by Amy Frantz
The Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, are left penniless when Mr. Dashwood passes away, leaving everything to their half-brother who forces them to move out of their own home and live meagerly with distant relatives. In the country, the young women encounter love and heartache as they navigate their new social status.
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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen was originally published in 1811. It’s original by line read: “By a Lady.” But today Jane Austen might be one of the most recognizable author names on any given shelf in a bookstore.
In 1995 Austen’s novel was adapted to the big screen as a major motion picture. Directed by Ang Lee, the film stars Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant.
Much of Austen’s work, if not all of it, falls under the genre of novels of manners. Novels of manners are deeply concerned with, well, manners. That is to say, the social conventions, restrictions, and behaviors that “define a class.”
In Sense and Sensibility, a lot of emphasis is given to how characters behave when interacting with others, sometimes in juxtaposition with how society feels they ought to behave. Characters who behave “improperly” are sneered at or judged by those around them.
A central struggle many characters face is how to forge meaningful relationships around the restrictions on class and gender interactions put on them by society, and much of both the comedy and drama arises from how awkward following these conventions can make a conversation.
- At the time during which Sense and Sensibility is set only men could inherit property, so the Dashwood sisters and their mother are deprived of their home and forced to live in the countryside. What other examples from the story can you think of that show the different social restrictions and expectations placed on men and women?
- Do you think the film provides sufficient evidence of the change in Marianne’s affections towards Colonel Brandon at the end of the film or does it feel too sudden? Explain your answer.
- Of the Dashwood sisters, whom do you relate to the most and why?
- A character arc is when a character fundamentally changes as a result of their experiences. Example: Marianne journeys from innocent naivety to a more subdued practicality after her heart is broken by Willoughby. Do you think Elinor has a character arc? And if so, in what ways do you think she demonstrates growth over the course of the story?
Sign up now for our online Boomerang Book Club for Sense and Sensibility (class begins January 1, 2019).
Our book discussions are drawn from rich works of fiction that will easily fulfill the English credit requirement for literature for a year of high school.
Also check out our Brave Writer ideas for a Jane Austen Deep Dive including:
- tutorials, and more!
Amy Frantz is a Brave Writer alum and now works as a Virtual Marketing Assistant for Brave Writer.