The qualities Jane Austen valued in the women of "Sense and Sensibility"

Essay by Danii17 May 2006

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Good looks are never as important as personal qualities of spirit and cultural understanding in the heroines of Jane Austen's novels. "Sense and Sensibility" briefly touches on the appearances of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, but this is not until chapter ten, rather than the initial descriptions of them in chapter one, showing Austen's thoughts of outer beauty as insignificant.

Elinor possesses "a strength of understanding and coolness of judgement" also having "an excellent heart - her disposition was affectionate and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them."

This detailed description of Elinor's personal attributes compared to that of her physical appearance;

"Miss Dashwood had a delicate complexion, regular features and a remarkably pretty figure.", with the lack of thorough detail found in the previous description representing Austen's belief of outer beauty as unimportant.

Elinor is Austen's model of conventional behaviour. She is prepared to attend the necessary dinners, balls and parties to meet the requirements of social courtesy, even though she usually doesn't value the company nor find any enjoyment in such events, often providing an ironic view on them.

"There was nothing in any of the party which could reccommend them as companions to the Dashwoods."

Marianne however, holds an openness and transparency in her emotions and opinions of others. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, even becoming rude to those who she doesn't care for. Contrasted to the discretion and unfailing propriety of Elinor, this behaviour is portrayed by Austen as inappropriate, even dangerous for a genteel young woman of her time. This is clearly evident through Austen's heavy condemnation of Marianne and Willoughby's horse trip alone, heard through the voice of Elinor.