Elinor represents the “sense” of the title. She is practical, trustworthy, and self-disciplined. Elinor tries to do what’s right even if this causes pain for herself, and she doesn’t inflict that pain on others. Marianne is the “sensible” one.In Austen’s time, sensibility was the belief that emotions should be felt deeply and expressed freely. For devotees of this philosophy, social conventions were a bore. Elinor and Marianne are very different, but are united by a deep bond of sisterly love.
The plot of the novel is set in motion when the sisters’ father dies. This forces Elinor, Marianne, their mother, and their younger sister to leave their large estate and relocate to a small cottage. Three eligible men are introduced as possible husbands for the older sisters. Shy Edward seems to be in love with Elinor, but then becomes standoffish. Charming Willoughby and Marianne seem to have everything in common and Marianne falls hard for him. And reliable Colonel Brandon falls for Marianne, but must watch her romance with Willoughby grow. We also meet the scheming Lucy Steel, the greedy Fanny Dashwood, the garrulous Mrs. Jennings, and the worst brother in all of Austen.
To say that Sense and Sensibility is a groundbreaking novel is not an exaggeration. Until this book, the heroines of novels were orphans or were otherwise separated from family support. This allowed the author to place their heroine in jeopardy with no resources other than themselves. Austen, however, knew how to move her plots forward and include close family relationships. This made her novels more realistic and relatable. It’s part of the reason her books are still so popular today.