"There are such beings in the world… as the creature you and I should think perfection; …where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding…” As said by Jane Austen in an 1814 letter to her niece, this balance of “heart and understanding,” or of ‘sensibility’ and ‘sense’, is the crux of a good temperament, and also of her book Sense and Sensibility (1811), in which she illustrates many opposing forces, including sense and sensibility and empowerment and disempowerment.
Another discourse within this book is the importance to a woman of having a man to depend on – whether through familial relations or marriage – which shows Austen’s feministic ideals.
Both of these are reliant on the cultural context of the era, which, for the richer, ‘high’ society that Austen lived in, revolved around wealth, marriage, connections and a great many social rules. Wealth was a indicator of power and social standing and was often part of the reasoning behind a marriage, as shown in Sense and Sensibility by the impoverished and sensibility-imbued John Willoughby’s loveless marriage to Miss Grey, whose dowry contained fifty-thousand pounds. Additionally, marriages, and most types of social interactions, were used to make connections in an attempt to raise one’s standing in society, and all of the above were governed by the social rules that were in themselves part of the problem regarding the discrepancies of power in society.
Sense and Sensibility itself is a witty criticism of society, often utilising an ironically satirical style which allows Austen to put forward her moral values and ideals without having to state them directly. Hence the reader is positioned to agree with the alluded messa...
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...d to dislike the other ‘Ferrars’ – Mrs Ferrars, Robert Ferrars and Mr John and Mrs Fanny Dashwood nee. Ferrars – who represent a temperament made predominantly of sense, without a whit of sensibility.
Thus the imbalance of power and disempowerment in Austen’s society is revealed through Sense and Sensibility, mainly through the reader being positioned by the style of the language which often uses ironic satire as a technique, through the characters’ actions and behaviours, ideals and morals, opinions and secrets and via the description of the interactions between characters. Through the rise of the sense and sensibility balanced characters into the limelight, Austen shows her belief of having balance in life, which can also be related to having a balance of power within society.
Austen, J. 1811. Sense and Sensibility. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
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