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A Literary Analysis of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

A Literary Analysis of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Published in 1811, Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel. It tells the story of the Dashwood sisters – the sensible Elinor and the more emotive Marianne – as they navigate their differing personalities and romantic relationships. While seen as a lighter work in Austen’s oeuvre, Sense and Sensibility examines fundamental questions around gender, social class, and the negotiation of rationality versus emotion that resonate deeply.

Through analyzing aspects such as characters, themes, narrative structure and style, this analysis aims to provide insights into Austen’s societal observations and praiseworthy storytelling abilities exhibited even in her earliest work. Sense and Sensibility deserves recognition as a nuanced founding work that established Austen as a pioneering feminist author and keen social satirist.

Characterization and Social Commentary

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood represent Austen’s thesis on the dual nature of human feelings and reasoning, displaying tendencies Austen saw as predominant among women in Regency England. Elinor’s steady temperament aligned with expectations for the “sensible” woman, while Marianne’s passionate whims ignored social boundaries.

Their personalities illuminate wider female confinement and objectification. Without means, Marianne and Elinor face constricted lives dependent on securing husbands. Their characterization also comments on emotional repression and intellectual diminishment imposed on women. Other characters like Margaret, the undeveloped child left to become “silly and ignorant,” further these critiques.

The Dashwood men are depicted with similar depth and psychological complexity. John Dashwood briefly appears thoughtful before capitulating into meanness, criticizing those who abandon moral principles for advantage. Colonel Brandon, unlike frivolous suitors, values character over beauty or rank. Edward Ferrars, too modest for his station, finds true worth lacking among his peers.

Through dimensional personalities, Austen levels astute judgments on character, society’s strictures, and humanity’s capacity for both virtue and weakness of conviction. Her realistic observation lent unprecedented intellectualism and progressive thought to the novel at the time.

Narrative Structure and Thematic Pursuits

Sense and Sensibility follows a linear chronological plot advancing through courtship scenes, heartbreaks, and lessons learned. Despite limitations from publishing anonymously as a woman, Austen establishes an innovative narrative mode focused on inner lives rather than sweeping historical tales popular for male authors.

Replete with meditations on emotion, reason and social order, passages offer Austen’s perspective on philosophy, psychology and morality with prose rivaling celebrated male thinkers of her day. Her deft blending of escapism and edification expanded novelistic potential.

Recurring motifs also carry symbolic weight – most notably the disparate fates of ill-starred and prudent marriages. The Dashwood women’s dashed expectations mirror constraints facing real women and serve as a caution against romanticism. Studying human nature through emotional and rational contrasts likewise comments on philosophy while entertaining audiences.

Prose and Literary Merit

Austen manipulates tone with mastery, conveying gravitas or humor through economical yet vivid wording. Her sardonic asides delivering subtle social critique show a modern, progressive wit. Gleaning depths from brief mannerisms, she excels at interior monologues granting intimacy with nuanced characters. Repeated imagery like clocks emphasizes transience and gain reinforcing thematic threads.

Her realistic prose merits comparison to acclaimed male novelists despite operating within womanly limitations. Sense and Sensibility also establishes staples of the Regency romance genre with its dashing military men and exchanges of letters, serving as both fun private entertainment and vehicle for shrewd cultural examination. This adept blend of styles and messages established Austen as an important early realist wherever the novel form was recognized as high art.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

At its debut, Sense and Sensibility was too controversial to admit being written by a lady yet nonetheless gained acclaim for its originality, intelligence and observant humor regarding social classes. Its popularity helped establish the legitimacy of the novel in serious literary circles previously dominated by male traditions.

Austen’s insightful probing of human emotions and behaviors through dimensional female protagonists shattered limiting portrayals of women from her era. She attracted devotees across genders with witty storytelling that maintained modern relevance as social mores changed through the following centuries.

Her groundbreaking portrayal of women as rational, passionate beings shaped feminist thinking for eras to come. Sense and Sensibility became remembered as an innovative founding work establishing quality standards for psychological realism and social commentary within novels. It marked the origins of Austen’s celebrated literary achievements and influence on popular culture that persist today.


While often considered a lighter debut effort, Sense and Sensibility emerges upon close analysis as a work of remarkable creative vision and progressive social thought from Jane Austen. Through deft prose, realistic characterization and examination of rationality, emotion and society’s constraints, she established innovative foundations for the psychological novel and potent insights celebrating the intellectual woman.

Austen’s observations through the Dashwood sisters comment profoundly on limiting gender roles and speak to universal struggles navigating life’s disappointments with philosophy or passion. Her achievements in this debut novel helped legitimize the form, secure her legacy, and leave resonating impacts felt across history favoring examines humanity with Austen’s blend of wit, wisdom and empathy.

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