Can Sense and Sensibility Exist in the Age of Lady Gaga?

By Louise Burton on Sep 29, 2014 01:43 AM EDT

Which one are you? Sense, or Sensibility?

I refer, of course, to the 1811 Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility, that gave the world indelible images of these two distinct personality types, embodied in the sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Sense is what you might think. But Sensibility is a word that has lost its meaning over time. Perhaps the best definition today would be romantic idealism, or emotional sensitivity.

When I was a teenager in the mid-1980s, I would have identified very strongly with Sensibility, embodied in the character of Marianne, the more romantic and impulsive of the two sisters.

The music, art and literature of the Romantic Era resonated strongly with me. Perhaps it was a result of watching too many Masterpiece Theatre productions, but I felt powerfully drawn to that period in time, especially the late 1800s.

I was fortunate in that Victorian and Edwardian fashion was popular in the mid-1980s, as hard as that may be to believe now. Laura Ashley dresses were extremely popular where I went to school, so I was free to indulge my love of romantic floral prints, puffed sleeves and petticoats. I could go to school every day dressed like an Edwardian lady, and no one thought a thing of it.

And there was also a resurgence of interest in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I was delighted to participate in the choruses and pit orchestras of various productions. For some musicians and singers, it may have been a quaint departure from modern musicals. For me, it was historical reenactment.

But the day finally came when I had to live in the contemporary world. It was very hard for me to find my place in the modern world when my temperament seemed much better suited to another time and place.

 But it recently occurred to me, how much harder would it be for like-minded young people today?

In a world where the cultural figures are people like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, does sensibility still exist? Is there any way for young people to express this temperament?

For those who are 'Born this Way,' to borrow a Lady Gaga phrase, the road has never been easy. But I think that classical music and literature, which was a lifeline to me long ago, makes it easier for the wide-eyed romantics among us to express themselves. In fact, it may be the last avenue where it is possible for them to do so.

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TagsSense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, Marianne Dashwood, Gilbert and Sullivan, Laura Ashley, Lady Gaga, Born this Way

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