Michel Facoult once pointed out how private conversations among women constitute a world which plays a counter subversive role in relation to the male dominated society and prepares the way for securing women’s power at least in certain areas. Jane Austen’s novels amply illustrate the validity of Facoult’s speculation not simply because she was a woman novelist, but because she shows the inner landscape of women’s inner social world. In Sense and Sensibility the reader encounters an internal world wholly separated from the knowledge of the man folks. It is, however, not to suggest that this internal world is wholly an independent one, but to suggest that women in Sense and Sensibility create a space for them by being closely associated with one another. Perhaps it was because of her being a woman herself that she succeeded in understanding the close relationship existing among women in a male dominated society, where behind the Romantic talk of love a woman’s social position was to be determined in terms of the material property she would inherit. Austen’s greatness lies in presenting a balanced view of women
Sense and Sensibility starts with the beginning of crisis in the life of four women—Mrs. Henry Dashwood and her three sisters. But the crisis is also created by a woman, Fanny Dashwood who becomes effectively instrumental in evicting the widow and her three daughters from Norland Park in Sussex. It is to be noted here that they are not only displaced, but also have to undergo much pain and insult the way Fanny Dashwood talks of them as she finds mutual attractions growing between her brother, Edward Ferrars and Elinor, the eldest daughter of Mrs. Dashwood. It is natural that those evicted women should live closely and support each other, though they are temperamentally of unequal disposition. While Mrs/ Dashwood’s eldest daughter possesses a strength of understanding and coolness in judgement, the second daughter, Marrianne is emotional in temperament.
As the family drifts away to Barton Cottage, the bond is strengthened by their common cause of suffering and helplessness. The drama of the novel, which got suspended owing to the interruption in the mutual attraction between Elinor and Edward, once again begins with with Marianne’s falling in love with Willoughby. Marianne too quickly gets carried away with emotion in love, while the other sister keeps her sense. But Willoughby’s abrupt departure to London puts her in distress. It is to be particularly noticed at this point how Elinor tries to console her sister. With the arrival of Steele sisters, Anne and Lucy, matters seem to get complicated as Elinor is informed about the engagement between Lucy and Edward Ferrars. This incident, however, coincides with the complete desertion of Marianne by Willoughby.
As complications mount up in the plot of the novel, it is found that women, irrespective of their age, take active part in shaping the destiny of some of them. The helplessness of the women point towards a terrible social aspect of the novel—that is the socio-economic matrix of the times, in which a woman is to be valued in terms of the property she brings in the marriage. Jane Austen was one of the few novelists of the time who saw love-relationship with the view of a realist. Elinor and her mother perhaps understand that, and for this reason they can keep their cool and support each other. When complications go out of their control, the Dashwood family returns to Barton Cottage.
All the complications, however, suddenly begin to be solved with Edward Ferrar’s sudden arrival after his brother marries Lucy. Now he can marry Elinor without any bar. This incident is matched by Colonel Brandon’s proposal for Marianne. As the couples settle in happiness, the novel ends with a particular description of the harmonious relationship among the women. Mrs. Dashwood continues living at Barton Cottage with her youngest daughter Margaret. Although Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret pay regular visits to Delaford, they continue to enjoy the friendship and affection of Sir Middleton and Mrs. Jennings.