Sense and Sensibility

Use a teaching guide that includes a synopsis of Sense and Sensibility, great discussion questions, and Web links.
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Updated: June 9, 2019
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QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1) Some critics think that, because Sense and Sensibility was a relatively early work of Austen's, its characters too schematically represent certain "types" or intellectual ideas, instead of standing on their own as complex, fully developed human beings. Do you think this criticism is accurate? Are Marianne and Elinor more than merely representatives of Sense and Sensibility? Which characters are more and less convincingly developed?

2) Do you think that Austen is simply "for" sense and "against" sensibility? Does Elinor ever seem to be limited or constrained by having too much sense? Does Marianne ever seem more sympathetic than her sister? If so, do you think Austen intended us to have these responses, or do we respond to her characters differently now than her contemporaries might have?

3) "The agony of grief which overpowered them at first," says the narrator of Mrs. Dashwood's and Marianne's response to the death of Mr. Dashwood, "was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again." Reading Sense and Sensibility late in the twentieth century, when it is considered psychologically healthy to "get in touch with your feelings," does the narrator's higher opinion of Elinor's more restrained response to her father's death seem "old-fashioned"? Do you think Austen's narrator is unsympathetic to her characters' sorrow? To powerful feeling generally?

4) The Dashwood women discuss Edward Ferrars for many pages before the reader actually meets him in a dramatic scene. Why do you think Austen chose to create the whole Elinor/Edward love affair "off stage"? What do Marianne's and Elinor's descriptions of and reactions to Edward tell us about each of them? About their ideas of love?

5) Before his duplicity is revealed, is John Willoughby an appealing character? Why so? How does Austen reveal his charms and hint at his defects? What does Willoughby's opinion of Colonel Brandon - that he dislikes him for "threatening me with rain, when I wanted it to be fine"- reveal about him? At the end of the book, when his ultimate fate is revealed, does Willougby seem in any way a changed man from the one we first meet?

6) Austen herself never married, but she depicts marriage as the ultimate goal and "happy ending" for Elinor and Marianne. What do you think the novel reveals about her views of marriage generally? How do the marriages of Charlotte and Mr. Palmer, Fanny and John Dashwood, Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars, reflect on the marriages of the sisters? Would Austen have considered it a happy ending for Marianne if, as is posited in the end, Willougby had married her and also had been restored his fortune? Or if she had ended up living with her mother indefinitely, "finding her only pleasures in retirement and study," as she planned before falling in love with Colonel Brandon?

7) "Wealth has much to do with...happiness," Elinor states at one point. "Elinor, for shame!" says Marianne. "Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it." What is the relationship between love and money in Sense and Sensibility? Is it different for different characters? Has the relationship between love and money changed in today's world?

8) "One's happiness must in some measure be always at the mercy of chance," the narrator says at one point. What role does chance play in the fates of the main characters?

9) Sense and Sensibility began its life as a novel in letters called Elinor and Marianne. What part does the sending and receiving of letters play in the action of the story? In the development of the characters? What do you think Austen ultimately achieved by using narrative that she could not have had she kept the book in epistolary form?

MORE PENGUIN CLASSICS

Pride and Prejudice
Edited with an Introduction by Vivian Jones
0-14-043426-7

In recounting the courtship of the witty, independent Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy - the handsome bachelor whose arrogant pride Elizabeth regards as a fatal flaw - and the romantic entanglements or the other Bennet sisters, Austen illuminates, with subtle humor, the prejudices of society as a whole.

Available on audiocassette from Penguin Audiobooks: 0-14-086060-6

Northanger Abbey
Edited with an Introduction by Marilyn Butler
0-14-043413-5

This lighthearted romance, generally agreed to be Austen's earliest major novel, though it was not published until after her death, is also a high-spirited burlesque of the sentimental and Gothic novels of her day. When the charmingly imperfect heroine, Catherine Morland, visits Northanger Abbey, she meets all the trappings of Gothic horror, and imagines the worst. Fortunately, she has at hand her own fundamental good sense and irresistible but unsentimental hero, Henry Tilney. Real disaster does eventually strike but doesn't spoil for too long the happy atmosphere of this delightful novel.

Mansfield Park
Edited with an Introduction by Tony Tanner
0-14-043016-4

More varied in scene and conceived on a bigger scale than Austen's earlier books, Mansfield Park (1814) can be seen as an image of quiet resistance at the start of what was to be the most convulsive century of change in English history. In telling the story of Fanny Price, the quiet and sensitive daughter of a lower-middle-class Portsmouth family who is brought up in - and after much suffering eventually becomes mistress of - elegant Mansfield Park, Austen draws on her usual cool irony and psychological insight while also portraying a less immediately winning heroine in a more complex light.

Emma
Edited with an Introduction by Ronald Blythe
0-14-043010-5

Many writers and critics consider Emma (1816), the last of Austen's novels published in her lifetime, the climax of her genius. Dominating the novel is the character of Emma Woodhouse - vital, interesting, complex, and predisposed to playing power games with other people's emotions. Austen called her a heroine "no one but myself would like," but she endures as one of Austen's immortal creations. Charting how Emma's disastrous foray as a matchmaker precipitates a crisis in the small provincial world of Highbury, and in her own heart, this novel of self-deceit and self-discovery sparkles with intelligence, wit, and irony.

Available on audiocassette from Penguin Audiobooks: 0-14-086106-8

Persuasion
Edited with an Introduction by D.W. Harding
0-14-043005-9

Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth had met and separated years before. Their reunion forces a recognition of the false values that drove them apart. The characters who embody those values are the subjects of some of the most withering satire that Austen ever wrote. Like its predecessors, Persuasion (published after her death in 1818) is a tale of love and marriage, told with Austen's distinctive irony and insight. But the heroine - like the author - is more mature; the tone of the writing more somber.

Also included in this edition is the pioneering biography of Austen written fifty years after her death by her nephew, J. E. Austen-Leigh, which outlines the essential facts of Austen's life while also reflecting the Victorian era's limited comprehension of her achievements.

Available on audiocassette from Penguin Audiobooks: 0-14-086058-4

Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon
Edited with an Introduction by Margaret Drabble
0-14-043102-0

These three works - one novel unpublished in her lifetime and two unfinished fragments - reveal Austen's development as a great artist. Lady Susan is a sparkling melodrama, written in epistolary form, featuring a beautiful, intelligent, and wicked heroine. The Watsons, probably written when Austen resided unhappily in Bath and abandoned after her father's death, is a tantalizing fragment centering on the marital prospects of the Watson sisters in a small provincial town. Sanditon, Austen's last fiction, reflects her growing concern with the new speculative consumer society and foreshadows the great social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.

The Juvenilia of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte
Edited by Frances Beer
0-14-043267-1

This collection provides the opportunity to discover the first examples of Austen's neoclassical elegance and Bronte's mastery of the romantic spirit.

Also available on audiocassette from Penguin Audiobooks:
Boxed Set: Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice 0-14-771107-X

Penguin Classics wishes to thank and credit the following writers and books for information used in creating this Penguin Classics Guide:

Joseph Duffy, "Criticism 1814-70"; Brian Southam, "Criticism 1870-1940" and "Janeites and Anti-Janeites"; A. Walton Litz, "Criticism 1939-83"; J. David Grey, "Life of Jane Austen"; all in The Jane Austen Companion, J. David Grey, Managing Editor; New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1986.

Lloyd W. Brown, "The Business of Marrying and Mothering"; and Norman Page, "The Great Tradition Revisited"; in Jane Austen's Achievement, edited by Juliet McMaster, New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., Barnes & Noble Import Division, 1976.

W. A. Craik, Jane Austen: The Six Novels, New York, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1965.

WEB LINKS

Characters in Sense and Sensibility - http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/senssgen.html

Sense and Sensibility illustrations - http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/jabrokil.html#senssens
Thumbnail versions of the C. E. Brock illustrations for Sense and Sensibility.

An Austen biography - http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/janelife.html

Jane Austen's letters - http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/brablets.html

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