Study Questions for Sense and Sensibility (1811) (N.Cole, 7/13/05)
Key terms: flat and round characters circulating library
novel dramatic irony
literary realism theme foil characters
story and plot setting
scene and summary point-of-view (limited third-person)
1. Quickness and acuteness of apprehension or feeling; the quality of being easily and strongly affected by
emotional influences; sensitiveness. Also, sensitiveness to, keen sense of something.
2. In the 18th and early 19th c. (afterwards somewhat rarely): Capacity for refined emotion; delicate
sensitiveness of taste; also, readiness to feel compassion for suffering, and to be moved by the pathetic in
literature or art. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Sense: Natural understanding, intelligence, esp. as bearing on action or behaviour; practical soundness of
judgement. (Oxford English Dictionary)
1. Is Jane Austen’s name on the title page of her first published novel? Why/why not?
2. As you come across them, make a list of the principal locations/family homes in the
novel, and characters that live there. Start with Norland Park. Who originally owned it,
and who lives there when the story begins?
3.How did Mr. John Dashwood come to inherit Norland? What does his inheritance of it
mean for Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters? Explain what you think Austen means by
the “indelicacy of her conduct” [Mrs. John Dashwood’s conduct] after her father-in-law’s
3. What promise does Mr. John Dashwood make to his father on his deathbed? Is this
promised fulfilled or thwarted? What role does his wife play in this?
4. Who is Edward Ferrars? How does Marianne’s criticism of him develop her character
as well as his?
5.What does Marianne value in a man and suitor? What does Elinor value? What do you
think is the difference between the two sisters thus far? How are they foils for each other?
6. What causes Mrs. Dashwood to accept Sir John Middleton’s offer of “a small house on
very easy terms”?
7. In the move from Sussex to Devonshire, from Norland to Barton Cottage, how does the
Dashwoods’ physical and social environment change? Look at physical setting and
characters of their new neighbors, Sir John and Lady Middleton, and their guests Mrs.
Jennings and Colonel Brandon. Be ready to describe them.
8. What raillery from Mrs. Jennings does Marianne object to, and what is her response?
9. In ch. 8, in the shared and separate conversations held, what ideas about love and
marriage are conveyed?
10.What sequence of events causes Marianne to need the assistance of the stranger who
renders it? How does the conversation between the Dashwoods and Sir. John about this
stranger highlight differences in character, perception, gender?
11. In ch. 10, Colonel Brandon is praised by Elinor and criticized by Willoughby. Why?
12. What secret does Margaret tell Elinor in ch. 12? What secret does Margaret reveal
that embarrasses Elinor? How do Lady Middleton’s and Colonel Brandon’s motives in
making observations about the weather contrast each other (62)?
13.What happens to cancel the excursion to Whitwell and how does the party respond?
What does Elinor find out about Marianne and Willoughby’s outing?
14. Why doesn’t Mrs. Dashwood ask Marianne if she is engaged to Willoughby?
15. (Ch.16) How does Austen satirize Marianne’s excessively Romantic view of nature
16. (Ch.18) There is a discussion of the picturesque landscape. How does Austen use this
discussion to develop her characters’ attitudes and personalities? What might be the
significance of Edward’s ring?
17. Why doesn’t Edward have a profession?
18. Who are the Palmers? What is the name of their estate, and where is it located?
19. What are the circumstances of the Steele sisters’ invitation to Barton Park? How are
their characters described and what does the narrator tell us about their reception (p.119-
120)? Which sister, Elinor or Marianne, do the Steele sisters try to befriend, and what is
the consequence of this acquaintance?
20.What is Elinor’s response to Lucy’s news? Does she doubt Edward’s affection for
21. (Ch.2) What do Lucy and Elinor each seek in this conversation? Are they satisfied or
22. Why must Elinor assume “the post of civility” in the journey to London with Mrs.
Jennings, and what does this phrase mean? Is this Elinor’s role in the family in general,
an important part of her identity, and Austen’s culture? Please look up civility and write
down the definition for it.
23. What does Elinor conclude when Marianne says she is not writing to their mother?
Earlier on p. 128, what did Elinor see that was proof of a “positive engagement”?
24. What happens when Elinor & Marianne see Willoughby at a party they attend? How
does he behave towards them? How do the two sisters behave?
25. What does Marianne receive from Willoughby after she writes to him again after
seeing him at the party? Read p. 173-174 carefully: Note how Austen describes
Marianne’s anguish and Willoughby’s carefully worded letter to Marianne. What makes
Elinor angry when she reads the letter?
Critical sidebar: As scholar Tony Tanner observes, p. 355: “there is a muffled scream
from Marianne at the heart of the novel (almost literally at the center, in the twenty-ninth
of fifty chapters), and the cause and subsequent suppression of that scream are quite as
important in the book as the more or less delicate jostling for partners, property or power.
. .” Question for you: Marianne screams while Elinor silently experiences her own pain,
but nevertheless, both women do suffer emotionally, unable to marry the men they love.
What are the causes in their social and personal situations that lead both women to
suffer? Is there a critique here by Austen of social and economic conditions for women?
26.Why are Marianne’s letters lacking in propriety [the standard of what is socially or
morally acceptable in conduct or speech]? What does this tell us about Austen’s
society’s expectations for female conduct?
27. Whom is Willoughby to marry, and why?
28. What does Colonel Brandon tell Elinor about Willoughby, that will “open his
[Willoughby’s]character farther,” and thus be an “act of friendship” shown to Marianne?
29.How does John Dashwood continue to show his lack of brotherly duty towards his
half-sisters when they are in London?
30. What does John Dashwood talk to Elinor about after his visit to her as they walk on
Conduit Street to visit the Middletons? How does his conversation develop his character?
Is he flat? Round? Is Austen satirizing some aspect of life or society through him?
How does their interaction help highlight the differences between them?
31. How does Austen describe the dinner given by the John Dashwoods? Would you
want to be there? Why or why not? Ch. 34.
32. What is the significance of the scene featuring the display and discussion of the pair
of screens painted by Elinor?
33. In ch. 35, how does Austen employ dramatic irony in the scene of Edward’s visit to
Elinor and Marianne at which Lucy Steele is also present? [dramatic irony involves a
situation in a play or narrative in which the audience or reader shares with the author
knowledge of present or future circumstances of which a character is ignorant; in that
situation, a character unknowingly acts in a way we recognize as grossly inappropriate to
the actual circumstances, or expects the opposite of what we know fate holds in store]
34.Why exactly doesn’t Lady Middleton like Elinor and Marianne? Why does she like
Mrs. Dashwood (ch.12) and Lucy Steele (ch.36)?
35. What “misfortune” and “exceedingly great inconvenience” befalls Mrs. John
Dashwood in ch. 36? To what does this lead at the Dashwood’s London headquarters,
and how does this connect to themes in the novel concerning family and money?
36. Who is Mr. Robert Ferrars, and how is he introduced?
37. How is Lucy’s secret revealed to the world? How do the John Dashwoods act?
38. What is Marianne’s response to Elinor? How is the parallel and contrast between the
two sisters further developed here?
39.What kind action does Colonel Brandon perform, and why? How is this
misunderstood by Mrs. Jennings? What makes this awkward for Elinor?
40. What is Robert Ferrar’s attitude to Edward and Lucy when Elinor sees him at the
Dashwoods’ in ch. 41? How is he a foil for Edward?
41.Where do Marianne and Elinor go when they leave London, and with whom?
What elements does this location offer to Marianne, that may help her?
42. In chs. 6,7 and 8, Marianne grows increasingly ill, her body infected and weakened.
When characters get sick and their sickness becomes a significant element of the plot, we
need to ask questions about what the author is doing with that character, his/her sickness,
and how the sickness/disease might be related to other ideas in the novel. The body of a
character is a space marked by gender, class, race, and ideology [a manner of thinking
characteristic of an individual, group, or culture]. Marianne’s death would mean certain
things to the outcome of the novel, just as her recovery would mean certain things to the
outcome of the novel. Her sickness provides opportunities for other characters to confront
certain issues as well. Thus the sick body becomes a kind of narrative opportunity for the
novelist to bring out certain issues and conflicts in a text. Let’s talk about this: how
Marianne’s illness affects Elinor, Col. Brandon, the Palmers, Willoughby, Sir John, and
Marianne herself. What revelation is made by Willoughby?
43. Do Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood’s attitudes to Willoughby change when they learn of
his explanation? How is Marianne affected? What forecast of life with Willoughby for
Marianne does Elinor project?
44. What mistake does Mrs. Dashwood realize she may have made? What brings her to
45. How has Marianne changed since her illness and returning to Barton Cottage?
46. What news does Edward Ferrars bring, and how does Elinor respond? How do things
get sorted out?
47. What does Fanny’s letter to Edward reveal further about her character, if anything?
48. How is a reconciliation between Edward and his mother effected?
Does Mrs. Ferrars also forgive Robert and Lucy? Is Edward restored to his financial
rights as the eldest son? Why or why not?
49. Scholar Tony Tanner writes that “One can feel that there is something punitive in the
taming of Marianne and all she embodies” at the end of the novel. Do you feel that way,
or differently? How does the end of the novel resolve the conflicts introduced throughout
the rest of the novel? What, if anything, is left unresolved?