Steven's Reviews > Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
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Apr 07, 08

bookshelves: 1001, womenareamystery
Read in April, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I was able to read this, my third Jane Austen novel, in advance of the PBS Masterpiece presentation during the past two Sunday evenings. While I enjoyed the novel (I had bigger problems with the BBC adaptation), it is, in my view, a bit more difficult than Pride and Prejudice or Emma. It is still quite enjoyable, though, and there are many moments (like in all good Austen) that make you laugh and make you go awww in their romantic sentimentality. Despite all that, the plot is a bit busy.

The Dashwood women (Mrs. Dashwood is the mom; Elinor is the sensible older one; Marianne is the romantic, yet sorta flighty one; Margaret is the little girl who really isn’t at all important to the story) live at beautiful Norland. Unfortunately, Mr. Dashwood dies and the estate passes to his son, John. John is convinced by his wife Fanny, whom Austen is clearly not a big fan, that the Dashwood girls should not be provided for quite as generously as might have been intended. Just as an aside, Austen doesn’t really create a lot of moral ambiguity in her characters - there are really not a lot of layers in characters like Fanny Dashwood and Austen lets you know what she thinks of these people in no uncertain terms.

Anyway, while at Norland, Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars comes to visit and he and Elinor seem a bit smitten with one another. We as readers know almost immediately that we will see more of Edward Ferrars because he is good and decent and he has humble dreams about being a pastor in a little church. Plus, he is nice to little sister, Margaret. Unfortunately, he is supposed to marry a woman of wealth or position, preferably both, and Elinor is neither of those.

The Dashwood ladies then move from Norland to a small cottage in Devonshire that is owned by a distant cousin. Living in the same vicinity with the Dashwoods is Colonel Brandon who sees Marianne and is immediately smitten. Marianne, 17, thinks Colonel Brandon, 35, is way too old. We readers, though, know he will play a more important role because he is very mysterious and his mystery no doubt stems from the fact that he is very honorable. Marianne is out for a stroll and falls and is rescued by the charming and handsome Willoughby. She falls madly in love and it seems like Willoughby does too. We know their will be problems, however, because Willoughby is too showy and tries to buy Marianne a horse - a definite no no for Austen men.

Willoughby must go to London and Marianne is very sad.
Soon, we meet the Steele’s who arrive to visit the Devonshire area. Lucy Steele admits to Elinor that she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars for a long time. Elinor is hurt, but she is the sensible one and as such hides her disappointment.

The Dashwood sisters travel to London and during a dance, which is required of every Austen novel, I guess, Marianne discovers that Willoughby is engaged to someone else who is very wealthy. She is heartbroken and spends the vast majority of the remaining half of the novel being very heartbroken and very dramatic about it. Poor girl, will she ever attract a husband? Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that Willoughby really is quite the jerk and Marianne should just forget about that playa.

Edwards keeps his engagement with Lucy Steele and his mother disinherits him for it, but he is very honorable and he intends to keep his promise. His little brother Robert will get all the money. Colonel Brandon offers Edward the ability to live off the parish of Delaford. On the return trip home, Marianne is still being a drama queen and she gets very sick.

As Marianne is recovering, Willoughby comes back and tells Elinor that he was disinherited and poor him, now he doesn’t have either money or love. Marianne gets better and resolves to stop pining after this guy and to be much more sensible, like her big sister.

We learn that Lucy Stelle married a Mr. Ferrars and Elinor is very upset, but still sensibly so. Edward arrives the next day and says that it was his brother and not him that did the marrying, oh crazy mix-up. Edward asks Elinor to marry him and his mom gives him some money for his troubles, even though she still loves Edward and Lucy more.

Finally, and in my opinion rather suddenly and inexplicably, Marianne realizes she loves Colonel Brandon and truly loves him. As a reader, we are to ignore the hundreds of pages of her being upset about Willoughby and instead focus of the 5 or so pages where she has changed her mind. All live close enough and visit often and things end happily ever after.

I am really not ashamed to say that I read chick lit and that Austen’s influence over that genre is still tremendous and to some extent, underrated. Perhaps some of the flaws of this novel can be forgiven a bit because it was her first, but I found it to be a little bit formulaic. Plus, I really don’t know whether I was happy about the ending. On some level, one reads Austen because we want the romantic and sugary sweet ending. No doubt the obstacles were conquered and Elinor and Edward found a way to be together, but I remain less that convinced that Marianne truly found the person she most wanted to be with. One could argue that it is an essential plot twist in chick lit where the heroine falls in love with the guy that turns out to be more right for her and she realizes she loved him all along, but I don’t know if that was the case here, and if it was, it was a little rushed. For these reasons, the book gets only 4 and not 5 stars.

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