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.

Pride & Prejudice, My First Jane Austen

And the list of prolific authors I’ve not read has been shortened by one – I’ve finally read a Jane Austen novel!!
I chose Pride & Prejudice to start with for several reasons:

1) It’s the volume of hers I’ve owned the longest (going on ten years…it’s about time I cracked it!)
2) It’s the volume everyone seems to prefer, or at least mention most often.
3) I’ve seen the movie (Keira Knightley version), and knew I liked the story already – is that cheating?

I started reading it right now, because I’ve been craving some more Victorian/Romantic Classic lit since I read Rebecca and absolutely loved it (my review is here). One day I almost started reading Wuthering Heights, but the copy I have is in this beautiful bind up edition and I ended up reading my favorite parts of Jane Eyre again instead…insert sheepish look :-) ALSO, I’ve been seeing something called ‘Austen in August’ pop up everywhere and decided to jump in on Roof Beam Reader’s blog – the master post of which you can find here.

Again, I’m surprised by this novel, as the good classics always do to me. The more time it’s been since I read it, the more it’s growing on me – and it’s only been one day since I finished reading!

Probably the most surprising aspect is simply how good it was. I don’t just mean the story, I mean the writing technique and characters and settings and pacing and depth and a dozen other things – this girl is good. All these years I was sure her work was completely overrated – some kind of 19th century forerunner for the modern Danielle Steele’s and Nicholas Sparks’ of today (which frankly I haven’t read either, so that’s admittedly unfair of me).

The strange part is how the great qualities sneak up on you. It’s elegantly worded, as you’d expect work from that time period, but it’s quite easy to follow; there aren’t paragraphs of needless words you have to wade through to get to what is happening. The edition I read (not the one pictured, I couldn’t find a picture of it) was even more helpful with small definitions of common words we still use that had different meanings back then.

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It would seem that I’m turning into quite a sucker for a good romance. It started just this year when I read Jane Eyre. That book broke my heart and put it back together three sizes bigger. Then the next biggun to strike my fancy was Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier – a book I now strongly recommend to anyone who likes romance, the gothic style, or classic literature at all; something about the creepiness, suspense, and absolute twist of fate just hooked me indubitably. And now, Pride & Prejudice.

While this book didn’t have a specific noticeable element to peak my interest, I found I couldn’t put it down. There is a balance in literature, between ‘action’ and ‘other’ that sometimes teeters way too far in one direction, but I feel like Austen handled it beautifully in this case. Although, by action I don’t mean ‘Mission: Impossible’-esque – more like characters chancing to meet, intense dialogue, and marriages, plans to marry, or the breaking of marriage plans. There are enough characters for there to always be something happening, and yet there aren’t too many of them to keep track of either.

To me, it seems Austen was able to capture an image of real life in this novel. The connections, the personalities and motivations, the chance happenings and unexpectedness of everyday life, were all incredibly realistic. The family dynamic of the Bennets itself was perfect. The separation of the two eldest and most sensible daughters, the awkward artfulness of the middle, and the exuberance of inexperience of the two youngest seemed incredibly likely. When I first began reading it made me homesick for the days I spent under my parent’s roof with my two brothers, and made me long for a large family of my own (but only for a moment! Five daughters!). Now that I think about it, it seems very rare for large families to be the focus of novels, though that could just be my under-read-ed-ness…

Can I just mention really quickly how surprised I am that I’m gushing over Jane Austen? If you told me this in 2012 I would have laughed heartily in your face.

This is where I must mention that I am incredibly fond of Darcy, and what a first name: Fitzwilliam :-)

Darcy is a man who, above all, and often to his dismay, is very shy (Jane, by the way, is the most exquisite representation of an actual shy person EVER. I would know, I’m painfully shy myself). He is also, at the beginning of the book, a pompous ass. Raised a high class gentleman and only ever exposed to those of his rank or very near below, going to the country with his friend, Mr. Bingley, and meeting a mother dying to marry off her daughters to the highest bidder, was not exactly what he was used to; the dances less sophisticated, the people far under-dressed, and seemingly much more simple minded, besides the fact that he knew no one present outside of who he came with. When confronted with the impression he made to others by Lizzie, he worked quickly to correct himself in all manor of ways; both in small details and grand gestures. The transformation of this man throughout the novel is so wonderful to read. I got to the point of giddy excitedness when Lizzy met him at Pemberley, and pretty much every time they met after that. Austen makes it impossible not to love him, but maybe I just have a thing for shy guys ;-)

Elizabeth Bennet is quite a character herself. She is outspoken and very sensible. She does and says what she thinks is right, which sometimes goes beyond her manners, though never too remarkably. She is one who isn’t afraid to point out faults of others when they affect her or her family, which is why Darcy is so taken aback by her; no one in his life has ever stood up to him the way that she does. She is her father’s favorite, and loves her family dearly. I’m sure that young spunky women were not prevalent in times such as these, but Austen captured one beautifully in Lizzie Bennet.

This book is not called Pride & Prejudice for nothing; Elizabeth and Darcy are both incredibly proud and prejudiced in their own ways; he against the lower class and she against the upper (although it’s not quite as simple as that). Since I did see the movie first, I never quite understood the title, but now after reading it’s perfectly clear. I’m actually really impressed with how well the book explains itself and the character motivations – the movie moves so quickly in parts that it is hard to understand why something happens, but the book almost spreads it out more, so things not only make much more sense, but seem much more likely.

I can’t express enough how glad I am that I read this book, especially because I did enjoy the movie so much. I encourage you, if you haven’t yet read it, to stop holding back! This book is so popular for a reason! I will also be writing a review of the Keira Knightley version of the movie this month, so if you’re interested in that, stop back by!

Until Next Time,
Emma

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Mansfield Park is the third Austen novel I’ve come to read. I didn’t expect to read it so soon, honestly, but there was a book group online who read it in March and I decided it was time for another classic and jumped right in.

Mansfield Park is not one of Austen’s novels beloved by the masses. The heroine, Fanny, contrasts so much against some of Austen’s other leading ladies’ I don’t think people are quite prepared for the gap in character. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to use a comparison to Austen’s (or anyone’s) other novels as the main critique, although I’m guilty of the same in certain instances. But that’s not why I didn’t love this novel.

First a brief setting: The novel begins with three sisters: One married very well, one modestly, and one for love (decidedly a lower marriage than she could have accomplished). The well married woman had four children, two boys and two girls, the modestly married one had no children, but lived in the same community with the well married sister and helped her raise her children, and the one who married for love was continually pregnant and was too poor to offer any of them good prospects. The two sisters had been excommunicated to the lower married sister for eleven years (beginning when she ran away to marry her love), but when her oldest children were getting older, she decided to apply to her well married sister for any help she can give. The well married sister’s husband gets her oldest son a position in the Navy, and after the persuasion of the modestly married sister, they decide to invite the oldest daughter, Fanny, to live with them and come up with more opportunities than she would have with her own family. Confused? Yeah, it’s a tangled web of relationships as in all Austen novels (that I’ve read so far). And that’s all in the first few pages. The novel follows Fanny through her adolescence growing up at Mansfield Park with her two aunts, uncle, and four cousins.

The problems I had with the novel were not due entirely to the nature of the characters, but with the writing itself. To me, it seemed as if Fanny was a regurgitation of Edmund, her closest cousin. Everything he said aloud, she claimed to have seconded, mentally. Either she was in punch drunk love with the boy and wanted to be exactly like him (not unlikely, given her age), or she was just no fun and had little to no actual personality or backbone. She wasn’t believable. That is the problem I have with a few of the characters – they were developed, but the way they were made to act in the novel seemed unnatural to me. I won’t get into the details because I don’t want to ruin the plot for anyone, but it seemed very flawed, which I realize is a huge risk to say about a classic novel.

Parts of the story were so populous with characters who were all called Miss […whatever their last name is], while sisters were present, that it was very confusing to actually sort through what was happening and who was actually doing what. That was hard for me.

All and all, a reread might sway my opinion of this novel. It’s possible that one factor of the story irked me and then my outlook of the whole thing was skewed from then on (does that happen to anyone else?). For now, the rating I gave it on goodreads is 3 stars, because although I had issues with it, it was readable, it was interesting, and it was engaging. I knocked off two stars because it just seemed to me that the author struggled to make the characters do what she wanted when the characters really didn’t want to do them. Perhaps it was because we’re made to be sympathetic to Fanny (which I wasn’t, really). Eh, okay, I’m finished.

I find myself confused by Austen, actually. I loved Pride & Prejudice (like, it’s a nearly perfect novel – it’s in my top ten of all time, easily), but I’ve not liked either Sense & Sensibility or Mansfield Park. Then again, P&P is the only plot I was familiar with before reading the novel, so perhaps that played a part, but I was able to follow the story lines in each quite easily, so I’m not convinced that’s the reason. I suppose only more experience will tell the true tale. Persuasion or Emma will be next.

Emma.