Jane Austen Read All-a-long: Sense and Sensibility

Two impressions:

One, I’m surprised by just how much Jane Austen can shock me through effective plotting.  I suspect that most of her fans will list her prose, her sense of humour and her characterization as the reasons why they love her, but she’s very good with plotting, too.  There was a point in the final part of Sense and Sensibility that had me gasping in shock.   All that happened was a knock at a door, the door opened to reveal……….standing there. The nerve of that guy!

That she can shock me after all that I’ve read, including this very book by the way, with something so simple as an unexpected arrival, is darn good plotting in my opinion.

Two, I know this is borderline sacrilege to speak out loud (or write on the internet) but I don’t think Sense and Sensibility is all that good a book.  There are a few glimpses of Ms. Austen’s trademark humour, but nowhere near the fun I recall in Pride and Prejudice. The characters are all well drawn, but they are quite milquetoast, in my opinion.  The two lead sisters are so good, so perfect, that the worst that can be said of either is that they misplace their affections too easily.  They are both “The Angel in the House” right from the get-go.  We just have to wait around for them to realize the right man is the one in front of them all along.

There are obstacles in the way, that plotting I mentioned above, but even here I found this book lacked in the pacing department in ways the other novels do not.  The ending felt like watching everything go through the motions to get to the required happy marriages.

I don’t have much else to say, so I thought I would take a look at what others have written, those who have joined the Jane Austen Read All-a-long and some of the more general stuff that has been released to the wild online this week. I swear I didn’t know this was a big Jane Austen anniversary year when I started this little project. Honest.

Dale at Mirrors with Clouds has posted her review.  Dale loved the book, likes it the more she thinks about it.  She makes some good points about the issues of confinement, inward and outward–how these affect the men and women in the novel and continue to affect people today.  Dale is set to do all six books, by the way.

Amy at New Century Reading has included a recipe for a dish Marianne and Elinor might have eaten in her review.  Amy does agree that this is not Ms.  Austen’s best work, but loves it just the same.  Her main concern, one many readers will no doubt share, is how the book demonstrates the limited options open to women at the time.  While this is true, I think it’s also a product of Ms. Austen’s focus on the marriage plot.  Women’s lives were not as limited to marriage and motherhood as one might assume.  They could write novels, for example.

Nicholas Dames’ article in The Atlantic, Jane Austen is Everything, is about as comprehensive an article on the current state of Austen fandom and critical standing as you’re likely to find.  He mentions most of the current scholarship on her including Jane Austen: The Sacred Rebel which sounds like something I may just have to find.

I strongly recommend Patricia A. Matthew’s On Teaching, but not Loving, Jane Austen which raises many of my own concerns with her after this re-reading of Sense and Sensibility.   There was a lot more to Jane Austen’s world than Jane Austen.  Mary Shelley for example.

Please let me know if I have your name or blog listed incorrectly here so I can correct it.  And, if you have a new, recent or old review of Sense and Sensibility please feel free to leave a link in the comments.  I’ll add it to the body of the post.  The more conversation the better as far as I’m concerned.


10 thoughts on “Jane Austen Read All-a-long: Sense and Sensibility

  1. When I re-read this, I’m always struck by how rough it feels, in comparison to the later novels, and how mean the humor can feel sometimes. I do enjoy it, but I don’t read it as often as I do the later books.

    I didn’t officially sign up for the read along, but I’m reading a book about Austen right now, and between that and the different participating posts, I think I might be reading S&S again soon.

    1. I agree with you. I it’s the third book she wrote, though it is the first one published. But it did feel “rough” to me reading it this time around. Please feel free to link to your Austen posts.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this isn’t her best work.

    I remember seeing the movie when it first came out (the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet version, anyway) with a couple of people who could not get over exclaiming, “So what’s the point of this movie? To tell us that women should only seek to get married?” They could not separate the time period from the present. It was disheartening.

    1. We all tend to judge the past from a position placed firmly in the present. Which will one day be done to use, I suppose. I like the ‘Only” in your quote above. It implies that marriage is not that big a deal, which was certianly not true in Austen’s day and it reflects the limit she tends to place on her novels in that they end with marriage so they do imply marriage is all there is.

  3. Im not entirely convinced about the plot device of marrying Marianne off to a guy substantially older than her. She’s such a fun loving girl how can she be happy?

    1. She basically gets an ideal marriage for the time, though. It does take several years for her to come around to marrying the Colonel. They pass very quickly in a few summary pages so they’re easy to miss. But I do agree, that it all seemed a bit forced in the closing section of S&S.

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