Sense and Sensibility

The minute my DDD (dearest darling daughter) sees me waxing about Jane Austin’s books, she’s likely to run screaming from her computer, muttering darkly.  When it comes to merit, Ms. Austin is one of the few authors over whom we have never agreed.  However, after spending a few weeks with four contemporary novels, a dip into the old classics was felt appropriate. Ms. Austen’s first novel ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was the flavor of the day and it’s one I haven’t read in many years. 

I confess at the outset that there is much of Austen’s that I greatly admire, although I’m not a die-hard fan that finds everything she wrote irreproachable.  I’ve never had any use for ‘Northanger Abbey’, a novel I find preachy and generally bereft of her usual penetrating insights.  One of the strengths in her other works is a clear acknowledgement that human behavior can be unaccountable and she combines this with an ability to take a clear view of the realities in her world.  For me, the ‘Abbey’ is like Cervantes ‘Don Quixote’ – I get the satire regarding the ridiculous aspects of chivalry, but find it hard to maintain interest in it over such a long book.  The ‘Abbey’s’ satire is pointed at the gothic novel and sputters long before the end of the book.

With the ‘Abbey’ one of her last works, it’s interesting to see Ms. Austen’s first effort in a full-length novel.  I found ‘Sense and Sensibility’ a little more difficult to enter than ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Emma’ or ‘Persuasion’.  The prose, especially at the beginning, doesn’t have the flow of the other three mentioned.  The main characters are less compelling as well.  The ‘sense’ character seems to be lacking sense when it comes to the attachment she has for Edward.  I can’t help wondering what she sees in this critter.  Marianne’s attachment to Willoughby is perhaps easier to accept – up to the point where the depths of his depravity are revealed and there’s still an unwillingness to abandon him.  When Marianne falls deathly ill, Ms. Austen even has Willoughby return for a reprise.  He gets to explain himself so the sisters don’t have to think quite so ill of him – really?   

There are, of course, some wonderfully revealing asides that Ms. Austen litters through the pages, signaling the coming strengths of her great novels.  I find her strength in this novel resting more with the secondary characters.  Who can not enjoy the glorious little gold-digger Lucy Steele?  Surely she must be the model for Thackery’s great character in ‘Vanity Fair’, Becky Sharp.  I loved the way Ms. Austen outlined the future for both Lucy and Willoughby.  She resists the moralist preaching of the ‘Abbey’ and, instead of consigning the both of them to perdition, outlines a life of worldly satisfaction, even if not complete fulfillment.  It is a refreshing testament to Ms. Austen’s realistic view of the human condition and one of the reasons I enjoy re-reading her works.

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