Category Archives: Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility – Finis

After finishing Sense & Sensibility, I’m not sure that I’m really happy with the ending here.  I never fell in love with a character, nor did I find myself really despising one either.  I find myself (usually quite opinionated and passionate) quite hum-drum with the novel.  Maybe all the talk of money and the focus of financial security really took some of the emotion out of the novel for me, but I find that I’m not really bent out of shape one way or the other about these characters.

  • Elinor  – She clearly deserved better than to be a second choice to Edward.  I know Austen painted it so that his love for Lucy had “obviously” faded and that only his honor had bound him to her.  I get that, but I can’t help but think that Elinor deserved someone much more like Colonel Brandon. She was steadfast and loyal to those she loved.  That should have earned her more than to be a consolation prize to Edward behind the vulgar and tawdry Lucy Steele or the heiress, whatever her name was….
  • Colonel Brandon – I am in love with Colonel Brandon myself, and I just can’t make myself happy with his marriage to the 19 year old Marianne, even if she did do some “hard living” in the years from 17 to 19.  He and Elinor seem a much better fit than he and Marianne.  Although, a the ripe old age of 35, maybe he needed to get a young woman to keep him kicking.
  • Edward – Eehhh, I’m just not very interested in him.  Maybe it took me too long to really get into the novel, or maybe my lack on interest stems from my personal distaste for people who are are wavering and flighty.  Maybe he just strikes me a little too “feminine” in his penchant for changing his mind.
  • Marianne – I’m not really buying her miraculous transformation.  She had many of the same lessons that Emma learned, but Marianne’s redemption doesn’t feel as hard won.  She really reminds me of Tom Burtram in Mansfield Park– the only thing they really did to redeem themselves was survive a deadly illness.  I guess that can be added to getting married and dying as a way to forgive all of one’s sins.
  • Willoughby – got what he wished for, but he’s really too shallow for it to matter very much.  I am disturbed that Austen didn’t make a bigger deal about Col. Brandon’s granddaughter… Did Austen drop the ball here, or would it have been impossible for us to have any forgiveness for Willoughby with that sin front and center ?  Austen does have Elinor remind us of it when she says that she thinks that’s where all of Willoughby’s problems started.  I would like to know the entire story with that one.  I wonder how Marianne will react to that little wrinkle in their domestic peace?
  • Mrs. Jennings – love her by the end – hated her in the beginning.  Her loyalty really won me over, though.

Some of the same these appeared in S&S…

  • city/country
  • the haves/havenots
  • the clergy
  • rebelliousness of youth
  • love within a family connection – not just random attachments

All in all, S&S left me a little cold, especially after Emma. 

 

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Sense and Sensibility – Part II

Marianne’s growth continues…

Marianne’s ideas of love are quite childish in their intensity and devotion.  Even though the destruction of many of those ideals is necessary for survival in an adult world, their loss is saddening.

It’s like when a child discovers that the things of childhood which held his/her unquestioning faith are not real – there is something tragic in the moment that a child learns the truth behind Santa, and invariably, the adults around him suffer along with him.

Colonel Brandon does a beautiful job discussing this when he and Elinor are speculating about Marianne’s absolute denial of the worth of a “second attachment.”  Colonel Brandon says, ” There is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.”

This really spoke to me because as we grow, we are forced out of the ideas that we held as absolutely sacred.  Youth perpetrates phrases like  “Well, I would never do ___________” and “I will always make sure I _________________.”   Trust me when I say that everyone lives to eat their own words, and Marianne is no exception.

Marianne acquires her first adult dose of humility when Willoughby turns out to be other than what she believed.  All of her self-assured talk comes to mean very little in the face of her disappointment.  Her heartbreak is tangible to the reader, and I found myself truly feeling sorry for her as the tragedy unfolded (although, I did see it coming) .  My adulthood has taught me the same hard lesson that Marianne learns – if it seems too good to be true, it is.  This is one of the hardest lessons of growing up because once a person learns this nearly universal truth, it isn’t a very far leap to cynicism.  I’m interested to see how Marianne responds to Willoughby’s betrayal.   Will she “take her lumps” and be better for the wisdom and perspective gained or will she take the other route and become cynical and bitter?  We all know people who followed one path or the other; however, knowing what I do about Austen so far, I can’t imagine anything other than the perfect “happily ever after” ending for Marianne.  I know it’s what I’m hoping for anyway. 😉  (I am a little concerned, though, because I don’t see a “family member” suitable for Marianne – I’m interested to see how that works itself out).

One more thing that I would like to point out is that, once again, the city seems to be “bad news.”  Everything about London has potential for disaster.  The Misses Steele are from London and bring with them all sorts of problems and miseries for the Misses Dashwood, particularly Elinor with the news of Edward’s unfortunate engagement to Lucy Steele.  I haven’t made it all the way through Elinore and Marianne’s visit with the wonderfully oblivious Mrs. Jennings, about whom my opinions may be changing.

I’m really seeing her in a little better light.  At first, I thought she was a mindless gossip with cruel intentions towards those about whom she spread rumors, lies, and assumptions.  However, I am beginning to see her a little differently.  Her reactions to Willoughby’s betrayal have earned her a little favor in my eyes.  She has been very respectful of Marianne’s heartache in not mentioning it directly in her presence, the effort of which must have been extreme for such a committed old gossip.  I also like her loyalty to Marianne and her willingness to cut Willoughby whenever she gets the opportunity – the threat of which hardly amounts to much, but its the thought that counts.

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Sense and Sensibility – Bildungsroman

While there is a lot going on in Sense and Sensibility, I find myself really drawn to the idea that this novel is about Marianne and her being forced out of her youth by life’s experiences.  Whether Sense and Sensibility can be classified as a Bildungsroman remains to be seen.

Maybe this theme really stands out to me because I spent so many years watching high school seniors transform throughout their final year in high school.  Marianne points out that her thoughts on love (that she would never find the perfect man) when she was sixteen and a half have all changed now that she is seventeen.  While her motivation for rethinking the “perfect man” scenario might be foolish, the idea that a young person’s world can change in six months is very real.  I am reminded of a poem by A.E. Houseman:

When I Was One and Twenty (from Bartleby.com)

WHEN I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Houseman’s poem highlights the idea that an individual’s maturity is not a product of time, but rather experience. The passage of six months or a year is minimal in terms of time, but events that take place in any time period can be monumental in terms of growth.   I am only about a third of the way through and have avoided all summaries and commentary, but my best guess is that by the time Marianne is eighteen, her idea of the “perfect man” and her ideas of love and devotion will have taken a drastic turn.  This raises the question of Elinor – is she destined to suffer the same maturing forces that her sister will face?  I don’t think so.  Marianne is different from Elinor because Marianne must touch the stove to know that it will burn her; whereas, Elinor is smart enough to watch someone else get burned and learn the lessons of life that way.  Does Elinor have some maturing ahead of her? Certainly, but the misery will be less for Elinor because of her practicality and ability to watch the mistakes of others. 

As always, this learning process is not easy.  My grandmother used to call it “personal growth” and it comes with its own special growing pains.  People learn best by their mistakes, and Emma is almost the poster child for this idea.  She grew by her mistakes, and by the end of the novel, became a character that even her harshest critics find much improved.  While Marianne doesn’t have quite the same type of “personal growth” ahead of her as Emma did, she still has much to learn about the way the world works, and I see disappointment in her future as her greatest teacher.

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