Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility
© 1811 Jane Austen
409 pages

Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters, Marianne and Elinor,  who are left to live on a fixed income after their father perished and the law forced him to leave all of his money to their stepbrother – with the promise that said stepbrother would support the sisters. Unfortunately for the ladies, said stepbrother has  all the moral backbone  of a worm, and his “support” – after taking over their home – was the promise to send fish or game when they were in season.      The sisters and their mother, made to feel like outsiders in their own home, take up residence in the country for a long spell of talking, playing music,  talking, dancing, painting, talking, walking,  and worrying.   Far from their old home they find new friends, each with their own promise and limitations – and this being an Austen novel, romance is in the air.  Both Marianne and Elinor have beaus who prove or seem inconstant, but the two women respond to their social anxiety in very different ways.  Marianne is a leaf from the Romantic  era,  full of intense passion, surging hither and yon like tides crashing on a beach;  Elinor is more reserved, more pragmatic. She feels quite intensely, but she is the image of the expression that still waters run deep –  the picture of self-government, It is she, not her mother or sister, who truly manages the house, and who cares for her sister then things go off the deep end.  Another opposing pair are Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby; one is rooted in honor, the other in self-love.

 Sense and Sensibility defeated me the first time I attempted to read it (one year ago), in part because I only tried it because of its Classic status. The story didn’t interest me, but – having recently watched the film for my Read of England celebration —  I approached the novel this time with genuine appreciation and interest in the story, particularly my appreciation for several of the characters. One of the best moments of the novel is when Elinor expresses admiration for a fellow whose behavior seems to deny her happiness. As much as it pains her, she can look beyond it and see its virtue. Otherwise,  Marianne and her beaus steal the show completely, I think, as Book-Ferrars is largely absent and appears only to stand awkwardly in a corner, mumbling his apologies before he wanders off again.

Incidentally, this experience tested a theory of a friend of mine. He claims that if a person watches the movie first, then reads the book, he will enjoy them both; if he reads the movie, and then watches the movie, he will only complain about how much the movie left out or added.

1995 trailer, with actors such as Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet. Hugh Laurie also appears.

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13 Responses to Sense and Sensibility

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    your friend might be right… i haven't read S&S, but going by your interesting post i think i'll give it a try…. i have to say my efforts at reading Jane haven't been successful in spite of several essays at her work… but i'm sure it's me and not her… tx for the synopsis…

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    I read this last year. I loved it.

    It is so interesting that your reading experience was so different with just a year in between attempts. How one goes into a novel does make a big difference. I just reread Franz Kafka'a The Metamorphosis and I remember how I was disappointed when I read it in my teens as my expectations of it were different at the time.

  3. Fred says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Fred says:

    As I've mentioned elsewhere, I tried to read Austen for many years, but failed. In my early 40s I returned to grad school and was assigned S&S. I loved it and went on to read everything I could find by her. I also regularly reread her all-too-few output.

    I find also that viewing a film shortly after reading the book isn't fair to the film, as I all too often get hung up on comparing the two, usually to the film's detriment.

  5. CyberKitten says:

    This is actually my least favourite Austen so far (two more to go) by quite a long way. I had little sympathy with any of the characters who I thought had few redeeming features.

    I understand the movie book thing though. If you see the movie first you get a good (hopefully) overview of the plot and aids in visualising both the people and the backdrop. When you read the book you get to 'see' the internal life of the characters and a lot more of the background plus all of the subtle bits that the movie has to leave out. If you read the book first and then see the movie you are presented with characters who don't look like you imagined them and can't help thinking about any changes the director made and all the stuff they had to leave out to get things down to a reasonable time.

  6. Stephen says:

    @Mudpuddle: Austen can be hard going. She requires more concentration than I usually give..

    @Brian Joseph: Some things mature with age — Calvin and Hobbes, as funny as it was to me as a kid, is even funnier as an adult who gets the serious jokes Watterson wove in!

    @Fred: Do you think the experience of reading S&S along with other people helped open it up?


    Are your two remaining “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”? We may be at the same place, Jane-wise. Northanger Abbey is supposedly a parody of gothic novels, so I thought it might be appropriate for one October…

  7. MH says:

    I need to read this again; it's been too many years! Emma was my favorite Jane Austen book…in general, I prefer the film adaptations. The cast of the 1995 S&S is unbeatable.

  8. CyberKitten says:

    I read/reviewed 'Persuasion' (my 2nd favouite Austen) back in April 2011. The two I have left are Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. They are already loaded into a 10 classics pile ready to go – but won't be launched until some point next year now.

  9. Stephen says:

    …I forgot about Mansfield Park. D'oh. Here I thought I was over the Austen hump, so to speak, and I'm only halfway into her canon..

    (Well, that's three more Read of Englands partly planned..:p)

  10. Stephen says:

    Have you seen the film version of Emma that stars Gwen Paltrow? Her hairstyle looked too severe for me I'd imagined Emma as a healthy-looking woman, and Paltrow was so pale!

  11. MH says:

    Yes, that was the first version I saw. I enjoyed it, though the newer 2008 version with Romola Garai has probably surpassed it (and no severe hairstyles there ;)).

  12. Ruth says:

    Good for you for rereading S&S and appreciating it this second time around. This happened to me w/ Persuasion. A friend of mine suggested I watch the movie first, then read it. Well, it took a second read after the movie, and then I loved it – the book. I agree w/ your friend, too.

    S&S has a wonderful moral. And this film version was well done.

  13. Pingback: Classics Club Run I: Final List | Reading Freely

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