I am participating in the Jane Austen Read All A-long hosted by James Reads Books. It’s a readalong for all of Jane’s novels, one a month for the rest of the year. Until a year or two ago, I had never read any Jane Austen, but I always wondered what the fuss was all about, because there are plenty of people out there who love them some Jane. So I read Pride and Prejudice then, and liked it pretty well. When this readalong came up, then, I decided to sign up for it, in the hopes that I would gain an even greater appreciation for Jane.
The first novel in the readalong is Jane’s first published one, Sense and Sensibility. (The readalong is covering the novels in the order of their publication.) My overall impression of the novel is positive. However, I find that Austen works for me the same way Shakespeare does: at first, I simply have to get used to reading it. No one writes the way they do anymore, and my brain gets rusty at navigating sentences like theirs. It’s kind of like getting one’s sea legs on a boat, I guess. So I spend some time rerouting neurons in my brain — as I imagine it, and who knows? that might be happening — as I begin reading them. But once I have gotten used to the style, I can then sit back and enjoy the story more. Victorians such as Dickens work the same way I think.
I enjoyed the story itself, which centers on two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. They are both of marrying age, but have been essentially cheated out of their dowries by their elder half-brother due to the inheritance laws in England (the same forces that set the ball rolling in the TV show “Downton Abbey,” I was interested to see). This actually forces the entire family to move to a new home, and the plot thickens from there. As plots go, it’s not a terribly thick one, I suppose, but I was surprised at how “modern” some of the story felt, in spite of being written over 200 years ago. I suppose that’s because Austen is most concerned with the heart and the things that are not said, and things like that never change.
There’s even high drama, on the order of the “dramatic chipmunk”:
Both Elinor (the “Sense”) and Marianne (the “Sensibility”) become interested in potential suitors and both of the situations change somewhat dramatically. One of them, the situation between Willoughby and Marianne, felt almost too melodramatic, but it was definitely in keeping with the story, so I didn’t mind. I, like many others have noted, just wanted to slap some sense into Marianne after a while. Elinor feels the same way, so it’s OK to say that I think.
Really, though, I’m convinced people read Austen for the zingers, of which there are many. And an Austen review would not be complete without one:
Marianne was silent; it was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor therefore the whole task of telling lies when politeness required it, always fell.
There are many more in the book, of course, but being the idiot that I am, I didn’t mark them.
I do like resolution, or at least change, in the stories and novels I read, and I did feel that, by the end of the novel, both Elinor and Marianne had changed, and each became a little more like the other, which I think was a good thing.
I will say that this is a book that I would like to re-read. I definitely got the feeling that there was much that I missed the first time through. And while I don’t know that I’ll ever be an Austen fanatic like some people, I do indeed see what all the fuss is about.
Rating: 5 stars