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Monday, 22 August 2016

Jane Austen's Elinor Dashwood ('Sense and Sensibility') - a Blemish?

An uncomfortable aspect of Elinor’s behaviour at the end of Sense and Sensibility concerns her view of the importance of money in marriage.

We have been led to believe that all she needs to make her happy is marriage to Edward. The fact that he has been disinherited should not prevent their marriage. Yet we are told: Edward had two thousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with the Delaford living, was all that they could call their own … and they were neither of them quite enough in love to think that three hundred and fifty pounds a year would supply them with the comforts of life.

Not enough in love!

It seems odd that the couple who have been set before us as models of devotion, rectitude and honour should suddenly care so much for their creature comforts. Jane Austen must have known that the income this money would generate would be perfectly acceptable for a young couple to live on. However, she contrived that Mrs. Dashwood should have a change a heart, raising the couple’s income to almost exactly the figure originally put forward by Elinor (in her earlier conversation with her sisters) as her modest concept of wealth.

Incidentally, Jane Austen's Persuasion, which has much in common with Sense and Sensibility, shows how she strengthened her technique over the next six years. Much more attention is given to the heroine who seems to have loved in vain (Anne Elliot), other major characters are not left so shadowy, and, having only one central love story, it is less cramped.