Sense and Sensibility: “Know Your Own Happiness”

  • Sarah Emsley


Early in Sense and Sensibility Marianne Dashwood says she believes that her sister Elinor’s theory of behavior requires that one follow the rules of respectability Marianne reveals that she has thought Elinor believed it right “‘to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of our neighbours,’” she says to her sister, “‘This has always been your doctrine, I am sure’” (SS 94). Some readers ascribe a similar theory to Austen as well as to Elinor.1 A number of critics argue instead that there is a more complex relationship in Sense and Sensibility between the natural affection and spontaneity of sensibility and a strict, conservative, rule-following version of sense, and some suggest that Austen is critical of conventional codes of rules.2 Those who do read the novel as conservative, however, tend to accept Marianne’s view of Elinor’s rules as the dominant and triumphant code, interpreting the ending and Marianne’s marriage to Colonel Brandon as a sacrifice of passion to the expectations of conservative society.3 Although Elinor is generally careful, calm, and conservative in her behavior, she does not obey social decorum rigidly or unthinkingly, and she defends what Edward calls her “‘plan of general civility’” by insisting that “‘My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding.


Good Nature Good Breeding Human Virtue Social Virtue Moral Weakness 
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© Sarah Emsley 2005

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  • Sarah Emsley

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