The Sunday Salon: Re-Reading Sense and Sensibility

This week I’ve been re-reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  I’ve made it a tradition to  re-read an Austen novel every year.  In 2011 it was Pride and Prejudice (read my review), and last year I re-read Emma.

I first read Sense and Sensibility in 2007, and it was my personal tipping point in becoming a Janeite.  My review appears on my old LiveJournal blog, here, but I have to admit it doesn’t say much.  Or maybe I’m just catching more details this time around.  I know the basic plot already, so I can focus more on Austen’s characters and wit.

The men seem to get short shrift.  Elinor and Marianne’s brother John falls victim to his manipulative wife and fails to provide for his mother and sisters, then makes nice later, probably realizing what a jerk he’s been.  Willoughby is a cad, and we know it, but much of his bad behavior occurs off-stage.  And Edward Ferrars: what does Elinor see in him, anyway?  He’s just sort of “there,” someone Elinor has pined after for some time.  But why?  Colonel Brandon is one of the few men with depth, although honestly I’m not sure if that’s because of Austen’s writing, or Alan Rickman’s portrayal in the 1995 film adaptation.

The women fare better, although my imagination is once again enhanced by memories of Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.  Elinor is a rock, almost too much so.  She is entrusted with a secret that is actually devastating news to her personally, and yet she sucks it up and keeps the secret for four months.  She doesn’t even tell her mother or sister.  I could not do this.  And while she’s dealing with that, Marianne experiences personal trauma of her own, and there’s Elinor at her side providing comfort.

If Elinor is one of those common-sense, no-nonsense women, Marianne is her opposite.  Emotional and somewhat frivolous, Marianne goes where her mood takes her.  Left to her own devices, she would fail to check herself in conversation, and blurt out whatever comes to mind.  When Marianne is dealing with trauma, everybody knows it.

And then there are the ancillary female characters.  My favorite is Mrs Jennings, a busybody who gets it wrong more often than not.  Austen sets up a hilarious moment in chapter 30-something, where Mrs Jennings overhears half of a conversation between Elinor and Brandon, and jumps to conclusions.  Mrs Jennings attempts to discuss what she thinks she heard, and Elinor answers based on what really happened. Hilarity ensues.  This type of comedy is Austen at her finest.

As I write this, I’m actually only about 80% of my way through the novel, about to begin Chapter 41.  I know the ending will be satisfying, as Austen’s novels always are.  So I think I’ll brew a cup of tea and get back to it!

Who is your favorite character in Sense and Sensibility?

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22 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Re-Reading Sense and Sensibility

  1. I think your idea to re-read a Jane Austen novel each year is a great idea! Sense & Sensibility is one of my very favorite of JA’s books. The men don’t fare all that favorbly in S&S but I loved Elinor and Marianne, they’re so different and I found that interesting. I completely agree with you about Mrs. Jennings. She’s a hoot and a great vehicle for some very funny moments in the book.
    Happy Reading!

  2. I had a lovely new clothbound edition of S&S for Christmas and that and your review make me long to re-read it – though I think I may keep it for the Easter holidays.

    • Ali, the clothbound edition sounds lovely. I do my annual re-read in February because it’s my birthday month. Easter sounds like another good time (as if we need an excuse!).

  3. Twice I’ve taken one of those “Which Jane Austen Character Are You?” quizzes, and turned out to be Elinor Dashwood. I guess I should re-read it, too, and find out what it is we have in common! I re-read Pride and Prejudice last summer (re-reading, and second impressions generally, is a major theme in that novel), so now S&S and Emma are the only two I haven’t re-reread.

  4. I can’t see what attracts Elinor to Edward either. He seems such a wimp but my view is probably coloured by the portrayal by Hugh Grant. Mrs Ferrars is another good character. Austen perfectly captures her class consciousness

  5. You know my thoughts on Pride and Prejudice, but I am very willing to give Austen another chance. I think it’s great to have an author that you want to reread, and that you’re doing it one book a year. That kind of goal is very realistic! It’s also interesting to see the old review and the new review of the same book! I’m sure you have more insight into S&S now than you did previously!

    • Rebecca, I hope you do give Austen another chance. My favorite of hers is actually Persuasion with Pride and Prejudice a close second. I love the additional insights that come from re-reading, too, but I hardly ever do it. There are just too many books competing for my attention!

      • It’s always so hard to choose when there are so many great books! Sometimes I have a mini-panic attack worrying about how I’ll never have time to read everything I want to read!

        And yes, I’ll pick up another Austen for sure! She’s a classic for a reason, so I know there is value in her novels, even if P&P wasn’t my favorite.

  6. I love re-reading S&S, it reminds me of getting into a lovely hot bath and just sighing with contentment and kind of wallowing in it… I can’t help but enjoy Mr Palmer, who strikes me rather as a young Mr Bennett: exasperated by his own foolishness in marrying Mrs Palmer but capable of admirable kindness in a crisis. And I agree entirely about Mrs Jennings – she’s wonderful!

    Of course, the Emma Thompson film version has at least partially ruined my ability to judge the characters fairly at all; how can one be bored by Colonel Brandon’s prosiness when one imagines his lines being delivered in such a voice?

  7. I just re-read Pride and Prejudice (posted about it yesterday) and was so glad to revisit an Austen novel. It’s nice to get a happy ending once again. I also noticed more of the details. That’s the great thing about re-reading.

    • I saw that post Chris and just hadn’t gotten around to commenting on it! I’m beginning to appreciate just how much detail Austen packs into her books. It’s easy to miss a lot of it on the first round.

    • Alex, Mr. Palmer is one I didn’t quite relate to because he’s sort of in the background (at least for me). I’ll need to focus more on him when my third re-read comes around.

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