First edition: Sense and Sensibility

Text by Janet Johnstone, former Volunteer Stewards Manager at Jane Austen's House

Jane Austen began writing Sense and Sensibility in 1797. It may have been based on an earlier story called Elinor & Marianne which was written in letter form. There are no manuscripts for either story so it is difficult to tell how much of Elinor and Marianne went into Sense and Sensibility. We can at least be sure that it centred on two sisters with contrasting characters.

When Jane Austen returned to Elinor and Marianne at a later date she decided that the letter form did not suit her purposes well enough and changed to direct narrative. This required fundamental reconstructing and rewriting. It was at this time she changed the title to Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Austen moved to Chawton in 1809. This offered her a settled environment in which to return to her writing. The first novel she returned to was Sense and Sensibility. It has been suggested that Barton Cottage in the novel is modelled on the layout of rooms on the ground floor of Jane’s new home.

Henry Austen‘s military connections led him to approach Thomas Egerton, a military publisher. He agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility on commission (at the author’s expense). This way Jane Austen kept the copyright.

On 31st October 1811 in the Morning Chronicle, the book was first advertised as a new novel by ‘A Lady’. The first edition was sold in board (like the copy the Museum has) and was then bound to match the purchasers’ library style.

Our copy was purchased at Sotheby’s auction by Mr T Edward Carpenter, who bought the cottage in 1948 in memory of his son who was killed in action in 1944 and for all lovers of Jane Austen. The book went into the Museum collection and was bequeathed to the Trust on Mr Carpenter’s death in 1969.