Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

This second novel of Jane Austen, a piece of sentimental literature (but parodied at some level like most Jane Austen novels), explores the relationship between the rational and the emotional, the cognitive and the emotive. Are they juxtaposed? Are they intertwined? What does each look like and how do they interact with each other? Jane Austen portrays two main characters, Elinor and Marianne, who each represent sense and sensibility, respectively.

As this was a favourite meal with Mrs. Jennings, it lasted a considerable time, and they were just setting themselves, after it, round the common working table, when a letter was delivered to Marianne, which she eagerly caught from the servant, and, turning of a death like paleness, instantly ran out of the room. Elinor, who saw as plainly by this, as she had seen the direction, that it must come from Willoughby, felt immediately such a sickness at heart as made her hardly able to hold up her head, and sat in such a general tremour as made her fear it impossible to escape Mrs. Jennings notice. That good lady, however, saw only that Marianne had received a letter from Willoughby, which appeared to her a very good joke, and which she treated accordingly, by hoping, with a laugh, that she would find it to her liking. Of Elinor’s distress, she was too busily employed in measuring lengths of worsted for her rug, to see any thing at all…(Volume II, Chapter VII–p. 134-135)

We can draw two conclusions from this passage. First, at seeing Marianne receive this letter, Elinor and Mrs. Jennings react in two different and opposite ways. Elinor feels herself a sickness of heart because of what Marianne must be feeling–she exhibits sympathy. Mrs. Jennings on the other hand lacks that sympathy for Marianne that Elinor has. Second, this passage shows us the cause of such sympathy and lack of sympathy. Elinor knows who the letter is from (Willoughby) and generally what it is about (Willoughby’s affection for another woman). On the contrary, Mrs. Jennings has no idea what this letter is about and hopes that it is to the liking of Marianne. Little does Mrs. Jennings know that this letter is the crux of Marianne’s suffering.

So, Elinor’s sympathy is actually a result of the rational. The emotion is not contrary to knowledge. Mrs. Jennings lack of sympathy springs from an ignorance of the situation itself. Sense and Sensibility seem to have a closer relationship than previously thought.

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The suffering, which Elinor feels sympathy for, might have been necessary for Marianne.

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life  as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another!–and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, –and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat! (Volume III, Chapter XIV–p. 288)

This is not a call to be utterly masochistic. This passage merely indicates that a good did come from Marianne’s suffering. She needed to leave her close-minded conviction. Marianne’s trials were the cause of her change–her transformation from emotional ignorance to justified sensibility.

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I recently retook the Myers-Briggs test. I am an INTJ. However, my T percentage is down to 1%, so I have personality traits of both INTJs and INFJs. This means that I have grown to both be a thinking and feeling person. It was nice to think about this while reading this novel. The balance of the cognitive and the emotive is something that one ought to strive for.

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