Thursday, June 23, 2016

classics catch-up: sense & sensibility.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am starting to catch up on some classics that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. And, let me tell you, there are a lot of them I've missed. It's the curse of the incurable re-reader with a short attention span...

Anywho. I figure I'll start alternating my new/newer reads with these classics. So, first up on the Classics Catch-Up list: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

I guess I kind of figured I'd start off small. I'm a huge Pride & Prejudice fan (and re-reader), so it's not such a huge leap for me to tackle other Austen. I had heard that none of her other works compare to P&P, though, so I have always been a bit hesitant to give them a shot. But I went ahead and gave Sense and Sensibility a try.

The rundown: basically, it's a story about two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and the ups and downs they experience through disappointed love and some pretty dramatic shakeups. The themes seem to be that love never goes as smoothly as you expect and pretty often veers off the course it seems to be taking you along; and, also, this book makes the case for dealing with the dramas of life and love with reserve, calm, and a level head. Elinor is the level-headed, outwardly poised sister ("sense") and Marianne is the romantic one, an open book who feels everything large and loud ("sensibility").

Being a big Pride & Prejudice fan, I just can't help but frame my impressions of any other Austen book by comparison to P&P. I mean, you could compare just about any romantic comedy to Pride & Prejudice. It's kind of the basis on which they're all built, right?

As far as the side by side goes with S&S and P&P...there are a lot, lot, lot of familiar themes, situations, tropes, and characters. But yet the characters are different, and I think a bit more three dimensional, in Sense and Sensibility. I also think the arcs the characters follow as they grow and evolve throughout the story are more nuanced and realistic. That said, I think the overall story of Pride & Prejudice is better-written and a tighter narrative with a tidier flow.

My favorite thing about Sense and Sensibility was the characters. I know that you are pretty much intended to admire Elinor and see her as the no-nonsense, feet on the ground sort of girl who demands respect and preference, but I can't help but see her as stodgy and too worried with appearances. That said, she's still someone I can relate to. I can also relate quite a lot to Marianne, whose romantic, frank, intensely feeling personality is probably more similar to my own and also perhaps a more modern silhouette than Elinor's. Elinor and Marianne still don't hold a candle to Elizabeth Bennet, mind you, but I think Austen threw some of their better qualities into the mix when she was creating the definitely more captivating heroine of Pride & Prejudice.

So the Dashwood sisters were pretty good, but the side characters were a hoot. I loved Colonel Brandon, Mrs. Jennings, and Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, as well as Edward, to perhaps a lesser extent. Even the intentionally dislikable and antagonizing characters were good ones, most especially the more-than-meets-the-eye heartbreaker who shall remained unnamed for those who haven't read it. ;)

My main complaints are that the story has a lot of hurry-up-and-wait which feels a little clunky, and that the end (I won't spoil it) gets tied up a little sloppily. I would have gotten a lot more satisfaction from having the end less rushed and more elaborated on, rather than getting some quick explanations to sum up a couple of events that could have been a lot more emotionally rewarding had they been shown instead of just quickly told. It almost took some of the believability out of some of the ways things were tied up, to be honest. I think Austen worked that kink out to a T with Pride & Prejudice, because you get to that moment you'd been waiting for, and your heart can't help but pound in anticipation right along with Elizabeth's. The end of Sense and Sensibility is, much like Elinor, a little too tidy and businesslike.

I could go on and on, I really could, but to come down to it, I really do heart Jane Austen's writing voice, style, and characterizations, and I can be convinced to hang on to her plots and see them through to the end. Where the stories lack in modern relatability--no one has jobs, they all base their lives solely around who they're going to marry and how much money potential spouses possess, and they all just sit around or take walks and talk and do very little--they make up in Austen's snappy, witty, often tongue-in-cheek prose. If you're going to tackle classic lit, you can do much worse and much more boring than Jane Austen.

a little Jane Austen sketch I did awhile back

Yay, Sense and Sensibility! I'm definitely inspired to include much, much more Jane Austen on my to-read list after this gem. I truly enjoyed it, in spite of my criticisms, and couldn't put it down.

What is your favorite Jane Austen book? Which one should I tackle next?

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