What I was looking forward to most when picking up Sense and Sensibility was some romance. After Moby-Dick and The Odyssey, two meaty books about guys doing guy things, I wanted – heck, needed – some empire-waist gowns and fancy dress balls in my life. However, delving into the book, I quickly realized two things:
So much could be said about this book, but in the interests of time I’m just going to give some thoughts on our two heroines, Elinor and Marianne.
Plot … in case you didn’t know it (from Goodreads)
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
Readers adore Elinor and Marianne Dashwood because of their wonderfully different personalities. For one reason or another, we all seem to enjoy identifying with Elinor’s stoicism or Marianne’s vivacious spirit. It brings us closer to the characters and we take more to heart the insults and obstacles they endure in the story, as well as the happiness they so rightly deserve in the end.
The biggest discovery for me reading Sense and Sensibility is coming to understand I had an expectation of romance from the book and this is far from what Austen wrote about. In Elinor and Marianne’s world love and marriage was not only serious business, it was everybody and their mother’s business. Meeting potential husbands was probably the most unromantic thing in the world with strangers calculating your worth and reputation before even seeing your face … but not to worry they’ll judge that too! How can any romance bloom in this kind of toxic environment?
In my last post, I was critical for the lack of evidence Edward loved Elinor. I realized perhaps during this period any kind of romantic gesture would be considered ridiculously offensive. I can now see that Edward demonstrated his love in two more subtle ways: (1) with his presence by visiting the Dashwoods; and (2) his silence. Almost in the same way Elinor kept him locked away in her heart, Edward never said anything about her to anyone and by doing so protected her honour from his malicious family when their suspicions of an attachment first arises and she is never dragged into the fallout over his engagement with Lucy. Now that’s romantic.
Elinor and Marianne not only survive all of the trying circumstances thrown their way, but come out on top. Nothing can come between the Dashwood family. Not selfish relatives, nor scoundrels, nor scheming maidens. Not poverty nor lack of social status. They never waver in their love and desire for each other’s happiness. While everyone else is obsessed with wealth and material possessions, the Dashwood sisters are not in the least bit interested in those values. It is their fortitude and modesty that we admire and that is so greatly different from other characters in the book. We share Elinor and Marianne’s hopes and dreams, and unshakeable belief in finding a love that is right for them. And I can’t think anything more romantic than that!
In conclusion, I understand the criticism that nothing much happens in Sense and Sensibility. I confess that sometimes I skimmed paragraphs in my anxiousness to find out what happens, but worried if I didn’t slow down and patiently make my way through the wordiness, I might miss something wonderful. And wonderful things do happen in Sense and Sensibility if you give it a chance. It’s funny, charming and romantic in unexpected ways. Just keep in mind the action isn’t taking place in the situation, but emotionally in the inner world of the characters, and that’s what makes Austen such a masterful writer.
What did you read for Austen in August?