Sense and Sensibility: Top Ten Quotes
- “… if you observe, people always live for ever when there is any annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty.”
Volume I, Chapter II
Fanny Dashwood objects to her husband’s plan to give the Dashwood women a small annuity (annual allowance) in line with his father’s deathbed request to look after them. Fanny is so selfish that she is unwilling to part with any of their considerable wealth to help the Dashwood women.
- “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.”
Volume I, Chapter III
Marianne, disappointed with what she considers Edward Ferrars’ lack of spirit and passion, lays out her requirements in a man. Ironically, she finds just such a man as her romantic sensibilities require, but he breaks her heart.
- “I think him every thing that is worthy and amiable.”
Volume I, Chapter IV
Marianne gives Elinor her opinion of Edward. Though Marianne is trying not to hurt her sister’s feelings, everything that she has already said about Edward - that he lacks grace, spirit, and fire - shows that worthiness and amiability are qualities that she does not value. The reader recognizes that her apparent praise covers up her disappointment in Edward, lending it dramatic irony. There is a further irony, however, in the fact that Marianne falls in love with a man of grace, spirit, and fire - but he abandons her. Finally, she comes to appreciate a worthy and amiable man, Colonel Brandon, and marries him.
- “… if there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure.”
Volume I, Chapter XIV
Marianne states that her feelings are a reliable guide to the rightness or wrongness of an action. As such, she allies herself with the cult of ‘sensibility’ of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England, which taught that the acute perceptions of, or responsiveness to, something, such as another person’s emotions, was a sure guide to morality and truth. Sense and Sensibility is in part a critique of this movement.
- “‘Upon my soul,’ said he, ‘I do not know much about him as to all that. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw.’”
Volume I, Chapter X
This is Sir John Middleton’s reply to Marianne’s inquiry about the nature and interests of Willoughby, whom she has just met. Sir John is a man of limited insight whose main interests are socializing and hunting, so he can only give an answer that relates to Willoughby’s qualities in those areas. While Austen’s superficial satirical purpose is to draw attention to Sir John’s narrow outlook, her deeper satirical purpose is to link Willoughby with the hunting imagery that pervades the novel. Willoughby hunts game, but he is also an emotional and sexual predator who hunts and ensnares women, and in particular, Marianne. Hunting involves killing animals, and Willoughby, while he does not literally kill women, does destroy their lives (Eliza) and break their hearts (Marianne).
- “‘No, he is not so unworthy as you believe him. He has broken no faith with me.’
“‘But he told you that he loved you?’ -
“‘Yes - no - never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it had been - but it never was.’”
Volume II, Chapter VII
After Marianne receives a letter from Willoughby telling her that he feels nothing for her, she tries to excuse his behavior to Elinor. Elinor, the practical sister, wants to know if Willoughby has committed himself in plain words. Marianne has to admit that he has not. Marianne, the romantic sister, has put her faith in the appearance of his strong feelings for her. The events of the novel show that this, as many examples of “sensibility,” is an unreliable guide to the truth.
- “And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one’s happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant - it is not fit - it is not possible that it should be so.”
Volume III, Chapter I
After revealing to Marianne the news of Lucy Steele’s engagement to Edward Ferrars, Elinor reflects on why she will not be devastated by losing him. Her practical and responsible reaction contrasts with the emotional and destructive reaction of Marianne on losing Willoughby.
- “The lady, I suppose, has no choice in the affair.”
Volume III, Chapter V
Elinor reflects on John Dashwood’s assertion that the Ferrars family expects Robert to marry the wealthy heiress Miss Morton, after Edward refused her in order to honor his engagement to Lucy Steele. Her comment emphasizes the lack of autonomy of young women - even women of fortune - in Austen’s time. Their families frequently arranged their marriages for them on the basis of economic or social advancement. Men were not immune from similar pressure, as is shown by the examples of Colonel Brandon and Edward.
- “‘There was always a something, - if you remember, - in Willoughby’s eyes at times, which I did not like.’
“Elinor could not remember it …”
Volume III, Chapter X
Mrs. Dashwood claims the wisdom of hindsight with regard to Willoughby’s character. In fact, as a woman of excessive “sensibility,” she was as completely taken in by him as Marianne. This explains why Elinor cannot remember hearing her mother’s reservations about him.
- “‘Do you compare your conduct with his?’
“‘No. I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours.’”
Volume III, Chapter X
Following Marianne’s wish that Willoughby’s thoughts are not more unpleasant than her own thoughts, Elinor asks Marianne if she compares her own behavior to his. Marianne says that she compares her behavior to the ideal: Elinor’s in the wake of her disappointment over Edward. This is a clear judgment by Austen on the “sense” and “sensibility” of the two sisters. Elinor’s “sense” is embraced by the former champion of “sensibility,” Marianne, as the right way to respond to life’s trials.