Book Review: Sense and Sensibility

If you’ve gotten tired of these book reviews, don’t worry: I’m reading Anna Karenina right now, and if you don’t know this already, it’s roughly forever-long. So it will be a while before I finish it.

Sense and Sensibility is the third Austen book I’ve read (the second one I’ve read this year). The other two were fantastic. This one, too, is a winner.

Jane Austen just can’t seem to lose.

The Book

Apparently, the title Sense and Sensibility refers to each of the Dashwood sisters–Elinor is sense, and Marianne is sensibility.

That doesn’t make sense unless you know what sensibility means.

Sensibility: the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences; sensitivity.

Basically, Elinor is wise and Marianne has feelings. Elinor also has feelings, but she knows how to control them. Marianne does not.

That’s pretty much the whole book.

Elinor Dashwood

Austen does something very smart and effective, which is to cast her heroines into a sea of stupid, ridiculous, or malevolent secondary characters. This makes for excellent comic relief and likable protagonists.

In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is the protagonist, and she has an impeccable character–she’s smart, funny, strong, and kind.

Everyone else is stupid.

Therefore, we like Elinor.

Even without the contrast of the others, Elinor’s character shines through. She’s practically perfect. And I mean that literally. I can’t think of one aspect of her personality that I don’t like; I can’t think of one action she makes that I don’t approve of; I can’t think of one thing she says that disappoints me.

She isn’t as charismatic as Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse, perhaps, but I don’t mind that. I almost like her better for it.

Marianne Dashwood

Marianne is that character who makes horrible decisions and says awful things and has few redeeming characteristics, but, for some reason, everyone loves her anyway.

Kind of like Bathsheba Everdene.

Sometimes she’s insufferable, other times she’s amusing, and sometimes (rarely) she can be sweet.

Her best quality is that she loves Elinor fiercely. There are a few moments when her affection for her sister makes her kind and admirable.

Most of the time, though, I just laughed at her.

The funny thing about Marianne is that Austen (though she might have affection for her) has no respect for her, which makes for amusing narration.

Whenever Marianne makes a bad decision (often), there’s bound to be some biting wit from the narrator.

Edward Ferrars

I have few emotions about this character. You don’t even really meet him until after Elinor has fallen in love with him.

He’s weak and socially awkward, he makes some critically bad decisions, and he’s weak.

I think Austen feels the same way about him that she feels about Marianne. There’s some snickering at Edward going on in the narration, but you can tell she really likes him. Personally, I don’t understand why.

I think Elinor could do better.

Colonel Brandon

This is why I think she could do better.

Colonel Brandon is the Mr. Knightly of this situation. Like Mr. Knightly, his primary flaw is that he’s old.

He’s thirty-five, and Marianne is seventeen.

I know it was a different time and all, but that’s weird.

What’s even weirder, though, is that an intelligent guy like him somehow manages to fall in love with Marianne (who has no sense and severely dislikes him) in the very presence of Elinor (who is perfect and gets along with him really well).

Besides that non sequitur, everything about Colonel Brandon’s character is admirable.

George Wickham John Willoughby

Enter the epitome of Marianne’s poor judgement.

Lucy Steele

If you’ve watched the movie and think you know who this is, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong.

I’ve watched two film adaptations of this book: the 1995 movie and the 2008 series. (The series is awful, by the way–if you feel like laughing at something that was poorly made, watch it.)

Neither of these do justice to the insidiousness that is Lucy Steele.

Boy, do I hate her.

She’s been secretly engaged to Edward for four years, right? Then Edward starts talking about Elinor. Suddenly, being in a relationship Edward is less important to Lucy than making sure that Elinor knows that she’s in a relationship with Edward.

She’s a manipulative, conniving shrew, and I can’t stand her.

The Supporting Cast

Lucy should really be in this section, but I had more to say about her than I could fit here. That being said, there are plenty of other characters worth mentioning.

Mrs. Dashwood, the affectionate mother, is basically another Marianne.

Margaret Dashwood is the sister Jane Austen forgot about.

John Dashwood is the weak, comical step-brother of the Dashwoods.

Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, would be the worst if not for Lucy Steele. (The only reason she’s more palatable than Lucy is because she’s awful all the way through–Lucy is a little two-faced ferret.)

Sir John Middleton is a barrel of uncouth fun.

His wife brings nothing to the book.

His wife’s sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, are more entertaining.

His wife’s mother, Mrs. Jennings, is very entertaining.

Sense and Sensibility is a delight. If you feel like laughing, go read it. If you don’t feel like laughing, you’re a psychopath.

Therefore, if you don’t read it, you’re a psychopath.

That, dear reader, is what we call “flawless logic.”

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