Sense and Sensibility: Neo-classicism vs Romanticism

Topics: Romanticism, Sense and Sensibility, Novel Pages: 7 (2228 words) Published: November 17, 2004
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin was a moralistic novel depicting the two main forms of attitudes at that time; the neo -classics and the romantics. The period in which it was written, nineteenth century England, was laden with social etiquette and customs imposed on people of that time; and thus the characters of Jane Austin's novels. The novels' two main protagonists; Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, exemplify the Neo classical era and the romantic era, respectfully. Jane Austin instils Neo-classic and romantic ideals in Elinor and Marianne as to present a view of each attitude and to further enhance the discrepancies of social nineteenths century England.

Neo- Classicism derived from the 17-18th centuries' intellectual pursuit into disciplines such as philosophy, history, classicism and science. The 'Enlightenment' era believed knowledge provided a clear future in a developing age and thus a rationalist philosophy was formed. This philosophy shunned the value of human emotions and social freedom. Instead it placed an exalted value on order, convention, wit rationality and logic. The Neo- Classics was convinced logic and reason were superior to emotional and imagination, and believed it was proper to abstain or withhold from expressing emotive feelings and impulsive behaviour. It was this belief that formed the better part of nineteenth century England and its superficial and trivial social life. This emphasis upon the mind and reason became the topic of authors from that era however by the latter half of the 18th century a few writers had become dissatisfied and alluded to writing about feeling and sentiment. This was known as the transition period, which made way for the conversation of most writers to Romanticism. Some authors, namely Jane Austin, created Neo-Classic characters to emphasize the philosophy and compare it to Romanticism.

In Sense and sensibility, Austin uses Elinor to represent Neo- Classic beliefs. Elinor is portrayed as the character with sense, rational judgment and the qualities that are associated with it such as self- government, duty compassion and propriety. From the beginning of the novel Elinor is described to be the mature, elegant girl who possesses 'a strength of understanding and coolness of judgement' (p6) and was a 'counsellor of her mother' (p6). Instead of criticizing the Neo- Classic beliefs, Austin expresses the admirable qualities of the philosophy by allocating Elinor as the heroine of the novel; through the Neo classic qualities she possesses. As she is the heroine, Elinor is free from the narrative's ironic censure applied to the other characters, as well as receiving approval in the opening chapter of the novel. Although her demeanour consists of the attributes of Neo- Classicism, it is rewarded in the novel's conclusion with a marriage that promises happiness and fulfilment and mutual love.

In the novel, Elinor can be seen to possess a sense and understanding of social propriety. Social propriety was the proper way to behave at that time. She adheres to the social conventions and customs of society to save herself and others from embarrassment, discomfort and injury:

"And upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell" (p104)

Out of the two sisters, Elinor was the only character who demonstrated a respect for social propriety, as a result the duties of upholding the family's respect and name was rendered to her.

Another Neo- Classic quality is sound personal judgement. Marianne, in her Romantic demeanour, was not capable of sound judgement but approached matters in the novel with a biased viewpoint. Elinor however is able to treat the novel's events dispassionately. She is neither conformed to the conventions of society or to the heart, but believes in the value of one's own judgements. This can be seen in her conduct towards Lucy Steel when she is informed of Lucy's love for Edward; unbiased as opposed to what...
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