Saturday, March 8

Sense And Sensibility

This is the thread where I'll be posting notes as I read Sense And Sensibility. Here's the permanent address of this post:

As before, you can either bookmark it or subscribe to the post's RSS feed. If you'd like to read along and join the discussion, you'll find the reading schedule I'll be following in the first comment of this thread.


Johnny said...

Starting tomorrow--Sunday, March 9--we'll have to read five chapters a day, which should take about fifty minutes, if that. (The chapters seem pretty short.) It'll take about a week and a half to finish the book:

March 9: 1-5
March 10: 6-10
March 11: 11-15
March 12: 16-19
March 13: 20-22
March 14: 23-27
March 15: 28-32
March 16: 41-42
March 17: 33-36
March 18: 37-41
March 19: 42-45
March 20: 46-50

You can find a text at Project Gutenberg and at Wikisource:

Johnny said...

The beginnings of these books are always the worst: okay, there was an old man named Mr. Dashwood; he had a nephew named Mr. Dashwood, the nephew had a son named Mr. Dashwood and a wife named Mrs. Dashwood and some daughters; the son had a wife named Mrs. Dashwood and a son...

Johnny said...

Whoops! Disregard that earlier reading schedule, it's riddled with errors. This is better;
March 9:
March 10: 6-10
March 11: 11-15
March 12: 16-19
March 13: 20-22
March 14: 23-27
March 15: 28-32
March 16: 33-36
March 17: 37-41
March 18: 42-45
March 19: 46-50

Johnny said...

"A man of five and thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment... [...] A woman of seven and twenty can never hope to feel or inspire affection again..."

This chapter is a pretty interesting discussion of age. Mrs. Dashwood--the mother of 19-year-old Elinor, 17-year-old Marianne, and a 13-year-old daughter who, though she lives with her mother and sisters and is presumably present for all the action, is yet to be named or described--tells us that she's forty.

Which is surprising, though it shouldn't be: this was a different time, and she didn't spend four years in college followed by a year in Europe and five years working in marketing before getting married at 28. She probably got married at 20 and gave birth to Elinor the next year.

This makes me re-examine the earlier books and what age I thought everyone was: in the Davies adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, the Bennets are played by two actors well into middle age. This seemed normal at the time, but wouldn't they have been much younger?

Let's see...the actors playing the father and mother were 58 and 49, respectively, in 1995. We'll assume that's the age of the characters, as well. Their eldest daughter is 22, so they would have had their FIRST child when Mrs. Bennet was 27. And the youngest, fifteen-year-old Lydia, was born at 36. This is uncommon even today, and I can't help but think that it would have been unheard of two hundred years ago.

(All the actors' ages were bumped up, though: Jane was played by a 30-year-old, and Elizabeth a 26-year-old. Interestingly, the actors playing younger daughters Lydia and Mary were actually both 27. Only Kitty was played by an age-appropriate actress.)

So if we assume Mrs. Bennet got married at 20 and had Jane the next year, she actually would have been only 43 at the time of the novel. Mr. Bennet could have been much older when he married her, but a great age discrepancy is never mentioned, so I'll assume he's only 47.


"But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him today?"

"[He] is just the kind of man, whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to."

Johnny said...

Well, I wasn't expecting this...The Cleve makes an appearance!

"I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? My love," applying to her husband, "don't you long to have the Miss Dashwoods come to Cleveland?"


Okay, I know this is stretching the joke a little thin, and is childish to boot, but:

"You cannot think what a sweet place Cleveland is; and we are so gay now!"

Jane Austen would not have been a fan of The Strokes:

"But perhaps you young ladies may not care about the beaux, and had as lief be without them as with them. For my part, I think they are vastly agreeable, provided they dress smart and behave civil. But I can't bear to see them dirty and nasty."

"Marianne never had much toleration for any thing like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference of taste from herself..."


I find these lines, which end Volume 1, to be quite charming:

"After sitting with them a few minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor was then at liberty to think and be wretched."

Johnny said...

I'm still reading the book, I just don't have a lot to say. The novel is solid, and possibly the prototype of the sort of gentile rut Austen might have fallen into if she had lived longer: Two poor sisters! Three rich suitors! And so on.

I'm enjoying it, there's just not a ton to say about it. This chapter finds Austen slumming it a bit more than usual, as Colonel Brandon finds his long-lost lover in a poorhouse, rescues her daughter, then finds that the daughter has gotten involved with a scoundrel, leading to a duel! I know, I was totally excited, too.

Johnny said...

The book's central romance, if you can call it that, is between Edward Ferrars and Elinor, yet Austen does a curiously bad job of making Edward attractive. He's shy and awkward, and he's also idle, interested in neither the law nor the church.

He wouldn't necessarily be a bad match for Elinor, who's a character along the lines of Fanny Price, except that she's a long-suffering prig instead of a hyperventilating prig. What makes him a curious candidate for our sympathy is what a puss he is:

He becomes engaged to Elinor while engaged to Miss Steele, an engagement that's lasted almost a decade. Why so long? Because he's afraid to tell HIS MOM about it.

He's not really that into Miss Steele, and he frankly doesn't seem that into Elinor. What few appearances he has he spends fluttering about in a state of nervous agitation. He's not even really in the book that much.

In another Austen novel, he'd be a cad at best, a villain at worst. But here he's the object of Elinor's affection and (spoiler) her eventual husband.

I'm curious how the movie tonight handles this.

Johnny said...

Rowr! Hiss hiss!

"Nothing was wanting on Mrs. Palmer's side that constant and friendly good humour could do, to make them feel themselves welcome. The openness and heartiness of her manner more than atoned for that want of recollection and elegance which made her often deficient in the forms of politeness; her kindness, recommended by so pretty a face, was engaging; her folly, though evident was not disgusting, because it was not conceited; and Elinor could have forgiven every thing but her laugh."

I know this isn't a very insightful comment, but this chapter ends on a pretty kickass, and uncharacteristic, cliffhanger.

Johnny said...

A character speaks of having his "nuncheon," which of course seems to be an archaic word for "lunch," but the etymology is actually quite interesting:

Something really remarkable happens in this chapter: A man-servant is named (Thomas) and has bit of dialogue, relating a friendly conversation he had with Mr. Ferrar and Miss Steele. After five books, I can't remember a single line actually uttered by a servant in any of them, nor the implication that any of the characters were on a casual speaking basis with any servant.

"[Mama's boy Edward Ferrar] rose from his seat, and walked to the window, apparently from not knowing what to do; took up a pair of scissors that lay there, and while spoiling both them and their sheath by cutting the latter to pieces as he spoke..."


Here is how Ferrars' engagement to Elinorn, the entire point of the last 48 chapters, is described by Austen: "[I]n what manner he expressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularly told."

Really, Jane Austen? I thought that's why we were reading this book...

Done. All in all, an enjoyable book, probably the most consistent of the Austen books, not as brilliant as Pride And Prejudice, as revelatory as Northanger Abbey, nor as well-constructed as Emma, but also not as minor as Persuasion, nor as insipid as Mansfield Park.

Again, I can't help but feel that if Austen had lived, this is what all of her latter books would have been like: poor spinsters stumbling into rich marriages, again and again and again.