Sense and Sensibility – Celebrating Jane Austen


This week, in anticipation of Jane Austen’s birthday, we are each discussing one of her books. I chose Sense and Sensibility. At the end of the week, courtesy of Amanda, we’ll be giving away a copy of Jane Austen’s World to one lucky commenter. (Bertie’s rules apply)

Jane was born Dec 16, 1775, and Sense and Sensibility was her first published book. She wrote the first draft, called Elinor and Marianne, when she was nineteen years old but the book we read today was first published in 1811.

from Wikipedia: Although the plot favors the value of sense over that of sensibility, the greatest emphasis is placed on the moral complexity of human affairs and on the need for enlarged and subtle thought and feeling in response to it.

It has been a few years since I’ve read any Jane Austen (being the worst-read of all the Riskies), so I came to Sense and Sensibility with fresh eyes. I discovered a few things:

1. Sense and Sensibility is primarily a love story. A Romance. No matter the other themes of the book, romance is central. From the beginning we root for Elinor and Marianne to find love and have a happily ever after.

2. How masterfully Austen parallels Elinor’s love story with Marianne’s. They both fall in love with men they cannot have. They both have knowledge of the women the men must marry. What Marianne suffers openly and dramatically, Elinor conceals.

3. How deftly Austen can convey character-and with such wit and wisdom! It seems to take her a mere brush stroke. For example, of John Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne’s half-brother, comes this: “He had just compuction enough for having done nothing for his sisters himself, to be exceedingly anious that everybody else should do a great deal...” I’m in awe of her skill.


4. The Marianne of the book is much less appealing than how she was portrayed by Kate Winslet in the Sense and Sensibility movie. Marianne is convinced that acting upon her own feelings at all times is the way to go; therefore, she is often rude and thoughtless and ill-mannered, even if her heart is in the right place toward her sister. Marianne is selfish in this way, to feel her emotions may be expressed at the expense of others.

5. It occurs to me that, in the end, Marianne learns to be unselfish, to think of others rather than herself. In the end, she understands that Willoughby needed something she was unable to give him, so she could forgive him. I think she might have learned some of this unselfishness from Col. Brandon, who seems always to think of her needs over his own. And, of course, from her sister, who is unselfishness personified.

6. Compared to most romance novels today, Austen’s writing is denser, wordier, and its revelations seem to be slipped in when you least expect them. There is a lot of what we would call “Telling,” but her prose still shines. You have to read it at a savoring pace, which was perfectly fine with me!

7. In Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s subplot takes center stage and the main romance is almost in the background. I see this book as Elinor’s story (although I’m sure that others could argue differently) and Elinor’s love story is a quiet one compared to the drama of Marianne’s love story. I can see 19th century readers turning the page to see what happens to Marianne, but in the end, it is Elinor’s happy ending that resonates. At least for me.

8. Emma Thompson did a wonderful job of condensing the book into a movie. The book is, of course, richer and more detailed, especially of the minor characters, but Emma caught the spirit of the book.

Those are my random thoughts about Sense and Sensibility. What do you all think? What do you like about this story? What don’t you like about it, if anything?


Come back every day this week for more discussion on Austen’s books. If you want to know what we’ll be up to in the future, sign up for our newsletter at http://www.blogger.com/riskies@yahoo.comand put “newsletter” in the subject field. And don’t forget! The Vanishing Viscountess is available now on eharlequin and will be in stores Jan 1.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who donโ€™t always act like ladies.
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Anna Campbell
14 years ago

Diane, what a wonderfully perceptive blog on S&S. I must say it’s one of my least favorite JAs. I hate in the book that Marianne is almost always wrong and Elinor is almost always right. I think he film made a much more balanced character out of M. The film also brought out the true poignancy of Elinor’s situation. I remember Emma Thompson just bursting into tears when she finally realizes she CAN have what she wants. Made me burst into tears too ๐Ÿ˜‰ Mind you, it’s many years since I read S&S so I should go back and check it out again. Your post has inspired me to look again!

Hey, am I in the running for the Austen book! Pick me! Pick me!

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
14 years ago

While there were flaws in the Emma Thompson film of S&S, I still liked it very much. I think the Kate Winslet/Alan Rickman pairing helped me see the Marianne/Col. Brandon relationship as romantic. Based only on my reading of the book, I felt the age disparity (he wore flannel vests!) too great to believe in it as a love story, but seeing it on screen I could accept it. Thompson also made Willoughby rather more romantic than he appeared in the book, but I thought that added a layer of poignancy to the story. And I loved her comment that she’d learned a lesson from casting Hugh Grant: never play opposite someone who’s prettier than you are.

Susan Wilbanks
14 years ago

S&S is my third favorite of Austen’s novels, behind P&P and Persuasion but ahead of Emma by a nose and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey by several lengths. I find Elinor very easy to relate to–probably because I’ve always been the level-headed, practical, feeling-concealing type myself!

But I think I’m going to disagree with Diane–a little. To me, S&S is not as romantic as the other Austens because I always feel like Elinor and Marianne have “settled” to some degree. It’s not that Edward Ferrars and Col Brandon aren’t good men, but I just don’t get the sense of passionate rightness about Elinor and Marianne’s marriages that I do about Darcy and Elizabeth, Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth, Emma and Mr. Knightley, or even Edmund and Fanny (they deserve each other, being so alike in sanctimony) or Catherine and Henry Tilney (they’re just kids, but they’ll have fun). To me, the ending of S&S yields the contentment of virtue rewarded rather than the triumph of love won, if that makes any sense at all.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Anna, I thought Emma Thompson did a wonderful job. Her bursting into tears was one of cinema’s most memorable moments, in my opinion.

Marianne has some redeeming moments in the book. She is fiercely protective of Elinor and will not hear anything negative about her.

Susan, I agree with all of your points about the movie!

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

To me, the ending of S&S yields the contentment of virtue rewarded rather than the triumph of love won, if that makes any sense at all.

That’s a very good point, Susan W. It is not the same sort of romance as Persuasion, or P&P, but I think it is a romance…

Actually, my favorite Austen is Persuasion and next comes P&P. But I really like S&S, too. Not so much Emma….

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“To me, the ending of S&S yields the contentment of virtue rewarded rather than the triumph of love won, if that makes any sense at all.”

Susan, this is so well put! I agree. It’s been a long time since I read S&S (though I do love the movie version), but it never struck me as being as Romantic as P&P or Persuasion. I envisioned Marianne and Elinor as having content, prosperous lives, but not as passionately fulfilled as Elizabeth and Anne (or even Catherine). ๐Ÿ™‚

Cara King
14 years ago

This is actually my least favorite Austen novel.

Sure, I still love it, or at least much of it — for instance, the bit in the beginning when Fanny is convincing John to cut off his sisters is sheer brilliance, perfectly done.

But it’s always felt to me like Austen meant to write a more balanced story, showing the strengths and flaws in each sister…but didn’t end up doing so. I tend to imagine that Austen was more of an Elinor type, and so had so much fun skewering Marianne’s silliness, and so much sympathy for Elinor, that she created a lopsided story.

And poor Elinor! She’s so strong, and she gets stuck with a weakling of a man. I wanted her to marry Brandon — after all, his feelings for Marianne are based on the weakest of foundations.

Cara

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

And poor Elinor! She’s so strong, and she gets stuck with a weakling of a man. I wanted her to marry Brandon — after all, his feelings for Marianne are based on the weakest of foundations.

Is Edward weak? He accepts his commitment to Lucy until she frees him. He is no freer to love Elinor than Willoughby is to love Marianne. He keeps the secret, as does Elinor.

I think Col. Brandon is perfect for Marianne. His adoration feeds her ego and she does need to be adored. She will loosen him up and he will help her contain her emotions. I suspect they will have a deep love for each other.

I can’t see Elinor with Col. Brandon. I think she needs Edward, who, in his way, is as emotional as Marianne.

Another thing to remember is that Jane Austen was only 19 when she wrote her “first draft.” Her vision of romance and reason, emotion and attraction must have been more black-and-white than when she’d matured a bit.

Cara King
14 years ago

Is Edward weak? He accepts his commitment to Lucy until she frees him. He is no freer to love Elinor than Willoughby is to love Marianne. He keeps the secret, as does Elinor.

I think he’s weak because he

1) is idiot enough to fall for Lucy (okay, this arguably has nothing to do with weakness, except as a judge of character, and he *was* quite young…but it doesn’t make me think better of him);

2) enters into a secret engagement, while believing that secret engagements aren’t proper;

3) allows himself to fall in love with Elinor, and she with him, which *everyone* else can tell is happening, excusing it with modesty (“gosh, someone great like her would never fall for someone pathetic like me, so I can spend as much time with her as I like, no harm done”)…

4) even when he realizes what he’s done, he just lets Elinor hang. Couldn’t he find any way to be true to Lucy and keep the secret, while letting Elinor know he isn’t free?

Okay, yes, I got pretty annoyed at him there. One of the things that really annoys me in life are people who do harm through inaction (or allow harm to happen), all the while pretending that they’re helpless or just don’t know what to do… And I guess Edward reminds me too much of these people!

Of course, this does feel to me in many ways like an early novel. I felt that both the Ang Lee version and the earlier BBC version made some changes that, IMHO, made it closer to what I imagine Austen intended. For example, whereas Austen tended to tell us Edward’s virtues, and show us his faults (making us see the latter much more strongly), Emma Thompson wrote great scenes to show us Edward’s strong points.

As for Marianne and Brandon… I can see them being happy enough together. But I always felt he fell for her because she reminded him of Eliza… Which I always think is silly! ๐Ÿ™‚ And I guess I felt Elinor and Brandon communicated well, which to me is the basis for any relationship.

Cara

Cara King
14 years ago

Susan Wilbanks writes:

To me, the ending of S&S yields the contentment of virtue rewarded rather than the triumph of love won

I think I would enjoy it more, though, if Lucy Steele didn’t get rewarded so much more than Elinor! (Financially, anyway.) I do like virtuous heroines to get the big bucks at the end. ๐Ÿ™‚

Cara

Lindsey
14 years ago

Great blog, Diane! I’m always surprised how much I love S&S when I go back to read it – I feel like the more obvious appeal of Austen’s other works and the brilliance of the film version can overshadow it. But it’s really a beautiful and emotional story. Though I think I love it more as a novel about sisterhood than I do as a romance – the Elinor-Marianne relationship is one of my favorites in all Austen.

I like Cara’s point about Austen’s emphasis on Marianne’s silliness and Elinor’s strength of character. I often wonder if this doesn’t translate as well to us because we value different characteristics these days – in a modern romance Marianne’s spirit would have won her Willoughby (or a duke!) and Elinor would have had to loosen up a lot before finding love.

Janga
14 years ago

Sense and Sensibility pleases me most when Austen skewers her targets so effectively and succinctly. For example, I always have the urge to grab someone and read aloud the description of Mrs. Ferrars โ€œproportioning her speech to the number of her ideas.โ€

I think Elinor and Marianne define maturity and immaturity. I remind my students frequently that being an adult means you have the freedom to make choices and the understanding that choices have consequences. Elinor knows this definition; Marianne in her self-absorption does not. To me, she still rings true as a portrait of some negative aspects of adolescence. I know her heart is broken, but a part of her enjoys the drama she makes of her misery. And I know some 21st-century 17-year-olds quite capable of expressing Marianne’s sentiment (albeit in different language) when she says, โ€œAt my time of life opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should now see or hear anything to change them.โ€

Unlike Persuasion (my favorite also)and P & P which I find both intellectually and emotionally satisfying, S&S engages me intellectually but disappoints me as a romance reader. I don’t like Marianne (although Kate Winslett made her more sympathetic), and neither hero seems to me very heroic. Elinor, at least, deserves better.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Lindsey said in a modern romance Marianne’s spirit would have won her Willoughby (or a duke!) and Elinor would have had to loosen up a lot before finding love.

But in Jane Austen’s world, it makes more sense. The moral of the story was that behaving correctly brings you the reward. Not a lesson we esteem as highly.

Janga, I think you are right on the money about Austen’s ability to skewer with a mere elegance of words. And about the adolescence/adulthood themes. I had that exact reaction to Marianne when she is moaning and groaning–“Grow up.”
I didn’t think of it as Marianne’s story so I didn’t need to like her. And Austen, to me, managed to make Elinor seem strong, not long-suffering.

doglady
14 years ago

Wonderful insight, O Divine One! P&P is my favorite Austen novel, followed by Persuasion, but I also love S&S. I just admire Elinor so much. She has a great deal more sense than anyone else in the book and a lesser woman would have buckled under the pressure she was under to take care of her family. It left little room for questions of her own heart. Marianne is shallow and immature at times, but I wonder how much of that is due to the adoration she receives from her family because she is “the pretty one.” In my own novel I have a sister who is the beauty of the family, but is also shallow and vain. Her father admits it is his and his wife’s fault. He says “After four sons, my wife wanted a girl, a perfect little doll to dress up and loose on Society. One forgets when one treats a girl like a perfect doll that dolls have nothing but sawdust in their heads.” Marianne’s behavior is bad, but how much of it was allowed and even smiled upon indulgently by her family. I love the lesson she learns in the end, not just about consequences, but also about love that you have not earned being very precious.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Hey, doglady!
Austen shows that Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne and Elinor’s mother is pretty much like Marianne, only a bit lower volume.
So your insight is wonderful, O Doggy One!

doglady
14 years ago

O Doggy One! I love it!! Yes, it seems as if Elinor is the only one in the family with any sense that the world does NOT revolve around her!

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Cara, you make very good points about Edward. Now I don’t like him at all anymore!

I agree that this seems like an early novel. I do admire how Austen pulls all the loose strings together at the end.

But I’m not certain Lucy wins more than Elinor. She is stuck with that snobby brother.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Yeah! Diane, got my order in for three copies of VV.

Todd
14 years ago

After hearing poor Edward attacked so much, I feel some kind of vague urge to defend him! But truthfully, he is kind of a drip. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hugh Grant (and Emma Thompson’s screenplay) made him much more sympathetic than he comes across in the book. I like Colonel Brandon a lot as a hero, but he does seem…not too old, but too mature for Marianne. And, well, OK, maybe also too old. ๐Ÿ™‚

S&S is probably my least favorite Austen novel, which is sort of like saying “My least favorite flavor of chocolate.” I still like it quite a bit.

Todd-who-as-yet-needs-no-recourse-to-flannel-waistcoats

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Diane, what an excellent blog about S&S, and I’m enjoying the lively discussion here.

It seems to take her a mere brush stroke.

Ahh, Diane. That was masterfully done by you. I loved how you said it, because it is in the asides that the acuteness of her obervational skill is apparent.

If ever Jane was to be faulted over something, it was to take a certain characteristic of a character to the extreme. The redemption of that personality weakness then helped shape the character arc. This then would be the easy way of showing character growth and change and provide internal conflict.

However much I adore Jane Austen and her prose, I would’ve loved to have seen meatier, realistic characters. I’m not saying that her observations were incorrect or insubstantial. No, no. But her observational skill hoved to certain directions only and failed to depict on page the darker side of the people in her stories.

I’m totally rambling here. Hope someone is following my muddled logic.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Yeah! Diane, got my order in for three copies of VV.

Awwww, Keira. Thank you so much.

However much I adore Jane Austen and her prose, I would’ve loved to have seen meatier, realistic characters

I wonder just how much Jane knew of that side of life. It seems to me she wrote what she knew and for a vicar’s daughter, her horizons must not have been too wide.
Or maybe it was just “politically incorrect” to write about the darker side. I’m not well-read enough in her contemporaries to know (altho I did read Mary Brunton’s Discipline)

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Amanda and Susan: While Elinor’s and Marianne’s final spouses may not have the intense passionate natures, they were easier to read and very much in love (perhaps a gentler kind) with the women. Lizzie’s and Darcy’s relationshop promises to be stormy and passionate, whereas these two women will have a kinder relationship (less sturm und drang), which will nevertheless be strong and long-lasting. The first time I read it was when I was a teen, and I liked it even then.

Georgie Lee
14 years ago

I agree with you that the Marianne in the book is much less sympathetic than the movie. Also, the movie did a good job of making Marianne and Colonel Brandon’s love believeable. I also like that they gave the youngest girl more of a personality. I prefere S&S to Emma but it is not my favorite.

robynl
14 years ago

Never read any of these books so am finding out a lot about them. Thanks.

ruth
14 years ago

Interesting blog about S & S. When I read S & S I enjoyed it thoroughly and loved learning about the sisters and their contrasting natures and choices in life. The novel was not as romantic as others but did give me a great deal of pleasure and entertainment.

Lois
14 years ago

Oh boy, I wrote things down from the movies I read to post here whenever we got to them, but I really didn’t write much about the books, so hmm, I don’t remember all that much now. LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

This I can say — I can divide all six books in two piles of three, the ones I loved and the ones I really liked. I didn’t hate them or anything; on the contrary, I really liked them, just not as the other three. S&S is on the top of the liked pile (so it’s #4 favorite). . .

And the thing that I think I do remember thinking at the end is I would have liked to see a bit more on how Marianne falls in love with Colonel Brandon. Just like Susan said about the movie, it helped me too, seeing them, just wish there was more in the book. . . but I guess Jane felt she didn’t need to go into it or something. ๐Ÿ™‚

Unfortunately, I think that’s all I can recall right now for my own thoughts! LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

Lois

catslady
14 years ago

The good news is I read and enjoyed the book, the bad news is it’s been so long I can’t remember a lot of it. I’m thinking this would make a nice reread.

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

I have to admit that S&S is the only Jane Austen novel I never finished – though I’ve seen the Emma Thompson movie many times. In a way, I think that made me more impatient with the pacing in the novel.

I do absolutely agree that Mariane is a chip off the old block of her mother. I very much admire and identify with Elinor, but then I’m the oldest. ๐Ÿ™‚

And, Diane’s blog makes me want to pick up S&S and read it.

-Michelle Butler

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

And, Diane’s blog makes me want to pick up S&S and read it.

Really, Michelle? Gee.

MsHellion
14 years ago

I loved the movie–and it made me want to read the book (but I never got the same…well…affection I felt about the movie as I did about the book.)

And yes, if Alan Rickman is the older man, I can totally see a May-December romance. If he looked like Donald Trump, no.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

And yes, if Alan Rickman is the older man, I can totally see a May-December romance. If he looked like Donald Trump, no.

Hi, Mshellion! Lovely to have a vagabond here. If I’m remembering correctly, Jane Austen tells us that Col. Brandon is 38 years old. Think Gerard Butler, ladies!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

Diane,

This whole series of blogs has been very fun and makes me want to dive into all the Jane Austen novels once again. I’m looking forward to Persuasion tomorrow.

-Michelle Butler