Common sense has never been my strong suit. When I was in high school, a friend gave me a lovely hardback copy of Aesop’s Fables with the hope that I might acquire some common sense from reading Aesop’s instructive allegories. I still have the book, but I feel sure that the book did not have the desired effect. Years later, I am still lacking in the common sense department, although I’d like to think that I balance my deficiencies in that area with my strengths in other areas.
What do I mean by common sense, anyway? Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, comes to mind: Paine’s pamphlet ultimately inspired many colonists to support the revolution against King George III, or so the history books would have it. After all, did it make sense for a monarch and, more importantly, a governing body in which the American colonies had no representation to make important decisions about those colonies? Was it fair for Parliament to levy taxes on goods imported to the colonies when the colonies were given no voice in their own government? Paine argued that such a practice defied common sense.
Common sense, or practical wisdom, seems to have been valued greatly by our American forefathers. Benjamin Franklin, another American who played an important role in stirring up support for the American revolution and who had a central part in the Continental Congress, is well known for Poor Richard’s Almanack, which contained pithy sayings such as, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Common sense when applied apparently can lead to a more frugal, fruitful, and industrious lifestyle.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, although it is not primarily a didactic work, would similarly suggest that those who live their lives in a sensible manner are ultimately fated to wreak less havoc on the lives of others and, it is to be hoped, may ultimately be rewarded with good things. In Austen’s novel, the two oldest Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, provide excellent examples of the two qualities in the title, sense and sensibility.
While capable of strong feelings, Elinor exercises self-control when circumstances vex or disappoint her; she devotes herself to practical measures rather than allowing herself to dwell upon the various ways in which life seems to have cheated her — of her ancestral home, of the young man who appears to have more than a brotherly interest in her. Meanwhile, her sister Marianne indulges her sensibilities — her emotional reactions to the circumstances and people around her. While Elinor quietly accepts that she, her mother, and sisters must leave Norland, Marianne gives herself over to emotional outbursts. Later, when Marianne is led on by the dashing Willoughby, she is utterly consumed with sadness at Willoughby’s desertion and, perhaps, is therefore more susceptible to a serious illness.
In reading Austen’s novel, I found Elinor’s practical, other-centered response to unfortunate circumstances far more admirable, but, in my heart, I know that I probably would have behaved as Marianne did: reacting rather than acting, rashly seeking out the one who had wronged me rather than rationally accepting that, reprehensible as Willoughby’s behavior was, she was better off without him in her life. By the end of the book, Marianne has become a more sober, wiser character — but, to tell you the truth, I prefer the impulsive, passionate Marianne of the pre-Willoughby chapters. Still, even the most imprudent of us must bow to life’s realities at some point or another. Laundry, taxes, deadlines, homework — these practical needs or demands necessitate that even those of us with little common sense must acquire some, or otherwise inflict a great deal of inconvenience on the people closest to us.
For this reason, I have realized that I must curtail my blogging somewhat: when there are so many practical matters crying out for my attention, how can I justify spending hours each day reading the musings of others and adding my own two cents’ worth? Yet there must be some way of managing to sustain both the life of the imagination and life in all its unromantic necessities. Here, the tools of organization might be helpful: careful evaluation of my time will surely reveal misspent hours.
Perhaps one of Elinor Dashwood’s most admirable qualities is her ability to think of others even when she herself is downcast: I’m not sure that is so much because she has common sense as because she has a sense of her own unimportance in the overall scheme of things. Yes, her personal happiness matters, but she sees her affairs as one small piece in an enormous puzzle, so to speak. She manages to find a source of contentment even in the humble diversions open to her, such as walks in the country or evenings with the Middletons.
In one of Aesop’s best-known fables, “The Fox and the Grapes,” the fox concludes, after realizing that he will never be able to reach the grapes, that those grapes weren’t worth having, anyway. Elinor Dashwood has a bit more sense than the fox, in that she realizes that the life she had envisioned as Edward’s wife was worth having; at the same time, she comes to terms with the idea of a life apart from Edward. While Marianne accuses her of being unfeeling, Elinor is simply being practical. In accepting that she may never experience great happiness herself, she finds a peace that, perhaps, gives her the ability to be a source of comfort to others, such as Colonel Brandon or even friendly Mrs. Jenkins.
Because Sense and Sensibility is fiction, after all, Elinor does get the grapes in the end. Moreover, she wins the respect of all who know her, because she has the sense to know when something is out of her control — and a sensitivity to the needs of others that brightens the lives of those who have contact with her. It would seem that acceptance of the sour with the sweet is part of Elinor’s sensible approach.
This post was written in response to Linda‘s prompt for Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday: sense/scents/cents, with a bonus word this week – “sent.” As dictated in Linda’s SoCS rules, editing of this post was primarily restricted to adding links and photos. The “Glass” photos were taken at someone else’s lovely home for a Photo 101 assignment using a Panasonic Lumix. Text and photos copyrighted © 2014 by Sandra Fleming.