Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review:
Sense and Sensibility by J. Austen

I’m fully at the mercy of my Jane Austen fixation now. It started with Persuasion, ramped up with Emma, and is continued by Sense and Sensibility. The latter has all the usual elements of a novel by Austen: a female protagonist; marriage at the end; some sort of impropriety by a character in the protagonist’s immediate social circle; prose which brings grown readers to their knees; and use of the nowadays-rare literary voice “free indirect speech.” Interestingly, I noticed some differences. Sense and Sensibility mentions the servants regularly throughout, unlike the other two novels. Also, it focuses on a pair of sisters, with one of them fulfilling the role of primary protagonist. There is a richness to their sisterhood, and it endears you to both of them, even when one holds a little less sense than the other. In contrast, I found myself under-whelmed by the male characters. The previous books had male characters that impressed, while one in Sense and Sensibility comes off as a bore at first. Another is far too charming, to the point of being suspicious. Both characters eventually show other layers. Still, I didn’t find myself rooting for any of them to end up with the protagonist on account of their personalities; only because of the female character’s own desire did I have allegiances. The protagonist Elinor Dashwood is thought by some scholars to be one of the first literary depictions of a female intellectual. Her consideration of social situations and her pleasure at playing with ideas seem to back this up. To borrow a line from Moreland Perkins’ Reshaping the Sexes in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is “a talented analyst of human conduct, character, and convention who is equally dedicated to concretely applied reason - although we imagine her functioning this way long before the phrase ‘an intellectual’ was put to its current use.” (Perkins, p.13) To put a personal spin on it, I found myself becoming attracted to Elinor mainly for the above reasons - in the previous two novels I was extraordinarily happy for the protagonists for their eventual fortunes, though I could not share in their husbands’ love. I was endeared towards the protagonists, most certainly, though I didn’t find myself jealous of an Austen character until Elinor was scooped up. I won’t tell you by whom - you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Enjoy!

Reviewed by Wendell 'Scutopus' Edwards