I’ve struggled with Jane Austen’s books sometimes. The meanings can be difficult to understand, the situations can be hard to relate to and the stories always end in marriage. However, after reading Lucy Worsley’s book last year, I felt encouraged to give Jane another try, particularly Sense and Sensibility (1811), which I didn’t like much when I read it in 2010.
My verdict this time around? I really enjoyed it. After a slightly dull beginning in which the various finances and inheritances of the Dashwood family are described, the story becomes interesting as soon as we meet sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.
Elinor, the eldest, has ‘sense’. Level-headed and practical, she tries not to let her emotions get in the way of her duties. Marianne, by contrast, has ‘sensibility’. She’s impulsive, passionate and romantic. The novel is about the sisters’ relationships with potential suitors. There are three candidates: the dashing Willoughby, mature Colonel Brandon and pleasant Edward Ferrars. After various misunderstandings, clashes with annoying relatives and financial worries, the story turns out happily, as you know it will. Jane Austen’s writing is witty and knowing. She cuts right to the heart of what her society is about: women’s quality of life is dependent on men. Therefore, the search for wealthy-enough husbands is of such importance that it preoccupies every female mind.
I had two issues with this novel. Firstly, the character of Margaret. She’s the youngest Dashwood sister and has no significant role in the story. Except for the first few chapters, she’s not a presence at all. This bothers me because I have the notion that all characters should be useful. Secondly, I didn’t agree with the couples at the end. Both Elinor and Marianne, in my opinion, married the wrong men. I wonder whether this was also the author’s opinion. Maybe she was demonstrating that these matches were the most socially acceptable, if not the most romantic.
This edition was published by Oxford World’s Classics in 2008, edited by James Kinsley, introduction by Margaret Anne Doody and notes by Claire Lamont.