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Sense and Sensibility

Jane Austen

  Produced by Fritz Ohrenschall and Sankar Viswanathan (Thisbook was produced from scanned images of public domainmaterial from the Google Print project.)

  Transcriber's Note:

  The Table of Contents is not part of the original book. The illustrationon page 290 is missing from the book. The Introduction ends abruptly.Seems incomplete.

  _Mr. Dashwood introduced him._--P. 219.]













  _First Edition with Hugh Thomson's Illustrations_ 1896

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  With the title of _Sense and Sensibility_ is connected one of those minorproblems which delight the cummin-splitters of criticism. In the _Cecilia_of Madame D'Arblay--the forerunner, if not the model, of Miss Austen--is asentence which at first sight suggests some relationship to the name ofthe book which, in the present series, inaugurated Miss Austen's novels.'The whole of this unfortunate business'--says a certain didactic Dr.Lyster, talking in capitals, towards the end of volume three of_Cecilia_--'has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE,' and looking tothe admitted familiarity of Miss Austen with Madame D'Arblay's work, ithas been concluded that Miss Austen borrowed from _Cecilia_, the title ofher second novel. But here comes in the little problem to which we havereferred. _Pride and Prejudice_ it is true, was written and finishedbefore _Sense and Sensibility_--its original title for several years being_First Impressions_. Then, in 1797, the author fell to work upon an olderessay in letters _a la_ Richardson, called _Elinor and Marianne_, whichshe re-christened _Sense and Sensibility._ This, as we know, was her firstpublished book; and whatever may be the connection between the title of_Pride and Prejudice_ and the passage in _Cecilia_, there is an obviousconnection between the title of _Pride and Prejudice_ and the _title ofSense and Sensibility_. If Miss Austen re-christened _Elinor andMarianne_ before she changed the title of _First Impressions_, as she wellmay have, it is extremely unlikely that the name of _Pride and Prejudice_has anything to do with _Cecilia_ (which, besides, had been published atleast twenty years before). Upon the whole, therefore, it is most likelythat the passage in Madame D'Arblay is a mere coincidence; and that in_Sense and Sensibility_, as well as in the novel that succeeded it inpublication, Miss Austen, after the fashion of the old morality plays,simply substituted the leading characteristics of her principal personagesfor their names. Indeed, in _Sense and Sensibility_ the sense of Elinor,and the sensibility (or rather _sensiblerie_) of Marianne, are markedlyemphasised in the opening pages of the book But Miss Austen subsequently,and, as we think, wisely, discarded in her remaining efforts the cheapattraction of an alliterative title. _Emma_ and _Persuasion, NorthangerAbbey_ and _Mansfield Park_, are names far more in consonance with thequiet tone of her easy and unobtrusive art.

  _Elinor and Marianne_ was originally written about 1792. After thecompletion--or partial completion, for it was again revised in1811--of _First Impressions_ (subsequently _Pride and Prejudice_),Miss Austen set about recasting _Elinor and Marianne_, then composedin the form of letters; and she had no sooner accomplished this task,than she began _Northanger Abbey_. It would be interesting to know towhat extent she remodelled _Sense and Sensibility_ in 1797-98, for weare told that previous to its publication in 1811 she again devoted aconsiderable time to its preparation for the press, and it is clearthat this does not mean the correction of proofs alone, but also apreliminary revision of MS. Especially would it be interesting if wecould ascertain whether any of its more finished passages, _e.g._ theadmirable conversation between the Miss Dashwoods and Willoughby inchapter x., were the result of those fallow and apparently barrenyears at Bath and Southampton, or whether they were already part ofthe second version of 1797-98. But upon this matter the records aremute. A careful examination of the correspondence published by LordBrabourne in 1884 only reveals two definite references to _Sense andSensibility_ and these are absolutely unfruitful in suggestion. InApril 1811 she speaks of having corrected two sheets of 'S and S,'which she has scarcely a hope of getting out in the following June;and in September, an extract from the diary of another member of thefamily indirectly discloses the fact that the book had by that timebeen published. This extract is a brief reference to a letter whichhad been received from Cassandra Austen, begging her correspondent notto mention that Aunt Jane wrote _Sense and Sensibility._ Beyond theseminute items of information, and the statement--already referred to inthe Introduction to _Pride and Prejudice_--that she considered herselfoverpaid for the labour she had bestowed upon it, absolutely nothingseems to have been preserved by her descendants respecting her firstprinted effort. In the absence of particulars some of her critics havefallen to speculate upon the reason which made her select it, and not_Pride and Prejudice_, for her debut; and they have, perhapsnaturally, found in the fact a fresh confirmation of that traditionalblindness of authors to their own best work, which is one of thecommonplaces of literary history. But this is to premise that she_did_ regard it as her masterpiece, a fact which, apart from thisaccident of priority of issue, is, as far as we are aware, nowhereasserted. A simpler solution is probably that, of the three novels shehad written or sketched by 1811, _Pride and Prejudice_ was languishingunder the stigma of having been refused by one bookseller without theformality of inspection, while _Northanger Abbey_ was lying _perdu_ inanother bookseller's drawer at Bath. In these circumstances it isintelligible that she should turn to _Sense and Sensibility_, when, atlength--upon the occasion of a visit to her brother in London in thespring of 1811--Mr. T. Egerton of the 'Military Library,' Whitehall,dawned upon the horizon as a practicable publisher.

  By the time _Sense and Sensibility_ left the press, Miss Austen wasagain domiciled at Chawton Cottage. For those accustomed to theswarming reviews of our day, with their Babel of notices, it may seemstrange that there should be no record of the effect produced, seeingthat, as already stated, the book sold well enough to enable itsputter-forth to hand over to its author what Mr. Gargery, in _GreatExpectations_, would have described as 'a cool L150.' Surely Mr.Egerton, who had visited Miss Austen at Sloane Street, must have laterconveyed to her some intelligence of the way in which her work hadbeen welcomed by the public. But if he did, it is no longerdiscoverable. Mr. Austen Leigh, her first and best biographer, couldfind no account either of the publication or of the author's feelingsthereupon. As far as it is possible to judge, the critical verdictsshe obtained were mainly derived from her own relatives and i
ntimatefriends, and some of these latter--if one may trust a little anthologywhich she herself collected, and from which Mr. Austen Leigh printsextracts--must have been more often exasperating than sympathetic. Thelong chorus of intelligent approval by which she was afterwardsgreeted did not begin to be really audible before her death, and her'fit audience' during her lifetime must have been emphatically 'few,'Of two criticisms which came out in the _Quarterly_ early in thecentury, she could only have seen one, that of 1815; the other, byArchbishop Whately, the first which treated her in earnest, did notappear until she had been three years dead. Dr. Whately deals mainlywith _Mansfield Park_ and _Persuasion_; his predecessor professed toreview _Emma_, though he also gives brief summaries of _Sense andSensibility_ and _Pride and Prejudice_. Mr. Austen Leigh, we think,speaks too contemptuously of this initial notice of 1815. If, atcertain points, it is half-hearted and inadequate, it is still fairlyaccurate in its recognition of Miss Austen's supreme merit, ascontrasted with her contemporaries--to wit, her skill in investing thefortunes of ordinary characters and the narrative of commonoccurrences with all the sustained excitement of romance. The Reviewerpoints out very justly that this kind of work, 'being deprived of allthat, according to Bayes, goes "to elevate and surprise," must makeamends by displaying depth of knowledge and dexterity of execution.'And in these qualities, even with such living competitors of her ownsex as Miss Edgeworth and Miss Brunton (whose _Self-control_ came outin the same year as _Sense and Sensibility_), he does not scruple todeclare that 'Miss Austen stands almost alone.' If he omits to laystress upon her judgment, her nice sense of fitness, her restraint,her fine irony, and the delicacy of her artistic touch, something mustbe allowed for the hesitations and reservations which invariably besetthe critical pioneer.

  To contend, however, for a moment that the present volume is MissAusten's greatest, as it was her first published, novel, would be amere exercise in paradox. There are, who swear by _Persuasion_; thereare, who prefer _Emma_ and _Mansfield Park_; there is a largecontingent for _Pride and Prejudice_; and there is even a sectionwhich advocates the pre-eminence of _Northanger Abbey_. But no one, asfar as we can remember, has ever put _Sense and Sensibility_ first,nor can we believe that its author did so herself. And yet it is sheherself who has furnished the standard by which we judge it, and it isby comparison with _Pride and Prejudice_, in which the leadingcharacters are also two sisters, that we assess and depress its merit.The Elinor and Marianne of _Sense and Sensibility_ are only inferiorwhen they are contrasted with the Elizabeth and Jane of _Pride andPrejudice_; and even then, it is probably because we personally likethe handsome and amiable Jane Bennet rather better than the obsoletesurvival of the sentimental novel represented by Marianne Dashwood.Darcy and Bingley again are much more 'likeable' (to use LadyQueensberry's word) than the colourless Edward Ferrars and thestiff-jointed Colonel Brandon. Yet it might not unfairly be contendedthat there is more fidelity to what Mr. Thomas Hardy has termed'life's little ironies' in Miss Austen's disposal of the two MissDashwoods than there is in her disposal of the heroines of _Pride andPrejudice_. Every one does not get a Bingley, or a Darcy (with apark); but a good many sensible girls like Elinor pair off contentedlywith poor creatures like Edward Ferrars, while not a few enthusiastslike Marianne decline at last upon middle-aged colonels with flannelwaistcoats. George Eliot, we fancy, would have held that the fates ofElinor and Marianne were more probable than the fortunes of Jane andEliza Bennet. That, of the remaining characters, there is certainlynone to rival Mr. Bennet, or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or theineffable Mr. Collins, of _Pride and Prejudice_, is true; but weconfess to a kindness for vulgar matchmaking Mrs. Jennings with herstill-room 'parmaceti for an inward bruise' in the shape of a glass ofold Constantia; and for the diluted Squire Western, Sir JohnMiddleton, whose horror of being alone carries him to the point ofrejoicing in the acquisition of _two_ to the population of London.Excellent again are Mr. Palmer and his wife; excellent, in theirsordid veracity, the self-seeking figures of the Miss Steeles. But thepearls of the book must be allowed to be that egregious amateur intoothpick-cases, Mr. Robert Ferrars (with his excursus in chapterxxxvi. on life in a cottage), and the admirably-matched Mr. and Mrs.John Dashwood. Miss Austen herself has never done anything better thanthe inimitable and oft-quoted chapter wherein is debated between thelast-named pair the momentous matter of the amount to be devoted toMrs. Dashwood and her daughters; while the suggestion in chaptersxxxiii. and xxxiv. that the owner of Norland was once within somethousands of having to sell out at a loss, deserves to be rememberedwith that other memorable escape of Sir Roger de Coverley's ancestor,who was only not killed in the civil wars because 'he was sent out ofthe field upon a private message, the day before the battle ofWorcester.'

  Of local colouring there is as little in _Sense and Sensibility_ as in_Pride and Prejudice_. It is not unlikely that some memories ofSteventon may survive in Norland; and it may be noted that there isactually a Barton Place to the north of Exeter, not far from LordIddesleigh's well-known seat of Upton Pynes. It is scarcely possible,also, not to believe that, in Mrs. Jennings's description ofDelaford--'a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a niceold-fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut inwith great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees inthe country; and such a mulberry tree in one corner!'--Miss Austen hadin mind some real Hampshire or Devonshire country house. In any case,it comes nearer a picture than what we usually get from her pen. 'Thenthere is a dovecote, some delightful stew-ponds, and a very prettycanal; and everything, in short, that one could wish for; and,moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a milefrom the turnpike-road, so 'tis never dull, for if you only go and situp in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all thecarriages that pass along.' The last lines suggest those quaint'gazebos' and alcoves, which, in the coaching days, were so often tobe found perched at the roadside, where one might sit and watch theDover or Canterbury stage go whirling by. Of genteel accomplishmentsthere is a touch In the 'landscape in coloured silks' which CharlottePalmer had worked at school (chap, xxvi.); and of old remedies for thelost art of swooning, in the 'lavender drops' of chapter xxix. Themention of a dance as a 'little hop' in chapter ix. reads like apremature instance of middle Victorian slang. But nothing is new--evenin a novel--and 'hop,' in this sense, is at least as old as _JosephAndrews_.

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