Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My review of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

No wonder Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a classic!

Sense and sensibility, represented respectively in sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, carry them through romantic hopes and dashed hopes in Victorian Devonshire. They both fall in love with men they cannot have and after ups and downs, twists and turns, end up in marriages with reliable men. Their different approaches to romantic disappointment are consistent with their approaches to many other situations among family and friends. Indeed, the foibles of this Jane Austen’s novel’s cast of characters give Elinor and Marianne many opportunities to display their sense (reason) and sensibility (emotionality).

Would that today’s society had the good sense to practice Elinor Dashwood’s Victorian communication habits of courteous truth-telling and thinking the best of others. Sometimes she even has to fight to think fine motivations for foolish behavior. She must feel the fool herself while withholding judgment on such egregious acts of inconsideration. Her reason and good sense also include respecting promises and others’ decisions, even when they hurt her.

Even feelings-led, superficiality-satisfied, romantic-notioned Marianne (representing sensibility) grows to realize that character counts.

Sense and Sensibility is an epiphany enthusiast’s dream novel. Some characters, of course, remain blind, self-centered fools, but others humbly learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. Austen’s dialogue is lively. I would have liked to have known energetic Mrs. Jennings. The warmth of the Dashwood family (at least Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters) inspires. I enjoy Austen’s dry wit in this novel. Often it comes in Fanny’s outrageously convoluted, self-congratulating excuses why she cannot help Elinor and Marianne. Sometimes the humor comes in the differences between sense and sensibility, such as this scene in which Elinor and Marianne reminisce about their former home, Norland:

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.” [pages 93, 94 in my edition]

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