Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rereading Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Last year I decided I wanted to read, or reread, all of Jane Austen's novels. I knew it would be a massive undertaking but I wanted to do it. You can read all about that in my post about the reread-a-long here. January flew by and I thought, "That's ok, I have all of February to read the first book." Well, February seemed to disappear too and before I knew it it was the 22nd and I still hadn't picked up Sense and Sensibility. Uh oh! I got it done though, in four days, and finally have my thoughts to share with you all!

The one thing I knew going into this challenge was that these books were not going to be easy to read. They were going to take away time that could be devoted to other review books and they would take me awhile to get through. Don't get me wrong, I still love Austen but the way she writes is much different than today's authors. Mostly it's a language thing. Of course books from the 1800s would be written differently than a book in the 2000s. So, sometimes there was a bit of translation, shall we say, that needed to be done before it could totally make sense in my head.

Once you get past the language, though, there's also the way the story is told. People may think Austen is a romantic but there's not really a lot of romance in her stories. In fact, in Sense and Sensibility, we don't even get to read about the actual engagement between (er...spoiler alert) Edward and Elinor. He came to the cottage with the mind to propose and this is how Austen shares it with us:
"How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however, how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told. This only need be said; - that when they all sat down to table at four o'clock, about three hours after his arrival, he had secured his lady, engaged her mother's consent, and was not only in the rapturous profession of a lover, but in the reality of reason and truth, one of the happiest of men."
- page 348
There is a sweetness there, knowing that Edward is "one of the happiest of men" but would any author writing a similar story (think women's fiction) get away with not writing the actual engagement of her main characters? Interesting to note how things have changed and how Austen approaches these romantic matters.

One of the other things I knew I'd have to deal with during this challenge is separating the original novel from all other adaptations and retellings. When I was reading this book I couldn't get the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie out of my head. Elinor was Emma Thompson, Edward was Hugh Grant, Marianne was Kate Winslet, Colonel Brandon was Alan Rickman, and Mr. Palmer was Hugh Laurie. I'll write a post (or two) about adaptations later on in the year (especially since I found my fourth year film essay that talked all about Austen adaptations) but I had to briefly touch on it in this post because the movie was all I could think about when reading this book. And that kind of frustrated me. Is that silly? I've seen the movie more than I've read the book so I suppose it makes sense but as a book lover I would rather have the books at the front of my mind when I'm rereading. Final note about the adaptation aspect: I couldn't get over the age difference between the characters in the book versus the actors' ages in the movie. I know why it had to be done but there were some massive gaps. For example, Mrs. Jennings is assumed to be about 50 (if that). The actress who played her, the late Elizabeth Spriggs, was 68 when the movie was released.

The cover of my edition.
So what did I actually think about the story this time around? Well...I didn't adore it, which I had a feeling would happen. I wasn't in love with Elinor or Marianne so their stories were not as interesting as, say, the Bennet's. I did like reading about how Elinor had to be the responsible one in the family after their father passed away. That sounds sort of odd, doesn't it? I didn't like that she had to look after every little thing but it was interesting to see how she dealt with the issues as an unmarried woman in the 1800s. Marianne was much too flighty and emotional for my taste (she would translate well to a contemporary YA novel, I think!) but I found myself hurting when she was (curse you, Willoughby!) and wished the pages would somehow change and she'd realize earlier on that Brandon was the man for her.

Fun fact: had my bunny been a boy I would have named her Willoughby, I think! But, she is a girl and I named her Tonks instead :)

I probably haven't added much to your overall opinion or knowledge of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility but I wanted to keep you all updated on my challenge progress. So far it's been a good experiment and I'm really looking forward to next month's reread, Pride and Prejudice. This is the Austen novel that a lot of people say is their favourite, myself included, but I'm interested to see if my reread holds up against the story I have in my head (thanks to those movie adaptations). I also wonder if Persuasion, will take over as favourite by the end of the year! Stay tuned for my next challenge "review" in April. I'll also likely have another fun Austen post later this month.

Happy reading :)

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