Ah, the first of the authors of which I have several books in this apartment… sometimes a trial. Not so with Jane Austen, mostly, as I always enjoy re-reading her (with perhaps the exception of Mansfield Park–but more on that later in the week.)
Sense & Sensibility is also, perhaps surprisingly, not one of my favorites. It’s Austen’s first published work, and you can tell–there’s a certain amount of clumsiness, of telegraphing even, that is not present in her later novels. The book centers on two heroines, also unusual for Austen (she generally focuses on one afterward), and you can clearly tell what sort of archetype each is supposed to represent: Marianne wild Romanticism; Elinor a more staid Enlightenment-era rationalism. The novel concerns their disappointments and good fortunes in life and love, from the time their father dies and they are turned out of their home by their half-brother, to Marianne’s fateful meeting with Willoughby, the Regency rake of the novel, to Elinor’s frustrated and protracted love affair with Edward Ferrars, her brother-in-law.
Jane Austen’s sense of vicious comedy is often undervalued; one of the things I love about her books is that they so often make me laugh out loud. Sense & Sensibility is no different, as she provides a reader with a number of hilarious supporting characters, from Elinor and Marianne’s awful sister-in-law with her monstrous sense of entitled selfishness, to the calculatingly vile Lucy Steele, to the vulgar but loving Mrs. Jennings, to the sardonic Mr. Palmer. All of them are employed to great effect, and you alternately giggle and cringe as they tramp across the pages. It isn’t only the comic creations, but Austen’s very sharp tongue that lacerates them (and our heroines) that makes the book so damn funny. Even here, in the early writings, her trademark dry wit is evident, turning a phrase that, for anyone else, would have been made in all sincerity into an eviscerating comment on a character’s actions.
Still, this is probably not among my favorites of her work… It’s enjoyable but I just don’t end up feeling quite so attached to Marianne, who is patently ridiculous, and Elinor, who though admirable, is so reserved and perfect in the polite and correctness of her responses that she almost doesn’t seem human sometimes. Worth re-reading every now and then, but not an every-year type of thing.
Also, quick note about the edition. I have been trying to collect the new Penguin clothbound classics whenever I can find them for reasonable prices, because they are absolutely gorgeous, but this was my first time actually reading one instead of just stashing it on my shelf like a hoarder. I approve! Not only are the colors lovely, but the pages are a nice weight and texture as well. The books feel really substantial when you’re reading them, it definitely adds to the reading experience. I just wish they would stop releasing so many series of them. I only have so much money!