Sense and Sensibility is the second novel written by Jane Austen and the first to be pub- lished. It is full of satiric wit, and for this reason is often grouped with the Juvenilia and Northanger Abbey as an immature effort that Austen made before finding her true literary voice. Irony, however, makes it easier to pinpoint Austen’s feelings on social customs. In addition, her irony is entertaining, often making the first books in her canon the most beloved by her audience. Ian Watt describes the use of irony in this novel as “the means whereby Jane Austen shocks us into seeing the disparity between proper norms of con- duct and the actualities of human behavior” (Watt, 47). For the marriage plot in particular, Austen uses irony to show that while marital customs may have been established with the intent of protecting women, the actualities of the system are often more harmful than helpful. This satiric humor entrances audiences because it points out undeniable truths and provides a laugh along the way.
Austen wastes no time in introducing her ironic voice in Sense and Sensibility. The first chapter acquaints the audience with the full financial situation of the Dashwood
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8 EbERlE [Vol. 3:1 family. This introduction rubs uncomfortably as one wonders at the intimacy of such infor- mation being revealed so soon; Austen, however, realizes that there is no reason to wait. The truth of the matter is that the Dashwood women have no fortune to rely on, and their brother, who “was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed,” will not be providing for them (4). Austen does away with formalities and discloses the truths immediately: the Dashwoods need somewhere to live, but society has made it impossible to secure housing without a male representative. She does not