Critical Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

The novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen is fundamentally about two sisters and their conquests for love and marriage. The driving factors behind who they eventually marry, however, are what make the story intriguing. Austen has created a delightful parallelism between the two eldest Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. While the circumstances they face are similar, their reactions to them are quite different.

** This is a critical review, which means the work will be discussed in its entirety. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want spoilers, stop right here! **

Each sister has a love interest and, while Elinor goes about falling for Edward in a calm and collected way, Marianne jumps in with both feet and becomes deeply enraptured with Willoughby. When the sisters are separated from the men, Elinor hardly seems to notice. She doesn’t so much as write a letter or look for one to come. Marianne, however, is in hysterical fits over the idea of not seeing Willoughby for a few weeks. The plot twists and, instead of being a simple love story, becomes one of heartbreak. When Elinor learns that Edward has been engaged to another woman for years, she keeps it a secret and even though she is distressed, there is no outward sign of it. Marianne has no suspicions that something could be bothering Elinor. But, when Marianne learns that Willoughby is engaged to another woman, she is barely consolable, does not eat or sleep for days, and is found to be crying often. Even around company and those she does not know well, it is obvious that she is suffering.

When we look at the men causing such grief to the Miss Dashwoods, we see that their actions are driven by greed and are the result of poor decisions. Like the sisters, we see two men in similar situations, who respond differently. Edward made a poor decision in proposing to Lucy Steele when he was young and had not yet seen much of the world. He fell out of love with her and grew attracted to Elinor. Yet, he keeps to his decision and remains engaged to Lucy, so as not to break his promise to her. Willoughby, however, believes himself free of commitment though he has engaged physically with Eliza. Edward denies himself the love of Elinor to keep his commitment to Lucy, denies himself the possibility of becoming very rich by marrying a third prospect, and denies himself his own fortune in order to keep his commitment to Lucy, though he no longer loves her. Willoughby is not such an upstanding man. While he is in love with Marianne, he does not hesitate to marry Eliza. Though it appears that he is making her an honest woman, his true reason for choosing her is that she is much richer than Marianne. He states outright that he has expensive taste and is selfish, which only highlights further the fact that Edward puts the feelings of others and his own needs for money aside in order to do what is right.

This story could be taken as a lesson in remaining steady and faithful. In the end, those who act selflessly—Elinor, who cares for her sister multiple times and keeps Lucy’s engagement a secret despite the distress it causes her; and Edward, who chooses love and keeps his word rather than becoming rich—are the ones who end up marrying for love and gaining enough money to live comfortably. Marianne, who is guilty only of being overtaken by emotions and wants nothing more than real love, does find it in Colonel Brandon, who also has a nice fortune. Willoughby, who acted in pure selfishness and greed throughout the story, ends up rich, but without love.

Austen has created characters in this story who are lovable, despite their many flaws. I found myself suffering alongside Marianne as Willoughby’s despicable actions are revealed and overjoyed when Edward comes to propose to Elinor. While the language can be difficult at times because it is a novel written long ago, it is written beautifully with very real characters and places. The ending is a triumph of love and goodness and was unexpected, though enjoyable. In the end, the sisters are equally happy and each of the main characters has gotten what he or she deserves according to their own level of selflessness.

My rating: 4 out of 5 = really liked it

Sense and Sensibility

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4 thoughts on “Critical Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

  1. I read Sense and Sensibility back in the late 1990s around the time Ang Lee made his film version of the novel starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. This review nicely sums up the way two sisters approach their romantic relationships–and accurately describes their beaus’ shiftiness though, as you explain, the motives for both men in their shiftiness are as far apart as night and day. Nice job. Joe

  2. This plot summary is chock-full of mistakes. Willoughby never married Eliza. He abandoned her the moment he found out she was pregnant. And Elinore was far from caring. The point, which you missed, is that Elinore cared deeply, but buried her strong feelings to protect her family.

    1. Ah. I was thinking that Miss Grey was Eliza. I’ll fix it. Thanks!

      As for Elinor, I assume you meant to say, “And Elinore was far from not caring. ” I agree, and that’s what I’ve said here: “even though she is distressed, there is no outward sign of it” and “Elinor, who cares for her sister multiple times and keeps Lucy’s engagement a secret despite the distress it causes her.”

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