1. Austen and Gender
Do a little internet research on the legal idea of an “entail.” (It also features in the Ruoff essay on “Wills” that I have assigned.) How does the book characterize the male line of Dashwoods, two of whom die in the very first pages? What might the family will (bequest) tell us about these men and the social institution of handing down property? And on the women’s side (see p.8, at the end of the first chapter), what might nineteen-year-old Elinor’s relation to her mother suggest about the state of order in her own immediate family?
2. Narrative Style/ Form
The style of characters’ speech patterns serves as an important indicator of human character in Sense and Sensibility. In Vol.1, Chapter XXI the Steele sisters, Lucy and Anne, are introduced in the novel. Characterize the style of the their speech and social behavior. Do they ever comes across as vulgar? How does Lucy Steele’s demeanor and character serve as a foil in particular to Elinor?
3. Places, Objects, and Austen’s World
What is so risqué about Marianne and Willoughby’s visit to Mrs. Smith’s home, Allenham, in Volume I, Chapter XIV? What is so thoughtless (at least potentially) about the way Marianne imagines redecorating the upstairs sitting room–especially given the Dashwoods’ own expulsion from Norland Park at the start of the book?
4. Austen and Romanticism
This is the first of three Austen novels with abstract wording in the title, so as we read we need to be asking — how does sense really relate to sensibility in this book? Are they contrasting main character traits of two different people? Or different aspects of thought and feeling that characterize everyone as an individual? Or just characterize heroines? Or an even more subtle shading? At the risk of defining a word by repeating it, “sense” is an “Enlightenment” and commonsense attribute, one based on valuing shared perceptions of what is prudent or right, rather than high standards of intense personal feeling. Even the background of these novel bears on the theme. As we saw with the renovated and modern estate of Northanger Abbey, it is a kind of surprising appeal to “realistic” sense and taste that makes Barton Cottage in the west of England “comfortable and compact” (p.23; Vol.1, Ch. VI) and not disheveled, romantic and picturesque (even though it’s in a region that Catherine Morland concedes might still be gothic! i.e. away from the center of England!). By contrast to Eleanor’s decorum, Marianne’s traits of “sensibility” make her at least the more stereotypically Romantic figure. Examine the depiction of Marianne in Vol.1, chapter 10.How is Marianne’s “sensibility” engaged with and shared by Willoughby? Is Willoughby possessed with this trait of sensibility, or is it applied only to women? Is Marianne surprising in her objects of enthusiasm? Or are they somehow predictable?
5 Popular/ Contemporary Culture
I realize that undergraduate courses now are full of students not yet born in the 1990s. But the film version of Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee in 1995 still stands as a major benchmark in terms of Austen and popular media. Apparently, Emma Thompson and Ang Lee had Hugh Grant deliberately in mind for the role of Edward Ferrars, after Grant’s hit performance in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). How does Grant’s common film persona in those ’90s films bring out the character of Edward in the novel? Vol.1, Chapter 3 introduces us to Edward. Look particularly closely at the paragraph devoted to him on p.14 (starting “Edward Ferrars was not recommended…”).How is Edward characterized? Do you find him intriguing or just boring in the pages assigned for this class? Is Edward alienated and therefore maybe a bit “modern” in some interesting way? Or is he just mediocre and clueless?
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