Thursday, 15 December 2016


Early drafts of Sense and SensibilityNorthanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice were written in the Steventon Rectory before Jane was twenty-two.

In November 1797, Jane's father tried to interest the publisher Cadell in a novel by a 'young lady' (it was First Impressions – later to become Pride and Prejudice). He asked about the possibility of paying privately for the publication. Cadell refused to examine the manuscript and thus lost the chance of publishing one of the greatest works of English Literature. Apparently discouraged, Jane was to see none of her work in print for another sixteen years.

When her father died, Jane was twenty-nine and working on The Watsons, the novel she immediately abandoned. She appears to have been too sad to write for some years afterwards.

Sense and Sensibility - Jane’s first published novel - is not her best, but it offers much to admire. Those critics have missed the point who say it is defective because the two men who marry the two heroines are shadowy figures. It is not about these men and their romantic relationships with the Dashwood sisters: the theme of the novel is self-control. This novel is perhaps the best manual on self-control ever written.

In Jane Austen’s Elinor, we have a heroine who shows self-control when confronted amidst the vicissitudes of life by petty jealousies, hypocrisies, arrogance, thoughtlessness, cattiness, greed, snobbery and insensitivity. In its central chapters, the novel presents this confrontation in a witty and entertaining way, with skilful plotting and acerbic dialogue. What a tour de force! 

Although Sense and Sensibility appeared in November 1811, Jane had indeed begun writing it fifteen years earlier, at about the age of twenty, shortly after completing Lady Susan. The straightforward realism of Sense and Sensibility came like a breath of fresh air to a literary world in which novels had degenerated. Sales were brisk.

Originally entitled Elinor and Marianne, it was, according to Jane Austen's niece, another epistolary novel. However, unless Jane Austen extensively reworked the plot, it is hard to imagine this being the case. Elinor and Marianne would need to be apart; but they are in fact together constantly. Edward would not have been able to write revealing letters to Elinor. Given their not being engaged, he could not write to her.

The second version was begun in November 1797 and further revisions were made at Chawton in 1809-10. Unwilling to strive again to find a publisher who would champion her, Jane took the risk of paying for the publication herself. The title page revealed only that the novel was 'By A Lady'.

Incidentally, another novel called Sense and Sensibility, written by Jane West, had appeared in 1796. Its sisters included a Marianne who, like Jane Austen's, unwisely keeps emotional wounds open. In contrast, Louisa copes with difficult trials, such as the loss of her fortune. Unlike Jane Austen, however, Jane West does not attempt to give some sympathy to her Marianne.