The first book we had to read for class was Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It took us two weeks to get through the novel. The edition we read was the Norton Edition, which has all sorts of criticism and the like in the back. The first week was devoted to Parts I & II, and the second week to Part III & Criticism.
I won’t be marking anything as a spoiler in this post, because I feel like S&S is old enough that it should be relatively common knowledge. If you want to preserve anything because you haven’t read it yet, I’d say skip this post and come back to it after you’ve read the book.
Overall, I think the book is…okay. It’s very weird reading it while going through the aftermath of a breakup, as I feel like Marianne did when Willoughby left her. There’s too much sloppy romance. This is problem the tell-tale sign that I’m not made out to be a lover of Austen’s works: I can’t stand the romance. It’s fine when it happens in real life, but reading anything sappy in books makes me cringe.
RANT: I don’t see how Elinor can possibly forgive Willoughby. He shows up while Marianne is deathly ill, simply because he thinks he owes it to her to see her one more time, because the last time he saw her was when he snubbed her in front of the entire ballroom. (What a jerk.) His “explanation” as to why he dumped Marianne makes my blood boil. Literally, while I was reading this section of the book, my face got red and I was ready to jump into the book and start swinging. His disgusting excuse basically boils down to “Oh, this lady has more wealth, so it’s obvious that I have to choose her, because Marianne only has like £10 a year.” Marianne deserves so much better than that jerk.
During his excuses, he begs Elinor to be kind to him because he is miserable with the woman – Miss Sophia Grey – that he chose to marry. He admits it was her that wrote the breakup letter to Marianne, he just had to copy it out. He was such a coward and would not admit that he was in love with Marianne, even though he was far more tempted by Miss Grey’s fortune. Elinor almost seems to pity him at the end. I just want to see him tossed off a high cliff into a pit of spikes.
Ugh, just typing this out is getting me all worked up again.
RANT #2: I wanted Marianne to die of her illness. That probably makes me a very bad Austen-reader, considering she likes to tie everything up with a nice, neat bow at the end, but Marianne irked me and I just wanted her to give up the ghost during her illness. Admittedly, she did get better after coming back from the brink of death, but to me it wasn’t enough to excuse her earlier behavior. She acts like a spoiled brat all throughout the book. If I were her mother, I would be ashamed of her.
My class seemed very split on Marianne. Most of the romantic girly-girls (sorry to perpetuate that stereotype, y’all) were on her side, rallying that TRUE LOVE WINS and stuff like that. I, on the other hand, saw her as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. “I’m 16, Papa!” Yeah, you’re not nearly old enough to get married, so pipe down. I feel like the way you view Marianne all depends on where you are in life. If I had read this book while I was younger, say about 14 or 15 (even though I didn’t like romance novels even then), I probably would have sided with Marianne in a lot of things. I would’ve been all about that rebelliousness. It’s probably because I’m so old and jaded (I’m 23…ha!) that I can’t connect with her any more. I’m one of three graduate students in my Austen class, so my age/life experience probably has a lot to do with the way I view Marianne.
She does seem to have some remorse at the end of the book for the way she acted earlier, but she never has any retribution for what she does. She gets away with everything.
WHAT I WANTED MORE OF: Freaking Margaret! We get very little notice of who she is, and she’s always just in the background. I don’t remember her really talking much. I do understand that this is a novel mostly focused on marrying the elder sisters off (Elinor is 19 and Marianne is 17, and Margaret is only 13), but I guess I’m also used to modern novels, where family members aren’t just cut to seldom-seen side characters. It’s like Margaret only exists in order to make sure the world is more populated, because we rarely, if ever, see her opinion on anything that happens.
LEAST-FAVORITE CHARACTER: Honestly, this is a toss-up between Willoughby and Fanny Dashwood (the sister-in-law). Willoughby is a self-centered, arrogant jerk who pulls Marianne around like a puppet on a string, while Fanny is also a self-centered bully who manipulates her husband into going back on his promise to his father to remember his sisters. She is single-handedly responsible for the misfortunes that befall the Miss Dashwoods, because she’s too much of a cheapskate to bear to part with the tiny sum of £3,000. (Just FYI, the Dashwood fortune can spare that and Fanny’s son would still have never had to work a day in his life.)
FAVORITE CHARACTER: I mean, you’ve gotta go with the heroine, Elinor Dashwood. She’s pretty self-sufficient, and even when her own world falls apart (when she hears that the man she thought she was engaged to has secretly been engaged to someone else for four years), she manages to hold it together in order to help Marianne through her own heartbreak. Elinor is forced to grow up very quickly after her father’s death, and she soon becomes the anchor for the household. I wish I could be as strong as she was when she found out Edward wasn’t going to marry her.
Another favorite character of mine would probably be Mrs. Jennings. She invites Elinor and Marianne to stay with her in London for a time, and she has made it her life goal to find husbands for both of the girls. She unintentionally spreads the rumor that Willoughby and Marianne are to be married, which backfires tremendously when it’s revealed that Willoughby has abandoned Marianne for wealthy heiress Miss Grey. Mrs. Jennings is not afraid to tell it like it is. She’s so old (I guess?) that she has no more need of social decorum, and her parts are usually entertaining to read.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I know Jane Austen is synonymous with the romance genre now, but that’s not how romance was done when Austen was alive. Romances in Austen’s time were more along the lines of fantasies, with your damsels in distress and distant lands. Austen wrote more along the lines of realism, which confused a lot of people.
Austen deals with a lot of economics in her books, so reading up on how economics worked in her time would really help you understand exactly why the inheritance of the Miss Dashwoods was such a big deal. The amount of money you had could make or break you, and Fanny Dashwood made sure that the Miss Dashwoods, her sisters-in-law, would be broke and unable to find a decent husband.
Everything wraps up at the end with a neat little bow: we find out that Edward Ferrars is dumped by Lucy (whom he was secretly engaged to for four years, remember) at the last, after he is disinherited for saying he’d stay with her no matter what. This means he’s free to marry Elinor, and he is engaged to her as soon as he can be. Marianne is proposed to by Colonel Brandon, the man she mocked for being so old throughout the early parts of the book. So our two heroines end up on the bright side of things.
In terms of the title, Elinor is the “Sense” character (relying on logic and facts) and Marianne is the “Sensibility” character (thinking only with her heart). As the book progresses, however, they both realize that they can’t be 100% sense or sensibility all the time. They have to be sense and sensibility, having a little of each part within themselves, in order to survive.
I probably wouldn’t reread this book. It’s going to sit on my shelf, as proof that I have read it and did understand it, but I was bored to tears throughout the whole thing and will most likely never suffer through this again.
Have you read Sense and Sensibility? Do you agree with anything I’ve written here, or do you have your own thoughts? Was Willoughby your favorite? Did Marianne deserve to survive? Let me know in the comments!
The next book is going to be Pride and Prejudice, so look forward to that in two weeks. It’s going to be split just like this book was, Parts I & II the first week, and then Parts III & Criticism on the following week. If you want to read along with me, let me know! We can compare notes as we go along.
As always, keep reading.