Although I started this book close to the beginning of the year, I only recently finished reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Mostly because I got really really distracted by lots of other things. I love reading Jane Austen, and though I didn’t enjoy this story quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, I did have a lot of fun reading this novel.
Sense and Sensibility was Austen’s first full novel. It tells the story of the Dashwood girls (Elinor and Marianne) as they search for love and companionship. This book provides an interesting look at how two sisters deal very differently with similar situations of lost love and betrayal. At times I found I very much identified with the more logical and cool headed Elinor, as I am definitely one to think through situations and I try not to let my emotions run wild, especially in a crowded room. At other time, though, I found I could much more identify with the wildly passionate Marianne, who could barely control or hide her true feelings and emotions. In the end both girls come to better understand one another, as they discover the secrets each other has been hiding throughout the course of the novel.
I have to say that while I did very much enjoy reading this book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed the other works of Austen that I have read so far. While there were moments that I could fully identify with the two main heroines, I found that most of the characters in this story were, on the whole, rather annoying. Now, I usually appreciate Austen’s ability to write a wide range of characters – but here I felt that anyone who wasn’t Elinor or Colonel Brandon was either too dramatic, too silly, or too annoying to feel like an actual person. Everyone almost felt like a caricature of some undesirable trait rather than a character made of varied emotions and feelings. In her later works I feel that Austen has a better balance of the ridiculous and the tragic, and it works much better to create a believable world.
I also have to say that I am not entirely sure how I felt about the ending. While I have no qualms about the male-female pairings at the end of this story, I am not entirely sure I really bought the long drawn-out explanation that Willoughby forces Elinor to hear. It seemed unnecessary and also somewhat unbelievable. I suppose that, in the end, it had little bearing on the outcome of the story, but that serves to make the exchange all the more unnecessary. The ending of this story feels a bit muddled – as though Austen had intended to completely villainize Willoughby, but changed her mind as the story progressed. While I suppose the not-quite-happy endings her characters receive in this story are a bit more realistic than many of the fairy-tale-ish endings in her other novels, the resolutions for these characters felt a bit forced and unexpected, whereas the endings in her other stories feel a bit more earned.
I am not one who often promotes the cinematic version over the book, but I feel that the movie version of Sense and Sensibility featuring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is perhaps one of the best adaptations of an Austen novel to the screen. Yes, the movie does somewhat deviate from the published story, but I feel that the film actually tightens up some of the weaker segments, makes some of the story’s less credible connections more believable, and the excellent work by all of the actors make the characters feel more complex and nuanced than many of them seem in the book. I absolutely love the movie version of this novel, though I did not love the novel itself quite as much as I expected I would.
In the end, I still really liked this book. I find the works of Jane Austen to be superb, and I really do enjoy reading her stories. While I can nitpick and find flaws in Sense and Sensibility, I still enjoyed it immensely. It might not be my favorite Austen novel, but I am glad I found the time to read such a wonderful piece of classic literature. Hopefully I can find the time to read more of her works in the future (I think my next selection will be Northanger Abbey). In the meantime I highly recommend this book, and any of her other works, to anyone who enjoys reading classics or well written literature.