Sensibility is falsity

In Love and Freindship, Austen presents her audience- originally her family members- with seemingly conflicted definitions of sensibility. To be sensible, one must be intelligent, without flaunting their brilliance, aware of social cues, have manners, be composed, without being notably emotionally compromised in response to any given event, and demonstrate sympathy towards others despite justification otherwise. However, the nebulous definition of a trait that is markedly significant within every interaction Laura addresses throughout her letters seems to result in exactly the satire that Austen intended to endow this work with.

The concept of sensibility exists as this insurmountable paradigm in Laura’s world, as no one person is fully capable of meeting the full list of requirements; rather, it is a guideline along which others may judge those they dislike. For example: Laura includes in her correspondence with Marianne, “I soon perceived that tho’ Lovely and Elegant in her Person and tho’ Easy and Polite in her Address, she was of that inferior order of Beings with regard to Delicate Feeling, tender Sentiments, and refined Sensibility, of which Augusta was one. She staid but half an hour and neither in the Course of her Visit, confided to me any of her secret thoughts, nor requested to confided in her, any of Mine.” (Letter 7th) Her language, in the beginning of the cited passage, is suggestive of a need, as reinforced by social mores, to assent to civility towards Augusta, though she has slighted her. Laura mentions Augusta’s positive qualities, but moves toward the contrary soon-after. While Laura claims that Augusta lacks sensibility, in all its forms, Augusta is ultimately honest regarding her feelings. The fact that she doesn’t ask Laura about her “secret thoughts” or share her own serves to demonstrate antipathy for Laura, as, through this, her intentions and thoughts are shrouded. Furthermore, Laura’s response, reducing Augusta’s sensibility, seems to suggest that withheld opinions are akin to dishonesty; though, Laura lamenting about this in a private letter to Marianne, while concealing her own side of the interaction with Augusta, is also fraudulent when held to the same standards. That, I posit, is the point behind Austen’s satire on the concept of sensibility: that it is indefinable because the deceptive actions one takes in order to be “sensible” are contradictory to what they expect of others’ “sensibility”. The novel does, after all, employ a play on the word “friendship” by spelling it similarly to “feind”, meaning enemy. This is made all the more evident by the subtitle “Deceived in freindship and betrayed in love,” illustrating further that deceit is intertwined with sensibility. Through endeavoring to be perceived as sensible, those that appear so, including oneself, are dishonest and, therefore, nonsensible.

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1 thought on “Sensibility is falsity”

  1. Manda,
    You make an excellent point about the tension between what it means to have sensibility and the very “unsensible” ways that one must go about appearing to be so. Although I think the analysis at the end of your post might be a bit of a stretch (Austen, as a 14-year-old, was really just a bad speller!), the connections you make there are interesting ones, particularly with regard to the subtitle. This story really does seem to suggest that sensibility is a hypocritical — if not outright deceptive, as you posit — quality to possess. I’ll be curious to know how you feel Austen tackles it in her more mature works.
    Best,
    Rachel

    Like

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