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I did enjoy this, but by the time I got to about chapter 9, I began to feel that it didn't quite have the same depth and complexity as the other Austen novels I've read to date: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I wondered whether this might be because it was an earlier effort that the other two, and when I checked, this turned out to be true - although she actually also wrote Pride and Prejudice between her original draft of S&S and the final, and significantly revised, published version, so things are a bit more complicated than their publication dates alone would suggest.

Compared to Austen's other novels, even the main characters here feel rather like stereotypes, and although Marianne in particular does develop over the course of the novel, it is not a particularly surprising or challenging course of development. The three men who become involved in the sisters' lives also seem rather deficient from a 21st-century point of view. Willoughby is a slimy, lying bastard, Edward Ferrars is as dull as ditchwater, and Colonel Brandon is self-centred and manipulative. I'm particularly curious as to whether Austen meant Willoughby's 'explanation' of his behaviour towards Marianne to sound convincing or reasonable. Since the sister who represents 'Sense' is swayed by it, I can only assume so, but to me it read like the worst kind of back-pedalling worming - the sort of stuff which the Sex and the City girls would see straight through. Then again, the entire plot revolves around social norms which Carrie and her friends would laugh at, so it's hardly fair to hold it up to the same standards.

The social satire and humour I associate with Austen is definitely here, though. I especially enjoyed Mr. Palmer and his wife as comic characters, although that view may be partly influenced by Hugh Laurie's brilliant performance as Mr. Palmer in the film. I also found myself wondering, in the light of Clueless, how this novel would play as a high school drama - and I think the answer is extremely well. Compared to most adult women today, the concerns and priorities of Austen's characters do appear rather green and teenaged, and if marriage to a man of fortune is only replaced by an invite to the prom date from a member of the high-school band, football team or whatever, the rest of the plot continues to work pretty well.

Finally, I owe an apology to the author of An American Boy. I complained when I read that about what seemed to me the over-done mannerism of writing all street-names in the format 'Wellington-terrace' instead of 'Wellington Terrace', feeling that it was a case of trying too hard to evoke a period feel. But it really is exactly what Jane Austen does with total consistency throughout this book - along with other idiosyncratic spellings like 'chuse', 'shew' and most interestingly 'our's' and 'her's'. I like that last one particularly, because it is one in the eye for the people who seem to believe that there was once a Golden Age of spelling in which everyone knew exactly how to use an apostrophe. I fear there never was - but I also believe that is no reason not to try to create one in the present.

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Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
lefaym
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
I expect that using apostrophes on possessive pronouns (along with her alternate spellings) was probably quite acceptable in Austen's time, and that the standards simply hadn't been implimented as rigidly as they have been today-- personally, I find that using apostrophes for possessive pronouns makes far more sense than not, but The Powers That Be decided otherwise, I guess.

One thing I always really liked about Sense and Sensibility is the way that Elinor and Marianne are both portrayed as having a very active intellectual life. While Elizabeth and Darcy discuss the merits of reading to improve one's mind, and it's clear that Elizabeth has the mental capacity to do so, Austen's narrator also makes it quite clear that Elizabeth isn't really the bookish type, while Mary's attempts to engage intellectually are seen as a cause for ridicule.
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about possessive pronouns, but you can't really put an apostrophe in 'his' or 'mine', so at least the current system is consistent across all persons. You also do need one in 'it's' when it serves as a contraction for 'it is', so leaving it out of the possessive version does help to avoid confusion between the two. It's not a system you'd invent from scratch, but I think it's the best possible compromise.

And I kind of know what you mean about Elinor and Marianne's intellectual life, but I also can't quite get away from the feeling that it's something for them to pass the time by until they get on to the much more important business of marrying. There's not much mention of it in the final chapters once they have bagged their men.
a_d_medievalist
Feb. 1st, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
But you only need the apostrophe for the contraction of 'it is' because we stopped using 'tis'!
miss_next
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
I don't see Edward as being dull; I see him as a shy, honest man caught in a seemingly impossible situation, and I have a great deal of sympathy for him. But then I've always identified strongly with Elinor in any case!
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
He doesn't seem to have much spirit or ambition, though. It's explicitly stated that he has no real interest in excelling in any particular field, he's unnecessarily beholden to his mother, and he seems to react to being trapped in a situation he doesn't like by just completely giving up all hope of ever doing anything about it. I can't remember anything active or decisive which he does anywhere in the entire book.
biascut
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
Sense and Sensibility is the only Austen I got bored with and never got around to finishing - and thinking about it, that applies to both the book and the Emma Thompson film version!
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
At least the latter has Alan Rickman! He makes Colonel Brandon's character a lot more attractive...
mrkgnao
Jan. 31st, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
I really enjoy your book reviews.

It is a difficult book, and I can never quite work out what I think about it, or the characters.

The film is enchanting though, which influences more than it probably should.

I'm particularly curious as to whether Austen meant Willoughby's 'explanation' of his behaviour towards Marianne to sound convincing or reasonable.

I really glad you picked up on this, because it's something I've always wondered about. I'm genuinely bewildered as to why Elinor is taken in, since she's supposed to be so level headed, but is this meant to be a marker of just how convincing a slimy bastard he is? Or does it mean there's some merit in him somewhere. Gargh! I mean, Elinor is pretty much our marker of sanity for the rest of the book.

Also, being a secret Marianne myself, I always feel terrible for her. Yes, she behaves like an idiot but she's so ... broken ... by the end of it that it upsets me.
strange_complex
Jan. 31st, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
Why, thank 'ee kindly! And I'm glad I'm not the only one to be uncertain about how Willoughby's explanation is supposed to read. To me, he just seems to be making things worse by trying to explain away what he's done and blame it on everyone else but himself, rather than just saying, "Look, I was a shit and I'm sorry." I'm sure most modern women would react by becoming even more angry with him after he's finished than they had been before - but Elinor becomes more sympathetic, even though she doesn't entirely forgive him.

I'd love to think Austen intended her readers to see through Willoughby even if Elinor doesn't - and the fact that it's possible for us to do so certainly shows that the option is there in the text. But the implication of that would be that Elinor is not actually as sensible as she seems. Since, as you said, she's our primary standard of judgement throughout, a lot of the accepted premises of the book become very wobbly if her judgement is impugned - including the suggestion that it is a good idea for Marianne to marry Colonel Brandon at the end. That suddenly makes it a very dark novel indeed...
robert_jones
Feb. 1st, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
I think it's fair to say that Austen's spelling was considered idiosyncratic by the standards of her own age. Also, if there was a Golden Age of spelling, it was about 70 years later.
strange_complex
Feb. 1st, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, both these things are true. I've always felt particularly protective of Austen's spelling since our English teacher at school set us the task of writing a letter from Jane to Elizabeth after the end of the novel, and then marked me down for spelling 'choose' as 'chuse'. Pshaw - no appreciation for fanfic!
aliceinfinland
Feb. 1st, 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
I enjoy your reviews too! And yes, the street name hyphenation is authentic - the New-York Times (sic) did it consistently in the 19th c.
strange_complex
Feb. 1st, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, really? I didn't know that - thanks for the info. It still seems really odd, though. I wonder why people did it at the time, and why it changed?
a_d_medievalist
Feb. 1st, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
You make me want to re-read it (again). I've always liked S&S, and I think have seen some of the things you point out as being part of the changes that both Elinor and Marianne go through, so that each of them becomes just a bit more balanced.
strange_complex
Feb. 1st, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
Do you mean like the way Elinor allows herself to be swayed emotionally by Willoughby's story, even though she knows perfectly well that it doesn't change what he did?
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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