Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Daniel Gustafson

Second Advisor

Andras Kisery


Sensibility, Politeness, Female Modesty in the Eighteenth Century, Tactical Silence, Tactical Voice, Social Hierarchy


The dichotomy between Elinor and Marianne's manners in Jane Austen's 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility is often central to several readings and interpretations of this novel. Based on the debates concerning the culture of politeness in the eighteenth century, some critics see Elinor's social doctrine as the novel celebrated form of polite female manners. However, the paper will argue how the novel instead criticizes the social and intellectual impact this the idealized doctrine of female manners has on young women. The paper will look at three important moments of social interactions in the novel: the party with the Middletons, the reunion with Edward Ferrars, and their meeting with Mrs. Ferrars. Through these moments, both Elinor and Marianne are similarly constrained by the social doctrine of female modesty and refined expression. They tactically resort to silence and hypocrisy to navigate challenging social situations while still complying with the rules of polite culture. Despite these tactical silence and voices, the Dashwood sisters still fail socially and intellectually. Sense and Sensibility is a story of social interactions in which its arbitrary rules of civility reinforce its social hierarchy. Against the moral objective of the idealized doctrine of politeness, manners in the novel are performed strategically and often based on egocentric calculations.



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