The novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin depicts love relations through the lens of the 19th-century ideology and social philosophy of life. To some extent, Austin idealizes love and romantic feelings portraying passion and pre-marriage arrangements. The plot of Sense and Sensibility develops through a set of sub-elements, both spoken and implied, between the men and women characters. The Austin portrays that women from the Dashwood and Steele families rely on themselves only because their men are irresponsible and unable to take care of sufficient financial assets. Love and romantic relations exist between couples Elinor and Marianne, John Dashwood and Sir John Middleton, Edward and Robert Ferrars, and Willoughby and Colonel Brandon. In the novel, love and romantic relations are used as the framework of the plot development and unveil the inner nature and moral values of the characters.
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In the novel, love is depicted as sensation and sensibility, which guide the behavior of people and their thoughts. Young girls are described as inexperienced persons who do not know what love is and true feelings. Elinor says: “I have never yet known what it was to separate esteem and love” (Austin). Elinor is described by Austin as a sensible person. Elinor is a woman Mrs. Dashwood looks for, and she tries to support her on the most appropriate behavior upon leaving Norland Park. Elinor likes “sense and goodness” above all things (16), even in the man she hopes to marry. In contrast to other characters, Elinor shows more sense of love than her sister. “Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broken MY heart, had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility” (Austin). Austin portrays that Elinor has very deep feelings for Edward Ferrars, but she is unable to step beyond the bounds of propriety in her behavior towards him. Thus, nobody believes in Edward’s intentions to marry Elinor until he truly proposes. Austin depicts the situation as “No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behavior to Elinor, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching” (Austin). Through the character of Marianne, Austin depicts that love can be naïve and romantic at the same time. Marianne is portrayed as a person with a romantic heart. Love and sensation is her main characteristic. Marianne’s emotions run high and so strong, then readers believe in her true feelings and love at once. Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him” (Austin). Marianne wonders how Elinor can abide by such a man. Marianne likes the craziness of nature and the extremes of sensations. Marianne falls in love with Willoughby, mainly because of his strength and his denial to adhere to propriety when such adherence goes against his responsibilities and personal values. At the beginning of the novel, Marianne supposes that “sensible” men like Colonel Brandon are boring and suited for marriage only with old ladies who do not mind trading their nursing and caretaking skills for a good house and financial support. Marianne supposes that some men could not experience love and arouse passion in any woman who has any degree of deep feeling. “Her admiration and regard, even her sisterly regard, was all his own; but he was a lover; his attentions were wholly Marianne’s, and a far less agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing” (Austin). Romantic relations are idealized by Marianne, who knows about love from stories of other people and from romantic novels.
Another set of characters that reveals contrasts in their feelings and love relations are John Dashwood and Sir John Middleton. Both of these male characters are heads of their families, and as such, they are responsible for the persons dependent upon those power and duties. John Dashwood is the son of Henry Dashwood and heir to Norland Park. He has a moral duty to support his stepmother and sisters after his father’s death. He is also a sensible person as he promises that he will take care of the future of his stepmother and sisters. Thus, love and care mean nothing for him as he cares about money and financial prosperity. He tries to leave his own sisters with insufficient support and tries to shows that he is the only authority of the family and over his sisters. “To Marianne, it had all the distinguishing tenderness which a lover’s heart could give, and to the rest of the family, it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. The cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home; many more of his hours were spent there than at Allenham” (Austin).
Love and passion are uncovered through emotional sufferings and disappointments experienced by the characters. Edward tries to persuade himself that he has not fatally injured Elinor’s feelings through his own shameful behavior, something that the reader knows very well is false. Some combination of sensibility with Elinor’s sense might have allowed this character to find support for her emotional sufferings as well as to give confidence to Edward and Lucy into being somewhat more responsible for their behavior and communication than they are in some situations. Austin portrays that love alone does not produce happiness and pleasure. Love and romantic relations alone are a real problem for women characters. In contrast, “a man could not very well be in love with either of her daughters, without extending the passion to her; and Elinor had the satisfaction of seeing him soon become more like himself” (Austin). For instance, Marianne’s purpose of acting on her feelings at all times, to be connected to all events considered by most to be inappropriate, if not dishonest, leads to discomfort and even great suffering to many among her family. Elinor, for example, is often forced to lie for her in order to preserve civility and politeness when Marianne does not feel the need for company. After recovering from emotional stress, Marianne understands that there is a need to manage her love with some degree of common sense. She tries to study more and to become calmer and more friendly. In time she even comes to loke Colonel Brandon, the man she had earlier envied as referred to as “old enough to be my father” and a man who “must have long outlived any sensation” like love (Austin). Love and passion are unique feelings, but they should be carefully managed and controlled by people in order to avoid suffering and emotional pain, distress, and disappointment.
In sum, Austen portrays that love and romantic relations are an important part of life, but these emotions should be managed and understood by people in order to avoid suffering and misunderstanding between genders. These emotions hide dangers while also showing that a woman can get a second chance. Love helps people to choose the right marital partner even if the norms and moral values followed by society are ignored. Austen does not overtly preach lobe in this work, but in each character, the love relations is a vital societal theme. In spite of true feelings and romantic relations, Austin depicts that marrying a man with a high financial income to support women is important to the family of a bribe and her friends. The example of the Dashwood and Steele sisters shows that they do not have a wealth of their own to be attractive partners for young men. Thus, Austin idealizes love and romance in the novel and depicts these emotions as desired and unique feelings experienced by the characters.
Austin, J. Sense and Sensibility.