Sense and Sensibility was the only one of Jane Austen’s major novels I hadn’t read and when I saw that Yvann of Reading Fuelled by Tea was hosting a readalong for Advent with Austen it seemed like a good opportunity to read it. Unfortunately I struggled to keep up with the weekly readalong schedule due to lack of time earlier in the month, but I managed to catch up this week and finish the book. Now that I’ve read it, Sense and Sensibility is not my favourite Austen novel (that would definitely be Persuasion) but not my least favourite either.
For those of you who haven’t read it yet, this is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (there is a third sister, Margaret, but she doesn’t have a significant part in the plot). Elinor and Marianne have entirely different personalities and temperaments, representing the ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’ of the title. While Elinor is the more calm and practical of the two, Marianne is passionate and emotional. After their father’s death, their half-brother John inherits the family estate and the girls and their mother go to live in a small country cottage in Devonshire belonging to their relations, the Middletons.
Marianne soon falls in love with Mr Willoughby, a man she meets soon after moving to their new home. When Willoughby suddenly leaves for London, Marianne is left devastated. She’s certain that he still loves her, but does he? The man Elinor loves is Edward Ferrars, her sister-in-law’s brother, but there are several obstacles preventing them from marrying, including the disapproval of Edward’s mother and also a previous relationship of Edward’s. There’s also a third man, Colonel Brandon, who becomes a friend of the Dashwoods – but which sister is he interested in and will she ever be able to love him in return?
During the story both sisters experience disappointment and heartbreak, and it’s interesting to see how differently they cope with their feelings. Elinor is more reserved and tries to keep her emotions to herself, while Marianne makes no effort to hide how she is feeling. And that is really the major theme of the novel: a comparison between two extreme reactions to a similar situation. Is it better to wear your heart on your sleeve or to suffer in silence? Is one type of behaviour right and the other wrong? The answer, I think, is to find a balance between the two.
I liked both of the Dashwood sisters, though I found Elinor easier to identify with because I’m definitely more of an Elinor myself than a Marianne. Marianne annoyed me a lot during the first few chapters of the book, but my feelings about her changed as the book went on. I did like the fact that she had such strong opinions about things and that she was prepared to speak her mind when she believed it was necessary. I loved Elinor and admired her quiet self-control, though she did frustrate me at times too, because I don’t think it’s necessarily always a good thing to be so reserved that nobody can tell how you feel.
Other than the Dashwoods, there were a good variety of secondary characters. There were some that I liked (Mrs Jennings, who irritated me at first but I warmed to her later as she was one of the few women Marianne and Elinor met who seemed to genuinely like and care about them) and some that I disliked (I thought Lucy Steele and her sister were vile!) and some who gave Austen a chance to have some fun, e.g. Charlotte and Mr Palmer. The story also has lots of examples of Austen’s famous irony and satire. I’ll admit that when I read some of her other books in the past I didn’t always appreciate all the subtleties of her wit, but with this book I did and some of the dialogue and observations were very clever and amusing.
As this was the first time I’ve read Sense and Sensibility, I liked the way Austen kept me wondering what was going to happen. I suspected there would be a happy ending for Marianne and Elinor, but I couldn’t see exactly how things were going to work out for them or which men they would end up with. Austen does put a few twists into the last few chapters of the novel and I liked the way Elinor’s story was resolved, but I’m not sure I was very happy with how Marianne’s ended.
Now that I’ve read all six of her major novels I’m looking forward to exploring Austen’s other work and also reading the novels again so I can pick up on some of the details I probably missed the first time!
Have you read Sense and Sensibility? Are you a Marianne or an Elinor?