Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility Study Guide

Sense and Sensibility was Austen's first published novel; its first edition came out in three volumes in 1811, and the novel was reasonably well-liked and successful. This was much to the relief of Austen, who financed the printing of the book herself, and managed to make over 150 pounds on the first run alone. Her brother Henry and sister Cassandra were instrumental in convincing Austen to publish the novel, especially after her other books Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice were rejected by a publisher. Austen was discouraged, but her brother convinced a London publisher to put out the book, and the result was the beginning of Austen's career as a novelist. The novel was initially attributed to "A Lady"; her later novels also neglected to mention Austen's name as author, and instead are credited to "the author of Sense and Sensibility," or another one of Austen's several successful books.

Austen wrote the first version of the novel, and also early versions of Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, in the 1790's, between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-three. The original version of Sense and Sensibility was titled Elinor and Marianne, written in 1797, and was likely the first novel that Austen worked on, in addition to becoming her first published text. It was originally a series of letters between the two sisters, but evolved to become the novel we know and read today. Sense and Sensibility was actually revised by Austen between the novel's first and second printings; most modern texts adhere to the changes made in the second edition, some placing the later revisions in brackets to set them off from the original text.

Modern readers and critics, on the whole, do not consider Sense and Sensibility to be Austen's best work. Her characterization is flat in parts, her two heroines, Elinor and Marianne, are both too extreme and two-dimensional to be truly sympathetic, and many have found Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon very dull indeed. The story is somewhat unsatisfying because Marianne's change of heart and her regard for Colonel Brandon are hastily discussed in a paragraph at the end of the novel, and the relationships between Edward and Elinor and the Colonel and Marianne are not well fleshed-out. The ending is also regarded as Austen's weakest, as elements, such as Lucy's elopement with Robert, and Marianne and the Colonel's marriage, seem to come from left-field and are badly justified by the text. Although Austen's trademark wit is in evidence, her sense of social satire is hardly as sharp as in later novels, such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma, and her plotting, in places, leaves much to be desired. However, this novel was an auspicious beginning for Austen, and is a valuable look at the start of her writing career and the beginning of her development as a novelist.