I’ve been meaning to write about Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen for a couple of weeks now but am only just managing it. This was a reread for me. The first time I read the book was in a Jane Austen seminar in college. I must say at the time I didn’t much like the book. I don’t remember why, only that when I came to reread it I had hopes that I would like it better than the first time around. And I did like it quite a lot.
What I enjoyed most, and probably missed the first go round, was how much humor there is in this book. I found myself chuckling not infrequently over one-off lines and the general naivete of Marianne. Her first assessment of Colonel Brandon cracked me up. Marianne is seventeen and the Colonel is thirty-five and Marianne thinks that he is so very old that he nearly has one foot in the grave. I suppose when I was seventeen I thought thirty-five was old too, so I can cut Marianne some slack. But the way she goes on about it and then condescends to say that “she was perfectly disposed to make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required.” Such generosity of spirit!
While I do not share Marianne’s sensibility, I do love the fact that she is a reader:
Marianne, who had the knack for finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family in general, soon procured herself a book.
And in typical Marianne fashion, after everything that has happened, she decides to embark on a course of serious study that involves reading six hours a day. Can you imagine having the leisure to read six hours a day? Heavenly!
There is one line in the book I highlighted that strikes me as I read back over all my marks:
She was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself.
What a gem of wisdom. One needs self-command before one can have any kind of power. And if you lose that self-command, well we only need to read the news headlines of politicians who seem to have trouble keeping their pants zipped to know what will happen. But even on an average Joe daily basis, those with self-command generally have more respect than those who are lacking in it. As far as the book goes, Marianne pretty much missed that boat and Elinor went back for seconds. Because Elinor shows that it is possible to be too buttoned up.
But in setting up the dichotomy between sense and sensibility, Austen doesn’t seem to be saying we need to find a happy medium because neither Elinor nor Marianne achieve anything in the middle. At the end they are both still the same only they have, perhaps, learned to not go to such extremes. Elinor is still buttoned up but is not quite as stiff upper lip as she was. And Marianne is still emotional but doesn’t wallow in it quite as much as she used to. So instead of a happy middle ground, we have a slight moderation of extremes.
I seem to be on a roll, rereading an Austen every year for the last three years now. First it was Pride and Prejudice, last year is was Mansfield Park and now this year Sense and Sensibility. I’m already thinking that next year it just might be time to reread Persuasion.