Friday, September 4, 2009

Everything Austen: Sense and Sensibility

I decided to read Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility for the Everything Austen challenge because I haven't read it since high school and remembered very little about it. I'm always glad I created this book blog, but this is one time I'm really glad I created it; once I finish writing about Sense and Sensibility, I'll actually remember the book's premise rather than forget it in a week or two.

Sense and Sensibility was Austen's first work, published in 1811. She tells the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two of the three daughters of Mr. Dashwood who has passed away and left them with little money [the rules of inheritance were so strange back then]. The story begins when Mrs. Dashwood and her three girls move to the cottage of a distant relative where they begin a whole new life. Elinor and Marianne are pressured to marry a wealthy man for financial support, but their low economic status does not make them very desirable to many men [marrying for money was common...and desired!]. But the girls, like all of Austen's female leads, care more about love than money. Their quest to find romance is hindered by heartbreaking men, scheming young women, and meddlesome neighbors.

I have been reading this at the same time I've been watching the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, which may have not been the smartest thing to do. I'm sure an Austen-ite would fight me on this, but in my first experience with them, they seem pretty similar—females rebelling against society's norms and all that. Other observations:
  • I know Austen is praised for her wit, but in my experience, it's better illustrated on screen. Maybe that's just me.
  • I also think the characters would come to life better on screen. She was very wordy in this one.
  • I've always thought the setting was later 1800s. Guess I was wrong.
  • Salaries seem to be public knowledge and subject of frequent conversation. It's weird.
  • Her characters and their relationships are realistic with flaws. I appreciate the detail she pays to basic human emotion. Even the men have character.
  • Poor Margaret...she barely exists. I forgot there was a third Miss Dashwood.
  • I'm curious about an analysis or comparison of her novels. What makes them different? What makes one more enjoyable than the other? [comment here with input!]
  • I also like Austen's sarcasm.
I can see why some people are big fans of the Austen world; everything is just so classy. The setting and lifestyle is a big draw for many, like a fantasy world where people were polite and society had rules and expectations [which could be fun...but also sadistic]. While I would like to read all her novels just because they are classics and I should, I think I'd prefer them on screen.

What's the draw of Austen for you?


hmsgofita said...

It's been awhile since I read S&S as well. I really enjoyed your review!

Salvatore said...

One of my friends always said that Jane Austen was a one-trick pony. He got berated for that from others, but I always kind of found that comment to be amusing and, perhaps more so, insightful. That doesn't take away from her talent (as her one trick is pretty amazing), but still...

Christina said...

Austenite here - I guess if you are new to her books and look at them on the surface they do seem quite a lot a like. Having read and re-read most of the canon you start to appreciate the differences - particularly betweeen something like S&S and P&P (which are quite similar) and Persuasion which definitely carries an older and wiser view of relationships.

A few of her stories were actually written in the late 1700s for the family, she updated them when it came around to having them published so that facts and details were more align with the current times (1816ish).

I enjoy that all her books translate so well to the screen and that each director brings a slightly different twist to the perspective (the BBC P&P vs. the Keira Knightly version) - Austen managed to capture a universal and timeless quality of relationships and station in life.

Kari said...

Christina - I'm glad you commented, because I wanted an Austen fan's opinion! I read Persuasion a couple years ago...but remember nothing about it. You've inspired me to re-read, especially once I finish watching the P&P DVDs.

Christina said...

I'm sure there are many Janenites who would argue with us both - some of whom are much more knowledgeable and vocal than myself! I joined the Jane Austen Society last year and they are definitely a "loyal" bunch!

Salvatore said...

Does this mean you're going to read the S&S sea monsters parody?

Kari said...

Ha, can't say I have much desire to read that. My friend is reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies right now--says it's "interesting." I give the author props for the quirky idea, but it's not for me.