Sense and Sensibility

What do the opening pages of sense and sense and sensibility tell us about the background issues

Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen

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In Chapter One, the Dashwood family is introduced; they live at Norland Park, an estate in Sussex, which has been in their family for many years. Henry Dashwood has a son by a previous marriage, who is well-off because of his long-deceased mother's fortune; Mr. Dashwood also has three daughters by his present wife, who are left with very little when he dies and the estate goes to his son. Before Mr. Dashwood dies, he asks his son to promise to help his step-mother, and John Dashwood agrees; however, his son John is also selfish, and fails to really help his step-mother and half-sisters as he promised to do.

The themes of money and inheritance are of immediate importance in the novel; the Dashwood women are immediately cast into a dire situation, since none of them have money themselves, cannot inherit because they are women, and cannot earn a living either. Gender is also a deciding issue in this, since the reason they cannot keep Mr. Dashwood's property or money is because women are not legally entitled to receive or own property at this point in history. Austen contrasts the poor situation of the Dashwood women with that of his older son, who is already very wealthy, and so provides social commentary on the practices of the time; that the son become even richer, while his step-mother and half-sisters are left with nothing, is very unfair, yet is upheld by outdated laws which require this to be so.