Friday, October 21, 2022

Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen

As Sense and Sensibility begins, Mr. Dashwood of Norland Park has passed away. He and his wife, Mrs. Dashwood, and three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret had lived in a large country estate in Sussex. Now his oldest child, John Dashwood, is the owner of their ancestral home.  John's father had exacted a promise from him to provide for Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters, but John does not follow through on this. His wife does not want to share her home with them, so they have to move out to a much smaller cottage in Devonshire. Here they live near to a distant cousin, Sir John Middleton, who invites them to dinners and parties and provides some social life.

Before leaving Sussex, Elinor (the eldest daughter) has formed a friendship with Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law's brother. Unfortunately Fanny, the sister-in-law, disapproves, and is determined that Edward will make a better match than Elinor. 

After moving to Devonshire,  Marianne meets a very personable young man, John Willoughby. They have shared interests and quickly become enchanted with each other. Sir John Middleton speaks well of Willoughby's background and his expectations of a future inheritance. But not too long after that he leaves the area with little explanation. Marianne refuses to believe that she has been abandoned.

The story centers around the romantic tribulations of Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is 19 years old, full of sense, and cares much more for propriety and good manners than Marianne. Marianne is only 16, so it is not so strange that she seems to go her own way, not sticking to conventional ways and often being rude and thoughtless with people she does not care for. The younger sister, Margaret, is 13 years old and hardly comes into the story. Their mother, Mrs. Dashwood, is not much involved either, although she is often talked about or written to by Elinor. 

Elinor hides her own feelings and is too ready to consider only Marianne's needs and ignore her own pain and grief when she is snubbed by the man she had considered to be a friend and possible suitor. Marianne on the other hand is more than willing to let the world know how unhappy she is when she is ignored by Willoughby.

This was the last remaining Jane Austen novel for me, and it is the only one that I have not truly liked. Some of that may be due to my mood at the time of reading it. I did not hate it and it covers the interesting topic of the plight of people who feel pressure to marry for money, not love, but I did not have the urge to hurry to get back to reading it or finish it that I usually do. 

For me, Sense and Sensibility did not have the humor of the other novels, and I did not care for any of the characters one way or the other. I could not work up an interest in the main characters, Elinor and Marianne, and we spend almost all of our time with them. I sympathized with their plight, but I got tired of hearing about it. Marianne was a real brat at times, thoughtless and needlessly rude to people. Her youth could excuse this to some extent. Even characters who could be considered villains to some extent were tame villains.

In some of Jane Austen's novels, it is pretty obvious that the romances will work out by the end, but this one was pretty unpredictable, and trying to guess the resolution was a plus. I did like the ending. In general, Sense and Sensibility gets very high ratings from most readers, so I still recommend this novel if you are interested in classic novels and/or romances.


Publisher:   Borders Classics, 2006 (orig. pub. 1811)
Length:      297 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.


Cath said...

This is the only full-length Austen I've not read and I didn't know all that much about it until I saw the wonderful Emma Thompson film. In a way I think I might've been afraid to read the novel in case it wasn't as good as the film. The scene that has always stuck in my mind from that is Fanny Dashwood in the carriage convincing her husband not to give his sisters and mother any money at all. Talk about pure evil. I was watching a YT vid where they ranked JA's horrible characters and I'm not sure if Fanny Dashwood didn't win, she certainly came very near the top. Excellent review, Tracy! Sorry you didn't enjoy it more. I will try it next year.

CLM said...

I'm with you on this one! Marianne is extremely annoying; Elinor's "sense" is not rewarded. The brother and especially the sister-in-law are heartless. Several years ago, you may recall that Harper Collins commissioned a group of highly regarded authors to do modern Austen retellings. While I always prefer original work and wish publishers were more supportive of new voices, I did read several and I thought the Joanna Trollope version of S&S and the Val McDermid version of Northanger Abbey were well worth reading. I don't recall if I read the others but for those who have read all of Austen and all of Georgette Heyer, it was a good diversion:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Although I have read it, it is the film that stays with me. Both Emma and Kate bring the characters to life.

Lark said...

I feel the same way as you about this book. It was one of the last Jane Austen books that I read, and I felt it lacked something that the other books had. I really love the movie version of it that Emma Thompson did, but the book doesn't have that same heart and humor imo.

TracyK said...

Cath, it has been a good while (over 20 years) since I saw the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility, but I think that movie adaptation is probably much better than the book. I would like to see it again.

Both Fanny and John Dashwood are really nasty people but they didn't show up enough in the book to make a big impression on me.

TracyK said...

Constance, Thanks for the information on the Austen retellings. I don't usually go for modern retellings but I might give some of those a try someday.

I checked out the link you included. I couldn't read the article but I did have access to some of the links in the references. Very interesting.

TracyK said...

Patti, now I want to see that film again. I have enjoyed many of the actors in the film. And it would be interesting to see again how they handled the various characters in the adaptation.

TracyK said...

You put it very well, Lark. This book lacked the charm and wit of the other books by Austen. Without that, the issues in the story were not compelling enough to keep my interest. I may read it again some day, but I will give it some time.

Margot Kinberg said...

I have to admit, Tracy, this Austen doesn't draw me in as others do. It's not that it's badly written, because it's not. There's some - spark, is it? - that's not there as much for me. Still, Austen was such a wonderful writer, and no writer's perfect all the time.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Tracy, this is such a coincidence because about a week ago I began Sense and Sensibility and I am almost finished and I am loving the book which for me was a pleasant surprise because I had loved Pride and Prejudice when I first read it in my 20's and then a few years ago I figured I need to read more by Austen so I read Persuasion and Northanger Abbey and didn't care for either novel. But what made Sense and Sensibility great for me was the ying/yang personalities of the two sisters. I think if the novel had only featured Elinor as the heroine there wouldn't have been enough life in the book, I think Marianne adds that. I also enjoyed the scenes with Lucy Steele. I mean she is awful but you also see the pressure she would be under, not much much money and a 4 year engagement.

TracyK said...

Margot, even without the charms that Austen's other books hold for me, this book is an interesting depiction of the struggles that young men and women had to deal with related to having money to live on at that time. And keeping their families happy.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I had just been thinking that Elinor's and Marianne's relationship almost mirrors the differences between me and my sister at that age. I was much more sensible and my sister was the opposite, and the beauty. Very interesting to make that comparison now, after reading the book.

I think many readers enjoyed the contrast of the two personalities as you did. And I really did not keep in mind as I read the book that Marianne was just 16, really too young to be considering marriage (although maybe not in those times?).

Lucy Steele was an interesting character. As I read the book, I kept thinking that she was lying about the engagement and then was floored to get that she wasn't. This one was so much more obviously about money and the problems it caused.

FictionFan said...

Ah, I love this one because I think it gives a more realistic depiction of the restrictions on women, and the eventual marriages seem less "fairytale" than in the other books. But it doesn't have the sparkle and wit of P&P or Northanger Abbey. I've always said that P&P is my favourite but that S&S is the best...
Have you seen the Emma Thompson film? It's an excellent adaptation and a fab cast.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, you are right about it being more realistic, and somewhat depressing to me, and I haven't been dealing well with depressing reads lately. Another reason for me to give it another try later.

Pride and Prejudice is my favorite, Persuasion is close behind.

I have been the Emma Thompson film, but it has been much too long since I saw it. I will have to find a way to see it again.

Whispering Gums said...

I enjoyed reading your post on this Tracy. It’s so long since I first read it that I often wonder what I would be thinking would be the ending if I were reading it fresh. I just can’t remember.

This was my mum’s least favourite Austen. (For some it’s Mansfield Park, and for others it’s Northanger Abbey). I’ve always liked it. I am far more Elinor than Marianne, so always feel for her, but one of my favourite Austen quotes belongs to Marianne because it reflects me! The joy of Austen.

This is it: “Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims.” I can be very good at pontificating on things I haven’t experienced, just like M!

BTW I just reread it again this year.

TracyK said...

Whispering Gums, thanks for coming and checking out my review. I enjoyed your comments. I am much more Elinor than Marianne, and my sister was more like Marianne and the age difference was similar, so maybe that colored my view of the book. Although it wasn't until I had finished the book that I saw that connection. I have thought that I would enjoy reading it again sometime.

That quote is very good and we would all be benefited by remembering that sentiment.