Sense and Sensibility only hints at the social skewering Jane Austen would use to such great effect in her later novels, and the humor here is only occasional and slight, as this novel adopts a generally serious tone. Parody is largely limited to the gossipy Mrs. Jenkins, who jumps to wild conclusions about situations she knows nothing about. Though arranged marriage and true love figure prominently in all of Austen's novels, this novel focuses almost exclusivity on the prospects of the two main characters, making it less complex than the novels that followed. Reserved Elinor and exuberant Marianne are expertly drawn, with Edward, Willoughby, and Colonel Brandon (whose lovesick hopes for Marianne are dashed again and again) also engaging creations. Except for the first page or two where the circumstances of the Dashwoods are set up through a series of deaths and relations, possibly causing some confusion, this novel is exceedingly easy to follow for contemporary readers. This novel is an excellent introduction to Jane Austen's works because of its relative simplicity (though readers should not dismiss it as simple) and the use of typical themes and social situations. Book clubs and students might want to explore the influence of money on nineteenth century British society as well as the meaning of the title as it applies to both the sisters and the other characters. It is also interesting to note both the helplessness and the extraordinary power of women in different circumstances.
About the Author
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction set among the gentry earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics. Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about 35 years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it. Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the eighteenth century and are part of the transition to nineteenth-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the twentieth century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture.