Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s work did not receive wide public acknowledgment during her life but it has been widely popular since the end of the nineteenth century. Brian C. Southam defines her status among literary classics as exceptional, due to her popularity among scholars and critics, as well as wide readership (3).

Austen originally wrote Sense and Sensibility in 1795 as an epistolary novel titled Elinor and Marianne. It was revised years later and published anonymously in three volumes in 1811. Ian Jack notices that “each of her longer novels has a three-volume structure, as a Shakespearean play has a five-act structure” (2). Interestingly enough, she was asserted to be a “prose Shakespeare.”22

Sense and Sensibility is a story of two sisters who are complete opposites in their natures. As a majority of Austen’s work, the novel concentrates on “little social commonwealth, a microcosm, the centre of a minute universe,” which Austen creates around the main characters (Southam 8).

In her essay, Rebecca Stephens Duncan,23 examines different approaches of scholars towards Sense and Sensibility and towards Austen’s work in general. The novel was praised for “delivering a moral lesson to female readers on the dangers of indulging one’s sensibility at the expense of good sense” (18). Later, the reviewers began to focus on her artistic methods that were considered to be a result of her realistic rendering of the world around her (19). The second half of the nineteenth century was marked by a shift in perception of her works. The writers who commented on her novels suddenly felt culturally distant from her heroines; however, they admired “‘delicate irony’ with which Austen presents flawed characters whom the reader cannot succeed in hating” (20). As the time went, the novel paled besides “the more entertaining Pride and Prejudice, which again is evaluated on terms of character” (21). At the beginning of the twentieth century, some writers turned back to the history to search for context that would “illuminate Austen’s moral universe” (23). Such attempts of historicization were enforced by the prolongation of the period between creation and appreciation of her books. Contemporary scholars have concentrated on the feminist context of Austen’s novels and, as far as Sense and Sensibility is concerned, they have focused on the question of money and property (25).

The growing popularity of Austen’s novels among the filmmakers was accompanied with their growing popularity among common readership. It has also become a foreground for new critical approach towards Austen’s novels. New comments of her writings have arisen from the dialogue among the multiple genres.24

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