Sense and Sensibility

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Themes and Colors
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Character, Sense, and Sensibility Theme Icon
Women in Society Theme Icon
Society and Strategy Theme Icon
Wealth, Class, and Greed Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sense and Sensibility, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Marriage Theme Icon

The plot of Sense and Sensibility revolves around marriage. The novel begins with Elinor and Marianne as unmarried but eligible young women and only concludes when both of them settle into marriages. Engagements, possible matches, and marriages are the main concern of most the novel’s characters and the subject of much of their conversation. Thus, love is also of central importance to the novel, as Marianne and Elinor fall in love and seek to marry the men they love.

However, marriage isn’t all about love in the world of Sense and Sensibility. In fact, it’s often more about wealth, uniting families, and gaining social standing. Moreover, it’s often families and parents who attempt to decide engagements as much as any individual husband or wife. Mrs. Ferrars, for example, cares only about her sons marrying wealthy, upper-class women. She does not care whether Edward loves Lucy and cuts all ties with him when she learns of their engagement. For her, the decision of whom her sons will marry is as much hers as theirs, because their marriages are more about their whole family than about their own individual desires.

Marriage is an important part of the functioning of the high society in which Austen’s characters live. It determines who will inherit family fortunes and properties, and is of particular importance to women, whose futures depend almost entirely on the prospects of the men they marry. Nonetheless, while people in the novel often marry for reasons other than love (Willoughby, for example, marries Miss Grey just for money), Elinor and Marianne ultimately do marry for love. For Marianne, though, this means redefining her notion of love and allowing herself to develop affections for Colonel Brandon, even though she did not love him at first sight. The novel also shows the importance of love through a consideration of family. The bonds between Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, and their mother stand strong through all the difficulties they endure and at the end of the novel they maintain a happily close relationship. Thus, while marriage may often be more a matter of economics than of love, the examples of Marianne and Elinor show that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. And, insofar as marriage brings families together and creates new family units, it can create strong and lasting bonds of familial love.

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Love and Marriage Quotes in Sense and Sensibility

Below you will find the important quotes in Sense and Sensibility related to the theme of Love and Marriage.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Some mothers might have encouraged the intimacy from motives of interest, for Edward Ferrars was the eldest son of a man who had died very rich; and some might have repressed it from motives of prudence, for, except a trifling sum, the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother. But Mrs. Dashwood was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her daughter, and that Elinor returned the partiality. It was contrary to every doctrine of hers that difference of fortune should keep any couple asunder who were attracted by resemblance of disposition.

Related Characters: Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor Dashwood, Edward Ferrars
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

A potential romantic interest is developing between Elinor and Edward Ferrars. Far more than in modern times, such a relationship in this milieu was not to be private and limited to the two people involved: instead, it was to be quickly wrapped up in broader economic and social questions involving the entire family and even other members of the community. Here we learn that Edward Ferrars could potentially be rich, but his wealth will depend on his mother's wishes. Austen often describes marriage as a kind of strategic game, and here the strategy of a mother would depend on her appetite for risk.

Mrs. Dashwood, however, is described as lacking any sense of strategy in marrying off her daughters, instead preferring that love guide the way. In a way, Mrs. Dashwood is thus shown in a more positive light than other mothers who care about nothing other than climbing the social ladder. But this novel is also skeptical that love and "resemblance of disposition" alone is enough in arranging a marriage, which, after all, would be the main way by which a woman in particular could ensure stability at this time and place. Mrs. Dashwood's lack of prudence means that Elinor will be on her own in attempting to play the game of class-based social relationships.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

You know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities as you call them you have from peculiar circumstances been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have been at times thrown a good deal together, while you have been engrossed on the most affectionate principle by my mother. I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. . . . At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome; or, at least, almost so.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood (speaker), Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, Edward Ferrars
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Elinor's relationship with Edward Ferrars has progressed to such a point that she can reasonably expect that he will extend an offer of marriage to her. However, at this point nothing is yet certain or official. As she talks with Marianne about the pros and cons of marrying Edward, Elinor is wary of plunging headlong into the possibility of a new life with him. She prefers to remain at a slight distance from the situation, carefully considering why she believes she would be making the right decision in marrying him.

Elinor's balanced, cool judgments will of course be shocking to Marianne, but they also strike a typical reader, versed in the expectations of romance in love and marriage, as surprising in the apparent lack of feeling. It seems that Elinor is not at all implicated in the life of the man she describes, instead attempting to cast impartial judgment on his abilities and worth. However, we have been told from the beginning of the book that just because Elinor is able to remain dispassionate does not mean that she lacks feeling, but instead that she is able to direct and manage it. This passage is almost a caricature of "sense" as a character trait, and yet we are meant not to recoil from Elinor's judgments but to seek to understand her embrace of sense over feeling.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Mrs. Jennings was a widow with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of the world. In the promotion of this object she was zealously active, as far as her ability reached; and missed no opportunity of projecting weddings among all the young people of her acquaintance.

Related Characters: Mrs. Jennings
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

As the mother of two daughters, Mrs. Jennings is in the position of having to be clever and strategic, not necessarily to encourage her children to move up the social ladder, but simply because women in this society cannot possess wealth themselves and so have little other opportunity to ensure their own stability other than marrying someone who will grant it to them. Mrs. Jennings has accomplished this task, but she has obviously taken a liking to the strategic games of society marriages - enough so that she takes pleasure in pursuing this game with others unrelated to her as well. Mrs. Jenning's character is portrayed as a bit silly and obsessive, and yet at the same time it is an understandable projection of the way marriage must take place in this society.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each—or if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm; and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

Related Characters: Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne has been shown to be dissatisfied and impatient with the way Elinor has acted regarding Edward Ferrars, and with the sensible judgments on their compatibility or lack thereof that define how Elinor understands her relationships. Marianne's interactions with Willoughby could not be more different. Here, finally, she has the chance to measure what "taste" might mean in another; it turns out that sharing the same taste - books and passages "idolized," for instance - is, for Marianne, a sign of shared sensibility and thus of complete compatibility. She takes the fact that they feel the same way about such things to be indicative of strength of character, not simply of shared interests. Marianne holds the deeply romantic view of shared souls, believing in signs that two people can be meant for each other if they share certain feelings. She is so strident in this belief that she breaks with social custom in getting to know Willoughby much more quickly than is usually the case.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at all times, was an illustration of their opinions.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Elinor might prefer for Marianne to be in love with Colonel Brandon, who adores her and for whom Elinor feels great compassion, since he has loved and lost before. Still, she is not one to judge Marianne's choice of suitor - she disapproves only of the way in which Marianne chooses to carry out this courtship. Here, the narrator makes another distinction between the characters of Marianne and Elinor, one that can be mapped onto the difference between sense and sensibility. For Marianne, attempting to conceal one's feelings for another person, or even one's beliefs in general, is dishonest and disingenuous. If there is nothing wrong with how she feels about Willoughby, as she believes (and he does he as well), then there is no reason for her to hide how she feels about him.

Elinor, however, believes that such openness is not a positive trait in any circumstances, even if the reasons are justifiable. Since she can never know what might happen next or where things may go wrong, it is better, she finds, not to share everything with the world. Marriage, in particular, is such a bedrock of society and such an important means of stability for women that she considers it better to be prudent rather than to expose one's feelings immediately.

Chapter 23 Quotes

Her resentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas, other considerations, soon arose. Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive!

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Edward Ferrars, Lucy Steele
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Elinor has learned from Lucy Steele that she and Edward Ferrars are engaged. Understandably unwilling to share the details of her own past with Edward, and committed to remaining calm and friendly to this woman rather than break with decorum and expose her true feelings, Elinor is nonetheless shocked by the news. In great inner turmoil, she returns to the conclusions that she had carefully, cautiously drawn based on what she had experienced with Edward.

At first, Elinor questions these conclusions: but her rational side soon returns, as she recognizes that his character is the same as it always was, and he could not have simply changed his personality so suddenly and briefly. As she returns to the confidence of Edward's love for her, her confusion and shock are somewhat assuaged. She still cannot understand how or why Edward is engaged, but she is confident that he does not love Lucy, and this knowledge - even though, in this world, it may well mean that he could marry Lucy anyway - helps to stabilize her feelings at a difficult moment.

Chapter 28 Quotes

At that moment she first perceived him, and her whole countenance glowing with sudden delight, she would have moved towards him instantly, had not her sister caught hold of her.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "he is there—he is there—Oh! why does he not look at me? why cannot I speak to him?"
"Pray, pray be composed," cried Elinor, "and do not betray what you feel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet."
This however was more than she could believe herself; and to be composed at
such a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne, it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience which affected every feature.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood (speaker), Marianne Dashwood (speaker), John Willoughby
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne and Elinor have arrived at Lady Middleton's party, and Marianne has caught a glimpse of Willoughby from the other side of the room. Even though Willoughby has failed to return Marianne's messages and to get in touch with her while the sisters are in London, Marianne doesn't think anything might be amiss, and is absolutely delighted to see him. Elinor, on the other hand, is more skeptical. Even if she believed that everything was ideal between Marianne and Willoughby, she would still believe it better for Marianne to reign in her emotions and to "keep composed," as she says, if only so as not to share everything she feels with everyone in the room.

It is even more important, in Elinor's eyes, that Marianne act with greater reserve, since Elinor is thinking more rationally regarding the couple's relationship, and is wary of what Willoughby's present situation might actually be. Once again, the book emphasizes that Marianne's embrace of sensibility is not simply because she has no ability to restrain herself, but because she believes earnestness or openness to be a positive good, such that she sees no reason to change her actions.

Chapter 31 Quotes

“He had left the girl whose youth and innocence he had seduced, in a situation of the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her, promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, nor relieved her."
"This is beyond every thing!" exclaimed Elinor.
"His character is now before you; expensive, dissipated, and worse than both.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood (speaker), Colonel Brandon (speaker), Colonel Brandon, Eliza (Younger)
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

Colonel Brandon has shared with Elinor a long story that, he believes, will make clear what Willoughby's character is truly like. The story seems to prove Willoughby's irresponsibility and indecency: it ends with him abandoning a girl, while pregnant, whom he had seduced. Elinor is of course shocked by this tale, especially as she realizes to an even greater extent how little she (or Marianne) had understood of Willoughby's true character. She is not confused as to what Willoughby is really like; instead, here as elsewhere, the book defines character as something consistent and stable - one might not fully know another person, but that is only because one has not learned all there is to be learned about the person, not because the person is inconsistent or overly complex.

Brandon finally is confident enough to make a sweeping statement about Willoughby's character by the end of his story, though he had begun apologetically, unwilling to smear someone's reputation rather than allow that reputation to come forth naturally. Now, though, Elinor can be grateful to Brandon for exposing Willoughby's past to her, and for helping her to understand the root of Willoughby's actions regarding Marianne.

Chapter 37 Quotes

All that Mrs. Ferrars could say to make him put an end to the engagement, assisted too as you may well suppose by my arguments, and Fanny's entreaties, was of no avail. Duty, affection, every thing was disregarded. I never thought Edward so stubborn, so unfeeling before. His mother explained to him her liberal designs, in case of his marrying Miss Morton; told him she would settle on him the Norfolk estate, which, clear of land-tax, brings in a good thousand a-year; offered even, when matters grew desperate, to make it twelve hundred; and in opposition to this, if he still persisted in this low connection, represented to him the certain penury that must attend the match. His own two thousand pounds she protested should be his all; she would never see him again; and so far would she be from affording him the smallest assistance, that if he were to enter into any profession with a view of better support, she would do all in her power to prevent him advancing in it.

Related Characters: John Dashwood (speaker), Fanny Dashwood, Edward Ferrars, Mrs. Ferrars, Miss Morton
Page Number: 249-250
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Ferrars is absolutely hysterical upon learning of her son Edward's engagement with Lucy Steele, and here Marianne and Elinor learn, through John Dashwood, just how far Mrs. Ferrars will go to try to convince Edward to act according to her wishes. In close detail, John Dashwood describes exactly which financial and social rewards she dangles in front of her son, as well as the economic punishments that will ensue if Edward persists in marrying Lucy.

Mrs. Ferrars is acting according to her own understanding of what is proper for a particular social class. Lucy is far below Edward in both rank and income, so while her marriage to Edward would represent a step up for her (and a way to gain greater stability, of course), for Edward it can only represent a social failure. Mrs. Ferrars, however, takes something that is socially common at this time - a concern for class differences - and takes it to its absolute, absurd extreme. Edward, meanwhile, may no longer be in love with Lucy, but his sense of honor prevents him from breaking his engagement with her. Society of course respects honor as well, which is why some people will respect Edward's choice; for others, however, the economic and social clash represented by their engagement is simply too much to stand, so Mrs. Ferrars can only be in the right.

Chapter 45 Quotes

Willoughby, he, whom only half an hour ago she had abhorred as the most worthless of men, Willoughby, in spite of all his faults, excited a degree of commiseration for the sufferings produced by them, which made her think of him as now separated for ever from her family, with a tenderness, a regret, rather in proportion, as she soon acknowledged within herself—to his wishes than to his merits. She felt that his influence over her mind was heightened by circumstances which ought not in reason to have weight; by that person of uncommon attraction, that open, affectionate, and lively manner which it was no merit to possess; and by that still ardent love for Marianne, which it was not even innocent to indulge.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

After Willoughby has shared his long story with Elinor, she finds herself once again having to reevaluate his character, having to reevaluate the significance of his prior actions - and, in particular, the relationship between his behavior and his true feelings for Marianne. She is initially wary of feeling any pity for a man who caused her sister such pain, and whom she knows to have made a great deal of mistakes in his life. However, she is now confident that Willoughby can never be with Marianne: he is "separated for ever from her family."

Elinor regretfully admits to herself that she is allowing her own sensibility to win out to a certain extent over her sense: her judgment of Willoughby is softened by her knowledge that he still deeply loves Marianne. Still, she has come to recognize that she finally understands his character better than she ever has. She and Marianne were privy only to an aspect of it while he and Marianne were courting, and Colonel Brandon exposed a greater, though incomplete, part of it: now his character lies open to be judged and understood as well-intentioned and fundamentally good but also deeply weak.

Chapter 46 Quotes

As they approached Barton, indeed, and entered on scenes of which every field and every tree brought some peculiar, some painful recollection, she grew silent and thoughtful, and turning away her face from their notice, sat earnestly gazing through the window. But here, Elinor could neither wonder nor blame; and when she saw, as she assisted Marianne from the carriage, that she had been crying, she saw only an emotion too natural in itself to raise any thing less tender than pity, and in its unobtrusiveness entitled to praise. In the whole of her subsequent manner, she traced the direction of a mind awakened to reasonable exertion; for no sooner had they entered their common sitting-room, than Marianne turned her eyes around it with a look of resolute firmness, as if determined at once to accustom herself to the sight of every object with which the remembrance of Willoughby could be connected.

Related Characters: Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Marianne has finally recovered enough from her illness to travel with Elinor and their mother back home to Barton. Marianne hasn't been here since she and Willoughby were in the midst of a happy courtship, and now everything she sees reminds her of Willoughby. Still, it is obvious that Marianne has grown up a great deal in the time since she left. Her "resolute firmness" is certainly something new, as she comes to terms with the fact that she will have to suffer the recollection of Willoughby for some time yet.

The novel is clear in pointing out that Marianne's character does not undergo a complete revolution. She is still quite susceptible to emotional exaggeration, and she cannot entirely reign in her emotions: she cries much of the way home, for instance. But we are meant to see that significant life experiences can work some changes on people, so that within the character traits that define them a certain measure of development is actually possible.

Chapter 48 Quotes

Elinor could sit it no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease. Edward, who had till then looked any where, rather than at her, saw her hurry away, and perhaps saw—or even heard, her emotion; for immediately afterwards he fell into a reverie, which no remarks, no inquiries, no affectionate address of Mrs. Dashwood could penetrate, and at last, without saying a word, quitted the room, and walked out towards the village—leaving the others in the greatest astonishment and perplexity on a change in his situation, so wonderful and so sudden;—a perplexity which they had no means of lessening but by their own conjectures.

Related Characters: Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor Dashwood, Edward Ferrars
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

Edward has just shared with the Dashwood family that he has not married Lucy: instead, it is his brother Robert who is now married to her. As soon as she hears this news, Elinor - for the first time in the novel - cannot restrain her own joy. We have recently seen Marianne adopt some of her sister's sense, and now the opposite is taking place, as Elinor seems to have been affected by her sister's sensibility. Of course, some things never change: Elinor still finds it necessary to hide her tears from the company of others, even as it is most likely obvious to Edward how she has reacted.

Just as Marianne's experiences have shown her that sense can be a positive trait, Elinor's emotional outpouring now proves itself to be advantageous, as it seems to show Edward how Elinor truly feels about him, without her having to loudly proclaim her love for him. As the book draws to a close, the polar nodes of sense and sensibility are shown to be less opposites than alternative choices in a certain situation, choices that can be balanced between each other in deciding how to react.

Chapter 49 Quotes

One question after this only remained undecided, between them, one difficulty only was to be overcome. They were brought together by mutual affection, with the warmest approbation of their real friends; their intimate knowledge of each other seemed to make their happiness certain—and they only wanted something to live upon. Edward had two thousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with Delaford living, was all that they could call their own; for it was impossible that Mrs. Dashwood should advance anything; and they were neither of them quite enough in love to think that three hundred and fifty pounds a-year would supply them with the comforts of life.

Related Characters: Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor Dashwood, Edward Ferrars
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

Edward knows that he cannot expect much of an income from his mother, since she is most likely still angry at him about his former engagement to Lucy. As readers, we are meant to look down upon Lucy's openly social-climbing behavior - and yet the novel does not embrace love and romance as wholeheartedly as that tone might suggest. After all, while the narrator has sought to portray the poles of sense and sensibility as relatively balanced options, the scales have always been tilted towards the side of sense.

In a society in which marriage is not just a declaration of love but a contract that can be enormously significant in terms of social and economic status and mobility, it is not something to be treated lightly, according to the novel. Nor is an emphasis on practical matters like income to be considered anti-romantic: indeed, love and mutual affection is only possible, the novel argues, when there is a strong base of stability undergirding it. Financial stability, then, is valued even as full-throated greed is looked down upon, and love is able to coexist with an interest in material comforts rather than remain as a sphere apart.