Jane Austen is a name synonymous with truly amazing novels. Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abby, and Sense and Sensibility are all considered to be amongst the greatest works of fiction ever written. Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published 200 years ago this year! In honor of its bicentennial birthday (and the Sense and Sensibility bicentenary reading challenge), I’ve made sure to make this the year for my re-read. It’s amazing to think that Sense and Sensibility is still so loved and revered today, 200 years after its first publication as “a lady’s” first novel.
Most people are familiar with the plot line of Sense and Sensibility, but for those of you who aren’t, here is a fast run down. Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret are left almost penniless when Mr. Dashwood dies. John Dashwood, half-brother and stepson to the women, becomes the new owner of their home Norland Park due to an entailment on the estate. John and his wife Fanny move into Norland Park and take over, forcing the women to look for a new home. During this transition Fanny’s brother Edward comes to visit and begins a close friendship with Elinor. Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne believe an engagement is upcoming, but a warning from Fanny reveals that Edward is unable to control his own destiny while his mother controls his purse strings. Insulted, Mrs. Dashwood refuses to stay any longer than necessary in Norland Park and is lucky to find her cousin, Sir John Middleton, offering them a cottage to live in. They soon set out for their new home, Barton Cottage, and upon arrival meet with their cousin Sir John. He is a lively man with good manners and a caring heart. He invites them to dine with his wife, children, and mother-in-law as often as possible. It is at Barton Park (Sir Middleton’s estate) that they begin a friendship with Sir John’s friend Colonel Brandon, a man who is quiet, reserved, and fascinated by Marianne.
Marianne, a hopeless romantic, is madly in love with Willoughby, a man who rescued her from a fall during one of her walks. The two share many conversations about life, literature, music, art, and much more. Everyone believes them to be madly in love and secretly engaged. Elinor, the sensible one in the family, tries to curb the gossip as she doubts there to actually be an engagement. Elinor tries to subtly tell Marianne that she needs to begin following social procedures, lest she become a subject of public gossip. Marianne tries to tell Elinor that there is nothing wrong in her actions, that she need not be false due to social norms and will continue to act how she feels. Will Marianne’s actions come back to haunt her in the end? Will Elinor ever tell anyone of her love and yearning for Edward?
The above barely touches upon half of the plot of the novel. It’s one of Austen’s more complex stories in my opinion as there is a large focus on the relationships that the characters have with each other. The biggest relationship is between Elinor and Marianne. The two are complete opposites of each other in both temperament and disposition. Marianne is reckless, romantic, eager, spirited, and not at all worried about how others perceive her. Elinor on the other hand lives by the rules, is sensible with money, quiet, reserved, and dependent on herself. Towards the end of the novel you see how much they each learn from each other as sisters, friends, and confidants. I think of all of Austen’s books the relationship between Elinor and Marianne is the one most beautifully written.
While the relationships between characters is important it’s also the relationships the characters have with themselves that shine. Most specifically with Elinor. We watch her struggle throughout the whole novel and she first realizes that she is in love with Edward and then later on comes to realize that she may never have him as her own. We watch her struggle watching Marianne express herself so simply and easily in a way she knows she is incapable of mimicking.
Austen truly shines as a writer with this novel. It’s no surprise that 200 years later society is still talking about this story. If you’ve never read it I heartily encourage you give it a try. It’s the perfect year to honor it with your first read.
5 out of 5 Stars
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Barnes and Noble (2004)
Hardcover, 324 pages