Judgments of Conduct in Sense and Sensibility

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Sense and Sensibility is an elegant story that portrays the advantages of the first over the second, as manifested between two sisters of opposing temperaments, one of whom loves wisely and the other passionately. Set in London and its surrounding countryside, the story relates how Elinor, the eldest of Mrs. Dashwood's daughters, and Marianne, the second eldest, share in the agony of tragic love. In the opening of the book, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are forced to move to a new and smaller abode, as her husband's death left her fairly unwealthy.

During their transition, the Dashwood's stayed with her step-son and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood. It is there where Elinor, practical and conventional, met and fell in love with Edward Ferrars, Mrs. John Dashwood's brother. One rainy morning, after being settled in their new cottage at Barton, Marianne, emotional and sentimental, was brought home from her walk with a sprained ankle by Willoughby, a dashing young man in his mid-twenties. Marianne immediately fell for Willoughby and he for her and in the following days and weeks he was invariably found at Barton. Another new friend to the family, Colonel Brandon watched the formation of this couple with sadness as he too, had fallen in love with Marianne.

To her distress, while on an extended trip to London with friend and neighbor, Mrs. Jennings, Marianne suffered a broken heart upon hearing that Willoughby was concerned for his financial well-being and therefore had bestowed his affections elsewhere. A few months prior to the trip, Elinor learned that Edward was privately engaged to another woman, Lucy, but was bound to secrecy by this woman herself, who was not aware of Elinor's attachment to him. So while tr...

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...d, representing sense, tried to relate her imagination and her feelings to her judgment and to the tradition on which society was based. She knew how to govern her feelings as she responded calmly and serenely in the most distressing circumstances. Elinor was more concerned for the feelings of others, but Austen indicates that Elinor suffers a great deal, and her thoughts were often diverted from her own misery to the afflictions of her sister, for whom she had a great deal of compassion.

Jane Austen pulled off her aim as a matchmaker and true love triumphed as sense gave way to sensibility and sensibility gave way to sense. In the novel, Austen expresses a universal truth which is the key to her character development-- 'the imaginations of other people will carry them away to form wrong judgments of our conduct, and to decide on it by slight appearances'.
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