Similarities between Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’.


Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 whereas Emma came into book form five years later, in 1816. Austen described Emma a person “no one but myself will much like” a prediction which I consider to be false. From what I’ve gathered by reading these two books is that although her male characters (especially the eligible, dashing suitors whom her heroines, in these two books at least, never marry) may be more similar than one would appreciate, her heroines are far more complex and realistic. The latter attribute is more applicable to Emma (and maybe even Elinor) than Marianne. According to Anne Rowe’s introduction to the Wordsworth edition of Sense and Sensibility, “Austen intends Marianne’s lack of self-discipline to be viewed as a symptom of a society which was being unprofitably infected by excessive sentimentality. Marianne imbibes the values of the Romantic movement which Austen thought was manifesting themselves in a distorted form in popular consciousness.” To prove her dislike for such people who were overly guided by their emotions, she teaches Marianne a lesson – being made to love the very being whom she, for no other reason except the fact that he didn’t fit according to her romantic notions of what a suitor ought to be, despised.

“Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract by her conduct, her most favourite maxims.” (Chapter 50, pg. 255)

Elinor, therefore, is placed as a contrast to Marianne and is the perfect combination of prudence and sense. There is nothing wanting in her character and there is no need for any change to occur during the course of the plot. Emma was different in the sense that she couldn’t be perfect like Elinor, for the purpose of the novel is to improve her character. Yet Austen doesn’t go to the other extreme as with Marianne. Since Emma is considered to be her most ‘humorous’ novel, any drastic change in her character would be unsuitable. In certain instances, as I’ve pointed out later in this paper, she does act like Marianne (although, she still doesn’t reach that excessive degree) and subsequently, regrets and makes amends for those deeds later on. Emma possesses a great deal of Elinor’s sense, as is evident by the way she manages the household and her father. She also has something which none of the Dashwoods can be accused of having – vanity. And it’s this vanity, which gradually dissolves into nothingness towards the end of the novel.

The plots for both novels are fairly simple. They echo the time during which the she lived. The back cover of Sense and Sensibility carries the following quote on top:

‘Young women who have no economic or political power must attend to the serious business of contriving material security.’

The first clause of this phrase effectively describes Elinor and Marianne’s situation as they were left with barely fifteen hundred pounds a piece. The second bit describes the obvious resolution of their getting married. Briefly speaking that is basically what the novel deals with – the question of who the two sisters will marry. In Emma the plot is rather different, as Emma, being quite an heiress, did not need to marry to attain financial security. For the greater part of the novel she maintains her resolution of never entering into matrimony for she was sure that she’d never be able to find anyone meeting her standards. Yet, she must marry and the possibility of such an occasion is only aroused in her mind with the addition of Frank Churchill and because of him she realises who the real object of her affection actually is.

From this, a very accurate picture of the Victorian society can be drawn. Women hardly had any rights especially with regards to matters of inheritance. The law declared that property and assets could only be passed on to male descendants. Most women didn’t enter into employment and if they did, it was only due to necessity and was probably in some ‘suitable’ field such as teaching. One comes across one profession, which two of the relatively important characters in Emma were involved in. Mrs. Taylor had been Emma’s