Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen's first published novel, written in 1795-97 as Elinor and Marianne, then redrafted in 1809-10, then finally published in 1811. This is my second read: the first time I read a few years ago (I remember it was a December, and I'm guessing it was either '11 or '12) and I really did not like it at all. In fact, I was incredibly bored by it. I'd already read Pride and Prejudice at this point and enjoyed it, but, having gone on to read the rest of Austen's novels, the best feeling I could muster up was one of respectful enjoyment. A re-read of Pride and Prejudice made me see Austen in a different light, however, and with Sense and Sensibility I decided to test my new appreciation of Miss Austen. And I'm pleased to say it was a success - I loved this novel! 

The "sense" of Sense and Sensibility is Elinor, prudent, reasonable, almost dispassionate in some of her judgements; "sensibility" is Marianne, imprudent and emotional. I sympathised with Elinor, but of course Marianne was my favourite. Yet, as Jane Austen wrote, Marianne "was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself". Power, of course, relates to attracting the right man, and thus the right marriage, which relates to financial security. And this is the threat in Austen novels, the dark spectre, the fear: an unhappy marriage, an unsuitable marriage, or no marriage. Both sisters suffer from misunderstandings and miscommunication (like Pride and Prejudice), and each suffer their problems in very different ways. In wider context, Sense and Sensibility alludes not only to the differences between the two sisters, their outlook, and the way they cope with romantic disappointment, but the clash in late 18th and early 19th Century between Neoclassicism and Romanticism.

The former, Neoclassicism (a term that would not be used until the mid-19th Century), is represented of course by Elinor, and it was a movement that sat very well with the Age of Enlightenment (which began in the late 17th Century). The emphasis was on reason and on science. It relied, as did Elinor, on calculated judgement. The emphasis was on intellect; the mind, not the heart of Romanticism that Marianne represented, a movement which began around the beginning of the 19th Century. Romanticism rebelled against what the Enlightenment represented, and would also rebel against the Industrial Revolution. It was a liberal movement whereas Neoclassicism was conservative, and it was all beauty and emotion. Marianne's favourite poets, for example, were Romantics. Elinor would retreat into herself when faced with disappointment, whereas Marianne would cry for days and make herself ill. Yet the sisters, on the whole (not always) were in basic harmony with one another. Their happiness was realised not by doggedly pursuing their path but by learning from one another.

Analysing Sense and Sensibility this way suggests that it is a dark and heavy book, but it's not, far from it. Austen is author who seems contemporary: whilst I knew the publication dates for her novels, I was still surprised that she was born in 1775. It is incredible to me that she was born nearly 240 years ago. She writes beautifully, with great warmth and wit, and is, as I say, so accessible. Though I favour Marianne, Elinor is a sympathetic character too. One hopes for the best for both of them. It is truly a thoroughly engaging novel because of this. And I'm so happy I enjoyed this novel. I've spent a long time disliking Jane Austen, and now, finally, I can say that I've changed my mind!

What else is there to say, but to leave a few illustrations by Hugh Thomson in the 1902 edition. There are quite a few, and it's been hard to narrow down my favourites!

'Mr. Dashwood introduced him'
'His son's son, a child of four years old'
"I have found you in spite of all your tricks"
'Came to take a survey of the guest'
'Mischievous tricks'
"I can answer for it," said Mrs. Jennings.
'At that moment she first perceived him'
'How fond he was of it!'
'Offered him one of Folly's puppies'
'A very smart beau'

'Mrs. Jennings assured him directly that she should not stand upon ceremony.'
Mrs. Ferrars.
"You have heard, I suppose."
"Of one thing I may assure you"
'Opened a window shutter'
♔ Jane Austen's Major Works ♔
 Sense and Sensibility (1811) | Pride and Prejudice (1813) | Mansfield Park (1814)
Emma (1815) | Northanger Abbey (1817) | Persuasion (1817)


  1. So clever how you related the two world-views practically within the characters, and then used a broader scope to relate them to society. Very interesting. I think I prefer Romanticism, but Neo-Classical is good too. Blah, on the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. And those are my emotional and not-very-well-thought-out words for the day! ;-)

    Great review, O!

    1. Thank you :) I prefer Romanticism too, I can't imagine anyone *not* but there it is :)

  2. I didn't appreciate it this book the first time I read it, but the great thing about Jane Austen is that the more you read her, the more you like her books and the better they seem. :) I've always loved the contrast between Elinor and Marianne. It'll never be my favorite Austen book, but it's one I've learned to enjoy.

    1. What's your favourite Austen?

  3. Wonderful post! Thank you for celebrating Jane!

    1. You're welcome, glad I can finally appreciate her :D

  4. This book demands a re-read from me as well. I'm afraid Persuasion got more than its fair share of rereads from me :).

    I mostly identified with Elinor and didn't have as much sympathy for Marianne at that point. It was probably for her quick judgement towards Col. Brandon. A passionate character means the novel is way more entertaining though. Maybe I love simpler characters because I am trying to repress my own over the top personality (haha).

    Aside from power through marriage, I believe that the novel also deals with inheritance (they girls depended on their half brother and his wife wasn't too happy with the situation) and how women couldn't inherit at that time. It truly left them at the mercy of men whether it was their brothers or cousins and even strangers if they were unmarried (and thus marriage=suivival).

    You are right, Austen does make incredibly accurate observations, including the "parolour talk" also known as small talk, gossip, boring and polite conversation that drives me mad and sure drove her mad too...200 and something years ago. Great illustrations, I've never seen them before!

    1. I never really dwelt upon the inheritance aspect, but yes, it's a vital part of the novel.

      "It truly left them at the mercy of men" - very well put! :)

  5. I'm so pleased you found your Austen mojo.

    I've just reread S&S too - although I'm more of an Elinor girl. JA was such a keen observer of character, it doesn't matter what clothes they wear or the language they use, we can still recognise them now...which is why we say we feel more for one character or the other. Which is why she is still read (& loved) 250 yrs later.

  6. Sounds like it's about time for a William Cowper reading event.

  7. It's great that you've acquired a new appreciation for Jane Austen :-).

    One of the things I like the most about Sense and Sensibility is how both sisters evolve throughout the novel and they end up resembling the other to some extent. Apparently, a "merging" of Neoclassicism and Romanticism is possible, after all ;-).

    Great post!

    1. Yes, I liked that as well. I've just been reading Wuthering Heights (I'm just finishing the review) and part of that is how characters *don't* change and the consequences of that. Austen and Emily Bronte are quite an interesting comparison for that. :)

  8. I'm so glad you got a chance to re-read and enjoy her. I was the same with my first Austen (P&P), and I think the main thing is we miss a lot of the shifting layers the first time around - there's a lot more going on it seems.

    Austen does seem to favour Elinor's way of handling things, doesn't she? But I did notice that Elinor's way didn't really help her, either - she kind of just chose to suffer silently - I know Mrs. Dashwood was in the same vein as Marianne and letting her in on Elinor's trouble might have just caused more trouble, but I wonder if Elinor would ever have allowed herself a confidante? If she had a Charlotte, like Lizzy did, would she have kept absolutely everything secret?

    Ah but my absolute favorite aspect of this novel is the relationship between the two eldest sisters - I wish their closeness had included Margaret as well, though (Austen really seems to scorn the younger sisters, doesn't she?).

    1. Margaret was rather shunned, wasn't she! I'd forgotten about her, actually. Yes, that would have been interesting, and you're right, the younger sisters are often disparaged!

  9. I still haven't read this, though I enjoyed "Pride and Prejudice" and I thoroughly enjoy the movie adapation with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as Elinor and Marianne.
    I really liked how you adressed Neoclassicism and Romanticism - I'm studying them right now for an art history exam and I found your considerations very interesting. Obviously, what I'm studying is more related to the visual part, but I find fascinating the idea that Austen might have thought about comparing those two very different ways of approaching the world through her own characters.

    And, as always, you found delightful illustrations for your post. I love them :)

    1. I don't know if I've seen the film... I think I may have done, but I can't remember it too well.

      Glad you like the illustrations. I do like Hugh Thomson :)

  10. Oh I love a good Sense and Sensibility post! Elinor is my favourite Austen heroine and she has a sly humour. I loved it where she told Marianne - 'Not everyone has your passion for dead leaves.' I'm overdue for a re-read.


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