This began as a story called Elinor and Marianne about 1795, according to family tradition as a novel-in-letters. About two years later the title was changed to Sense and Sensibility and the manuscript was then put aside. In 1809, when settled at Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen got it out and re-worked it. It was accepted by a London publisher, Thomas Egerton, in 1810 and it was published as a three volume novel in 1811. It was Jane Austen’s first published novel, and it had on the title page ‘By A Lady’.
The story begins in Sussex where the Dashwood family live on Norland Estate. It then moves to Devon where they live in Barton Cottage, near Exeter. The two heroines, Elinor and Marianne, travel to London, then to Somerset before the sisters return to Devon at the end of the book. It covers about five to six years in total, from the death of old Mr Dashwood through to the marriage of Marianne and Colonel Brandon.
The novel discusses the cult of sensibility with its exaggeration of feeling and heightened responses. In her two heroines Jane Austen personifies and contrasts sensibility and plain good sense. As most of the action is seen through Elinor’s eyes, most readers favour Elinor and seeing society and marriage from her point of view.
Jane Austen took some financial risk in publishing this novel. Every reader of her novels must feel some gratitude to those first buyers who made sure that she made a profit from her venture into the world of publishing and was thus encouraged to continue to write and publish her books.
Caption: Illustration from Sense and Sensibility by Maximilien Vox, 1933