For school this year, I have been taking a British Literature class. Which means I’ve been reading quite a bit of Jane Austen, and I’m finding her to be among my all-time favorite authors.
So far, my favorite of her books is Sense and Sensibility. I loved it all – the writing, the characters, the plot . . . goodness, I could have read it forever. (Not literally, though . . . that would probably get tiresome. 😉 )
Anywho, because I read S&S for school, of course I had to write an essay. This essay, however, was different than those I’m used to – my previous essays were just literary analyses, and I wasn’t allowed to refer to myself in the first person. This time I was writing a response to the book, so I was allowed to regard myself and state my personal opinions.
Call me “nerdy” if you will, but I had a lot of fun writing it. This morning I finished the final draft, and my mom wants me to post it on here. So here you go – my response to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Hopefully you don’t find it boring or anything. 😉
(Additionally – I’ve changed up the look again. What do y’all think? Is it easy to navigate?)
Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility
Surely there is a reason classics remain on a shelf even centuries after they were written. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was first published in 1811, over two hundred years ago, and yet it is still a favorite everywhere. It is difficult to say exactly what makes a classic, as there are countless all over the world that differ from one another. Which, contradicting myself, I believe is precisely what makes a book a classic: a novel that sets itself apart from the rest in interesting and unique ways; and in the time of Sense and Sensibility’s publishing, and even now, to an extent, the book is certainly just that.
A popular theme in Jane Austen’s novels is that the first man isn’t always the best. This is especially true for Sense and Sensibility: in the beginning of the book, Elinor’s sister Marianne takes a liking to a man called Willoughby. Her opinion of him isn’t an unpopular one: even the narration reads, “[Willoughby’s] manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration” (36). I enjoyed his presence in the story, myself, because he genuinely seemed to care for and love Marianne, and in those chapters all I wanted from the story was for the couple to get married. Those feelings didn’t last, however, for only a few chapters later Willoughby is gone. For a good portion of the story, Marianne keeps in touch with him through letters. Though she never does tell Elinor whether she and Willoughby are engaged, I was excited by the prospect of their secret relationship. However, there is no engagement at all. I would have been disappointed had it not been for one of Jane Austen’s brilliant plot twists: the twist that Willoughby hasn’t been returning Marianne’s letters because he is engaged to another woman. Immediately my perspective of him changed, and as a reader I didn’t get the full story of what exactly happened until the end, when Willoughby came to Elinor late in the evening, drunk and emotional. That scene altered my new view of him even further; I could not imagine why anyone would dare to show up to a place where he was hated, and drunk no less. Although I know he had come to apologize, for me the scene did not help his character redeem himself.
Though I acknowledged Marianne’s pain – she had lost the man she loved – and despite her representing the “sensibility” part of the book’s title, I could have done without her constant wallowing. For several chapters after Willoughby’s secret was revealed, she doesn’t even leave her bed, and to me that makes her look weak. “‘[Marianne] will be equally sorry to miss the pleasure of seeing you;’ [said Elinor,] ‘but she has been very much plagued lately with nervous headaches which make her unfit for company or conversation’” (185). Throughout the whole book, in fact, she spends a lot of time falling, stumbling, and bedridden with either self-pity or illness. “Towards the evening Marianne became ill again, growing more heavy, restless, and uncomfortable than before” (262). I would have liked her more if she was portrayed to be a stronger character, both physically and mentally.
Understanding the 1800s era is crucial to fully grasping the concepts and meanings of the book. Had the novel taken place in present day, I think the main characters – Elinor and Marianne – would have been written as brash, independent young women who weren’t in any want of a husband. Instead, they are polite and charming and each are happily engaged by the end of the book. I believe that, though I loved the book, it would appear boring to most readers had it been published presently, from the age-old assumptions that women must marry to be happy to the heavily worded writing style. Even the ending would be slighted for being too cliché for today’s reading standards.
Though the main character is clearly Elinor, as the spotlight seems to follow her even if she isn’t in the midst of the drama, the book is written in third person, and therefore Elinor is not telling the story. It is unclear who the narrator is, but I would say that it is likely Jane Austen herself, given her occasional tendency to regard herself in the first person – “I come now to the relation of misfortune which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood” (210) – and the fact that the narrator seems to know how every character is feeling at any given time: in chapter 22, the narration goes briefly into Marianne’s mind: “Marianne, who had never much toleration for anything like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference of taste from herself, was at this time particularly ill-disposed from the state of her spirits to be pleased with the Miss Steeles, or to encourage their advances”; and immediately after that, Elinor makes her appearance, further proving that she is the still main character: “. . . and to the invariable coldness of her behavior towards them, which checked every endeavour of intimacy on their side, Elinor principally attributed that preference of herself which soon became evident in the manners of both . . .” (107).
One could say that the theme of Sense and Sensibility is marriage; I disagree. Throughout the whole novel, only two characters are mentioned to presently marry, as opposed to simply engaged or already being married when the book begins: Willoughby and Robert Ferrars, respectively, the latter of whom being an unimportant character, and the former being a hated character. It may be more appropriate to go as far as saying that the theme is rejection. The proof is that both of the main characters, Elinor and Marianne, were rejected at least once; Marianne by Willoughby, and Elinor by Edward. I believe it makes the most sense that a book’s theme points to the main characters, not those left in the background.
I think it is apparent that Jane Austen has a style all her own that is, arguably, one of the best in the history of writing. Sometimes what needs to be said can be expressed in a few words – “‘What is the matter with Brandon?’ said Sir John. Nobody could tell” (53) – and at other times, it takes whole paragraphs, or even chapters, to describe the mood. The style is heavily worded, and at times I had difficulty following along; if my mind were to wander for even a moment, I would miss something that would benefit me later in the story. Overall, however, I genuinely enjoyed the style of the novel, because it is hugely different from that of other books available to me today.
Sense and Sensibility ends with a fully resolved romantic conflict and a happy ending in which I was well satisfied. The author waits until the end of the novel to resolve the conflict in protagonist Elinor, in which her love, Edward, is said to have been married to another woman. In those last chapters, I was almost certain that the book would close with Elinor, still heartbroken and alone. Then Jane Austen delivers a plot twist that shifts the whole story: Edward is unmarried, and just as in love with Elinor as she in him. It is a classic romance ending with a twist, and I was thoroughly surprised and delighted in it.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is undoubtedly a classic all over the world. Though the book is not suitable for all readers, due to its heavy writing and themes that are confusing unless looked upon closely, I loved it for just that. Which is why it is no wonder to me that Sense and Sensibility, so many years after its initial publication, is still a classic today.
Austen, Jane, and Patricia Ann Meyer. Spacks. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Bantam, 1983. Print.