“Though nothing could be more polite than Lady Middleton’s behavior to Elinor and Marianne, she did not really like them at all. Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could not believe them good-natured; and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps without knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify. It was censure in common use, and easily given.”
Sense and Sensibility, p. 67
By Jane Austen
There are some books that strike me so deeply that I dread their inevitable end, especially considering that nothing beats the novelty of a first read. Given this, I was actually ready for Sense and Sensibility to reach its conclusion, though not due to any kind of disappointment. I loved it. The story is continuously surprising and observant of human behavior and folly. New characters are steadily introduced, adding freshness and much needed details to the intertwined story lines. I was eager to reach the story’s end simply because the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are miserable throughout, and I was anxious for them to find reprieve. Their misery is largely due to heartbreak, which does not come off as frivolous as you would imagine; partly because their emotions are so pure and heartfelt, and partly because they are women of the 18th century. There are few prospects beyond marriage, so a runaway suitor deals a particularly strong blow.
I assumed some version of happily ever after, though I assure you it’s a tame one, because I couldn’t imagine a young Jane Austen letting down the characters she so thoughtfully created. The Dashwood sisters are emotional and eloquent, two qualities that blend perfectly together. I looked up Austen and her work a number of times while reading Sense and Sensibility, and was left with the impression that the book is not a favorite among readers or critics. If that is the case, my expectations for the remainder of the Austen canon are sky high. Northanger Abbey is next.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a classic, and since picking up Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, I’m at a loss as to why. It is my renewed opinion that if you do not know which book to read next, or you have not run into anything memorable in more time than is tolerable, reach back to the classics. They are a perennial sight on bookshelves for a reason, and considering the infinite number of choices we have in reading material, it is reassuring and exciting simply knowing that the book you are reading is of immense cultural value.
I am by no means a Janeite. I have only read the rite of passage that is Pride and Prejudice, but her cultish appeal is made obvious in Sense and Sensibility. I am most surprised by the book’s fresh, almost contemporary, humor. Austen is witty, sarcastic, and takes her time in revealing the true nature of her characters. The story follows the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, and juxtaposes their very different approaches to life and love. Elinor is the model for “sense,” as she is calm, practical, and able to control or hide her emotions when necessary. Marianne embodies “sensibility,” as she indulges her emotions and finds no reason to hide her thoughts and feelings about anyone or anything. By the time I had reached the 100th page, both girls had suffered heartbreak, and the way each handles her grief is a study in sense versus sensibility. The vocabulary and sentence structure takes getting used to, though I am enjoying the challenge. It took three mentions of the word “society” for me to understand that it meant “company,” as in, “I enjoy his society.” The more you know…