Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I already had this book marked as read, but I couldn't remember a single detail about it, which is why I decided to read it for the Austen in August event hosted at Roof Beam Reader. Nothing rang familiar while I was reading, so I have to conclude I marked it as read in error. It's certainly not an unmemorable book.

Sense and Sensibility is about the Dashwood sisters, mainly Elinor and Marianne, though they also have a little sister named Margaret who gets forgotten through most of the narrative. After their father dies, the sisters and their mother move away to rent a cottage from a distant cousin. Elinor thinks she has the interest of Edward Ferrars, while Marianne falls hard for John Willoughby, who she meets when she twists her ankle and he helps her. When their new friends Mrs. Jennings invites the two older sisters to London, Marianne jumps at the chance to run into her Willoughby again. Elinor, meanwhile, has to contend with a woman who says she's engaged to Edward Ferrars.

The story starts with an establishment that the sisters are close. Marianne mourns that Elinor will wind up with Edward, assuming that means Marianne will have to spend time with him, too. I took the sentiment to just be selfishness on Marianne's part, because she can't imagine anyone wanting something she doesn't. It takes her some time within the narrative to show she's actually attached to her sister, and not just reliant on her steadfast, calm nature.

I had taken the story to be more in Elinor's perspective, but the character who goes through the most change within the narrative is Marianne. While she does start out with the most room for improvement, it makes Elinor seem a little too perfect, by comparison. No wonder Marianne was such a brat, sometimes, with an older sister she couldn't possibly live up to. Elinor, herself, was hardly stodgy or stuck-up, but her unwavering certainty made her hard to sympathize with.

The story contains a few themes, among them the danger of marrying for money. One character cautions of the misery caused by not having enough money, but another suffers dearly for choosing a rich wife. That it's women being sought after for money in the book is an interesting reversal from what modern readers may expect. There's a strong thread of wealthy people consolidating that wealth by marrying one another, but the solution, at least in this book, is to seek a comfortable living with the one you love.

I listened to this on audio, read by Flo Gibson. The narrator has one of those husky voices, like she smokes too much, which made her a strange narrator for soft, feminine speakers. She sounded less odd reading the men's lines of dialogue, which I suppose is a plus. But the worst part was the piercing whistle she made periodically. It wasn't just when she pronounced the letter S, either, and it made the version I listened to sometimes painful. Surely the audio could've been cleaned up to reduce the effect.

Sense and Sensibility was the first book of Jane Austen's to be published, though it wasn't the first she wrote. It doesn't read like a debut novel; it contains all the polish and depth of her later work. It's also enjoyable to read, and not just by comparison to the rest of the classics. The language isn't indecipherable, and, despite the different social classes and mores of Austen's time, it's easy to follow.

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