© 1811 Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility is the story of two sisters, Marianne and Elinor, who are left to live on a fixed income after their father perished and the law forced him to leave all of his money to their stepbrother – with the promise that said stepbrother would support the sisters. Unfortunately for the ladies, said stepbrother has all the moral backbone of a worm, and his “support” – after taking over their home – was the promise to send fish or game when they were in season. The sisters and their mother, made to feel like outsiders in their own home, take up residence in the country for a long spell of talking, playing music, talking, dancing, painting, talking, walking, and worrying. Far from their old home they find new friends, each with their own promise and limitations – and this being an Austen novel, romance is in the air. Both Marianne and Elinor have beaus who prove or seem inconstant, but the two women respond to their social anxiety in very different ways. Marianne is a leaf from the Romantic era, full of intense passion, surging hither and yon like tides crashing on a beach; Elinor is more reserved, more pragmatic. She feels quite intensely, but she is the image of the expression that still waters run deep – the picture of self-government, It is she, not her mother or sister, who truly manages the house, and who cares for her sister then things go off the deep end. Another opposing pair are Edward Ferrars and John Willoughby; one is rooted in honor, the other in self-love.
Sense and Sensibility defeated me the first time I attempted to read it (one year ago), in part because I only tried it because of its Classic status. The story didn’t interest me, but – having recently watched the film for my Read of England celebration -- I approached the novel this time with genuine appreciation and interest in the story, particularly my appreciation for several of the characters. One of the best moments of the novel is when Elinor expresses admiration for a fellow whose behavior seems to deny her happiness. As much as it pains her, she can look beyond it and see its virtue. Otherwise, Marianne and her beaus steal the show completely, I think, as Book-Ferrars is largely absent and appears only to stand awkwardly in a corner, mumbling his apologies before he wanders off again.
Incidentally, this experience tested a theory of a friend of mine. He claims that if a person watches the movie first, then reads the book, he will enjoy them both; if he reads the movie, and then watches the movie, he will only complain about how much the movie left out or added.