Five new classics to explore 5: Sense and Sensibility

When we open a classical novel, we open the door to multiple worlds (historical, geographical, literary, psychological and philosophical) to explore. It is exciting to see what each title means to us, who the author is, how the books were created and how they can be used to develop our students’ knowledge of language and culture.

Let’s take a look at our five new classic reader adaptations. Then tune in later in the year for a lesson based on each book. The titles are:

  • Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit. Level 1 reader, adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne, illustrated by Viola Niccolai.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels by Arthur Conan Doyle. Level 2 reader, adapted by Geraldine Sweeney, illustrated by Agilulfo Russo.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Level 3 reader, adapted by Donatella Velluti, illustrated by Michele Rocchetti.
  • The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Level 4 reader, adapted by Donatella Velluti, illustrated by Claudia Palmarucci.
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Level 5 reader, adapted by Elspeth Rawstron, illustrated by Sara Menetti.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

1 Who is the author?


Jane Austen was born in December 1775 into a happy, well-educated and loving family in Steventon in Hampshire. Her father was a vicar, and she was the second among eight children. Austen and her sister, Cassandra were very close, and much of what we know about her comes her from correspondance with Cassandra.


Jane Austen began to write stories and sketches for her family when she was twelve years old. When she was a teenager, she was determined to be a published author. Jane Austen wrote her six great novels in seven years: Sense and Sensibility in 1811; Pride and Prejudice in 1813; Mansfield Park in 1814; Emma in 1815; Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published in 1817 after her death. They were all published anonymously, but in her lifetime it became known that she was the author.

Although Jane Austen avoided addressing historical issues directly, she observed and reflected upon historical events and social questions through the everyday life of her characters.


In all her novels, Jane Austen wrote about marriage, but she herself never married. Around Jane’s twentieth birthday, she fell in love with Tom Lefroy, a young law student. They met in December 1775 when he was visiting relatives in Hampshire. During his short visit, they met and danced often. His family intervened because Jane was not from a wealthy family. He went back to London to study, and two years later, he married the sister of a fellow student.


In 1816, Jane became ill. She travelled to Winchester to see a doctor, and she died there on 18th July 1817. She is buried at Winchester Cathedral.

The characters in Sense and Sensibility. Illustrated by Sara Menetti. © 2017 Helbling

2 What do we need to know about the novel?

The title: era and theme

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first novel to be published. At that time, sensibility had a different meaning than it does today: it was used to describe over-emotional and romantic states. When the book was written Romanticism was becoming popular in art, music and literature. In Romanticism, feelings and emotions are more important than duty and common sense. Jane Austen tries to show the dangers of Romanticism in Sense and Sensibility. However, she is not completely against it. Instead, she seems to say, we need to find a balance between ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’.

The characters and the plot

Sense and Sensibility is the story of two very different sisters who meet and fall in love with two very different men. Elinor is the elder sister and she represents sense. Marianne is the younger sister and she represents sensibility. Elinor falls in love with Edward, who is kind and a man of sense. Marianne falls in love with Willoughby who is handsome and romantic and everything she ever hoped a man to be.

The setting

The novel moves between the countryside (Devonshire) and the city (London). At the start of the book Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters are forced to leave their home, Norland Park, and move to smaller cottage in Devonshire following the death of Mr Dashwood. Most of the action takes place indoors but there are some notable scenes set outside usually when one or more of the sisters have gone walking.

The story of the novel

Jane Austen had first written Sense and Sensibility in 1795 when she was nineteen years old. It was written as a series of letters and it was called Elinor and Marianne. Over the years, she made several changes to it before it was finally published in 1811. Jane Austen was then thirty-five years old and she died six years later.

3 Why did we choose this title for adaptation?

Sense and Sensibility is the third Jane Austen novel on our readers list (the other two are Emma and Pride and Prejudice). Why do we keep going back to Jane Austen? Easy! She is such a clever and witty writer plus she always has a range of strong female characters and her themes are universals and very much part of contemporary life and thought. Plus you can follow up by watching the film with your class.

4 How can you use this reader for language learning?


  • Social classes: the status of women, marriage and class
  • Economics: money and making allowances
  • Etiquette

Discussion topics

  • Sense or passion? What is more significant in a person?
  • Relationships
  • Happiness: what makes a happy couple?
  • Engagement: how do you know that two people are engaged?
  • Anger and forgiveness: can you easily forgive someone?

The adaptations

One of the most famous film adaptations of the novel was directed by Ang Lee in 1995. The main characters were played by Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant.

Vocabulary development

  • Describing character and personality
  • Describing feelings
  • Talking about the different stages of relationships
  • Talking about verbal and non-verbal communication (verbs)
  • Being polite

5 How did we create the reader?

The story was adapted by Elspeth Rawstron and illustrated by Sara Menetti, the factfiles and extra activity pages were written by Gianfranco Martorano.

The original text of the novel was simplified for intermediate (B1) level learners, avoiding complex grammar and sentence structures and minor plot strands that may lead to confusion. The vocabulary is only simplified as much as it is necessary to make it comprehensible for language learners at this stage.

The illustrations were created by Sara Menetti. You can read our interview with Sara here:

Visit her website here.

Here is a simple chart about our reading levels.

Helbling Reader levels

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