For my next trick I shall be reviewing Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I’m a big fan of Jane Austen. I like her opinionated women and her droll humour. Her scenes of large parties at dinner or some other activity are always dryly comical and perfectly set up to highlight the character of those present, without ever being too obvious. I think Emma of Emma and Lizzy of Pride and Prejudice are beautifully rounded characters with whom I would quite like to be friends. There’s a comfort in knowing that those who are good and kind will end up married to other people who are good and kind and have a respectable fortune. It’s fun to watch those who you were always slightly suspicious of be outed as conniving and manipulative; if they’re a little bad they learn the error of their ways and if they’re really bad they will have disastrous marriages and become destitute. And while the end is predictable, I certainly don’t think it’s as obvious as it sounds. Jane Austen takes you through the day to day lives of her characters, allowing you to watch them grow and reveal themselves, showing different sides that elicit different futures.
Jane Austen is also fascinating as an early woman writer. After enjoying her work I gained a greater appreciation after reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. (READ IT! It’s a readable and compelling essay, it clearly and succinctly points out some basic feminist theories and the patriarchy of literature and it’s not even very long. READ IT RIGHT NOW!) Jane Austen lived in a world where women were under educated and derided, consistently being told that they couldn’t write. Jane Austen was grateful for a squeaky hinge so that she could quickly hide her writing from visitors, extended family members and even servants. This is the type of secrecy she felt necessary to conceal her writing, due to the shame that she was taught to associate with a woman attempting to write. And yet she published four novels in her lifetime, with another two published posthumously. Imagine what she could have achieved with nurturing encouragement and her own private study.
All this is a preface to me saying I did not like Sense and Sensibility. 1001 Books says “Elinor and Marianne, the two sisters at its centre, may well correspond to the sense and sensibility of the novel’s title, but a simple identification of reason and passion as their enduring qualities would be unwise.” Well, colour me unwise then, because that’s exactly it read to me. Elinor is the patient, reasonable, considerate and measured sister, while Marianne is flighty, passionate, over-dramatic and often rude. Elinor provides the template of proper behaviour but to me she was too cold and reserved, especially considering how close she is to Marianne. Maybe everyone wouldn’t have needed to learn a valuable lesson about being sensible if Elinor had just told them how she felt from day one. The marriage plot was unwieldy for me; too many fortunate coincidences after the whole heartbreak affair had been drawn out for too long. There are the lovely parlour scenes and a good dose of Austen’s wit (“Lady Middleton had taken the wise precaution of bringing with her their oldest child… On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse”) but on the whole, Sense and Sensibility left me cold.