Sense and Sensibility versus Pride and Prejudice

Why Jane Austen’s two great sagas are more alike – and more different – than you might think…



Sense and Sensibility: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are the heroines - two sisters who are strikingly different in temperament. Elinor is the "sense" - she's the wiser, more level-headed one, and even more practical than their rather hapless mother Mrs Dashwood. Marianne, meanwhile, is ruled by her own sensibilities, her emotions and passions, which drive her to seek out adventure and romance. Opposites, yes, but these sisters have the tightest bond imaginable. Which is just as well, considering how often they have to share a bed to keep from freezing at night.

Pride and Prejudice: At first glance, Pride and Prejudice looks like it has more going on, women-wise. There are more Bennet sisters than Dashwood sisters, after all. However, we hardly see anything of poor old Kitty and Mary Bennet, while Lydia Bennet's only big moment is when she elopes with that awful man Wickham. Jane, meanwhile, is an innocent girl swept up in events beyond her control. Elizabeth is the only one we really come to know and love on a deep level. She is the heart and soul of P&P, while Elinor and Marianne divide up S&S equally between them.


Sense and Sensibility: Competing for the affections of Marianne are two chaps who have nothing in common besides looking good in top hats and britches. One is Colonel Brandon (mature, thoughtful, good-hearted) and the other is John Willoughby (cocky, seductive, with "bad boy" written all over him). Marianne's dilemma challenges her very approach to life. Elinor doesn't have it much easier - her love interest, Edward Ferrars, may be a thoroughly decent chap, but he has secrets that could upset everything.

Pride and Prejudice: What more is there to say about the estimable Mr Darcy? He's a unique romantic hero, though he does share Colonel Brandon's serious, brooding demeanor. But where Brandon is unashamedly in love with Marianne from the off, Darcy only gradually allows himself to see Elizabeth as his equal. As for the charming, extroverted Mr Bingley - well, there's nobody in S&S who shares his sheer zest for life. (Not many people do, to be fair.)


Sense and Sensibility: Oh, John Willoughby. What a hero he seems at first, riding in out of nowhere to rescue Marianne when she injures herself on a hillside, and following that up by reciting Byron's poetry and gazing at her like there was no other girl for him on earth. Alas, it was all too good to be true. He's revealed to be an arch-seducer who'd made Colonel Brandon's teenage ward pregnant out of wedlock, and later ditches Marianne to ruthlessly marry for money.

Pride and Prejudice: P&P goes one better in the cad-stakes, giving us perhaps Jane Austen's most dastardly creation: George Wickham. Like Willoughby, he seems like the perfect gentleman at first. Handsome, polite, quietly charismatic. He even has Elizabeth fooled, before his true nature is revealed. He ranks higher than Willoughby on the scoundrel-scale, because he actively lies to smear Darcy's name, and is unrepentant to the end, whereas at least Willoughby genuinely falls in love with Marianne, and has the decency to beg for forgiveness afterwards.


Sense and Sensibility: Newcomers to S&S may be a bit surprised that it's not actually a frothy romantic comedy. Yes, it has its funny moments (especially when younger Dashwood sister Maggie unleashes her snappy insults), but this is a poignant, heartfelt exploration of the plight of women stranded without money or prospects, and the careful way they have to negotiate the twin pulls of the head and the heart to make the right way through life. It's a surprisingly profound story that leaves us emotionally changed by the end.

Pride and Prejudice: The tone of P&P is very different. We're firmly in sparkling romantic comedy territory, a kind of fairy tale world of glittering balls, wry flirtation, cutting banter and gusty heroines who think nothing of running across muddy fields to be with their sisters. Add to that the moments of high hilarity - like Mr Collins' brilliantly awful way of asking Elizabeth to marry him - and the sight of Mr Darcy emerging from a pond with his shirt clinging to his wet chest, and you have a tale to put a spring in your step whenever you think of it.