Jane Austen (1775-1817), the most endearing novelist to her readers and one of the finest writers of prose fiction, who once humbly said about her craft that she wrote on a piece of ivory “two inches wide” (See Tony Tanner, 1986) composed her first novel (‘ Elinor and Marianne’ later renamed ‘ Sense And Sensibility’) in 1795 in the form of letters as an epistolary novel, later revising and re-revising it as a narrative novel before it finally published in 1811. Her authorship was penned covertly under the title “By a lady”. This anonymity was to continue until her death, but posed no hindrance to her fame, which continued to surge, holding her in high esteem as a skilfull and accomplished writer. But it was only after her death that her novels came to be critically appreciated and revalued by such eminent critics as Sir Walter Scott, A.C. Bradley, F.R. Leavis, Ian Watt and Henry James to name a few. Austen managed to secure a dignified foothold and wide reputation in the literary circles of her time though she chose to keep her identity under wraps very much in sync with the literary traditions of her age (women writing novels were considered vulgar and unfeminine in her society and times (See R. Reena,2012)). So this genius of a woman would write discreetly behind the door of a room in Chawton. This door creaked every time a visitor passed, alarmed by which, she would swiftly hide away her manuscripts on which she was working, until recently. Her novels stand out for their exquisite appeal and universal semblance. Of her correspondence or letters only 160 remain today or 161 (including her will) (See Katheryn Sutherland) owing to the edition of dear sister Cassandra, who made it a point that nothing could be known of her novels from her letters or that nothing at all could be known of her. Yet, a vast range of Austen scholars have emerged under the name of “Janeites”, who work meticulously to gather facts about the author’s life and works.
In Sense And Sensibility, the revised title of Jane Austen’s ‘Elinor And Marianne’ “sense” refers to common sense or wisdom whereas “sensibility”, the power of being emotionally alive or proactive. But this is a clichéd perspective overworked and worn out by a large number of Austen scholars. The present essay endeavours to bring about a successful comprehension of the novel on the basis of Pareto’s Principle, also known as the law of the vital few, the principle of factor sparsity or the 80/20 rule.
Before going any further let’s dawn upon the phenomenon “Pareto’s Principle”. This principle suggests that 80% of the effects in many events and situations are contributed by 20% of the causes. The term was first coined by Joseph M. Juran after the French-born Italian economist, Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto (1848-1923). The relevance of this term has been tested and proven upon a large number of fields and therefore holds substantial worth and significance. Pareto observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy were actually owned by 20% of its population. He developed this principle further by observing once in his garden, that 20% of his peapods produced 80% of the peas. This is how the whole principle came into existence and established its prominence.
The Dashwood family shifted to Barton with heavy hearts after being marginalized and abandoned. Elinor before this had developed an amicable relationship with Edward Ferrars, her half-brother John’s brother-in-law at Norland Estate. But the intense courtship and period of love was not to last long, for they were soon made to vacate their habitation and settle elsewhere. Elinor, the eldest and the most prudent of the Dashwood sisters concealed her pain and moved on with the rest of her family to Barton. There they were to live with the Middletons and also developed a close bonding with the retired army officer and bachelor, Colonel Brandon. Then one day while running down the hills in the rain during their frequent walks, Marianne, the younger sister slipped and twisted her ankle. She was beyond expectations lifted heroically and carried to safety by a charming bachelor, named Willoughby. He appeared to her as a courageous knight who rescued her, a damsel in distress to safety. Willoughby swept her off her feet and continued to meet and court her everyday. The relationship took the speed of a roller coaster working smoothly initially and later coming to an abrupt halt. One day Willoughby informed her of his urgent trip to London on business. Marianne was inconsolable. He even took a tuft of hair from her as remembrance. Marianne displayed every fathom of her emotion to point out the cruelty of her situation and her consequent misery. Elinor was informed by Lucy, the youngest daughter of Mrs. Jennings, of her secret engagement with Edward Ferrars. What ensued was a crushing heartbreak, which she skilfully managed to betray when she could have unleashed her uncontrollable emotions, almost like Marianne. This news left the whole family shocked and evidently sorry for Elinor. After sometime, the Dashwood sisters arrived at London with Mrs. Jennings, and happened to attend a social event or gathering where they found that Willoughby was to be engaged with a wealthy heiress, Miss Grey. This was another shock and a heavy blow to the emotionally vulnerable and extremely sensitive Marianne. Even Willoughby slighted her and refused to acknowledge her presence at the event. Afterwards a letter ensued from Willoughby to Marianne, denying and forsaking all relations with her. Marianne was heart-broken and her sorrow saw no bounds, for she did not know how to cope with this betrayal and loss. During her frequent walks in the rain, she took a severe cold and was fatally sick. The whole family was left distraught and worried. Elinor during this time, remained constantly by her side, nursing and tending to her ailing sister. Colonel Brandon had developed deep admiration and affection for the pretty Marianne, but did not express his feelings for he knew Marianne loved Willoughby and not him. He constantly remained by the side of the family ensuring their well-being and happiness. It was he who disclosed the bitter truth about Willoughby, whom he had admonished for his depravity and debauchery. Mrs. Jennings affirmed the fact that after squandering a vast amount of wealth, he took to marrying a rich heiress, so as to provide for him; and that he was a disreputable and immoral fellow. Willoughby came to visit Marianne upon hearing of her condition and honestly explained his plight. Like after a threatening thundershower the sky clears and glimmers in resplendence, Marianne recovered from her illness and came to realize her perceptible fault, of how she had acted imprudently and lacked discretion of conduct. By the time they reached Barton, they were informed of Lucy’s engagement, to which the family acted less surprised, for they knew this was to come. It was later, when Edward personally arrived to pay them a visit that they came to know that Lucy had been engaged to Robert, Edward’s younger brother and not him. That when the news of their (Lucy and Edward) earlier engagement broke out, Edward was disinherited by his mother and Lucy chose to be with Robert instead of him for want of money. On hearing this, Elinor for the first time, could not restrain her emotions, for she silently suffered all the time with no consolation coming from anywhere. Marianne found true love in Brandon. Finally, Elinor got married to Edward while Marianne to her long-time lover, Colonel Brandon.