The story concerns two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (Elinor representing "sense" and Marianne "sensibility"). Along with their mother and younger sister Margaret, they are left impoverished after the death of their father, and the family is forced to move to a country cottage, offered to them by a generous relative.
Elinor forms an attachment to the gentle and courteous Edward Ferrars, unaware that he is already secretly engaged. After their move, Marianne meets Willoughby, a dashing young man who leads her into undisciplined behaviour, so that she ignores the attentions of the faithful Colonel Brandon.
The contrast between the sisters' characters is eventually resolved as both find love and lasting happiness.
The hugely successful 1995 film of the book (see Sense and Sensibility (movie)) starred Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as the sisters, and was directed by Ang Lee. Emma Thompson's screenplay took some liberties with Austen's story in the interests of a modern audience's requirements.