Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sense and Sensibility

In mid-June (the 12th-18th, to be exact) I was starting to feel bogged down in my reading, and after reflecting upon my choices the last couple months, I decided that after the heavy seriousness of All Quiet on the Western Front, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, Fahrenheit 451, Hard Times, Last of the Mohicans, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Grapes of Wrath, The Bell Jar,  and For Whom the Bell Tolls, I needed something light and sparkling. Sense and Sensibility was like a lemon sorbet after two months of mutton chops. (Actually, I've never eaten a mutton chop, but it sounds heavy, doesn't it?) 
     In terms of characters, I encountered some similarities with Pride and Prejudice. There were the philanderer, the hysterical sister(s), the airhead mother, the absent (in mind or body) father, the mysterious but ultimately virtuous gentleman and the humorous secondary characters. The ending is quite balanced and satisfactory, with the rational sister finding a match based on love, and the emotional sister finding happiness with a level-headed man whom she had initially rejected for frivolous reasons.  
     I think most readers prefer Pride and Prejudice over Sense and Sensibility simply because the hero of the former, Mr. Darcy, is far more swoon-worthy than that of the latter. (Sorry, Colonel Barton)  This is partially due to the differing slants of the novels.  In S&S, Austen is contrasting the two sisters and exploring the differences between them.  The various potential suitors are tools to draw out aspects of the sisters' characters and are not developed as fully.  In P&P, Austen is comparing and contrasting Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, which obviously requires more development of Darcy's character.  Another possible contribution to the differences in focus may lie in the fact that the first draft of S&S was written when Austen was only 19 (!), before she had experienced any romantic relationships, while the first draft of P&P was written two years later, after her relationship with Tom Lefroy.
      I certainly found Sense and Sensibility enjoyable in its own right, with interesting plot devices and humorous characters, although overall I must side with the majority in preferring Pride and Prejudice.

Two steps backward for feminism: Marianne
Finally, a girl who thinks: Elinor
Karma's gonna get you in the end: John Dashwood
Everything is okay ma'am, please put down the pocketbook: Mrs. Dashwood
Warning: Contains dry ice. Do not handle without protective gloves: Fanny Dashwood
Why, you evil toad of a man!: John Willoughby
Somebody please put codeine in her tea: Mrs. Jennings
And valium in hers: Mrs. Ferrars
Knight in shining...cravat?: Colonel Barton
There was a lot of: note writing, misunderstandings, descriptions of rooms, tiresome visitors, humorous situations, similarities with Pride and Prejudice
There should have been more: development of Colonel Barton and Edward Ferrars' characters
This book makes you want to: read more Jane Austen, visit interesting friends, make sure you're not an airhead
This book makes you glad you don't have to: adhere to proper 19th century English social conventions

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