos. No mention is ever made of the imminence of a French invasion in her novels. Napoleon was finally defeated by the British at Waterloo in 1815, two years before Austen's death.
Other Books Related to Sense and Sensibility
Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, English literature underwent a dramatic transition. The 18th century had seen the rise of the novel in the works of writers like Daniel Defoe (Moll Flanders) and Samuel Richardson (Pamela). These novels focused on broad social issues of morality and domestic manners. With the turn of the century and the rise of Romanticism, however, the novel began to explore human relationships with a greater degree of emotional complexity. Neither a Classicist nor a Romantic, Jane Austen is perhaps best thought of as a pioneering figure in the development of the novel, providing the bridge from the often didactic novels of an earlier era to the great works of psychological realism of the Victorian period by writer such as George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.
Key Facts about Sense and Sensibility
  • Full Title: Sense and Sensibility
  • When Written: 1790s
  • Where Written: Steventon, Hampshire, England
  • When Published: 1811
  • Literary Period: Classicism/Romanticism
  • Genre: Novel of manners
  • Setting: Late 18th century England, at various country estates and in London
  • Climax: Edward unexpectedly shows up to Barton Cottage, tells Elinor that his engagement with Lucy has fallen through, and proposes to her.
  • Antagonist: Willoughby is in a sense the antagonist to Marianne, as he is the main barrier to her happiness for much of the novel. For Elinor, Lucy Steele fulfills this role, blocking her hopes of marrying Edward for most of the novel.
Extra Credit for Sense and Sensibility

Jane Who? Austen originally published Sense and Sensibility under the pseudonym “A Lady.” It was only published under her name after her death.

Elinor and Marianne. Austen originally wrote Sense and Sensibility as an epistolary novel, i.e. a novel told through a series of letters. This early version was entitled Elinor and Marianne. Some letters still remain in Sense and Sensibility, and Elinor and Marianne are still the novel’s protagonists. But, Austen changed the novel’s title to reflect the tendencies of character that each protagonist exemplifies.