Dear Readers, I want to take a moment to discuss someone close to my heart. Someone who has changed my life. Someone who taught me how to live, how to love, how to treat people and understand them.
That’s right, I’m talking about the one and only Miss Jane Austen. My love for Jane Austen dates back ten years this winter, and to celebrate the way my relationship with her has affected me, I have decided to spend the fall reading each of her books. While I have read and reread each of her stories countless times, I have heard it said that one should always take time every couple of years to read Jane Austen again, as one never finds her the same.
I started with Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen’s first novel.
Well, her first published novel at least. But I’m not going to go into that right now.
The overarching plot of the book can be called romantic, as the story begins with the two eligible, clever and beautiful Dashwood sisters coming to a crossroads in their lives, and ends with their marriages. Yet with Jane Austen, the main point is not the romance, but the people in the stereotypical romance novel settings. Elinor Dashwood is a girl I wish I could be best friends with, practical, sassy, barely holding back her passionate nature. In fact, if Elinor had ended up in a different family, a family full of people like her half brother John Dashwood for instance, I am pretty sure she would have become either the rebellious daughter or the bitter one.
Marianne has the same potential as her sister, but never realizes it as she has been spoiled by her older sister’s reliability. Jane Austen seems to use Marianne to show the ridiculousness of gothic romance tropes, and Marianne embraces her role like any teenage girl would. Like any teenager, all of her opinions are correct, and the first couple chapters show her even stating her despair that life will live up to her standards. She is the foil to Elinor’s control, as the two show exactly what one should and should not do when falling in love.
Mrs. Jennings is another character that I find fascinating. Elinor and Fanny Dashwood actually agree in having reservations about Mrs. Jennings respectability, as her late husband made his money in a “low way.” Mrs. Jennings is not ashamed of her life, she even keeps in contact with old friends from before her increase in status. Lady Middleton wishes she would act more proper, but Mrs. Jennings will never stop being herself, wholeheartedly caring and laughing and saying her thoughts, even when it is improper. It makes me think of Emma Thompson’s adaptation, where Margaret, acting as the audience, tells her mother that she likes Mrs. Jennings as she says everything that Margaret’s family refuses to acknowledge because of good breeding.
I have found my favorite relationships in the novel this time around to be between Edward and Marianne, and Elinor and Colonel Brandon. I like these relationships not because they are romantic, but because in them these characters are able to be relaxed, without the drama that the novel has been Edward and Elinor, and Marianne and her various love interests. With Marianne, Edward isn’t afraid of his feelings and the only few moments in the novel of him acting relaxed happen with her. A point is made by Austen that when a man falls in love with a woman who is close to her family, he must undoubtedly feel love for her family as well. Edward is also one of the only characters Marianne respects without feeling violently one way to the other towards the character. I appreciate their moments together, as without them I do not think I could understand the attractions of the two as much, as these are the only moments when they can act clever, teasing, affectionate, etc. without it being a plot point.
Between Colonel Brandon and Elinor as well there exists a relationship of mutual familial affection, brought about, just like Edward and Marianne’s relationship, because the man is in love with the woman’s sister. They are so close in fact, that many of the other characters suspect THEM of being in romantic love (Edward and Marianne are never in danger of this, as it is impossible to not know when Marianne likes someone romantically.)
One thing I have always found important to understanding the Dashwood family is the event that forces the start of the plot, namely the death of their father. The whole plot takes place in the year following their affectionate father’s death, and the way the two deal with relationships, the bad and the good, must be seen in light of their mourning. The family is trying to find their place in the world now that their lives have been turned upside down. Willoughby presents just that return to normalcy to Marianne, an affectionate husband with the promise of a home in her usual style of life, instead of the poor cottage and little money her family of women have been reduced to. Edward, calm, reliable Edward, was there for Elinor after her father died, and his presence provided Elinor with comfort. Amidst the sea of her family’s emotion, upon which Elinor is the only stable ship, leading the others, Edward appears like a beacon. No matter what Lucy Steele says Elinor never loses faith in her Edward, to her he will always be true.
These are just some of my many, overly complicated thoughts about Sense and Sensibility that I had while reading. I can never talk too much about Jane Austen, and I hope it inspires you to read again (or for the very first time!) this first novel from a great lady author.
To anyone who read this, I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I invite you to come back later to read my thoughts on Emma, the next Jane Austen novel I’m reading over again. ^_^