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Literature / Sense and Sensibility

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Written by Jane Austen and published in 1811, Sense and Sensibility is one of her best-known novels, not least because of the 1995 Ang Lee film. It tells the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, who, on the death of their father, are forced to move (along with their mother and younger sister) into rather more straitened circumstances. The novel follows Elinor's quiet, restrained love affair with Edward Ferrars (her sister-in-law's brother who is expected to marry a rich woman) and Marianne's more overtly-romantic love triangle with the dashing Willoughby and the older, reliable Colonel Brandon.

The main theme of the novel is the contrast between reasonable Elinor's patience and sense of responsibility and Marianne's headstrong love of romance ("sensibility" in the language of the time), which often leads her into trouble.

The 1995 film cast Emma Thompson as Elinor and Kate Winslet as Marianne; a 2008 BBC Mini Series drew heavy inspiration from the film and is comparable in quality. The BBC also previously adapted the book into television miniseries in 1971 and 1981. There is also a Tamil-language Indian film based on the book and 1995 film, starring Aishwarya Rai and available in the US under the title I Have Found It. In 2010, Marvel Illustrated produced a Comic-Book Adaptation, script by Nancy Butler, art and covers by Sonny Liew.

In 2013 it was the first novel to be adapted by The Austen Project, in which various authors were contracted to write modern day Setting Updates of Austen's six books. The author was Joanna Trollope.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: John Dashwood does absolutely nothing when his wife hurts his sisters.
  • Age-Gap Algebra: Discussed a lot when Colonel Brandon falls in love with Marianne Dashwood. He is 35 and she is 17, and she generally thinks he's too old for any love or marriage. Her sister Elinor thinks that it is a significant gap, but says a woman of 27 and a man of 35 might be quite happy together. Near the end of the novel, the Colonel is still very much in love with her, and the narrator says he had "little to do but to calculate the disproportion between thirty-six and seventeen".
  • Age-Gap Romance: Colonel Brandon, 35, falls in love with young Marianne Dashwood, 17. She thinks that he is extremely old, and barely considers him a family friend. When her mother starts supporting the relationship, she acknowledges the age difference, but thinks it might be a good thing that he's older and that his principles are steady and fixed. After being disappointed with her First Love, Marianne eventually marries him.
  • Alliterative Name: Lady Middleton, whose first name is Mary. (It's only mentioned once, by her mother.)
  • Annoying Younger Sibling:
    • Marianne is sometimes annoying to Elinor, especially as Marianne exaggerates everything, but Elinor has much more affection for Marianne than the trope implies.
    • Their youngest sister, Margaret, is rarely annoying — and indeed has so little presence in the story that her existence is often forgotten; she does, however, have one moment of fulfilling the trope. When Mrs. Jennings asks for information about Elinor's Love Interest, Margaret innocently obliges.
  • Arranged Marriage:
    • Edward is supposed to marry Miss Morton — leave it to Jane Austen to make men victims of this trope. Miss Morton is a very wealthy daughter of a lord, and Edward's domineering mother wants him to marry her. Miss Morton is The Ghost and never actually appears in the story, so we never know what she thought of the match.
    • Colonel Brandon's "Eliza" was forced to marry his older brother. She was his orphaned cousin raised under the guardianship of Brandon's father, and very wealthy. The Brandon family estate was in debt, so they needed Eliza to marry the Colonel's eldest brother in order for her fortune to be used on the family estate. He didn't love her or deserve her.
  • Benevolent Boss: It's implied that the Dashwood women are regarded as this by their servants, since three of them immediately volunteer to accompany them into Devonshire; the narrative further remarks that when the women arrive safely at Barton Cottage, they are considerably cheered by how happy their servants are to see them.
  • Birds of a Feather: Marianne desires a relationship like this. She hopes to find a most superior man with whom she could share all her passions, like music, literature and poetry.
    Marianne:: Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.
  • Brainless Beauty: Mrs. Jennings' daughters, Lady Middleton and Mrs. Palmer, are extremely pretty but show no inclination towards higher thought.
  • The Casanova: Willoughby is handsome and quite adept at charming wealthy ladies.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Edward and Lucy met when they were very young and got engaged. Edward tries to honour his promise, even though he fell out of love, but it ultimately falls apart. Lucy instead marries his younger brother (who has more money).
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Disjoining Edward and Lucy so Edward and Elinor can be together, then pairing up Lucy with Edward's brother and Marianne with Brandon.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Miss Grey, Willoughby's rich new fiancée. After he and Marianne run into each other at a ball, she intercepts a letter from Marianne which confirms all of her suspicions, and orders him to write the cold breakup letter immediately - even going so far as to actually dictate it. (Of course, all this information comes from Willoughby explaining himself in an attempt to look better, so it should be taken with some salt.)
    • Lucy behaves this way toward Elinor, as she is very much aware that Edward has feelings for the other girl. Elinor, however, is smart enough to recognize what Lucy is doing, and endeavors to act like she has no particular interest in Edward beyond as an extended relation through their siblings' marriage.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Mrs. Jennings seems to be one of these, and is described as "silly" on many a book jacket. It's true that she is a bit flighty and prone to speaking her mind without necessarily thinking first, but as the book continues, she also reveals herself to be smarter than the reader might have first believed.
  • Comfort Food: Mrs. Jennings tries to treat Marianne's heartbreak by feeding her, but Marianne refuses almost everything. (She has more success with the wine, although Elinor claims it.)
  • Coming of Age Story: Marianne grows during the course of the story, and learns to put aside some of her childish sensibility and have a bit more sense and consideration for others like her older sister Elinor.
  • Damsel in Distress: Marianne is injured and stranded in the countryside when Willoughby rescues her.
  • Dances and Balls: Sir John is fond of throwing dancing parties at his country estate, but only one they attend in London is of great significance to the plot. There, the Dashwood sisters encounter Willoughby, who was previously avoiding them since their arrival in London. Willoughby's fiancée also sees Marianne and it's strongly implied she's jealous of Marianne's great beauty and because of rumours about Willoughby's involvement with her.
  • The Dandy: Robert Ferrars is depicted this way when he first appears, although Elinor doesn't know who he is at the moment. He spends a ridiculous amount of time fussing over a custom toothpick case, and when he looks at her and Marianne, she thinks that he seems to be expecting them to admire him rather than the other way around. He doesn't improve upon proper introduction.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Colonel Brandon. He confides it to Elinor, including the part about his childhood sweetheart, his childhood sweetheart's illegitimate daughter, and his childhood sweetheart's illegitimate daughter's seducer (who happens to be Willoughby). See? He had a point.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Mr. Palmer often provides sarcastic comments, mostly aimed at his ditzy wife or his vulgar mother-in-law, but at others as well.
      Mrs Jennings: You and I, Sir John, should not stand upon such ceremony.
      Mr Palmer: Then you would be very ill-bred.
      Mrs Palmer: [laughing] My love, you contradict every body. Do you know that you are quite rude?
      Mr Palmer: I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred.
    • Elinor, although she mostly keeps her snarkiness to herself; she is too polite and too well-mannered to openly sneer at people.
      Robert Ferrars: For my own part, I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy. I advise every body who is going to build, to build a cottage. (...) Some people imagine that there can be no accommodations, no space in a cottage; but this is all a mistake. (...) So that, in fact, you see, if people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling.
      Narration: Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.
  • Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Elinor acts mostly reserved and she seems rather cold to her mother and sister who feel everything very deeply and feel they must show their emotions to everybody. Then Elinor reveals at the end what she had to go through (she loved a good man who loved her back, but promised to marry another one, who was not worthy of him) and that she had to suffer silently because of her promise.
    Elinor: If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered now.
  • The Ditz: Mrs. Palmer and Anne Steele both fall into this. Mrs. Palmer laughs at everything, even things like her chickens dying. Anne, meanwhile, rarely thinks before she speaks and evinces very little common sense.
  • Doting Parent:
    • Mrs. Dashwood is a very affectionate mother, to Marianne in particular. But she loves all of her daughters.
    • Lady Middleton dotes on all of her children, who are described as essentially her reason for existing. They are very spoiled.
    • Mrs. Jennings likewise has great affection for both of her daughters, though she shows particular attachment to Mrs. Palmer, who is more like her than Lady Middleton. She's also fond of her sons-in-law, especially the amiable Sir John.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Half-siblings John and Elinor Dashwood to siblings Fanny and Edward Ferrars. They are not particularly close because one couple are selfish jerks (John and Fanny), the other are a pair of good, kind, and reasonable people (Elinor and Edward).
  • The Dutiful Son: We are told that Elinor, despite her youth, often acts as a counselor to her mother. She also hides her disappointment about Edward's engagement from her family, to spare them any concern about her.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Marianne is a talented pianist with very deep feelings for music, and her talent enchants both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby.
  • Emo Teen: Marianne gives into gloom and despair, replacing activities such as eating and sleeping with sobbing, after Willoughby leaves — not "leaves her," just leaves, as in just going away on business for an indefinite period of time. Needless to say, when he does officially leave her...
  • Emotionless Girl: Elinor. She's only nineteen, yet mature enough to control her emotions and not to showcase them, unlike her less rational mother and sister Marianne. After her father Mr. Dashwood dies, she's the most reliable member of the family and a great support to all if a problem arises. She's the kind of Emotionless Girl with a (now rather common) twist — she feels emotions, and rather deeply, too, but doesn't express them openly.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Both themes are presented in the title and in the personalities of Marianne and Elinor. Elinor represents "sense," which then meant what it does now - having a good head on your shoulders and not letting your feelings carry you away. Marianne represents "sensibility", which meant more of a strength of feeling or something akin to Romanticism. Austen's sympathies are not clearly on either side; Marianne's strong sensibility is tested throughout the novel and her romantic, self-indulgent ways almost kill her, and she is eventually forced to learn to be more like her rational sister. Elinor, meanwhile, has to reconcile her private feelings and the way she acts, for example admitting her inner pain to her family.
  • Epistolary Novel: Early drafts were written in a letter form, under the title Elinor and Marianne.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Fanny Dashwood notices her mother, Mrs. Ferrars, sneering at Elinor's artwork, Fanny ventures to compliment it. Even the narrator states, "Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough."
  • Exact Words: Fanny convinces John to weasel out of his promise to his father by emphasizing that his father never asked him to do anything specific for his sisters, just to "help them". He soon considers helping them move the furniture to be a reasonable fulfillment of the promise, and is chagrined to find that he's not actually able to do it because all their things have to be sent by water.
  • Excessive Mourning: Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne keep their grief going in an incessant feedback loop at the beginning of the novel, bringing up keepsakes and memories in what seems a deliberate effort to keep their mourning raw and unchecked. This leaves the task of actually running the household and dealing with their loss of property to Elinor.
  • First Girl Wins: Colonel Brandon sees Marianne before Willoughby ever arrives in Devonshire and ultimately wins her.
  • First-Name Basis: A big deal in Georgian times.
    • When Elinor overhears Willoughby calling Marianne by her Christian name, she takes it as a sign that they're either engaged or as good as.
    • It's noted in the narration that when the Steele sisters stay with the Dashwoods, Fanny calls Lucy by her Christian name as an indication of how attached she is to her.
  • Flat Character: Lady Middleton, deliberately. She's elegant and indulgent of her children, but other than that is basically devoid of a personality and is usually described as being incurious and insipid.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
    • Responsible Elinor and foolish Marianne, albeit one where the "foolish" daughter is portrayed fairly sympathetically. It's even reflected in the title (when you realize that "sensibility" meant to Austen something like what "sensitivity" means in modern-day English).
    • Lucy Steele may be Book Dumb, but she's a clever, focused social climber who knows how to keep a secret. Her older sister Anne is an airhead and ill-mannered besides (despite having a generally better nature than Lucy, Anne cannot read a room).
    • Edward is sensible, well-mannered, and well-educated. His brother Robert is a self-absorbed fop.
  • Forced from Their Home: Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters have to seek a new place to live after Mr. Dashwood dies and his son from his first marriage John, under the influence of his Rich Bitch wife, forces them out of their home.
  • Foreshadowing: Colonel Brandon displays the "taste" in music (when Marianne first plays the pianoforte at Barton Park) that Marianne considers essential in a lover.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Elinor pleads with Marianne to see she doesn't have to spend the rest of her life crying and moping just because Willoughby is a Jerkass.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The conflict between Marianne's advocacy of her behavior and indulgence in sensibility and Elinor's practical sense and insistence she try to control herself more mirrors the glorious war between Freud's Id and Superego.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Willoughby is a male example. He's very rich, as far as property is concerned. He owns an estate, Combe Magna, and some land with it, but he doesn't have lots of money, and later we find out why — he has debts. He's also expected to inherit possessions of Mrs Smith, to whom he is related, in particular her estate of Allenham Court. When he falls out of her favour, he decides to marry for money. He leaves penniless Marianne, whom he loves, and marries Miss Grey with fifty thousand pounds (the wealthiest bride in Jane Austen's 'verse). He later claims she knew he didn't love her when he proposed.
      Elinor: The lady then — Miss Grey I think you called her — is very rich?"
      Mrs Jennings: Fifty thousand pounds, my dear. Did you ever see her? A smart, stylish girl they say, but not handsome. I remember her aunt very well, Biddy Henshawe; she married a very wealthy man. But the family are all rich together. Fifty thousand pounds! And by all accounts, it won't come before it's wanted; for they say he is all to pieces. No wonder! Dashing about with his curricle and hunters! Well, it don't signify talking; but when a young man, be who he will, comes and makes love to a pretty girl, and promises marriage, he has no business to fly off from his word only because he grows poor, and a richer girl is ready to have him. Why don't he, in such a case, sell his horses, let his house, turn off his servants, and make a thorough reform at once? I warrant you, Miss Marianne would have been ready to wait till matters came round. But that won't do now-a-days; nothing in the way of pleasure can ever be given up by the young men of this age.
    • Lucy Steele. As a very young man, Edward Ferrars became secretly engaged to her. Even though he doesn't love her anymore, he can't honourably break off the engagement. She maintains the pretense of selfless devotion to him, even after he is disowned because of her, until she has secured a better prospect: his younger brother.
  • Greed: Fanny Dashwood and, to a lesser extent, her husband John. Seriously, they have an income about twelve times that of the other branch of the family, and John had given an effing promise to his dying father to take care of them; they should have done something. But Fanny is after money and hates splitting property. They have an only son, and it's implied they don't want more children so they don't have to split their family money among them.
    Fanny: Well, then, LET something be done for them; but THAT something need not be three thousand pounds. Consider that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our poor little boy—
    John: Why, to be sure, that would make great difference. The time may come when Harry will regret that so large a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, for instance, it would be a very convenient addition.
  • Hair Memento: Edward owns a ring that has a lock of his secret fiancee Lucy inside it. Upon discovering it Mrs. Dashwood asks about it. Since she doesn't know about Lucy she suspects that it's from Edward's sister (and Mrs. Dashwood's daughter-in-law) Fanny. Edward goes along with this, albeit guiltily.
    • Marianne has given Willoughby a lock of her hair. Upon getting engaged to someone else he returns the hair.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Mr. Palmer behaves rudely or indifferently to everyone he meets in the belief that this makes him appear distinguished. Later, it's shown that he does love his family, especially his baby son, and he goes out of his way to be kind and polite to Marianne and Elinor when events go against them. Once staying in his house for the Easter holidays, Elinor is pleased to find that she likes him a lot more than she ever expected.
  • * Hoist By Her Own Petard: Mrs. Ferrars's attempt to punish Edward by settling the estate on Robert just makes Lucy dump Edward and go after the newly independent Robert, and Mrs. Ferrars, having lost all her leverage, is powerless to prevent the wedding. As a kicker, Edward is actually thrilled to have an honourable escape from Lucy, and Robert probably would have been perfectly happy to marry Miss Morton if that had been a condition of his receiving the estate.
  • Hope Is Scary: Having been told to prepare for the worst, Elinor tries to keep herself from being hopeful when Marianne's fever breaks, but she can't help it.
    Hope had already entered; and feeling all its anxious flutter, she bent over her sister to watch—she hardly knew for what.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Gender flipped. This is part of Edward's explanation for why he stayed in Norland for so long while he was falling in love with Elinor; he had convinced himself that she only saw him as a friend, so he was only hurting himself.
  • I Gave My Word:
    • Edward promised that he would marry an illiterate, mean, mercenary girl. Despite them being teenagers in love, he considered his word binding.
    • Elinor promised she would keep Lucy's secret, which she did, despite her personal heartbreak, and despite the girl's cat-playing-with-a-mouse behavior. It's especially honourable of her because Elinor's wording of the promise did not bind her to absolute silence. She said, in essence, that "your secret is safe with me," which is rather vague, and a less scrupulous person would probably feel she could at least tell her sister, or her mother. But she keeps her mouth shut and listens to all the snide comments. And all the while she could just drop a hint to her sister-in-law — Edward's sister — and the engagement would fall apart.
    • Subverted with John Dashwood, who gave his word that he would take care of his dying father's widow and his half-sisters after he died — only end up getting rather easily talked out of doing a single thing to help them by his greedy wife.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Mrs. Jennings finds a bottle of good wine and recommends it as a treatment for Marianne's heartbreak. As Marianne is already asleep, Elinor asks if she can drink it instead. After being horrified by Willoughby's actions and having to console Marianne the whole day, not to mention her own heartache over Edward's secret engagement, Elinor figures she'd do well to test its restorative powers on herself and downs "the greater part" as soon as the glass is in her hand.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy:
    • Elinor. Though it's more I Want My Beloved to Behave in a Morally Upright Manner; after several conversations with Lucy, Elinor is perfectly certain that Edward will not be happy if he marries Lucy, due to Lucy's poor character and shallow, selfish personality. However, breaking an engagement was a very serious breach of trust in that time, so he still needs to go through with it. She gets him in the end.
    • Edward is shown to be feeling this way when Elinor tells him that Colonel Brandon wants to give him the position of rector in the Delaford parish. The narrative is phrased in such a way that it's clear he thinks she was given the task of telling him because she's going to marry Colonel Brandon; he's dejected, but as he's engaged to Lucy, he certainly can't protest and so he just hopes for her happiness.
    • Colonel Brandon has to painfully resign himself to the probability that Marianne will marry Willoughby—which would be bad enough, given the man's character, even if Brandon wasn't in love with her himself. (He's quite relieved to learn that there's no engagement, despite the general knowledge of its existence.)
  • Irony: Mrs. Ferrars makes a point of distinguishing Lucy Steele and snubbing Elinor, thinking that Elinor is trying to ensnare Edward. Elinor derives some bitter amusement from knowing that Lucy is the one who wants to ruin Mrs. Ferrars' ambitions for her son's marriage and even drops a hint to Lucy that the situation would be quite different if the secret engagement became known.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Marianne is deeply self-absorbed, considering her feelings (whether positive or negative) absolutely irrepressible and in the process disregarding common politeness and the feelings of others; when circumstances force Elinor to confess that she too has been unhappy, Marianne breaks down in tears of remorse, forcing Elinor to comfort her again, and continues to wallow in her own unhappiness — with added guilt, now — rather than provide emotional support for Elinor. It takes near-death to smarten her up. Granted, she's a teenager, but it's a major contrast with Elinor, who's 19 at the start of the novel, and displays more responsibility and consideration for others than many people much older than she.
    • All of the Ferrars family, with the exception of Edward, are deeply self-absorbed and will do just about anything to avoid being of use to anyone else. The narration notes that his mother seems to have a strange fear of being reproached for being too good-natured.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Marianne's passionate courtship with Willoughby is in plain view of everyone around, including Colonel Brandon who silently pines for Marianne. However, she is completely unaware about the latter's feelings.
  • Jerkass:
    • John Dashwood and his wife Fanny. Fanny is far more of a Jerkass than John, though; it's shown that John does at least have genuine affection for his sisters, and a fondness for his stepmother; he might be a better person without his wife's influence. He's still way too preoccupied with money to be very likable, however.
    • Fanny's other brother, Robert, is self-absorbed. When Elinor meets him, he talks only about himself and his views on every matter. He ridicules his brother Edward because he wants to become a clergyman.
    • Mrs. Ferrars is an extremely unpleasant woman. One really has to wonder how Edward turned out so nice, coming from such a family.
  • Karma Houdini: Multiple examples. For a book with a bevy of insufferable and self-serving characters, none of the villains see any comeuppance for their awful ways.
    • Mr. Willoughby runs away and impregnates a naïve fifteen year old girl of illegitimate birth, essentially ruining her already slim chances of marrying well. He also abandons Marianne, leaving her with a despair that nearly kills her. Despite all that, he marries a shallow, wealthy woman named Miss Sophia Grey, and while it's mentioned that he doesn't share the same affinity with Miss Grey as he does with Marianne, the two live comfortably in the end. It's even pointed out that the one consequence of his actions - that he will always love Marianne and regret not marrying her - would probably have just been inverted if he had actually married Marianne instead of Sophia; he would always be moaning about having no money instead of having a boring wife.
    • The deceptive Lucy Steele manages to marry well to Edward's brother Robert, and is even mentioned to have been accepted by the elitist, domineering Mrs Ferrars and Fanny. Meanwhile, Edward ends up disinherited and essentially ostracised from the family for the same offence committed by Robert (ie. becoming engaged to Lucy Steele).
  • Kissing Cousins: Colonel Brandon confides his Back Story to Elinor, including the fact that his first love was his cousin Elizabeth. They also grew up together because she was his father's ward.
  • Knight in Shining Armor:
    • Colonel Brandon is an honourable man. He's taken under his wing his first love's illegitimate daughter and continues taking care of her even though people suspect she's his illegitimate daughter as well, which is not true. He also very generously offers a living to Edward after his family disinherits him.
    • Willoughby makes this impression when he first meets Marianne, rescuing her and carrying her home. Marianne is instantly smitten by him, but he's not as wholesome as he first appears.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: The Dashwood sisters finally get their men in the last three pages.
  • Last-Name Basis: Colonel Brandon's first name is never revealed.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Marianne makes a point of leaving Elinor alone with Edward as often as she can and can't understand why one or both of them will always leave when she does.
  • Lemony Narrator: Austen's narration often observes the events with wry wit. Her description of Barton Cottage, for example, points out that it is "defective" as a cottage due to its regular layout, tiled roof, and lack of rambling honeysuckle or green shutters.
  • Love at First Sight: Marianne and Willoughby experience, at the very least, mutual attraction at first sight; she's a Damsel in Distress and he comes gallantly to her rescue
  • Love Hurts: The Austen Novel. First there's Edward's mixed signals towards Elinor, then there's Willoughby and Marianne's passionate romance and his inexplicable abandonment of her, then there's Edward's secret engagement to a girl he doesn't love anymore, then there's Colonel Brandon's first love...
  • Love Triangle:
    • Elinor and Lucy both love Edward; Edward used to love Lucy, wants to stay constant, but falls in love with Elinor.
    • Brandon and Willoughby both love Marianne. Marianne loves Willoughby, but he leaves her, and at the end she marries Brandon.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Fanny Dashwood is, quite possibly, the biggest Manipulative Bitch in the entire Austenverse. Witness her conversation with John where she persuades him to go back on his promise to his father. She makes no argument worthy of serious refutation, but the way she plays him is brilliant.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Elinor meets Edward at the beginning of the novel, and they seem to hit it off, or at least Elinor's mother and sister think so. Elinor admits she likes him, but she says it's nothing serious because Edward never said he loved her and he never proposed to her. The reason for his mixed signals gets revealed soon. Edward is involved in a dead-end relationship with Lucy Steele. He doesn't love her anymore, but considers his engagement binding.
  • The Matchmaker: Mrs. Jennings, being a widow with two married daughters, now has nothing better to do than marry off the rest of the world.
  • Meaningful Echo: Near the beginning, Marianne describes the man of her dreams as a "connoisseur", with repeated emphasis on his good "taste" in music. Five chapters later, she realizes Colonel Brandon alone lacks the "shameless want of taste" displayed by everyone else as she plays the piano.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Colonel Brandon and Elinor tend to gravitate towards each other at social functions, so much that numerous characters believe them to be in love. Elinor would suspect that he fancied her if she didn't know that he was in love with Marianne, but there's no attraction on either side; it's just that they're usually the only two people in the room with some sense.
  • Mutual Pining: Elinor and Edward's feelings are very much mutual, but Edward being too loyal to his engagement to Lucy gets in the way of them doing anything about it. The "pining" is twofold for Elinor in that she simultaneously tries to believe that Edward should be happy with Lucy while also knowing that Lucy is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing and that Elinor seemingly can't do much about it.
  • Nice Guy: Sir John is boisterous and indiscreet, but he has a generous heart and his often Unwanted Assistance is just his way of ensuring that his bereaved cousins don't feel dispirited or lacking for society.
  • Never My Fault: A truly despicable version from Willoughby, in a scene that is supposed to make him more sympathetic — he excuses himself from seducing and then abandoning Eliza by saying it's unreasonable to believe that "because I was a libertine, she must be a saint" (essentially, "blame us both equally," despite the fact that the consequences for her were far worse).
  • Nobility Marries Money: Willoughby marries Miss Grey. He's a gentleman (and a scoundrel) of a landed gentry with a mansion house called Combe Magna, and he will inherit another house from his elderly childless cousin. However, he lives extravagantly and is deeply in debt. Miss Grey has a dowry of fifty thousand pounds, which makes her the wealthiest heiress in Jane Austen's 'verse. Her feelings for him are not entirely clear, but he is a fashionable, handsome man, and she wants to get married so she can part with her guardians with whom she didn't get along. Willoughby claims he loves Marianne Dashwood, who is lovely, intelligent, passionate, but poor as a church mouse, and Miss Grey, being rather plain, is understandably jealous; however, it's unclear how true that is, since Willoughby's account is the only one the reader is given and he's not the most honest guy. They are not an ideal couple, but the narrator says at the end of the book that they were not always unhappy together.
  • No Name Given: A very minor example, but the sharp-eyed reader may pick up on the fact that the narrative explicitly states that Sir John and Lady Middleton have "four noisy children." However, we are only ever introduced to John, William, and Annamaria. It's never even indicated whether the fourth child is a boy or a girl.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Sir John Middleton and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings take an overly eager interest in the love lives of their young friends. It's trying on the Dashwoods, but Elinor bears with it because they're both generous and well-intentioned.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Colonel Brandon and Elinor, whom half the cast eventually start shipping as much as Brandon/Marianne. Even Elinor admits to herself that, even though they're wrong, she can understand where they get the idea.
  • Not So Stoic: In the end, Elinor finally breaks down and expresses the emotion she's been bottling up all throughout the story.
  • Not What It Looks Like/One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Colonel Brandon approaches Elinor with a proposition — since Edward, freshly disinherited for being engaged to Lucy, needs to make a living, the Colonel wants to offer him the position of rector in his home parish, and would like Elinor to act as intermediary since the men have never met. Mrs. Jennings misunderstands what little she overhears, and thinks that the Colonel has proposed marriage to Elinor. Several pages later, the discrepancy is clarified, and both women are considerably amused by it.
  • The Noun and the Noun: "Sense and Sensibility"
  • Nouveau Riche: Lady Middleton's obsession with well-bred behavior and exasperation with her mother and sister's manners implies this. (She's equally exasperated with her titled husband's lack of breeding when they visit London and he maintains his usual habit of impromptu social gatherings, which is Not Done in town.)
  • The Oath-Breaker: Lucy's jilting her fiancé is treated with all the gravity with which the era would regard it, even though Edward wants out.
  • Oblivious to Love: Marianne seems, through much of the story, like she's deliberately ignoring Colonel Brandon's undeclared love for her. On literally the second-to-last page, it's finally clarified that she honestly had no idea, and is stunned when she realizes it.
  • The One That Got Away: In the epilogue, it's said that Willoughby's reaction to whatever young lady is being talked up as a great beauty is to say that she is nothing to Mrs. (Marianne) Brandon.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with John Willoughby, Mr. John Dashwood, and Sir John Middleton. However, Willoughby is normally called by his last name, and Sir John has the honorific to set him apart. Sir John also has a son named John, but he's only identified by name once in the whole book.
  • Only Sane Man: Elinor has the most "sense" of any of the characters, most of whom are foolish, selfish or downright debased. She's particularly exasperated by the romantic drama revolving around her sister.
  • Parental Favoritism:
    • It's clear that Marianne is her mother's favorite child; it's even explained in an early chapter that Mrs. Dashwood dotes on her because of her three daughters, Marianne is the most like herself.
    • It's also implied that Mrs. Jennings favors Mrs. Palmer over Lady Middleton, for the same reason.
    • Mrs. Ferrars clearly favors both Robert (her youngest) and Fanny (her only daughter) over Edward. Later, she even favors Lucy, Robert's wife, over Elinor, who marries Edward — despite the fact that Lucy was the reason she disinherited Edward in the first place!
  • Parental Marriage Veto:
    • In the personal history he imparts to Elinor, Colonel Brandon and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth were forcibly separated.
    • Later, Edward's refusal to break off his engagement to Lucy causes his mother to disown him.
  • Parents as People: Mrs. Dashwood is a kind and loving but fallible character. By the end of the book, she's come to recognize that her own attitude toward things has contributed toward Marianne's disappointment. She also realizes that she let herself be blinded by Elinor's consideration and stoic nature, and fears that she's been unkind to her elder daughter by not taking notice of her pain.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Mr. Dashwood effectively gets hit with this at the beginning of the book; his elderly uncle leaves the bulk of his estate not to Mr. Dashwood, but to his son John, because during his final illness the uncle became deeply attached to John's little boy Henry. John had already inherited everything of his mother's, so he was comfortably settled in the first place, and Mr. Dashwood intends to use his time as the master of Norland to set aside money for his wife and daughters. Unfortunately, he dies less than a year after his uncle, so all he can leave them is what he himself owned, which is very little compared to the Norland estate.
    • By extension, the three Dashwood girls are this due to the uncle favoring their half-brother and his child, even though they need the money much more than John and little Henry do. The girls helped to nurse the uncle through his final illness, so he leaves them one thousand pounds each out of gratitude and affection, and the interest they earn from this "competence" is their chief source of income. For this reason, the invitation to live at Barton Cottage (where they barely have to pay rent and are often sent gifts of food by their mother's cousin Sir John) is a tremendous relief to their circumstances.
  • Perpetual Poverty: The Dashwood women aren't exactly destitute (they have servants and none of them need to work for a living), but the situation in which they find themselves after Mr. Dashwood's death is certainly a massive step down for them socially.
  • Playing the Victim Card: Several characters, but notably:
    • Willoughby, who tries to suggest that the socially disadvantaged fifteen year old girl he seduces, impregnates and abandons is at least as much to blame as he is, and also would like everyone to know how awful it is that his aunt disinherited him (not for the aforementioned seduction, but for refusing to marry the girl) since he has a lot of debts and was thus forced to marry an extremely wealthy woman and pine evermore for Marianne.
    • John and Fanny Dashwood go on at great lengths about how hard done by they are... in front of John's stepmother and half-sisters, who are not just financially much worse off, but whose poverty is actually because of the couple. In a move of breathtaking pettiness, Fanny even complains about Mrs. Dashwood taking the few things she actually owns, such as china, linens, and Marianne's piano, to their new home. Which they need because Fanny is kicking them out of their old one.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Mr. Dashwood's death is what forces his wife and daughters to seek a new home.
  • The Pollyanna: Mrs. Palmer is always ready to smile and laugh at everything. Her reaction to her husband's continual insults is simply to laugh and declare that he's extremely droll.
  • Replacement Goldfish: It's implied that Marianne is this for Colonel Brandon, given her strong resemblance in both looks and temperament to his childhood sweetheart, Eliza.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • Fanny Ferrars comes from a very wealthy genteel family and marries John Dashwood who is also wealthy (his mother left him a large sum of money), and when his father Mr. Henry Dashwood dies, they come into possession of Norland, their family estate. Fanny is obsessed with money and she's a cold person.
    • Lady Middleton is an icy woman of high rank in society. She's very beautiful, tall, striking, graceful, elegant, well-bred, but also cold and reserved, and has absolutely nothing interesting to say. She tolerates the Miss Steeles because they are willing to suck up to her, and she's rather delighted with Fanny Dashwood, who likewise thinks she is "one of the most charming women in the world." It's their mutual coldness that attracts them to pursue a friendship with one another.
    • Willoughby indicates that his wife Sophia is a haughty, unpleasant Rich Bitch, although the reader gets no direct confirmation because she's never seen.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Essentially the point of the novel — Elinor and Austen alike both fall on the side of enlightenment, whereas Marianne is on the side of romanticism (the "cult of sensibility" of which she is a member was basically Romanticism in its early stages).
  • Sarcasm Mode: Austen's description of the "kindness" John Dashwood intends to show his half-sisters.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Edward's mother attempts to basically bribe him with a massive advance on his inheritance if he will only break his engagement to Lucy Steele and marry the woman she's picked out for him. We don't know how tempted he is to accept, but he refuses to go back on his word and is promptly disinherited for it.
  • Second Love: Discussed at a few points, as Marianne (in early chapters) adamantly refuses to believe that it's possible to fall in love more than once. Elinor is quite wry about it when she and Colonel Brandon talk about this opinion, since - as she points out - their mother was their father's second wife. Marianne's opinion is ultimately turned on its head by the end of the book; she and Colonel Brandon are each other's second loves.
  • Secret-Keeper: Elinor keeps getting drafted into this role. She's quite willing to keep the secret of her good friend Colonel Brandon's ill-fated first love and what became of her daughter. She's less enthusiastic about being the one in whom Lucy confides about the state of her engagement to Edward, since that's the man Elinor herself loves.
  • Secret Relationship: Edward and Lucy swore themselves to each other as a youthful fancy and kept it secret. Edward regrets it and wishes that it would never come to light.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Being "sensible" had a different meaning in Austen's time than it does now; sensibility in those days referred to an affection for things wild and untamed in nature. Nowadays, sense and sensibility mean pretty much the same thing. If the novel were written today it would probably be called Sense and Sensitivity.
  • Settle for Sibling: Mrs. Ferrars plans on this after she disinherits Edward, as John explains to Elinor. Since Miss Morton cannot now marry Edward, she plans to arrange an engagement between the lady and Robert, her younger son, now the heir to both his own and Edward's share of the Ferrars estate. This does not work out in her favor.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Elinor, who usually ignores the various conjectures and hints everybody makes about her love life, at one point finds herself obliged to tell her brother that no, she is not going to marry Colonel Brandon. John completely ignores her. He knows better, obviously.
  • Shipper on Deck: At one point half the cast seems to ship Elinor and Colonel Brandon. Elinor and Brandon... don't share their opinion, although Elinor at least can see where they get the idea. She even admits to herself that if she didn't already know he's in love with Marianne, she would be persuaded to think he really does have a thing for her because they have such a great friendship.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang:
    • Elinor and Marianne, whose dichotomy provide the novel's title. Elinor has sense, making her cool, level-headed and rational. Marianne has sensibility, making her sensitive, passionate and impulsive.
    • The narrative states that Mrs. Palmer is several years younger than her sister, Lady Middleton, and "totally unlike her in every respect". Lady Middleton is perfectly civil, haughty and icy, while Mrs. Palmer is kind-hearted and open almost to a fault.
    • Edward Ferrars is about as unlike his brother and sister as it's possible to be. He's kind, generous, and possesses great humility, while they're braggarts and social climbers who are obsessed with money and look down at others.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: One-sided. Anne Steele, Lucy's sister, acts this way about her Love Interest, a man called Doctor Davies. She begins any conversation regarding the man by assuming that whoever is talking to her will tease her about him; the narrative observes that she affects a simpering tone. (According to what Austen told her nieces and nephews, she doesn't get him, but the book doesn't indicate one way or the other.)
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Elinor and Marianne are both young ladies on the market for a husband. Their diminished financial situation makes them rather reliant on finding a good man to support them.
  • Spoiled Brat: Lady Middleton's children. They're overindulged and uncontrollable, and the reasons are illustrated in one scene where Annamaria scratches herself on a pin and starts crying; her mother and the Miss Steeles immediately begin pampering her, coddling her, and giving her sweets, which she perceives as a reward for her bawling.
  • Stiff Upper Lip:
    • Elinor has a moment in the end where she states that just because she's The Stoic doesn't mean that she isn't feeling great passions. She just keeps them appropriately restrained and soldiers on.
    • Colonel Brandon is deeply in love with Marianne, but understands that he's not even on her radar and does not let bitterness or jealousy affect his principled actions. It works out in the end.
  • The Stoic: Elinor, who suffers in silence when her beloved must leave her for another woman.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: Elinor is unwilling to ask Marianne if she is engaged to Willoughby, fearing that her interference will be rejected. She decides that if things continue thus, she will write to her mother and "represent in the strongest manner [...] the necessity of some serious inquiry into the affair." (When she finally does make this plea, Mrs. Dashwood largely ignores it and only asks Marianne to be more open with them.)
  • Take Care of the Kids:
    • John Dashwood promises his dying father that he will take care of his sister... but doesn't.
    • Part of Colonel Brandon's backstory: When his cousin/first love Elizabeth dies, she bequeaths her daughter to him.
  • Talk About the Weather: Everyone except Marianne, who complains about this. Elinor, on the other hand, is able to answer questions about the weather before they are asked.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Edward's position at the end when his mother disowns him. Brandon is able to offer him a parsonage on his land as Edward wants to be a clergyman, but he thinks it will only be enough income for a bachelor. Edward at the end reconciles with his mother and receives some money, so he's able to marry at last.
  • The Vamp: Fanny Dashwood. The woman is a work of art. First she talks her husband out of fulfilling his father's Last Request to Take Care of the Kids. Then she treats them with all sorts of coldness and contempt because they're living in what is now her house. Then she resents them for taking their own staff with them when they move out. She even resents the fact that they take their own belongings with them!
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Fanny pulls an excellent one. Miss Steele reveals Lucy's engagement. Fanny falls into violent hysterics and kicks them out of the house. Her husband's comment: "She has borne it all with the fortitude of an angel! She says she shall never think well of anybody again."
  • Wrong Guy First:
    • Marianne first falls for Willoughby, but she discovers some dark secrets of his that prove he's not worth her affection.
    • Edward foolishly proposed to another woman in a childhood fancy, only to regret it later.

Adaptations with their own trope pages include: