The struggle between logic and emotion is something we can all probably relate to in life. Jane Austen examines this issue in her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. It still offers relevant insight into human nature today, more than 200 years later.
About the Book
Published in 1811, Austen was credited as the author only as “By A Lady.” It was not commonly accepted at the time for women to write novels. She paid to have the novel published and had to give the publishing house a cut of the profits. She was about 19 years old when she wrote the book, though it was a later edited version which she published.
Sense and Sensibility is a story of sisters. There are three sisters in the family, but the book focuses on the oldest two, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. They are as different as night and day in their approach to life. Elinor takes the stance of “sense,” meaning good judgment and caution, while Marianne flies by “sensibility,” or emotion. The sisters and their mother must leave the family home when their father dies. It is another sign of the times that women could not inherit or own property so the family home reverts to the nearest male relative. They are left without social status and at the mercy of the unscrupulous cousin and his scheming wife.
As is typical in a Jane Austen novel, both sisters are of marrying age, but have different ideas about what an ideal husband should be. The “comedy of manners” ensues as they meet eligible men, fall in love, face heartbreak, potential scandal, and learn to find a balance between common sense and emotion. The ending leaves the readers to ponder the issue of sense versus sensibility for themselves.
Jane Austen was a pro at making use of the old writing adage “write what you know.” She wrote about the social mores of her time. She had a keen eye for observation and a sharp wit. She knew the ins and outs of society’s expectations well enough to poke fun at them in a sarcastic manner, yet still respect the reasons they existed.
I couldn’t help but think of my own three daughters while reading the tale of the Dashwood sisters. My oldest is a rule-follower, similar to Elinor. My youngest is more like the impulsive Marianne (though she’s only 5 and that may change with time). It’s interesting to see how these personalities play out in real life.
The Bible tells us that the heart, or in this case, “sensibility” is not to be trusted. We will be led astray by our emotional impulses, just as Marianne was in this novel.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
However, we are also called to have compassion and offer grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ without passing judgment. This was difficult for Elinor who relied solely on “sense” in the novel. God gave us emotions and reasoning to be used together with His guidance. This is a lesson we each must learn, as did the characters in Sense and Sensibility.
Do you lead with your head or your heart? Have you learned to strike a good balance?
Resources for Sense and Sensibility:
Sara is the blessed mama of three daughters and wife of Dave, her high school sweetheart. She shares her thoughts on faith, homeschooling, motherhood, and books on her blog, Embracing Destiny. She is also the owner/editor of The Homeschool Post. You can find her on Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.
Anne Marie is a Bible Teacher and Bible curriculum writer with more than 25 years of experience. She has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, Christian Schools, and conferences. She is the owner of FutureFlyingSaucers Resources where she helps busy parents and church leaders teach fun, flexible, multi-age, budget-friendly bible object lessons that enhance the spiritual growth of children. She lives with her husband and three children in South Carolina.