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Marriage in Sense and Sensibility Essay


We have all heard the axiom Follow your heart, but in reality, this is not a simple procedure. In Jane Austens novel Sense and Sensibility, she addresses the emotional restrictions placed on society women in the early 19th century. Marianne and Elinor, as metaphorical embodiments of a persons mental state versus their outward appearance, struggle with these restrictions throughout the novel. Marianne, the youngest and most vulnerable sister, represents ones feelings, as she is impulsive and honest. Her sister Elinor, however, is proper and sensible, and is always poised, polite, and emotionally restrained. Sense and Sensibility effectively explores the superficial pretenses that are expected to be put forward, no matter how one feels inside.

Regardless of how they feel, marriage is not a choice for Marianne and Elinor, but a requirement, and they must sacrifice the feelings of romantic love for that of social politics. Men can choose more freely when and who they marry, but even for wealthy high-society women, marriage is necessary to secure their social and financial stability for the future. In fact, Mrs. Dashwood, the ladies mother, is anxious to marry them off when their financial situation slips. So, when Edward Ferrars, a man who is neither attractive nor intriguing in personality, but who has large inheritance coming his way could possibly be interested in Elinor, No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behaviour to Elinor, that she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching. (15) On the other hand, when Marianne meets Willoughby, she falls madly in love. However, Elinor, as much as she wants her sister to be happy, has apprehensions to allowing her sister to have feelings for him. She says, She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately in their power; for although Willoughby was independent, there was no reason to believe him rich. (54) Love must be seen as less important than social opportunism, a very troubling situation.

The struggle to maintain their wealth, or at least the image that they are wealthy, is of much concern. When Marianne and Elinors father dies, all the money is left to their brother John, and the girls are forced to retire to a country cottage. Their sister-in-law, Fanny, feels very threatened by the womens presence in her household, and feels that to take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy, would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. (9) while she knows that the women will be socially destitute without the money promised to them in their fathers will. However, Fanny easily sways her husband, John, who cuts their inheritance in half, saying Five hundred pounds would be a prodigious increase to their fortunes! (10) . John is fully aware of the implications of his actions; his sisters and step-mother will be thrown from the lap of luxury into a life of scrambling to make ends meet.

Because women in the 19th century did not work or go to school, their lives were almost entirely social, which drove many of the women to grow jealous of one anothers material or social prosperity, often resorting to petty insults. This is very much the case. Fanny, the womens sister-in-law, was never easy till she knew the price of every part of Mariannes dress (175) so as not to be outdone in her social circle. In a social gathering, it is remarked to Mariannes eventual husband Colonel Brandon that you would not think it perhaps, but Marianne was remarkably handsome a few months ago; quite as handsome as Elinor. Now you see it is all gone. (168)

A concept often referred to in Sense and Sensibility is that of propriety, where the refined social moves of the women can make or break their standing. Without their generous neighbors the ladies Dashwood would be completely impoverished. Therefore, Elinor must restrain her sisters emotions and her mothers desperation to keep their social reputation intact. Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell (89) One moment that stands out is that of Elinor, when she is rejected by Edward, the man she assumed she was going to marry. She is unimaginably hurt and angry, but knows that to offend him is to offend a family that plays a key role in her status, so resolving to regulate her behavior to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure, and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection (66) This kind of false appearances is virtually nonexistent now, when it is acceptable for women to show their emotions, especially in response to the desertion of a loved one, however in Jane Austens era it was perfectly normal to have to hide how you feel simply because of the social impact it might have, not only on you but on your family .

Society makes people change. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen cries out against the false appearances that are so often put forward in society. Whether its in response to marriage, inheritance, jealousy or simply decorum, ones audience can

drastically influence how they act in contrast with how they feel. The novel explains how false appearances are a constant part of the world around us, and it is not only encouraged but expected.

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