Julie Bozza's Reviews > Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
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really liked it
bookshelves: austen, fiction
Read 2 times. Last read February 13, 2016 to February 18, 2016.

A much loved story, that isn't quite as well written as it might be. The first few chapters, in particular, err on the side of telling not showing, and the characters suffer as a result. We learn so little about Edward that it's difficult to enter into Elinor's genuine love for him. In fact, Edward and Brandon are the most underwritten of all Austen's heroes, and seem quite dull until late in the story when we finally learn more of their histories, and they become a little more rounded. But that doesn't do Elinor much good, when the whole point of her character is that she has already found, somehow, that acceptable blend of both sense and sensibility, reason and feeling, which makes her both a full human being and a contributing member of society. To support that, we need to know sooner why she fell so hard so quickly for Edward.

It is particularly difficult to keep separate the original novel and the most successful adaptation in their varying effects. It's hard not to supply the deficiencies of the novel with the successes of the film. I am talking about, as you have probably guessed, the 1995 film written by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee. For a start, Hugh Grant so attractively embodying Edward's diffidence, and the superb Alan Rickman bringing the necessary dash to Colonel Brandon, immediately solves the 'dull' problem. Thompson's masterly scripting helps solve other problems. She brings the early chapters to life by spending far more time at Norland than Austen does, and making Edward a charming companion for the much younger sister Margaret, while the grown-ups are busy grieving and dealing with major changes in their lives.

I always felt that the Colonel Brandon of the book made a very suitable partner for Marianne, despite the age difference and his apparently melancholic disposition. I feel the point is that when he was Marianne's age, he was similarly swayed and almost broken by excessive sensibility. He survived, perhaps almost despite himself, and eventually found that necessary balance of feeling and sense. He still feels passionately, however, and loves Marianne fully and constantly throughout her sub-plot with Willoughby. He still fights a duel to revenge a woman's honour, for heaven's sake! Marianne brings him out of his grief for his long-lost love and his feelings of failure. In turn, he is mature enough, in all senses of the word, to provide her with a safe place in which her passions can be cherished and answered by his own. She eventually marries him as an esteemed friend and companion, but in time comes to love him (we are assured) with as full a heart as she ever loved Willoughby. The beauty of the film is that Thompson and Rickman (and Kate Winslet) between them really bring all of that to the foreground.

But back to the book! Elinor is a relatively quiet and restrained heroine compared to others of Austen's, but she is loveable. She has a clear, honest eye, and we know all along that her willingness to be polite to those she must treat well doesn't have anything to do with their just deserts. Willoughby takes them all in, but otherwise Elinor always judges rightly. In fact, in many ways she's like Fanny in Mansfield Park - although Fanny always sees through the villain of that piece.

Meanwhile, Marianne, Willoughby and Mrs Jennings are all wonderfully developed characters. And occasionally even Elinor can let it all hang loose: "Marianne's indignation burst forth as soon as he [John Dashwood] quitted the room; and as her vehemence made reserve impossible in Elinor, and unnecessary in Mrs Jennings, they all joined in a very spirited critique upon the party." Huzzah!

So... the novel is highly recommended, as I would highly recommend reading any of Austen's work. However, in this one instance, I'd also recommend watching the film. It brings something to the whole that the original is lacking. Thompson definitely deserved that Oscar!
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Reading Progress

February 13, 2016 – Started Reading
February 15, 2016 – Shelved
February 15, 2016 – Shelved as: austen
February 15, 2016 – Shelved as: fiction
February 15, 2016 –
page 77
"My old copies of Austen's novels are literally falling apart due to much re-reading over the decades... I might have to treat myself to a new set!"
February 16, 2016 –
page 135
""My love, you contradict every body," said his wife with her usual laugh. "Do you know that you are quite rude?" "I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred.""
February 17, 2016 –
page 215
""...his pleasures were not what they ought to have been...""
February 18, 2016 – Finished Reading
June 1, 2017 – Started Reading (Paperback Edition)
June 10, 2017 – Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
June 11, 2017 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)

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