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Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility

February 3, 2012

08. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)

Length: 413 pages
Genre: Classic, Romance

Started: 09 January 2012
Finished: 21 January 2012

Where did it come from? Library booksale / free Kindle download.
Why do I have it? This was actually the second time I read this book; it was my first Austen that I ever read, over a decade ago, before I had seen any of the movies, or had any context for understanding it at all.

Two sisters, different
in manner but alike in
love’s disappointments.

Summary: When Mr. Dashwood dies, his daughters find themselves left with only the most meager inheritance, the rest having been entailed to their elder half-brother, who is not of a particularly generous nature. The sisters and their mother move to a small cottage in the country, where both of them find themselves in love – Elinor, the elder, with the shy Edward Ferrars, and Marianne, the younger, with the dashing Mr. Willoughby. While Elinor is as reserved with her feelings as Marianne is extravagent, both seem destined for disappointment, since the situations of both gentlemen are more complicated than the Dashwoods had originally believed.

Review: Sense and Sensibility was the first of Austen’s novels that I ever read, and at the time, I didn’t understand why so many people seemed to love her so much. Granted, I was supremely ill-prepared for it at the time; I don’t think I’d seen any of the movies, or even much from the same period, and I certainly wasn’t familiar with the language or the conventions of the period. Now that I’ve read (and seen) (and loved) others of Austen’s works, I decided to return to Sense and Sensibility and give it another shot. And, while I absolutely understood it better than I did the first time around, and enjoyed it well enough, it’s still not my favorite of her books, and definitely not the one I should have started with.

A large part of the problem was that when it came to the romance angle, there wasn’t really a couple that I was rooting for. I mean, I wanted the Dashwoods to be happy, so once they’ve figured out what will make them happy, I’m all for that… but there’s a very clear note of Marianne settling for Colonel Brandon (who is almost twenty years her senior, besides), and while Elinor’s feelings for Edward are pure enough, he’s just not a very personable or inspiring leading man. At any rate, I never got as involved in either of their romances as I was in, say, Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy, or Anne & Captain Wentworth.

I also found the language more challenging than the other Austen novels I’ve read. Perhaps it’s because I was reading this during a really stressed-out and distractable period (which: excellent decision, self), but in parts it felt like it was even more convoluted than I would ordinarily expect from literature of the period. I also found the preponderance of secondary and tertiary characters difficult to keep straight in parts, despite recently having watched the movie version. Overall, while it definitely did have its moments, I felt like I had to struggle with this one more than I wanted to, for less romance payoff than I was hoping for. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: My reaction is probably deeply colored by the circumstances in which I read it, and there’s still plenty to be enjoyed here, but I still would recommend that an Austen newbie start somewhere else.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: There’s a bunch at the Book Blog Search Engine, although there’s some graphic adaptations and sea monsters mixed in there as well.

First Line: The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 7: “But in sorrow she must be equally carried away by her fancy, and as far beyond consolation as in pleasure she was beyond alloy.” – anything added that serves to reduce quality or purity.
  • p. 9: ““I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mouther was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it.”” – retired because of age or infirmity.
  • p. 15: “She speedily comprehended all his merits; the persuasion of his regard for Elinor perhaps assisted her penetration; but she really felt assured of his worth: and even that quietness of manner, which militated against all her established ideas of what a young man’s address ought to be, was no longer uninteresting when she knew his heart to be warm and his temper affectionate.” – to have a substantial effect; weigh heavily.
  • p. 49: ““Perhaps,” said Willoughby, “his observations may have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins.”” – any of various gold coins of India, introduced in the 16th century by various Mogul princes and later used by the British as the standard gold coin of India.
  • p. 114: “Here too, Miss Dashwood’s commendation, being only simple and just, came in without any eclat.” – showy or elaborate display.
  • p. 188: “Regard for a former servant of my own, who had since fallen into misfortune, carried me to visit him in a spunging-house, where he was confined for debt; and there, the same house, under a similar confinement, was my unfortunate sister.”” – A place of temporary confinement for debtors.
  • p. 205: ““Far be it from me to repine at his doing so; he had an undoubted right to dispose of his own property as he chose, but, in consequence of it, we have been obliged to make large purchases of linen, china, &c. to supply the place of what was taken away.”” – to be fretfully discontented; fret; complain.
  • p. 221: “This remark was not calculated to make Edward or Elinor more easy, nor to conciliate the good will of Lucy, who looked up at Marianne with no very benignant expression” – kind, especially to inferiors; gracious
  • p. 226: “The impertinence of these kind of scrutinies, moreover, was generally concluded with a compliment, which though meant as its douceur, was considered by Marianne as the greatest impertinence of all; for after undergoing an examination into the value and make of her gown, the colour of her shoes, and the arrangement of her hair, she was almost sure of being told that upon “her word she looked vastly smart, and she dared to say she would make a great many conquests.”” – a conciliatory gift or bribe.
  • p. 247: ““And for my part, I was all in a fright for fear your sister should ask us for the huswives she had gave us a day or two before; but, however, nothing was said about them, and I took care to keep mine out of sight.”” – A case for sewing materials.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2012 8:03 am

    I always had trouble loving Sense and Sensibility like I do most of Austen’s other novels. I am glad to read I am not the only one.

    • February 3, 2012 11:28 am

      Iris – Likewise, nice to hear I’m not alone either! Maybe we can form the Society for the Appreciation of Sense & Sensibility, Although Not As Much As Pride & Prejudice. First meeting of SASSANAMAPP is now called to order! :)

  2. February 3, 2012 10:07 am

    I may be the only one to say this but Sense and Sensibility is my favorite. I think of it as a story of two sisters and not their love lives which is the reason I like it so much. Marianne does sort of settle for Colonel Brandon and Edward is really anything but romantic. He’s almost the exact opposite of Mr. Darcy. The love story is bland in this one but for me it’s really about the two sisters anyway so I can live with the boring love story.

    • February 3, 2012 11:29 am

      Amy – Do you have sisters? I wonder if that’s my problem, the fact that I’m sisterless…

  3. February 3, 2012 10:36 am

    I have to adjust to the language every time I read a book like this. I read this right after seeing the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • February 3, 2012 11:30 am

      Kathy – I usually listen to the audiobooks of classics, since I find the meaning gets through my ears better than it does my eyes, if that makes sense. But I didn’t have any problems reading Northanger Abbey, so I thought I’d be okay with Sense & Sensibility too… maybe not the best decision ever.

  4. February 3, 2012 11:03 am

    I love the cover for the edition that you’ve chosen to display: I have a weakness for this kind of paperback when I see them in second-hand shops and at booksales.

    • February 3, 2012 11:32 am

      BiP – That’s the scanned cover of the edition I actually own, even though I read it this time on my Kindle. It came from the library booksale WAY back in the day, and I had to photoshop out the “50¢” price sticker from the upper corner. :)

  5. February 3, 2012 8:50 pm

    I’m with you. Sense and Sensibility has never been my favorite Austen novel. I’m really glad I didn’t start with it, because I probably would have given up on her altogether! My favorite is Persuasion, although Pride and Prejudice (of course) is a close second.

    • February 23, 2012 3:39 pm

      I gave up on Austen for about five years after I first read this! But luckily, I’ve come back around.

  6. February 4, 2012 9:53 am

    I’m with you too. Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite Austen book. I think Colonel Brandon is a dear, and I’m sad Marianne doesn’t like him better. Even Mansfield Park is a more enjoyable read than Sense & Sensibility, and Mansfield Park has a lot of extremely irritating parts to it.

    • February 5, 2012 1:41 am

      A big problem I have is that *Elinor* gets along with Colonel Brandon extremely well. *They* seem like an excellent match. Meanwhile, Edward is all offscreen & silent.

      • February 23, 2012 3:47 pm

        It’s true, but as a shy person myself, I can’t knock Edward too much.

    • February 23, 2012 3:39 pm

      Mansfield Park is the last one I have left to read, so we’ll see….

  7. Emily permalink
    February 4, 2012 1:41 pm

    I find that this story was told so truthfully and spoken from the heart and i enjoy reading about the sister hood of the two and i think that, it is not superior to Pride & Prejudice but also warm felt and i really enjoyed it, even thought it was not a romance as Jane Austen usually writes.

    • February 23, 2012 3:42 pm

      I wonder if I’d feel differently about it if I had sisters and could empathize a little better.

  8. February 4, 2012 5:18 pm

    I have problems with Sense & Sensibility, too, even though I love Pride & Prejudice & Persuasion to pieces.

    Colonel Brandon and Elinor get along well and spend so much more time together than either Colonel Brandon and Marianne or Elinor and Marianne. It seems the 2 belong together, but… nooo, Edward is Elinor’s destined True Love, even if he is absent for something like 98% of the book. Also, I keep having to wonder what happens to Brandon & Marianne when Marianne, inevitably, grows up?

    • February 23, 2012 3:45 pm

      I liked Elinor and Brandon as friends, but I agree that his and Marianne’s relationship seems not the most stable ever.

  9. February 5, 2012 11:27 pm

    I also had trouble with the characters in this one. I came to the book without seeing any movie or reading any clear summary, and I couldn’t tell which of the vast parade of characters were important for the longest time. I was halfway through the book (at least) before it became clear that Elinor was really in love with Edward. I watched the movie AFTER reading, and I should have done it the other way–as soon as Edward came onscreen and was Hugh Grant, I would have known he mattered!

    • February 23, 2012 3:48 pm

      I think I heard somewhere that Hugh Grant almost didn’t get the part because they thought he was too pretty to be Edward.

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