Emily M. DeArdo

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The Great Jane Re-Read: Sense and Sensibility

books, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo4 Comments

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read!  We're talking about Sense and Sensibility@emily_m_deardo We're doing this slightly out of order--I read S&S first this year, so we're starting there.

Since this is the first post on the Jane Re-Read, let's do some basic ground rules:

1) Yes, she's Jane here. I can't call her "Austen" like I would "Dickens." Jane just seems like a friend to me. Hence, Jane.

2) Abbreviations: S&S--Sense and Sensibility; P&P--Pride and Prejudice; MP--Mansfield Park; E--Emma; P--Persuasion; NA--Northanger Abbey; JA--Juvenilia, (not her initials. :) )

3) In each entry--which will come up every two weeks--we can talk about anything related to the book. I'll post links to other things I've written about the particular book, and I'll also post my favorite movie version of each book (there are multiple versions of every book except NA, I think.)

4) I won't summarize the book. You can google it for that. I'm assuming you're going to read (or have read) the book. So it'll just be notes. So, if you haven't--spoilers, y'all.

Ready, y'all? Let's start with Jane's "darling child," S&S.

I wrote two pieces about S&S here and here, and my favorite version of the movie is the 1995 one, although the BBC's latest effort is more faithful to the book, overall.

S&S was originally titled Elinor and Marianne, and Jane took time off between the first draft and the published version we know as S&S. She wrote the first draft when she was younger, but it wasn't published until several years later. Her family relocation to Bath, the death of her father, and the fallout from that made for a peripatetic life. Finally, her brother Edward settled Jane, her mother, and her sister and best friend Cassandra , at Chawton Cottage in the village of Chawton. It was there that Jane revised S&S, P&P and NA, and wrote MP, E, and P. 

The Great Jane Re-Read: Sense and Sensibility @emily_m_deardo

Much of S&S deals with a topic Jane was intimately familiar with--what happens to the wife and daughters of a man when he dies. The Dashwood women do not fare nearly as well as the Austen women did. Jane's brothers all pooled their resources to provide for Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen. (Cassandra was engaged, but her fiance died in a shipwreck.)  Regency society was very hard for unmarried and widowed women, and that's illustrated well in the novel. Without Sir John's easy rent terms for Barton Cottage, the family would've been very hard pressed to find anything near their former situation. While the Dashwood women now live in a cottage instead of handsome Norland Parkthey still have at least one maid and a manservant, and are able to live in an approximation of their former life (none of the women have to work, for example, to earn money). But their lives could've been much easier if John Dashwood had kept his promise to his dying father.

The closeness of the two sisters is also true to life for Jane. Jane endowed Marianne with several of her qualities: Marianne adores Cowper (Jane's favorite poet), and shares some of Jane's personality; also, Jane was the younger sister (and second youngest child in the Austen family). It is easy to imagine Cassandra as Elinor, especially since Elinor is an artist, as Cassandra was. The closeness of sisters is examined in many of Jane's novels, but particularly here and in P&P (with Jane and Lizzie). In Persuasion, Anne Elliott isn't close to either of her sisters; Fanny Price in MP is close to one of her younger sisters, and Emma's older sister, Isabella, is a sort of non-entity since she is married and lives in London, not Highbury, with her husband and children.

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It's interesting that only MP deals with brothers--Fanny is very attached to her brother William, who serves in the Royal Navy (as did almost all of Jane's brothers). Edmund Bertram treats Fanny like a sister for much of MP, but they're cousins. There are no "true" brothers in any of the other novels: In S&S, he's the girls half-brother, from their father's first marriage; there are no Bennet boys, which is a major plot point, and both the Woodhouse and Elliott families have only girls. (This is also a major plot point in Persuasion, not so much in MP.)

I have a lot in common with Marianne. We both love music and romance and poetry, but I also have a bit of Elinor in me. I would never act like Marianne does in the ballroom scene in London, for example. The old-fashioned girl part of me waits for the man to approach and to do the asking. Like Elinor, I'm aware of social norms and what's acceptable behavior, and 99% of the time, I follow it. (The other 1%...well, sometimes we all go nuts. :-)) But I also am fiercely loyal, like Marianne is, and don't take fools lightly, although I generally use my Elinor side to refrain from saying whatever I think. (See, Marianne and the Middletons.)

Am I the only one who wanted Edward to buck up? You are not in love with Lucy anymore--break off the engagement! I totally support him keeping his word, but come on, Edward! You were willing to spend your life with a woman who drove you crazy because when you were young you made a mistake and got engaged?! Boo.

The Great Jane Re-Read: Sense and Sensibility @emily_m_deardo

I think every girl has her Willoughby--that man she falls head-over-heels for, the one that seems so perfect. And then you find out he's not. Maybe he's not a scoundrel, a la Wickham, but he's not perfect, and he's not the man for you.

It's a fine line between Marianne and Elinor. If you stay silent, like Elinor does, you could miss your chance. But if you're overly eager, as Marianne is, it can cause you problems later on. I always wondered what Margaret would end up like--more Elinor, or Marianne? Or a good mixture of both?

Like all of Jane's heroines, Marianne learns a lesson by the time she weds the Colonel (who, incidentally, is never given a first name in the books. He's just Colonel Brandon.), but I think she's happier for it. I think she and Elinor both have good, solid marriages, where both of them can love and esteem their husbands (as Mr. Bennet exhorts Lizzie to do in P&P). 

The Great Jane Re-Read: Sense and Sensibility @emily_m_deardo

What do you think of S&S? Are you more a Marianne or an Elinor?