Sense and Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel. It is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, as they come of age. After the death of their father they are forced to leave their family estate and to move, with their mother and younger sister, to a cottage in rural Devonshire. The story charts their experiences in love, loss and a growing understanding of the world, themselves and each other, playing in particular on the internal conflicts between the qualities of sense and sensibility that each sister displays.

Jane Austen originally drafted the novel in 1795 whilst living in Steventon, at which time it was called Elinor & Marianne. By some accounts it was first written as a novel-in-letters, but no evidence of this survives. Jane revised the text in Steventon in 1797-8, and again in Chawton in 1809-10.

Jane’s brother Henry agreed to become her informal literary agent and secured her a publisher, Thomas Egerton, who published the novel on commission (meaning that the author took the financial risk, rather than the publisher). Sense & Sensibility appeared at the end of October 1811. It was published anonymously; the title page simply stated that it was ‘By a Lady’. The first print run, which probably consisted of between 750-1000 copies, completely sold out within two years, making Jane a handsome profit of £140.

First edition of Sense & Sensibility in three volumes, from the Museum’s collection

Sense and Sensibility first edition

Title page of the first edition of Sense & Sensibility, from the Museum’s collection