Book Review: Sense and Sensibility

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.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Sense and Sensibility

  1. Having read all the novels (several times) I would suggest Persuasion over Northanger Abbey (which is my least fave). P&P is definitely my favorite, as I find the Bennet parents so delightful!

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  2. I agree with Kendra. Persuasion is my second favourite and Northanger Abbey my least favourite. N Abbey should not be taken too seriously – that may help.

    KathleenS

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  3. Northanger Abbey was a spoof of the fashionable Gothic novels of the time by writers like Mrs Radcliffe, in particular her novel “The Mysteries of Udolpho”.

    It's many years since I read it (I remember we had to read it for English Literature homework although our Austen set text was Mansfield Park) and I remember some entertaining scenes in it, but it hasn't stayed with me in the way that Emma and Mansfield Park have. It's 25 years since I last cast an eye on it so I might go back and have another look sometime!

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  4. P&P is one of my all time favorite books. I do like the Dashwood sisters, but agree with you. (I too loved the movie version!) I haven't read Northanger Abbey because then there will be no more Jane Austen for me to discover for the first time. Silly, I know.

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  5. P&P is my favourite Austen novel, if not my favourite novel, period. Second choice is Persuasion. I think third choice would be S&S, I find the Dashwoods a little too compliant. The one I like the least is Mansfield Park. Every time I read it I want to bitch slap Fanny Price for being so sweet and stupid. It always baffles me that the same woman who created Miss Elizabeth Bennet also created the insipid Fanny Price. I guess I should be grateful she wasn't formulaic.

    My choice for best screen adaptation of anything Austen is BBC's 6 hour P&P series (1995). I actually wore out my VHS copy from watching it so many times. I now have it on DVD.

    I think the film version of Persuasion (1995) with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds excellent as well. So worth seeing both of these.

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