Sense and Sensibility
One of the
major milestones on the book list is to get to Jane Austen. Her books are among
the few classics that are still widely read and the sort of books most people
are supposed to be familiar with. To my embarrassment I believe I have only read
“Pride and Prejudice” prior to the book list, mostly I think because the world
of Austen has never been my go-to literature. Now, though, I am getting the
chance with four Jane Austen novels back to back. First up is “Sense and
the bat, let me say that I enjoyed reading “Sense and Sensibility” a lot more
than I expected to. Austen does everything Fanny Burney did, but better. Austen
is witty and clever, but treats her characters with respect. It is a comedy,
not because of a comedic theme or outright silly characters, but because of
that special angle Austen uses when she describes her characters. She nails their
character traits for better and worse and I sit back with a chuckle reading
Marianne Dashwood belong to the gentility, somewhere between lower nobility and
upper middleclass. When their father dies, the wealth of the family fall on
their half-brother John and they are forced to leave the manor with their
mother and little sister Margaret. A distant relative, Sir John Middleton, offers
them a cheap rent at Barton cottage, close to his own manor. Soon the girls are
involved with the Middletons and the people that come and go at Barton Park.
overriding theme of the novel is that of marriage and the relationships that
lead up to marriage. Elinor, who represents sense, formed a relationship with
Edward Ferrars, the brother of John Dashwood’s wife, Fanny, while they still
lived at Norland, but at Barton she learns he has been engaged for the past four
years to a Lucy Steele, a girl with no money to speak of and poor education.
Proper conduct is to respect such an engagement, but can Elinor control her
emotions enough for that?
who represents sensibility, has a chance encounter with the charming John
Willoughby and falls head over heels in love with him. In a matter of days
everybody is convinced they are engaged, but then Willoughby suddenly leaves,
not to return. When next Marianne sees him, he is about to marry a wealth girl
in London. Can Marianne learn to control her emotional roller coaster and learn
to love men who are not deucebags?
Austen’s characters have some very dominant character traits. John Dashwood is
obsessing over people’s wealth, his wife is greedy beyond belief, Edward is dutiful
but meek, John Barton is a sportsman, Colonel Brandon is consciousness incarnate,
Mrs Jennings is the ultimate gossip aunt and Willoughby is a certified deucebag.
These traits are painted sharply, maybe too sharply for realism, but most, if
not all of them end up revealing softening character traits that spoils the
image of one-dimensional characters. Mrs. Jennings actually care about the
people under her wings, Colonel Brandon has sensibility as well as sense and
Willoughby does feel remorse.
read this book and not feel sorry for the women of Austen’s world. Their entire
being seems to be reduced to a question of who to marry and whether to marry
for love of money. While the men do seem to have a larger agenda, the women’s
is rather insipid beyond the marriage question. Austen seem to agree with me.
Through the eyes of Elinor and Marianne the thoughtless chatter and idle
pastimes are almost painfully thoughtless and pointless. Their only duty is to
look pretty and be respectable and I sense a rebellion in both Marianne and
Elinor and maybe even an urge to actually do things. So, while Austen delves
into the forms and practices of the gentility of the period, she also exposes
the narrowness of that world with pointed remarks and a sense of
reflection of this is also in how narrow a world she describes. The only
mention of characters outside their class are a few remarks on their servants.
The village children are sweet to look at and there are actually people working
in the shops they visit. But that is about it. There is nothing about politics
of the period, economy is only how many thousand pounds each have per year, not
where they come from, and there is absolutely no mention of the societal
evolution Britain was going through in the Regency period, something I find
immensely interesting, but Austen’s women clearly are entirely ignorant about.
Design or flaw, I do not know, but it emphasizes the isolation of these women.
Sensibility” is a wonderful read nevertheless. I love Austen’s characters and I
cannot wait moving on to the next three novels. Highly recommended.