Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 1995
Number of Pages: 323
Genre: English Fiction, Romance, Bildungsroman
As the title of Jane Austen’s first published novel suggests, the difference between two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, lies not only in their appearance but also in their temperament. Yet Sense and Sensibility not only contrasts Elinor’s good sense, her readiness to observe social forms and Marianne’s impulsive candour, her warm but excessive sensibility; it also highlights their shared predicament in the face of a competitive marriage market. The sisters’ parallel experience of love, and its threatened loss, cases both to readjust and question their own values.
My first taste of Jane Austen’s prose was way back in my college years. This book, Pride and Prejudice, is one of most memorable reads because it was the one that introduced me to the wonderful world of English literature. Although I had a challenging time unraveling and appreciating the story, I was nonetheless stoked at being able to finish of the pillars of the classical English romance genre. But who’d have thought that my next Austen would come nearly a decade later.
I’ve bought a copy of Sense and Sensibility while scavenging through a book sale. However, I wasn’t too keen on reading the book because of the challenges I had to deal with in Pride and Prejudice. But due to the book’s inclusion in numerous lists as one of the books in the romance genre, I included it in my February 2018 reading list. Thankfully, before the love month ended, I was able to read this English classic written by perhaps the most renowned female English writer.
Sense and Sensibility is Jane Austen’s first published work. It follows the story of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, as they come of age. Elinor and Marianne, and their younger sister Margaret were the daughters of Henry Dashwood with his second wife. Together they live in Norland until Henry died. John’s greedy and selfish wife immediately took residence in Norland and did everything in her power to force the Dashwood sisters off the house.
With Elinor and Marianne as the primary heroines, the book dealt primarily on three major subjects – money, love, and feminism. Austen used marriage as the primary device to illustrate the prevailing social standards in the 18th and 19th century England. Beyond appearance and refinement, affluence is an important gauge in sizing up possible marriage partners. Marriage is generally viewed as a devise to succeed in the social stratum. But while everyone was looking at what they can gain from being married, the Dashwood sisters are more enlightened.
Austen’s astute observations on how money impacted the British society is particularly ingenuous. Her commentaries on money’s power over society played a significant role in the story. Using her trademark wit and eloquence, she satirized the prevailing societal conducts of her era. Numerous ironic moments involving fortune seekers and especially greedy relatives were depicted in the novel. So much for the age-old adage that “blood is thicker than water.” Everyone is looking for money. As the Abba song goes, “Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world.”
Beyond pecuniary values, Sense and Sensibility related Elinor and Marianne’s parallel experiences of love and heartbreaks. Although their experiences run parallel each other, their personalities and demeanor couldn’t any be more contrasting. Elinor possesses great sense and good judgement while Marianne is more volatile and more sensible. In spite of their differences and their flaws, both sisters showed unwavering loyalty and faith in each other. Their devotion to each other even became stronger on the course of the novel. Their relationship is one of the best things about the novel.
But one thing that was truly remarkable about the book is its strong sense of feminism. Aside from the fact that the two primary characters are females, the glaring disparity between the male and female characters is noticeable. Most men in the novel were innately weak and some are even scoundrels. Most had no wills of their own and were controlled by either their wives, their relatives or by money. It is challenging to find a man who can truly stand up for love.
The romance portion of the story is overstated but it did not render the book moot. Rather, the novel dwelt more on the emotions and the sensibilities of its heroines. Austen also did a remarkable job in giving justice to these subjects. Her observations and portrayals of the 19th century British society are truly fascinating. Moreover, her approach in giving life to a seemingly simple story is clever.
There are also some peculiar aspects of the novel that are palpable. Most of the characters, especially the men, are greedy, hence, making them unlikeable and despicable. Beyond the overwhelming greed of most characters, it is also noticeable how most of them love to keep secrets. Nearly everyone is hiding at least one skeleton in his/her closet. Not that it made any difference in the story at all.
Overall, there are so much to appreciate in Jane Austen’s first published work. I loved that Austen was able to conjure two contrasting yet believable characters while making them revolve around the emotionally taxing requirements of the Victorian society. But Sense and Sensibility is more than just an ordinary story about two sisters and their journeys in love. It is critical observation and commentary on money and how it motivates men in general. But the biggest winner in the story is the elegance of Austen’s prose. It is truly astounding and timeless.
Recommended for lovers of the romance genre, those who love English fiction, those who love classical fiction, those who are into the interactions that are filled with veiled nuances, and those who love Jane Austen.
Not recommended for those who are very much in love with money, those who dislike classical English fiction and those who have troubles unraveling the pure English novels (as I do sometimes).
About the Author
(Photo by Goodreads.Com) Born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, Jane Austen is one of the most notable figures in English fiction, particularly of the romance genre. She is widely renowned for her works which largely satirized the prevailing social standards of her period.
Jane began writing as early as the age of 11, when she wrote poems and stories to entertain her family. Later in her career, she compiled 29 of her early works into three bound notebooks she referred to as Juvenilia. Among her early works are Love and Friendship which she wrote when she was 14 years-old and The History of England. Both works parodied popular writings, with the former mocking novels of sensibility while the latter satirizing historical writings.
Jane’s first full-length novel was Elinor and Marianne. It was later published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility but her sister Cassandra recalled having it be read to the family “before 1796”. First Impressions, which was later published as Pride and Prejudice in 1813, was Jane’s second work. This was later followed by Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815). Her three other novels, Northanger Abbey (1818), Persuasion (1818) and Lady Susan (1871) were all published after untimely Jane’s death in July 18, 1817.