During the 18th and 19th Centuries, many publishers considered that it wasn't a woman's place to indulge herself in writing literature. Therefore, there were few options available to women if they wanted to become published authors. They could try and get published under their own name (prejudiced male publishers made those hopes very small); write under a male pseudonym1; or submit to failure.
Jane Austen chose to go under the name of 'A Lady' when her first novel was published.
More information on Jane Austen herself can be found in this entry here.
Sense and Sensibility
Though it wasn't the first novel that Jane Austen wrote2, Sense and Sensibility was her first novel to be published. Originally titled Elinor and Marianne, it tells the tale of the Dashwood sisters of the same name, daughters of their father's second marriage, as they are obliged to leave their family home and life in Norland Park with their mother. The sleepy village of Barton, Devonshire, is their next destination as their father leaves the family estate to his son from his first marriage.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
Elinor, the elder of the sisters, has established a comfortable relationship with the wealthy but rather tedious Edward Ferrars in Norland, whose sister3 is not exactly the most friendly of women. Leaving for Barton means that she will not be able to see her beloved as regularly as before. However, Edward Ferrars is not as clean-cut as his dull exterior suggests, as Elinor's new best friend in Barton, the pretty Lucy Steele, reveals.
Marianne, on the other hand, is a pretty girl who catches the eyes of two men in Barton.
Sense and Sensibility is an entertaining novel about the differing natures of men and women in love and how they cope with social pressures and their own feelings at the same time.
With fewer location changes, Sense and Sensibility has fewer players with actual character than its sister novels.
The elder of the two sisters, Elinor Dashwood represents Sense, as shown in her wise demeanour, which touches upon classical Augustan values. Having fallen in love with her sister-in-law's brother, Edward Ferrars, Elinor at first finds it difficult to move away from her homestead at Norland Park, but uses her discretion and 'sense' to see herself through. Not one to shout, scream or throw a massive tantrum, Elinor Dashwood is a charming, cool woman who knows when to keep her mouth shut, unlike some of her peers.
Elinor's relationship with the other characters is drawn from the contemporary social mores, always willing to make new acquaintances, as shown by her friendship with Lucy Steele. She is also always ready with a shoulder to cry upon if needed, and open ears.
An artist, her sketches are presented upon the walls of Norland Park, and also have had the honour of passing by the critical eye of Mrs Ferrars. Whether they are admired by those who really should be paying attention is another matter.
As can probably be divined from the title of the novel and the description of her sister Elinor, Marianne is Sensibility. The meaning of the word is 'ability to detect or be swayed by the emotions of others'. This does not necessarily mean that she is a sensible young woman when faced with a tricky situation. Whereas Elinor thinks with her head, Marianne fixes upon her passionate romantic detachments to solve problems. When she impulsively resorts to hiding away from public view or rudely doing what she wants to do at the most unsuitable times, this is a display of her extreme sensibility to emotional events.
Immediately pointed out as a pretty young woman by the women of Barton, Marianne is the object of desire of two men - Colonel Brandon, more than twice her age, though a perfect gentleman, and the dashing John Willoughby, who she begins a passionate romance with. It is this passionate nature that gets Marianne into more trouble than she bargains for, proving herself to not have the cool and collected mind of her elder sister.
As a headstrong seventeen-year-old, Marianne will do as she wants, where she wants, and she will get whatever she wants as well. She will play the piano when people want a quiet game of cards, and she is not afraid to voice her point of view, even if people are offended. However, her stubborn character disappears when she is (all too often) found in her room, her face stained with tears and bawling her eyes out, her passion seemingly torn out.
It is not what this woman speaks of that shows who she is, but her relationship with her daughters. The second wife of Henry Dashwood4, Mrs Dashwood is a quiet, motherly character, who wants the best for her two daughters and is ready to lend a comforting shoulder, very much like Elinor.
Though Norland Park has been a good home to her children, Mrs Dashwood knows that her stepson and new owner of Norland cannot support his own family as well as them, so she organises a move close to her own relatives, Sir John and Lady Middleton, in the village of Barton in Devonshire.
The youngest of the Dashwood sisters, Margaret Dashwood plays little part in the story, shying away from the exploits of her elder sisters and merely watching the action from the metaphorical sidelines.
John and Fanny Dashwood
John Dashwood inherits Norland Park upon his father's death. The only son of his father's first marriage, he is a completely impressionable man, and occasionally finds himself the puppet of his wife when trying to sort out how much money he should give to his half-sisters.
Fanny Dashwood is the sister of Edward Ferrars, and very much like her high society mother. Though she wants what is best for her husband and son, she has no real feeling for the so-called 'half-blood' Dashwood sisters. On the other hand, she has her stony exterior in common with Lady Middleton, so when the two meet, they get on like a house on fire.
He has a big inheritance to look forward to, an overbearing mother, and a brother who plays the field like Elinor plays cards. Marianne considers him to be the dullest man that ever graced this planet. In short, Edward Ferrars seems to be the perfect choice for Elinor. He has no skill, apart from being able to admire others' work, such as Elinor's art and Marianne's music.
Mrs Ferrars (his mother) is ardently working her fingers to the bone to secure an engagement between Edward and the incredibly rich Miss Morton (who has a legacy of £30,000), despite his attachment to Elinor Dashwood, which is unknown to her. This relationship, however, may not be the only one unknown to Mrs Ferrars as she strives to finalise the engagement.
A dashing chap who visits Barton every year from his home at Combe Magna, John Willoughby is credited by Sir John as:
A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England.
Marianne Dashwood is completely head-over-heels in love with John Willoughby after he came to her aid when she had a nasty fall. His relationship with Marianne causes rumours to spin off that a marriage may be on the way, giving Elinor and Mrs Dashwood something to be cheerful about.
On the other hand, John Willoughby seems to have underestimated how much Marianne feels for him, as upon his leaving Barton she is left in more floods of tears than usual, and he a rather shaken man.
In his mid-thirties, Colonel Brandon is a wholly delightful gentleman. Like John Willoughby, he is a regular visitor to Barton. When Elinor and Marianne come to Barton, his admiration for the younger Dashwood sister becomes blatantly clear to the rest of the village community. Unfortunately, this love is unrequited as Marianne soon sets her sights on the younger John Willoughby.
Generous, kind and an all-round good chap, the presence of Colonel Brandon is a must at every dinner party.
Lucy and Nancy Steele
Just like Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Lucy Steele and her elder sister come to visit Barton. Unlike the Dashwood sisters, the clue is in the Steele sisters' surname. They 'steal' the show.
Lucy Steele is the younger sister, but more tactful. Incredibly pretty, the people of Barton believe that it should be simple for her to find a husband, though not necessarily one with a good living. Lucy Steele turns to Elinor Dashwood when in need of a confidante, and what problems she reveals to her new friend may involve other unknown parties.
Nancy Steele, although the elder, has no idea when to keep her mouth shut. It is left to her younger sister to keep her in check in case she spreads more home truths to the quiet little community of Barton.
Sir John, Lady Middleton and Mrs Jennings
Sir John Middleton is a distant relative of Mrs Dashwood. He provided the cottage that the Dashwoods now live in. On the whole, Sir John is a thoroughly amiable man who continually insists upon inviting the Dashwoods over to dinner, and is a permanent optimist.
Lady Middleton, on the other hand, appears to bleed of insipidity. Although she has her children to look after, she is completely uninterested in anything - quite the opposite of her husband.
Mrs Jennings is the mother of Lady Middleton. She could be described as the local gossip, rivalled only by Nancy Steele, though Mrs Jennings has a touch more tact. An altogether motherly figure, she looks after the Dashwood sisters on their trip to London, despite her rather unliked chatterbox nature.
Sense and Sensibility, like Pride and Prejudice, is read all over the world, with several films made of the Austen classic. The witty repartee between the characters is sure to show that the women of the early 19th Century were intelligent thinkers, and able to work their way through the troubles that life posed, whatever the circumstances.