Do you ever have one of those days where you do something completely stupid and you can do nothing but berate yourself for it for the rest of the day? Today, I happened to misread an e-mail (that’s right, misread – from one who’s studying English lit) and I ended up missing the first lecture of a class I was really looking forward to. I know they would have covered nothing besides the basics and introductory outlines etc. but I am still quite dejected about it. So I figured there is nothing that can cheer me better than a post on Austen. And here we are.
“Sense & Sensibility” is the latest Austen that I happened to read. I first read it a few years ago in high school, and at the time it didn’t have as much of an impact on me as it did the second time around. It is much more realistic novel than “Pride & Prejudice” and therefore, to a high school girl, not as appealing or glamorous I guess. With the second reading, however, I fell in love with it.
The Premise: upon the death of her husband, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) are forced to leave their beloved home of Norland and seek cheaper lodgings elsewhere. For Elinor, the eldest, this is doubly difficult as Norland is also the place where she has formed an acquaintance with Edward Ferrars, a respectable young man for whom she has begun to nurse deeper feelings.
Though the move means the stalling of one sister’s romance, their new lodgings at Barton Cottage enable the introduction of the dashing John Willoughby, who’s prone to reciting poetry – the very epitome of the romantic Marianne’s ideal man. The two soon embark on a very heated and quickly progressing romance that sets the whole village talking. Colonel Brandon, a quiet, respect and reserved older man, who is taken with Marianne is pushed to the background as the two youngsters make eyes only at each other.
Things, however, are not what they seem. Mr. Willoughby is not completely what he seems to be; Edward and Elinor’s relationshipis not as secure as the Dashwood women believed it to be and Colonel Brandon seems to hiding the biggest secret of all. It is through their adventures (or misadventures) at their new home, amongst their new acquainted that the Dashwood gain a deeper knowledge of each other, the world around them, and most importantly themselves.
S&S is, first and foremost, a novel about sisters and family. I think that is my favourite part about this novel; from the first crisis that they are thrown into at the beginning of the novel, the Dashwood women find strength in themselves by providing the much needed support for each other. No matter how dire their situation or how harshly they are treated by John Dashwood and his cold-hearted wife the Dashwood ladies are always able to derive comfort and cheer from each other. When I think of S &S I am inevitably reminded of the strong relationship that existed between Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra. To me, this novel is the embodiment of that relationship, of any healthy relationship between the closest, and yet most differing, of sisters that enables both to grow in their knowledge of themselves and each other.
This novel is inevitably laced with that sharp, well-aimed irony with which the world has come to associate Austen’s writing. Throughout the novel, she is constantly poking fun at her multitude of characters – sometimes gently, and at other times viciously, with eloquent jibes that leave you wincing and chuckling. Even Elinor and Marianne cannot escape, and that’s what makes this novel engaging. Nobody is perfect, least of all the two heroines, and their faults and drawbacks are brought to light, just as our own are in life.
I loved the writing in this novel – that goes without saying as this is an Austen novel, and I am a diehard Austen fan. But I guess what I mean to say is that I especially loved her writing in this novel, because a lot of it takes place in Devonshire, with the lush description of green cliffs and the lapping waves at their cottage doorstep. Austen’s love of the countryside is evident in almost all her novels, but to me, it was especially evident here in the way she depicted it as a haven for the Dashwood family to recuperate from whatever blows that life dealt them.
The plot is well-paced and the story continued to be propelled forward in a believable manner. As I said, this novel is so much more realistic than P&P and that, I think, is one of its strengths. My only problem with it was near the end, after Marianne’s recovery from her illness and her affections for Colonel Brandon are described. Their romance, and the lack of description of its evolution really got to me. In the end it is resolved far too swiftly, in a manner that is almost unbelievable because it’s described in such a dry and ironical fashion. Marianne’s realization of her ‘feelings’ for Brandon seems rather too formulaic for my taste, and that kind of calculating description sucked the whole thing dry. I guess to make it more believable Austen would’ve had to add a bit more to the novel.
Stories of personal growth engage readers’ interests; and stories of personal growth which reflect our own mundane lives are all the more engaging for their vivid resemblance to reality. And S&S is such a story. Oh, I don’t pretend to say that my life is filled with wicked, dashing men who carry me in their arms through a downpour or shocking revelations that my beau is secretly engaged to a
vindictive cow girl I’ve only just met.
But my life isfilled with people who seem to lack principles, girls who seem to rejoice in the crushing blows they deal each other, and annoying but well-meaning relatives or friends who tease endlessly without seeming to know their limits. This is evidently why Austen’s work continues to enjoy such huge popularity; she chose to write on that which will always be the same, even as it undergoes the most drastic of changes: human character. Even after hundreds of years, these caricatures are amusing for us to read about because they’re still applicable.
And in the conduct of such admirable characters as Elinor – and even Marianne in some instances – we come to learn of how to deal with the less than savory characters that life inevitably throws at us. Of course, it would have been satisfying if Elinor had rubbed it in Lucy’s face the obvious preference that Edward had for her, but that would be undignified and petty. And of course it would be easy to wallow in our misery and indulge in self pity, but we owe it to those closest to us to make an effort and take a step in the right direction as Marianne did. This is why I love Austen. She wrote about people in the nineteenth but two decades later, her character studies are still relevant.
I’ve gotten a little carried way and this has turned out be a little novella of a review. Bottom line: S&S is a well-developed story with fleshed out characters, realistic plot and memorable (and familiar) secondary characters. Recommend this novel to men (if they have the courage) and women.
Rating: 5 out 5 reticules.