By Chet Yarbrough
Sense and Sensibility
By: Jane Austin
Narrated by: Rosamund Pike
Jane Austin (English Author, 1775-1817, died at the age of 41.)
Though “Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811, it is an eternal story. Though not intending to diminish the emotional relevance of Jane Austin’s characters, the story is about the rich and poor. Jane Austin’s book reminds modern readers of the universal truth of inequality. “Sense and Sensibility” touches customs of all cultures, governments, and societies.
The concept of “unequal” began with inequality of the sexes.
Inequality may have originated because of physical strength differences between men and women but it evolved to encompass most, if not all, social, cultural, and economic activities.
The title of Jane Austin’s book could have been “Cents and Sensibility”. Women who have no “Cents…” are slaves to wealth. Austin illustrates how the patriarch of the Dashwood family impoverishes his second wife’s daughters by bequeathing his family’s wealth to the guardianship of his only son from his first wife.
Two of the Dashwood’ daughters, Marianne and Elinor are of marriageable age. Marianne is 17 and Elinor is in her early twenties. Marianne falls in love with John Willoughby and Elinor has strong feelings for Edward Ferrars (one of two sons that are children of the grown Dashwood estate’s heir and wife.)
John Willoughby, who is in his early twenties, appears to court Marianne in the first chapters of the book. Willoughby is a profligate debtor with a handsome face and smooth-talking demeanor.
Marianne is also being courted by a wealthy 35-year-old former officer and landowner whom she feels is too old. Marianne believes Willoughby is to become her future husband, but he abruptly leaves to marry a woman of wealth. As found later, Willoughby is a debtor and may have been in love with Marianne but realizes she cannot help him with his indebtedness. Marianne is crushed because she feels betrayed by Willoughby’s abrupt departure.
It is the “Cents…” more than “Sense…” that get in the way of Marianne’s relationship.
The real truth of Austin’s story is that to live one must have income more than love because love does not put food on the table. This is as true today as it was in Jane Austin’s time. It is not the absolute difference between wealth and poverty. It is for men and women who choose to marry to have enough wealth to allow love to flourish. Without “Cents…” love does not survive. Even Elinor and Edward realize they cannot marry without a living-wage income.
Some say, Jane Austin’s book has a happy ending because Marianne and Elinore marry men who have “Cents…” Elinore marries Edward, a minister who has a modest income and a bequest from his formally estranged mother but may never be rich. However, he is near Elinore’s age and with “Cents…” seems destined to live a happy life.
Marianne, spurned by young John Willougby, marries the 35-year-old Colonel Brandon, a man who is rich but nearly 20 years older.
Though this may diminish what current readers feel they know about Jane Austin’s story, it idealizes what it means for a 17-year-old to marry a 35-year-old. In today’s age, a 50-year marriage would mean at least 10 years of that marriage will be of one person taking care of an older person. This is not to say love does not grow but age difference at the time of marriage has a consequence.
Poverty is a harsh task master. Without enough income to feed one’s family, the worst parts of human nature ruins lives.
All citizens, of any nation or form of government, must achieve a standard of living that meets the needs of the poorest in society. Peace among nations is dependent on cents as well as “Sense and Sensibility”.