Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, April 9, 2011


My excitement with Duchess by Night has wained somewhat. Eloisa James, the author as well as a professor of English literature, misused the word Sensibility. A professor of English literature misused Sensibility! I may die of horror.

Just so everyone is clear, what sensibility (connotatively) means today is not what sensibility meant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sensibility was the opposite of sense. Thus Jane Austen, Sense and SensibilityDuchess by Night is set in 1784. James should know about Sensibility. Since she made a special point of talking about Sensibility, she must have thought she was being clever in using a concept of the time. But she completely misused it.

Once again, so everyone is clear, here's Merriam-Webster on the subject:

Definition of SENSIBILITY

: ability to receive sensations : sensitiveness 
: peculiar susceptibility to a pleasurable or painful impression (as from praise or a slight) —often used in plural
: awareness of and responsiveness toward something (as emotion in another)
: refined or excessive sensitiveness in emotion and taste with especial responsiveness to the pathetic

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