‘Sense and Sensibility’ follows the lives and loves of the Dashwood sisters: sensible, self-contained Elinor and passionate, emotional Marianne. After being pushed out of the family home by their conniving sister-in-law Fanny, they are forced to make a new life in Devon, where they meet such diverse characters as the dashing John Willoughby, the serious, honourable Colonel Brandon and the gossip-vulture Mrs Jennings. The plot was simple enough, but extremely entertaining; I find that every time I read a Jane Austen novel I enjoy and appreciate her witty writing style more. Her social observations are still very relevant and some of them are absolutely savage – take, for example, this remark about the sour Mrs Ferrars: ‘she was not a woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas’. I winced for the woman, despite her unpleasantness.
My favourite character was undoubtedly Elinor. I am sick of ‘feisty’ heroines with emotional diarrhoea, so it made a refreshing change to read about Elinor, who remained calm and strong while keeping her true feelings hidden inside. When Marianne was moping around in bed, Elinor got on with her life, always remaining friendly and civil no matter how she really felt. I liked her love interest Edward for a similar reason: he was an understated hero, shy and quiet, but arguably more likeable because of it. I was a bit disappointed with Marianne; despite being frequently named as an Austen ‘heroine’, she spent most of the book weeping and – selfishly, in my opinion – left Elinor to be the one who socialised and carried the conversations (however, there was a part of me that did admire the way she would just go off and read a book while there was company, without caring what anyone thought). The minor characters were amusing: I liked the long-suffering Mr Palmer, whose sardonic comments were consistently misinterpreted by his empty-headed wife as ‘very droll‘.
The only character who did not make an impression on me was the Dashwoods’ younger sister, Margaret: she hardly had any personality of her own and I couldn’t really see the point of her inclusion in the story. Another disappointment was that the ending, though lovely, felt slightly anticlimactic: Edward and Colonel Brandon’s proposals, for which I waited for the duration of the book, were not described in any detail. I just wanted more!
Overall, this is an absorbing and entertaining satire of 19th-century society, and a very deserving classic.