Sense & Sensibility, an Austen in August Read

Of all of Jane Austen’s novels, I was most eager to read Sense & Sensibility. Something about the title itself appealed to me – the sounds it makes when I say it aloud, the connotation, the feeling I got when thinking about those words together…all somehow contributed the this feeling that this would be the book that I connected with the most.

Alas, just as you cannot judge a book by its ugly cover (I’m looking at you Rebecca), you cannot judge it by its title alone.
20130807-130948.jpg Although it’s only the second of Austen’s works that I’ve read, it’s already not my favorite of the two; I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice quite a bit more. Even as I write this, I’m not sure I’m being fair about this pronouncement, but as this is my literary journal, I feel free to record it as I see it as of this moment, just after finishing it.

Comparatively, I saw a movie version of Pride & Prejudice before I read the book, and therefore knew the story and that I already adored it; with Sense & Sensibility, I only knew that Kate Winslet (who I adore) plays Marianne in a movie production of it, but knew nothing whatsoever about the story – so perhaps this had something to do with it.

As I read, I found myself impatient with several parts; wanting to know who would end up where and which of the acquaintances I should be ‘watching’ as the story progressed. I knew of course that Willoughby was too good to be true and that Marianne was acting incredibly unabashedly, surely shamefully for her time, but I assumed that Willoughby’s eventual revelation would have been what turned out to be Edward’s (the previous engagement). I cannot believe that none of the ‘issues’ were resolved with either of the sisters, even in part, until the last two chapters of the book!

For me, the pacing was off a little bit in this one, at least as the first read through was concerned; although there were plenty of ‘action’ scenes, there seemed to be a lot more assumptions in this book, which led to much of the dramatic issues. For example, I was starting to get mad at Elinor for ‘assuming’ that Marianne and Willoughby were engaged when she really had no reason to assume it besides that her sister was completely smitten – I mean, they’re sisters – was Elinor’s concern not enough for her to ask her own sister if she was engaged??

I did like Elinor, but now that I’m thinking about it, although she is the main heroine in this novel she doesn’t really do much, does she? She is somewhat like Jane Bennet in that she is severely reserved, Elinor is very contemplative, and never answers a question before considering everyone’s feeling towards her potential remarks first. Someone needs to tell this girl to relax a little bit! Did she have a moment’s fun in the entire length of the novel?

While Pride & Prejudice was chalk full of dialogue, Sense & Sensibility was a much more internal novel, covering the thoughts and feelings of the characters much less openly than her sister novel. I suppose I was less interested in the motivations of the characters because in one case, I knew they were acting childishly and therefore that there was no happy ending for the pair of them, and in the other, that there wasn’t enough of anything to base any feeling whatever on besides what our character felt. Almost every time Edward spoke it was ‘unintelligible’, or ‘didn’t reach their ears’ (paraphrasing here) – all of the ‘action’ in that relationship took place before the start of the novel, and what we know of that the family assumed something was going on as well. Again, it’s not until chapter 49 of 50 that we get any sort of clue as to what was really happening, because lord knows Elinor didn’t.

Sigh.

I think it is time for me to read a few non-Austen novels before reading the one I have planned next:: Persuasion. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Sense & Sensibility, it was still written with skill by the author, but it was decidedly less happy than Pride & Prejudice, and it’s made me long for a real romance or something unrelated to romance altogether – something with anything else to grab onto besides people in hopeless love.
I hope to watch a movie production of Sense & Sensibility, which I already suspect I’ll enjoy a great deal more than the novel, only because of faster gratification – I’ve spent three whole days in the sorrow that is disappointed love, for only a few brief pages of delight, whereas a movie will move through the sorrow more quickly and presumably have a brighter pay-off in the end.

I will perhaps write on this novel again in the future, and I’ll surely read it again someday, but for now, these are my feelings, and I’ll leave it at that.

To read more of Austen in August, visit the host Roof Beam Reader’s Blog.

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28 thoughts on “Sense & Sensibility, an Austen in August Read

  1. ” I cannot believe that none of the ‘issues’ were resolved with either of the sisters, even in part, until the last two chapters of the book!” <—That's pretty typical for Austen, actually! I hope it doesn't keep you from enjoying other of her works.

    I definitely agree with you that this one feels a bit slow and it is not as great (or enjoyable) a novel as Pride and Prejudice (which is one I consider to be nearly perfect); however, I quite enjoyed this one…. I won't go into long detail about it, but, actually, my review for Sense & Sensibility is probably one of my personal favorites. My thoughts are probably best given there, if you're interested. :)

    http://roofbeamreader.com/2012/08/10/review-sense-and-sensibility-by-jane-austen/

    • I did still enjoy the novel, I’m just feeling sort of bummed because of how sad most of the book is! I agree with you that Pride & Prejudice is perfect, or nearly so – it was very refreshing! I should have read S&S first!

      I will definitely read your review — I’m really interested to see what everyone else thought of Sense & Sensibility as well. Do you agree that Persuasion is a good next step for me, or would you recommend another?

      • I think you should read Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (which I love, because I am swoony!!), and then Northanger Abbey, which was written to mock people who love books like The Mysteries of Udolpho. < —– ME!!! :D

  2. I’m also reading Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion for the Austen in August event. :) I think I’m going to start this weekend with Persuasion as it’s been recommended to me by a few people. I’m curious about S & S- I know it’s not going to be as great as Pride & Prejudice was but I’m still planning to give it a try.

    • I’ve not heard too much about either, but S&S is good, just has quite more of a sad tone – but still a happy ending. I’ll hopefully get to Persuasion before the end of the month :-)

  3. Elinor assumed that Marianne and Willoughby were engaged because Marianne was writing Willoughby letters. Letters between a man and woman would have been unheard of back then, unless they were engaged (or otherwise related.) For Elinor to ask Marianne if she were engaged would create a very embarrassing situation if Marianne was not, since it would leave Marianne forced to say, “No, Elinor. I am not engaged. I’m being familiar with a man to whom I may mean nothing.” Elinor (being very quiet and private) is choosing not to intrude, knowing that Marianne would confide in her if she felt the need.

    • Marianne apparently felt quite confident about his affections, if anything I figured she was treating her sister to a bit of her own medicine in silence.

      I would really like to hear what you think of Marianne’s character in full – as I read I knew that you consider yourself most like Marianne – but I didn’t actually find her that likable. To me she seemed quite childish and selfish, for to be so unconventional without regard for her family or anyone else, I took it as selfish…though it was innocence that drove her, I believe.

  4. I would really like to hear what you think of Marianne’s character in full – as I read I knew that you consider yourself most like Marianne – but I didn’t actually find her that likable.

    Wow! That’s a line that makes me feel like sharing! ;)

    • I knew that could be taken the wrong way, but I didn’t mean it that way, just being honest about how I felt about the character, and noting what you’d mentioned yourself. I really didn’t mean any offense – I’m just thinking that I didn’t read into her character deep enough and you always have such incredible insights into characterization. I genuinely DO want to hear what you think.

      I think mainly this book just needs time to settle with me, so I can sort through all of what happened – I’m not sure why it wasn’t as powerful with me, the entire way through. Perhaps me reading it on the nook app on my phone was part of the problem…I don’t know. I was really hoping to love it since you do so much.

      Forgive me for my rudeness!

  5. Marianne puts passion and heart first — above everything. She learns rationality too, and comes to respect it, but her natural inclination is heart and soul and passion and emotion. She thinks with gut instinct and she trusts her instincts; rationality and logic are characteristics she must learn. Logic without heart leaves her cold. Tradition wilts the spirit.

    Elinor is rational and cautious by nature. She trusts her mind and the facts and respects tradition. Her heart is something sincere and real that she contains within; she doesn’t trust herself to let her heart guide her. She is resilient and strong because of that. It’s a different strength from Marianne’s, but not a better one.

    Austen shows in Sense & Sensibility that both sisters require a little of the other to attain true happiness.

    I identify with Marianne because I tend to be very much a speak first, ask later sort. Passion, passion, passion — “Where is your HEART, Elinor?” That’s me. I hope that I’ve matured to a place where I am a little of Elinor too. I was very much Marianne at her most outspoken, for a long time. After I read Sense & Sensibility, I “understood” that a bit of Elinor could soften me, and I purposefully incorporated her into myself.

    That’s what I love about literature — the incorporating effect. Austen spoke from two hundred years ago and affected me.

    Marianne comes off nasty and annoying in places — but you’re seeing her at her most immature. Elinor in a weak state would be cold and unfeeling, perhaps. Or weak and ineffectual — thinking so often about how and what to say that she never actually says anything and is thus a mere shadow life. Elinor might be good at strength and resilience within this novel, but if you saw her in an unrefined, immature state, her strengths would be her weaknesses.

    Same with Marianne. She is too bold, too outspoken, a troublemaker, etc. But she is also a relentless artist charging against the status quo. She knows that tradition desires to be questioned, lest it become a tomb. She will not hear “That’s what has always been done.” She will not be imprisoned by politeness. She speaks truth, from the very core of herself. The world needs her as certainly as it needs a steady head and a rational mind. She does not often think — but she also doesn’t overthink. She does and asks questions after, and if she acted wrong, when she realizes her mistake she is profoundly sorry. I absolutely love her for doing and saying with the soul — and for having the compassion to recognize Elinor’s grace and self-control, and making the decision to incorporate that gentle grace and rationality into herself. Where she lacks patience she has gumption.

    “Aye, aye, I see how it will be,” said Sir John, “I see how it will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poor Brandon.”

    “That is an expression, Sir John,” said Marianne, warmly, “which I particularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man,’ or ‘making a conquest,’ are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity.”

    Who else but Marianne could have said it? :) Elinor would have quietly smiled and let it slide. But she’d not have affected change — you see. She’d have endured. As equal a strength, but certainly not a better one. (Not that Marianne likely changed anything in Regency England. But a knock is better than nothing, in one’s effort to open a door.)

    Honesty unrefined. That’s Marianne.

    And then.

    (PS – I love Mr. Palmer, who is entirely devoid of emotion. He makes me laugh.)

    (PPS — I identify with Marianne, but I love Elinor. I think she’s a beautiful spirit.)

    (PPPS – All of this is just my POV, obviously. I have only read the novel once, in 2011.)

  6. I’m half-way through Sense and Sensibility, but some of your comments made me think, “Oh yeah”. I was getting a little frustrated too that everyone was assuming Marianne and Willoughby were married and not just come right out and ask her. But Mabel’s comment helps explain why that might have been. Overall it’s a great book and I’m enjoying it.

    I’ve watched the 1995 movie with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet dozens of times, so this is affecting the way I feel about the book a little. I love the movie and highly recommend it.

    Do you think you’ll start Persuasion?

    • Yes, Mabel is very insightful :-)

      I am definitely planning on watching the movie when I can get ahold of it – I didn’t realize Emma Thompson is in it too, she plays Elinor?

      I am definitely planning on reading Persuasion, I’m just not sure if I’ll start it this month or not…I’m starting Catch-22 and The Count if Monte Cristo also, but we’ll see :-) I have another book to read for Austen in August that I received from the first reads program called ‘Jane Austen’s England’ – I’m hoping it more meaningful now that I’ve actually read some of her work!

      Are you planning on reading Persuasion?

      • Yes, Emma Thompson plays Elinor and she was criticized for being too old for the part, but I think she does an amazing job. She also won an Oscar/Golden Globe (not sure which one) for writing the screenplay. I hope you get a chance to watch it.

        I’m undecided whether I should start Persuasion or read something not written by her. I think I’ll finish S&S and see how much time I have left in the month. I bet Jane Austen’s England will be good. Enjoy!

          • Not yet! Hmm, not sure why I didn’t think of reading it. I also was looking for some romance in S&S and found it lacking. Reading all of these classic books is great, but sometimes you just need some romance darnit. You may be swaying me in P&P’s direction!

          • It’s wonderful, I hope you get to it soon. I wish I read them in reverse order (S&S first), so maybe I wouldn’t have been a little disappointed in it, but having a strong start isn’t a bad thing either I suppose.

            Have you seen any of the Pride & Prejudice movie adaptations? I love the one with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden – I made my mom watch it with me after I read the book (I sent the book with her as well), but she loved it so much she took it home with her and watched it again :-) Its a beautiful, romantic story.

          • Oh, never mind my last. I’m reading the comments bottom to top. I’ve just seen ebookclassics say Emma Thompson wrote the S&S screenplay. Sorry! ;)

  7. Looks like I can’t reply to anymore of your comments. Anyway, I have seen the P&P movie and I remember it was soooo good. I haven’t seen the movie, but I think Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden were also in Anna Karenina. Hmm, methinks I may be reading P&P soon …

    • Yikes, I might have to change my comment settings–sorry about that.

      They are both in Anna Karenina as well (I got about 3/4 through the book), but in that movie they play brother and sister, not lovers ;-) Matthew Macfayden also played Athos in the most recent version of The Three Musketeers, which I enjoyed immensely–though I only got about halfway through that book too…haha. I have an issue finishing BIG books for some reason. Mental block, must be!

  8. Yes, yes and yes. I agree with you so much here. In regards to the pacing, particularly, because I felt it was going along at a slow but steady pace and then suddenly everything happened and BAM it was over. I really enjoyed reading it and it has made me move on to reading Emma straight away but it was all wrapped up a little to perfectly and quickly for my liking.

    • Compared to Pride & Prejudice, I didn’t enjoy it much, which I really regret. I’m thinking I should have ‘taken a breather’ between them, to kind of let the perfection that is P&P wear off first.

      I own a mass market paperback version of Emma – I’ll look for some updates from you on that, as I may want to read it soon – I’m leaning more towards Persuasion next, but Emma DOES share my name :-)

      • I think when Austen hurries and ends everything suddenly, she is purposefully mocking the romance genre. Her books (even P & P) are mockeries of readers who want a lot of romance and swooning. Good-natured jabs, I mean. I get a sense she loved to laugh. I could better explain this if you had read Northanger Abbey. In her day, women read swoony romances and Gothic literature; women were expected to faint at any surprise, and of course, all love stories ended happily ever after. So her endings end up happily ever after, and our era assumes this is because they were love stories — but I picture her grinning, rolling her eyes, and saying, “There. Have your happy ending and your ridiculous wedding.”

        I think she’s serious in places (especially in Pride & Prejudice), but her novels (in my mind) are not romance stories; they are debates laced with story and spoof. In Sense & Sensibility, she is debating the virtues of sense vs. sensibility, which would have been a very timely debate in her day. The phrase “sense and sensibility” is present in Mary Wollstonecraft’s “scandalous” work of Austen’s day: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I’ve read this essay, and it’s all about the urgent need for women to stop being ridiculous and addicted to clothes, jewelry, ornaments, romance — and get themselves educated.

        Austen was a feminist, an intellectual, a conservative, a liberal — so many, many things when women were supposed to be (expected to be) swoony and ridiculous. She is arguing in Sense & Sensibility FOR sensibility, and yet, so urgently too, for sense. She seems always to fall into the middle of her own debates, and I sense that she works it out in her own mind as she is writing. There were no computers back then — no typewriters. There was only she with a pen and a scrap of paper that she hid when she was invaded at all hours by visitors. Her sister Cassandra (like Jane Bennet, in my imagination) tried hard to do all the housework she could so Jane Austen could write, but she wrote anonymously, and didn’t have the luxury of Word software and copy and delete. What she did was phenomenal (to me), because she shouted for sense in women and yet for heart too — for real passion, sincere passion, not silly, ornamental swoony passion. Marriage because of love. In that she reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet.

        What I’m trying to say is that she isn’t writing to entertain readers, and she isn’t writing for our era. She does tend to entertain because she is amusing, but that is the bare surface of what she is trying to say. Women in her day wanted a love story, so she gave them love stories, but I think she writhed at knowing that is all women wanted. She is speaking under the surface, and it is very subtle. You have to read her again, and you begin to see it. You have to imagine you have no rights, no voice, no reading material but proper religious texts, long poems, and the occasional scandalous Gothic or romance. (Gothics and romance novels were considered stupid in her day. Only “fools” would allow their minds to be wasted on such trash. That’s what people thought in her era.)

        You have to imagine that your father decides who you marry. That you marry your father’s choice no matter how old or how dull because if you do not, you will starve, and so will your sisters, and so will your mother. She lived this life. When her father died, she, Cassandra and her mother were homeless. Her brothers helped, and eventually one of them bought a small cottage for “the women” (like the one in Sense & Sensibility), but they had no say, no rights, no voice, no option. And all around Austen, rich women swooned for men. Because what else could they do? No one had ever convinced them to use their brains. Austen could not boldly tell them all they were fools (like Mr. Darcy) because she was not rich, and she was not a man. She knew that never in her lifetime would she be able to boldly speak her mind. (Like Marianne.)

        She wrote witty novels because that’s what people wanted, but there’s an element of desperation in her — that at least I sense. A real voice from a woman of the early 19th century who would be dismayed (and wryly amused, I think) to see that society has so little changed its focus. That people swoon over a bare-chested film version of Darcy and call that Austen. She was so much more.

  9. I’ve always had a soft spot for Elinor. She’s the eldest daughter in a family who has to step up and manage the family after the father’s death because her mother and sister are too full of their own emotional turmoil to do anything helpful. Someone has to work out where they’re going to live and how much money they will have to live on and even though Elinor would love nothing more than too grieve too, she can’t fall apart too.

    I think that’s why her relationship to Edward means so much to her. He is someone she can lean on and rely on and depend on during this terrible time…which is why his later revelation is so gut-wrenching.

    I think the movie version with Emma Thompson is a great interpretation of the book – she shows just how much heart is behind Elinor’s reserve and controlled exterior.

    Her lesson in life is to learn how to show this a little more (although of course when she does break down and tell Marianne how she’s feeling about Edward, Marianne becomes so upset by her outburst, that Elinor ends up having to comfort Marianne again!!)

    That’s what I love about JA – complications, complexities and nuances! Just like real life, nothing is ever resolved or wrapped up with a tidy bow…some things just stay messy.

    • I’m so glad you wrote all this – definitely another level of meaning behind Elinor…and I completely missed it. I’m sure I will end up reading this again someday, and with an open mind :-)

      Thanks again!

    • I think that’s why her relationship to Edward means so much to her. He is someone she can lean on and rely on and depend on during this terrible time…which is why his later revelation is so gut-wrenching.

      Really great insight!

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