Jane Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility is her only novel with two heroines, the sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor is the practical, responsible, older sister, suppressing her emotions to protect others and putting her family’s welfare above her own. Marianne believes that feeling and expressing feeling (what was called “sensibility” at that time) are the highest values of a human being.
They both suffer romantic losses. Elinor loves Edward Ferrars, but he has been secretly engaged to a calculating woman he doesn’t love but is too honorable to desert. Marianne worships the charming John Willoughby, who returns her adoration until he needs to marry wealth. Elinor bears her plight stoically and silently; Marianne indulges her grief and nearly destroys her health.
Though sense and sensibility are contrasted, Austen didn’t intend an either/or. Elinor is capable of deep feeling, as she shows toward the end of the book. Marianne comes to value the good sense of self-control. Each sister becomes more like the other.
Emma Thompson adapted the novel for a 1995 film in which she starred as Elinor, with Kate Winslet as Marianne. It received critical raves.
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