I’ve loved Austen for a long time, and finally, I’m getting close to having read all of her finished novels! The most recent one I read, of course, was Sense and Sensibility, and that’s the book I’ll be reviewing today.
First off: was it as good as Pride and Prejudice? No. I’m not sure any Austen could quite live up to P&P, which for me is just entirely quintessential Austen. Sense and Sensibility, however, does clock in at second place in my Austen ranking, knocking Emma off its spot.
Sense and Sensibility was the chosen book for May for the Let’s Get Classical book club, which is why I picked it up at the end of last month. In this novel, we follow the Dashwood sisters — primarily Marianne and Elinor, though there is a third sister, Margaret. Margaret being too young to be considering marriage, the bulk of the narrative falls to Elinor and Marianne, and their entanglements.
As is inevitably the case in Austen, the course of love does not run smoothly for either of the Dashwood girls. Secret engagements abound, and issues around wealth and class obstruct their path. At the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to the Dashwood’s elder half-brother, John. After Mr. Dashwood’s passing, his estate falls to John, so Mrs. Dashwood and the three girls must find an alternative home. John’s wife effectively talks him out of offering financial help to his step-mother and half-sisters, despite his father entreating John to look after them. With a modest sum to their name, the Dashwood women move to a cottage in Devon, where they begin their new lives.
I felt a real connection to Elinor, and not just because we almost share a name! The elder and more level-headed of the two sisters (Elinor represents Sense, Marianne Sensibility), I loved her as a character. She was strong in the face of disappointment, and cared deeply for her younger sister and her happiness. Both girls, in fact, love each other dearly, and had great respect for one another, and I really enjoyed that sisterly aspect of the novel that was missing in Emma.
The plot line wasn’t quite what I expected, with a distinct lack of marriage proposals and rejections for an Austen! I love the comedy of Emma found in the misunderstandings and failed proposals, but Sense and Sensibility is less humourous, and explores the errors of miscommunications in a different way. Here, the primary obstacle faced is the expectation of a proposal when none is forthcoming. This also causes a fair amount of embarrassment for the girls among their family and friends, as word of an imminent proposal gets round society quickly, essentially leaving the girls publicly jilted.
As ever, Austen offers a witty social commentary in Sense and Sensibility. Here, Marianne’s emotions are heightened to the borderline ridiculous to show how seriously young women treated courting, and class is also played upon. Marriage was, of course, a financial proposition as well as a romantic one, and this is really explored in Sense and Sensibility, both in men considering financial prospects before emotion, and in the reverse. Austen also explores the frivolity of romance, with young women ditching a fiancé at the drop of a hat, or becoming very suddenly engaged to a man she had no serious attachment to previously.
In terms of writing style, I find Austen relatively accessible. With an Austen book, I tend to take a while to get to grips with the characters and their relationships to one another, but once I’ve grasped that, have no difficulty in following a plot line. I don’t read a lot of early 19th Century literature specifically, but I do read a lot of classics, so I am somewhat used to the type of language and realist style of novel. I think this perhaps isn’t Austen’s most accessible novel, and I’d maybe recommend Emma for anyone who feels a bit intimidated by Austen and writers of her period as a better starting point.
Overall, I really loved this novel. I am definitely a big Austen fan, so it was basically predetermined that I would love it, but I am so glad that the Let’s Get Classical book club gave me the perfect opportunity to pick it up. I’m now deciding what my next Austen should be: Mansfield Park is the only book she had published that I’ve yet to read, but there is also the posthumously published Northanger Abbey, or the uncompleted Sanditon for me to sink my teeth into. If you’ve read Austen, please let me know which you think should be my next read in the comments! And, let me know what your favourite Austen is! Let’s chat classical together.