20 Mar 2024

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Historical context

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Augustan Age continued its advances in capitalism and industrialism, legitimised by the economic theories of Adam Smith. This boom would also help lead to the rise of the Empire in the same century.

Literary context

The end of the eighteenth century was characterised by a growth in literacy promoted by charity schools, increased opportunities for women and the tradition of circulating libraries. This period also saw a questioning of the Enlightenement movement by gothic novelists and some poets. This led to the triumph of individualism and the Romantic movement.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) harked back to the Age which has already passed. Her novels are the final ones of the Enlightenment and her characters are the landed gentry whose desire was for stability in an era of change. They are portrayed as only interested in issues that concern themselves: social position managed through marriage and inheritance. 

Along with Walter Scott (1771-1832), Austen is an historic anomaly. She summarises the concerns of the Augustan Age, while Scott is spokesman for the new Romantic era. Both chose to exclude the Industrial Revolution, the wars waged in their own times and the social revolution in which the middle class replaced the gentry. Their narratives can be seen as an assertion of traditional values in a turbulent time. 

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