Review of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ by Jane Austen

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.

11 thoughts on “Review of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ by Jane Austen”

  1. I wish I could discuss this book with you in some depth, but I have read it some time ago now and found something about it a bit forgettable (in comparison to other Austen books). I still enjoyed it very much as I remember. I am also still to watch the movie of 1995 by Ang Lee.

    1. I hardly remembered any of the story from my first reading and even from the film! So some of the plot was actually a surprise for me. I’m sure the plot is not as strong as, say, Emma or P&P, but I was glad to find that I liked the book a lot 🙂

  2. As always, love your review! Guess what. I have yet to read this book! After reading your review, I’m convinced I shd give this a try one day. I just need to be prepared for a slow intro ?

    1. Thanks Jee! I wouldn’t say it’s easy to read compared to today’s literature but the style is charming and it helps to have an edition with notes in 🙂

      1. I totally get what you mean! I guess most classics are like that don’t you think? I wonder if books like Spark Notes will help me the read more accessible…

        1. Agree, the writing style of most classics is difficult to understand sometimes, authors used to write in a more formal way. Spark notes might help, but I’m not sure if they would help you to enjoy the book.

  3. Margaret Anne Doody is a professor in the English Department at the University of Notre Dame, which I attended for my MFA. I distinctly remember a Halloween party around 2008 or 2009 at which one of the the English PhD candidates dressed up as Margaret Anne Doody as a costume 🙂

    1. I had heard the name before, I must have read some of her journal articles when I was studying my literature degree. That’s certainly an original Halloween costume! 😀

    1. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it – and looking forward to reading my next Austen.

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