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?