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Discussion Thread: Sense and Sensibility

2015 Category Challenge

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Jun 15, 2015, 11:50am Top

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the discussion thread of Sense and Sensibility! This novel was the first of Austen's works to be published; how do you think it compares to the later Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park? Which heroine did you like more, Elinor or Marianne? And just what did you think of Willoughby in the end -- was he completely contemptible, or did he redeem himself somewhat? Sound off below, and remember that spoilers are both allowed and encouraged! :)

Jun 15, 2015, 2:46pm Top

Good opening questions, Christina.

I reread Sense and Sensibility last year for the tutored read that was going on somewhere here at LT, so I didn't reread it for this round. I will participate in the conversation though. Here are the comments I wrote at the time:

"When I first read Sense and Sensibility back in 2009, I was already well-acquainted with the story, having seen the Emma Thompson film several times. I was also distracted by other things at the time, and so don't think I did the book justice. On this reread, I paid much closer attention, in part by reading the annotated versions, and also by following a tutored read here at LT.

Now that I've closely examined Sense and Sensibility, I see that it pales in comparison to Pride and Prejudice (and Mansfield Park). This was Jane Austen's first novel, and it shows. I found the text bloated and conversations overly drawn out and over described. None of the main characters was particularly interesting. That said, a weak Austen is still better than most other books out there. Some of the writing was lovely. There were some great minor characters--Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele, of course, but the odious John Dashwood and big-hearted Mrs Jennings also caught my fancy. And of course there is Austen's wicked wit and social commentary. "

To answer your questions:

how do you think it compares to the later Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park? Doesn't hold a candle to P&P, and I still think MP is technically a much more sophisticated --and ultimately a stronger -- novel.

Which heroine did you like more, Elinor or Marianne? Are we even supposed to like Marianne? I mean, when I first met her, played by Kate Winslet, I liked her because I thought she was one of the heroines of the story, and Elinor liked her, so shouldn't I too? But the more I watched her, the less I found likeable about her. I have empathy for her, but I wish she get a grip. Kate Winslet's version is actually easier for me to like than the Marianne in the book.

And just what did you think of Willoughby in the end -- was he completely contemptible, or did he redeem himself somewhat? Willoughby is a cad--he's even worse than Wickham.

He's swoon-worthy though . . . .

Jun 15, 2015, 4:18pm Top

I reread this most recently at the end of last year in the beautiful Harvard Press edition annotated by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Here is part of my review.

"Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Austen novel. For me, it suffers from weak male characters who I don't really see as great matches for either heroine, though I suppose that was the point. But it leads to interesting thoughts about character and balance in personality and, as all her novels do, gives a lot of insight into the options available to women in Austen's class living in the early 1800s. Money, or the lack thereof, is pervasive in this book which also brings it down to earth a little more than some of the other novels. There isn't the fairy tale ending of finding both love and money as in Pride and Prejudice."

I'll have more comments later, but now my little kids are beckoning . . .

Jun 15, 2015, 8:21pm Top

Ok, I'm back to finish my initial thoughts.

how do you think it compares to the later Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park?
I rank it far below P&P, but a little above Mansfield Park. I generally group Austen in my favorites (P&P, Emma, and Persuasion) and my less favorites (S&S, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park). Reading the annotated version of S&S helped me appreciate it more than before because I realized that it is supposed to have a sort of dark element revolving around the need for money and security. That helped me not try to view it as a love story which improved my opinion a bit because the love interests here are very unsatisfying. Both Col. Brandon and Edward are pretty lame to me.

Which heroine did you like more, Elinor or Marianne?
I also don't like Marianne at all but I'm not a huge Elinor fan either. Another problem with the book for me!

And just what did you think of Willoughby in the end -- was he completely contemptible, or did he redeem himself somewhat?
Completely contemptible.

Edited: Jun 16, 2015, 2:20pm Top

>2 Nickelini: True, it's definitely not as polished as P&P or MP. But there's still a lot to enjoy! As you point out, a weak Austen is still a strong book! :) I love the secondary characters, particularly the delightfully mercenary Fanny Dashwood -- her convincing her husband not to give the Dashwoods any money (in Chapter 2) is one of my all-time favorite Austen passages.

>4 japaul22: Hmm, I agree with you about the unsatisfying love interests. I think it's because we really don't see very much of Edward and Elinor or Marianne and Col. Brandon together. Edward and Elinor basically fall in love off-page very early in the novel, and Marianne falls in love with Col. Brandon off-page very late in the novel. :) So we don't really get to see their feelings gradually grow and develop; it's all told through quick narrative summaries.

I'm another one who isn't a huge fan of Marianne. But she does seem like a very realistic 16-year-old girl to me! She's impulsive, feels all her emotions very intensely, and doesn't think about the consequences of her actions. Not to generalize, but this all seems like recognizable teenage behavior. :) And I actually do admire her in some ways…she's brave enough to go after what she wants, and she doesn't hold back out of fear. Elinor is certainly more practical, but I can't help wishing sometimes that she would tell Lucy Steele where to go!

Jun 16, 2015, 2:27pm Top

>5 christina_reads: You remind me that I tend to forget that Marianne is 16. She's not so bad in that light.

Jun 16, 2015, 2:28pm Top

>6 Nickelini: But it does make the romance with Col. Brandon slightly ickier, as he is in his mid-to-late 30s. But then, I guess that wasn't so unusual for the time? I seem to remember similar age disparities in Georgette Heyer's novels.

Jun 16, 2015, 2:34pm Top

Yes, that too. Although I think that's our era's issue and not JA's.

Edited: Jun 18, 2015, 11:40am Top

>5 christina_reads: Good point about the main characters falling in love "off the page". I was surprised at this reading, though, just how lame I thought Edward was. He's just so mopey all the time, and I understand that he's trapped with Lucy, but I still think he's annoying. I didn't remember that from previous readings, I think because I've always been more turned off by Col Brandon and the age difference. spoiler from Emma coming But, even though it's way ickier, I don't mind Mr. Knightly and Emma together

ALso, good point about Marianne being 16.

Jun 18, 2015, 11:56am Top

>9 japaul22: Heehee, I LOVE Mr. Knightley! Ickiness be damned. :) Poor Edward…he is kind of a drip, isn't he? Although at least he makes a couple of jokes, as when he teases Marianne by saying "I guess that Mr. Willoughby hunts." I do have some sympathy for him, too, because the rest of his family is utterly horrible. No wonder he got engaged to Lucy so early; he'd do anything to escape them!

Jun 18, 2015, 12:00pm Top

Also, how about some Texts from Sense and Sensibility? The last one really supports those of you (us? I'm still not sure where I stand) who find Willoughby an irredeemable cad.

Jun 19, 2015, 6:45am Top

What do you think about the fact that Marianne is supposed to Colonel Brandon’s ‘reward’? Doesn’t it seem that Elinor and Mrs Dashwood are firmly convinced about it? Just like they don’t seem to accept any doubts that it will be a happy marriage because Marianne will learn to appreciate and love the colonel.

Even permitting cultural differences given that it was another era, it seems a bit forced to me. This ending brought a grain of disappointment – I might rather have liked to see her dedicate herself to studies or fall in love again… what about you?

Jun 19, 2015, 11:54am Top

>12 librivendola: - When you put it that way . . . eeewww.

I find a lot of things about Marianne to be troubling. Perhaps one of the reasons S&S is near the bottom of my Jane Austen ranking. I think dedicating her life to her interests (not sure studies is the right term, but I understand what you're getting at) would have been a more satisfying ending for me, but that might be my 21st century view point.

Jun 19, 2015, 12:11pm Top

I can take this different ways, but one way could be Austen at her darkest. Marianne gains "sense" by the end and sees that giving up a marriage to a wealthy man who is kind to her wouldn't be sensible, but she loses the essence of who she was. Was Austen thinking this was the correct and practical move, or commenting that women in this era and monetary situation felt compelled to lose themselves in order to gain some financial stability?

Not every character can be a Lizzie Bennett and get both love and wealth.

>12 librivendola: I would like that ending - her staying single longer to gain a grip on her own personality and interests and possibly falling in love again at a later date - but, again, I'm not sure that it was a practical enough ending for the point that Austen was making, that money must be a part of marriage choices. Marianne needed a stable home "now".

Jun 19, 2015, 1:13pm Top

Marianne's marriage to Brandon never troubled me because I never felt her love for Willoughby was all that real anyway--I always got the feeling she was more in love with love and the romantic idea of falling in love with the guy who rescued her after she wrenched her ankle than she was with the actual man. And again, women had very few choices at the time--either marry, or molder away as a poor relation.

Jun 21, 2015, 1:28pm Top

Unless this ending is not actually happy as would appear at first glance and as it seems the author would have us believe, but instead a sort of denunciation. I don't know if this interpretation of mine can be substantiated further, but I'd like to believe so. I'll do some research.

Jun 21, 2015, 7:02pm Top

This is my first time reading this .... be kind. :-) I'm reading it along with Bitch in a Bonnet - (very short for this book) - and the tutored thread.

Jane Austen is beginning to grow on me.

Jun 23, 2015, 11:37am Top

In the past, I've felt that Marianne's marriage to Col. Brandon was forced and not very romantic. But I'm willing to believe that her feelings for him deepened after the marriage, and that she eventually did fall passionately in love with him. Obviously the ending doesn't have to be read this way, but it makes me feel better about the way things turned out. :)

I also think it makes sense thematically when you compare Marianne's destiny with Elinor's. Throughout the novel, Elinor is the sensible sister who values practicality over romance, but she's the one who ends up with the obvious love match. On the other hand, Marianne values passion above all else, but she's the one who ends up with a wealthy man she only likes and respects.

Jun 25, 2015, 4:12pm Top

I've been thinking some more about Col. Brandon, and it's funny -- in a sense, he's probably the most "romantic" of all of Austen's heroes. He was a star-crossed lover! He fought a duel! His first love died tragically, and now he's finally learned to love again! But Austen magnificently underplays these events. Not only are they not the focus of the book, but they're only even mentioned in one conversation between Col. Brandon and Elinor. I feel like any other author would have structured the entire novel around Col. Brandon's heroic past, but Austen craftily subverts expectations! She does this in Emma too…Jane Fairfax is really more of a traditional heroine than Emma Woodhouse. She grows up as a poor relation, she is rescued from poverty by the eligible and charming Frank Churchill, she has to keep her engagement a secret…and yet these events all happen on the periphery of the novel!

Jun 25, 2015, 11:22pm Top

I'm really enjoying the comments in this thread. I just finished a reread of this book and liked it very much. I agree that it's weaker than Pride and Prejudice but it's still a wonderful novel all the same. I appreciate Austen's humour so much more now that I'm older. When I'd first read this novel as a teenager, the parody of the "obsessive mother" as seen in Lady Middleton, would have gone over my head. It's so much funnier now that I've experienced that stage myself. :)

I found it difficult to read this book without visualizing Ang Lee's film adaptation, which I've seen several times, in my head. I still can't see Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, though, but Alan Rickman is perfect as Colonel Brandon.

Jun 26, 2015, 12:34pm Top

Speaking of movie adaptations, which do you all prefer -- the Ang Lee movie with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, or the 2008 Andrew Davies version? I like them both, but I think I prefer the Ang Lee version. Hugh Grant may not be the *best* Edward, but I really can't wrap my head around Dan Stevens in the role! (No offense to him, of course -- love him as Matthew Crawley!)

Jun 26, 2015, 1:31pm Top

>21 christina_reads: -- I saw the Emma Thompson version many times before I even read the book, so that's really S&S in my mind. I liked the 2008 too, but I've only seen it once. I liked Dan Stevens as Edward. The problem with Hugh Grant is that he pretty much can only act one character--that stuttering floppy haired charming but brotherish guy. To me he just seemed like all his other character roles wearing a costume. And the ages were soooooo off. That said, I still love that version, despite all its faults.

Jun 26, 2015, 2:31pm Top

I watch the BBC versions. 1995. Unfortunately I'm discovering that it is a lot less close to the original than P&P.

Jun 26, 2015, 5:41pm Top

I have to cast my vote for David Morrissey as Col. Brandon!

In the Emma Thompson version I really love the Palmers, played by Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton. "I wish this rain would stop." "I wish YOU would stop."

Jun 27, 2015, 9:27am Top

I've not seen the 2008 S&S yet. I'll have to put this on my to-watch list!

Jun 27, 2015, 5:30pm Top

>24 rabbitprincess: Haha, why am I not surprised? ;) I quite liked both Alan Rickman and David Morrissey as Col. Brandon. Although anytime I see Alan Rickman in anything now, I can't get Snape out of my head. And yes, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer is genius! Loved every word that came out of his mouth. :)

Jun 27, 2015, 9:47pm Top

>26 christina_reads: Ha, I can understand that! Alan Rickman was very good as Brandon, too. They both brought in different elements that worked well.

I saw the Emma Thompson version after starting to watch "House", so I imagined Mr Palmer to be House's grumpy distant ancestor ;)

Edited: Jun 27, 2015, 9:51pm Top

Getting back to the book, I wonder why there are three sisters if the youngest, Margaret, gets so little to do. Elinor and Marianne of course are foils for each other, but what of Margaret? She gets a little bit more airplay in the various adaptations (I like the Emma Thompson version of Margaret best), but in print it's very easy to miss her.

Jun 27, 2015, 10:12pm Top

>28 rabbitprincess: I wonder if she isn't a bit of a plot device to help explain why Mrs. Dashwood wasn't maybe paying as close attention as she otherwise might have to what was going on with her two older daughters...?

Jun 27, 2015, 10:30pm Top

I read Joanna Trollope's Sense & Sensibility since I've read the original several times. Margaret has a much larger role in the retelling. I thought that was an interesting. Also, Brandon's attraction to Marianne was even more inexplicable in the modern version, as was her mother's encouragement/approval (post-Willoughby, of course).

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