Sense and Sensibility – Bildungsroman

While there is a lot going on in Sense and Sensibility, I find myself really drawn to the idea that this novel is about Marianne and her being forced out of her youth by life’s experiences.  Whether Sense and Sensibility can be classified as a Bildungsroman remains to be seen.

Maybe this theme really stands out to me because I spent so many years watching high school seniors transform throughout their final year in high school.  Marianne points out that her thoughts on love (that she would never find the perfect man) when she was sixteen and a half have all changed now that she is seventeen.  While her motivation for rethinking the “perfect man” scenario might be foolish, the idea that a young person’s world can change in six months is very real.  I am reminded of a poem by A.E. Houseman:

When I Was One and Twenty (from

WHEN I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Houseman’s poem highlights the idea that an individual’s maturity is not a product of time, but rather experience. The passage of six months or a year is minimal in terms of time, but events that take place in any time period can be monumental in terms of growth.   I am only about a third of the way through and have avoided all summaries and commentary, but my best guess is that by the time Marianne is eighteen, her idea of the “perfect man” and her ideas of love and devotion will have taken a drastic turn.  This raises the question of Elinor – is she destined to suffer the same maturing forces that her sister will face?  I don’t think so.  Marianne is different from Elinor because Marianne must touch the stove to know that it will burn her; whereas, Elinor is smart enough to watch someone else get burned and learn the lessons of life that way.  Does Elinor have some maturing ahead of her? Certainly, but the misery will be less for Elinor because of her practicality and ability to watch the mistakes of others. 

As always, this learning process is not easy.  My grandmother used to call it “personal growth” and it comes with its own special growing pains.  People learn best by their mistakes, and Emma is almost the poster child for this idea.  She grew by her mistakes, and by the end of the novel, became a character that even her harshest critics find much improved.  While Marianne doesn’t have quite the same type of “personal growth” ahead of her as Emma did, she still has much to learn about the way the world works, and I see disappointment in her future as her greatest teacher.



Filed under Sense and Sensibility

2 responses to “Sense and Sensibility – Bildungsroman

  1. Love this post! Great insight. I completely agree Marianne has a hard lesson ahead, but sill it is a Jane Austen novel and I feel confident Marianne will see the light, transform, and have a happy ending only because Elinor would not be happy in the end if her sister was suffering.
    I love the analogy of Marianne having to touch the stove where Elinor is more cautious. This explains their characters perfectly.

    I think Elinor has already gone through a maturing phase by being put out of her own house. There is one scene where she meets her brother and he talks about how poor he is and the text says “Elinor just smiled.” Elinor grins and bears all for the better of her family. She is character that you want to have that perfectly happy ending in love. Although it seems hopeless for her in her eyes, I think a happy ending for the Dashwood sisters will happen.

  2. I love the idea that maturity comes with experiences and not age. While I think age can be a factor, what one goes through ultimately shapes their behavior, actions, and personality. Great post and great poem!

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