Sense & Sensibility
By Jane Austen
The Modern Library
I thought I would start off with an old favorite — Sense & Sensibility.
Jane Austen wrote two of my favorite books — Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. Each time I re-read them, (yes, I am a serial re-reader) I am overcome by the amount of emotion she can fit on a page. Sense & Sensibility ranks right up there for me with the best of the tearjerkers.
Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are incredibly close sisters but could not be more different. Elinor is strong and reserved, Marianne is emotional and prone to outbursts on any opinion she might have. They are opposites in many ways with the exception of their love lives which can be described as nothing more than shambles. Elinor is in love with Edward and she feels, and her family is assured, that she will someday be his wife. Marianne falls for a man named Willoughby . He is dashing, daring, and falls amicably in love with Marianne soon after their first ill-fated meeting. Her happiness is not meant to last and, after leading her on, he leaves her with no warning.
When an opportunity arises for the sisters to be in London, Marianne readily agrees much against the more strident arguments of Elinor to stay at the cottage with their mother. It is in London that Willoughby is sited and Marianne’s hopes rise only to be completely dashed when it is rumored that he is to marry someone very rich, something Marianne is not and has no hope to ever be. The death of their father and the miserly ways of their half brother, John, have left the Dashwood women rather less endowed.
While in London, Marianne goes into a stupor on finding out about Willoughby and Elinor does her best to care for her. Unbeknownst to Marianne, Elinor is experiencing much the same torment — she has heard from an acquaintance, Lucy Steele, that Edward is engaged. In fact, he is engaged to Lucy and Elinor is forced to listen to her drivel about their difficulties in not being able to express their love openly and to marry. Elinor is strong under the strain but somehow, while reading, you just wish she would sit and give in to her emotion but she doesn’t. That is the beauty in reading Austen, she pulls at the heartstrings but her characters can take it.
An illness strands Elinor and Marianne on their way home but thanks to the help, and love, of a family friend, they are reunited with their mother and return home where each has time to recover from their love ordeals. After a few weeks, Elinor is surprised by Edward and an offer of marriage she had convinced herself was impossible and Marianne finds happiness in love in the place she least expected.
The one thing I adore about the Austen novels I have read are the characters and this book does not fall short. The Dashwoods’ sister-in-law, Mrs. John Dashwood (Fanny) is probably one of the most conniving and annoying characters in the book. Her cheap nature, mean spiritedness, and jealously for the sisters is appropriately aggravating. In one scene, she complains about having to give away the good china when she of all people is forcing the Dashwoods from their beloved home now that her husband has inherited it upon of the death of his father. She plays a very small part but is unforgettable for me and one character I cannot stand to come across. She is so conniving she is wonderful and makes you want to hate all sister-in-laws even if you love you own.
Why do I re-read this book over and over? Each time I find something new to love. I feel more and more each time for Marianne and the deep depression she falls into over losing Willoughby and what she thought, and was led to believe, would happen between them. Willoughby becomes more and more of a rascal, to use a proper Austen term, and so viciously cruel that Marianne’s torment becomes even greater. And dear Elinor, the strong sister who seems capable of running the world if given the chance with her calm and cool demeanor, to suffer so in silence almost to the end is just heart wrenching. When the happy ending arrives you almost want to celebrate and cry along with the characters.