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|Some thoughts on the title
Written by Barbara
(9/15/2006 11:41 p.m.)
The introduction to the Broadview Literary edition (the one on this page), had some interesting insight.
At the time S&S was originally written in the 1790s and even when it was published in 1811, 'sense' and 'sensibility' were very 'loaded' words in that time and place, and probably had a number of connotations to Jane Austen's audience that the words don't have for us.
One thing I really wanted to try to get away from in this read is the whole oversimplified notion that Elinor=sense and Marianne=sensibility as well as the idea that the two qualities are somehow mutually exclusive. I think that most, if not all of the characters in the book can be held up as an example of one or the other of the two qualities, a combination of the two, or an example of what a person who is totally lacking either or both of the qualities ends up like.
Kathleen James-Caven, the editor of this edition and I presume the author of its introduction, writes that even before JA wrote her earliest draft, there was already a literary tradition of writing about the "dangers of excessive sensibility", and that there were a number of contemporary (to JA) novels with two heroines where sense 'wins' over sensibility, so I have to believe that JA was aiming for something more than that in this novel.
At the time, having strong sensibility was seen as both a virtue and as evidence of being intellectually and morally superior to people who lacked sensibility. But--it was also seen as a quality that would make one weaker and more susceptible to illness.
James-Caven draws a distinction between a kind of sensibility that is a means to an end and those who cultivated sensibilty as an end in itself.
James-Caven notes that many critics of the novel seem to ignore the fact that Marianne is introduced to us as being 'sensible and clever' and focus instead on the Marianne who refuses to learn to govern her feelings.
A question to ponder, perhaps, is not whether sense or sensibility is the superior quality, but instead whether there is such a thing as a 'responsible sensibility' and what would it look like?
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