Discussion of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”

SenseAndSensibilityTitlePageLadies and gents before I go any further I MUST apologise for my prolonged absence.

No, it was not intentional.
No, I really did not intend to only write another blog post after I finished Sense and Sensibility (from here on called S and S).
Between bad time management and life itself, I haven’t blogged for about 3 weeks.

Not cool at all.

The challenge is alive and well – even if it did take me 3 weeks to read one book. While I strive to write reviews of the books I’ve read (and am going to read), I find for this book I’m doing more discussing than reviewing. So I decided “Heck! Let’s go with it”. This is a discussion of S and S. Frankly, it is one of the many discussions I could have about this book but I’ve decided to have this particular one with you guys :).

I’ll admit that from the get go, the style of writing of S and S (and other Austens) takes some getting used to. I think the typical proficient reader of English should be fine once you really get in to the book but the syntax might make you pause every so often. In true Austen style, the title of the novel tells you what you’re getting in to – this is the story of two girls, Miss Elinor Dashwood and Miss Marianne Dashwood. The elder, Elinor, valued sense and Marianne valued sensibility. Though I’ve provided a link to sensibility (just click on the word) I think to better understand this book a little explaining needs to be done.

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary provides the definition to sensibility I think Austen was working with (this is in the link I’ve provided). The first definition they provide is “the kinds of feelings that you have when you hear, see, read, or think about something.” As Miss Austen will make very clear from the beginning of the book, the Dashwood household is ruled by sensibility. Let’s just say Marianne is most definitely her mother’s daughter. The attitudes and behaviours of Marianne and her mother are quite similar. I guess the only difference besides age is that Marianne’s behaviour has been unchecked by the authority of the household (except Elinor, and she is perceived by the other members of the house to be a killjoy) and Mrs. Dashwood’s may have been tempered by her marriage to Mr. Dashwood.

The story in one paragraph is this – Elinor meets Edward Ferrars (pronouned Fe-ras) and they hit it off. They are divided and Elinor decides that while she has great feelings for Edward, she will keep them to herself. She also seems to decide that she will not commit herself to him without some solid proof of his commitment to her. Marianne is the complete opposite. She meets John Willoughby (I think it’s John) and makes it very clear to him and the whole world that he is her favourite. And this was without the help for social media – let’s just say Miss Marianne had it bad.

Do I need to tell you who got BURNED in the end?

To be fair, I think both girls did but for different reasons and to varying degrees. Looking at it now, the movie and miniseries paint a very happy ending for Elinor. Now, to a degree she did gain her happily ever after. However she suffered much. At the beginning of the novel she meets Edward, they click but his sister, Fanny does not approve. Dearest Fanny decides to remind Mrs. Dashwood that if Edward doesn’t marry a girl his mum likes, he will be cut off from the family fortune. Mrs. Dashwood, who already couldn’t stand Fanny (if you read the book, you’ll get it, Fanny is just awful) decides to move away and give her family a small measure of independence. Elinor and Edward are separated. Elinor then finds out from a friend of a family friend, Lucy Steele that she, Lucy and Edward have been secretly engaged for 5 years. And Lucy decides that Elinor would be the perfect confidante/gal pal to spill her guts to about her relationship with Edward, her hopes, her fears and the complications of their relationship (how has this aspect of the movie not been played with and made into a major project? I don’t know – but I digress). Elinor, Marianne, Lucy and other family friends end up meeting Edward’s family and the Ferras family gives Elinor hell because they heard from Fanny that she and Edward were interested in each other.

The events of the novel take a bit of a tailspin when Edward’s secret engagement to Lucy becomes public. Edward, bless his heart, decides to do the honourable thing and marry Lucy because he had already promised to. He realised if he left her now, she would be disgraced. The result: Mrs. Ferras disinherits her elder son, Edward giving all of his inheritance to his brother, Robert. Then, when you think it’s all settled and Elinor is teaching herself to accept this inevitable heartbreak and move on, Lucy ditches Edward and hooks up with Robert. (I’m not kidding, it’s in the book). After some time, Edward goes to Elinor to tell her about this recent development and asks her to marry him.

Now, if the story ended here I could say, “Yes, Elinor had a hard time but she got her man, yay!” But not so, while she and Edward have a solid relationship, “they were never insulted by her (Mrs. Ferras) real favor and preference” (Sense and Sensibility, Austen). Instead, she kept that for Robert, her favourite child, who married the same girl who she couldn’t stand, behind her back. Let’s also throw in the fact that Elinor became the sister-in-law to Robert who was “proud of his conquest (i.e. Lucy), proud of tricking Edward, and very proud of marrying privately without his mother’s consent” (Sense and Sensibility, Austen). And Lucy is no saint, she pretty much worked on Robert when she realised it was a good idea to marry him instead of Edward.

My point is, I’m not sure Miss Austen wanted us to feel like Elinor won the grand prize in the end for all of her sense. I’m not even fully sure what she wanted us to understand. It could be several things – one most definitely could be that there are no fairytale endings. The conclusion I arrive at is Elinor was the better off of the two sisters because her pain was private. Aside from the mean behaviour of the Ferras family and the good natured teasing of Mrs. Jennings, the general public did not have a clue about Elinor’s regard for Edward and vice versa. Consequently, she did not suffer the pain of being made the subject of public gossip. With Marianne it was an entirely different tale. But Elinor’s strivings to protect her heart were not perfect. One prime imperfection was her complete secrecy about her true feelings. However, when you study the profiles of Marianne, her mother and the Steele girls, you realise she really had no one to tell so her secrecy makes sense.

Readers of Sense and Sensibility, what do you think? Do you think Elinor got the fairytale ending her deserved? Was she robbed? What about Lucy and Robert?

You know what I think. Now let me know what’s on your mind.

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3 thoughts on “Discussion of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”

  1. Pingback: Aggregatore #9 [9-15 giugno] | Austenismi

  2. I read this book only once before and I don’t remember nearly this much drama! Maybe it was all over my head at the time (I hadn’t even graduated high school). I’m a huge Austen fan so I really should give it another try. Excellent discussion. 🙂

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  3. Wow, kudos to you for reading this book when you were so young. When you can though do have a reread and let me know what pops up. Thanks for adding to the discussion 🙂

    Like

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