Often regarded as dark and disenchanted in comparison with the "light and bright and sparkling" Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811) has recently emerged from its shadowed position to find both intellectual and popular appeal, partly thanks to Ang Lee's acclaimed movie adaptation based on Emma Thompson's screenplay (1995). Drafted in the political turmoil of the 1790s when sensibility had become such an overdetermined trope that it failed to generate stable meaning, Austen's first published novel stages a transition in her oeuvre: while its critical scrutiny of the waning cult of sensibility and parody of sentimental conventions displace an outdated style of didactic fiction, its daring representation of the patrilineal system of inheritance, closural ambiguities and nuanced narrative strategies all point to the more sophisticated achievements of the domestic realist novel. As Jane Austen boldly dramatised the economic rules and stifling secrets of her society, the plot is fraught with tensions inherent in the discrepancy between the elegant rituals of English society and the utter female powerlessness which underlies monetary pressure to marry. Similarly, even as the genre of the heritage film associates the novel with an ideal pre-industrial England, Ang Lee's aesthetic adaptation reads Sense and Sensibility as a text of female empowerment.
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