Sense & Sensibility

“Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family in general, soon procured herself a book.”

I bought the Audible version of this book read by Rosamund Pike earlier this year and promptly forgot about it. I think I wasn’t in the mood, or maybe it was while I was reading War & Peace, so I re-discovered it in my Audible library again this summer. Summer is a great time to read Jane Austen, so I pressed play and enjoyed Pike’s mellifluous voice (the word is fancy, but Pike as a narrator does live up to it).

As is usual with Jane Austen, her wit and keen observations are on full display here. No one escapes completely unscathed, and the number of ridiculous characters is high.

In case you want a plot refresher… when Mr. Dashwood dies, he leaves–by law–nearly everything to his son John, with a parting plea to look after his wife and daughters (John’s stepmother and three half-sisters). John is (easily) influenced by his greedy wife, Fanny, and does nothing for them (in a masterful description of willing manipulation early in the novel).

The widow Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret, move to a small cottage near some relatives and adventures ensue. Attractions, secret engagements, differences of temperament, and different ways of handling disappointment make up the rest of the story.

The sense and sensibility of the title come primarily from Elinor and Marianne who behave in nearly opposite ways when confronted with romantic disappointment:

[Chapter 23] “…when she joined them at dinner only two hours after she had first suffered the extinction of all her dearest hopes, no one would have supposed from the appearance of the sisters, that Elinor was mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her for ever from the object of her love, and that Marianne was internally dwelling on the perfections of a man, of whose whole heart she felt thoroughly possessed, and whom she expected to see in every carriage which drove near their house.”

The minor characters in an Austen novel are always a delight as well. Lucy Steele in particular this time struck me as one of her great villains. Lucy is sharp enough to notice that Elinor has attracted the attention and admiration of Edward Ferrars (whom Lucy hopes to marry), and forces her confidence upon Elinor in a scene that is enraging but oh-so-polite. She depends (rightly) on Elinor’s good character,fortitude, and manners to inflict pain.

[Chapter 24] “I was somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I told you that Monday.”

“Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me,” and Elinor spoke it with the truest sincerity, “nothing could be farther from my intention than to give you such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust, that was not honourable and flattering to me?”

“And yet I do assure you,” replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full of meaning, “there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manner that made me quite uncomfortable.

If there were an Austen heroine I feel I’m most similar to, it’s Elinor Dashwood. She’s quiet, calm, and practical, but she’s also deeply sensitive. She shuts herself down before expressing emotion; it’s clear she has strong emotions like her sister, but while Marianne allows herself full expression (and maybe some wallowing) Elinor tamps hers down to not cause others pain.

Both sisters need to learn from one another and meet a little more in the middle, which they do a bit by the end of the novel.

There are varying opinions on the ending, and I agree that when we do get to the end tying things up seems a bit hasty. While I’m not completely sold on the ending like I am the ending of Pride and Prejudice, I still appreciate the characters and the journey, and Austen’s style of writing and keen observation never cease to delight me.

★ ★ ★ ★

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