Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Jane Austen Book Club Week Three: Sense and Sensibility

To quote Emily Blunt's character, Prudie, in the film of the same name, Sense and Sensibility is about "two sisters moving separately towards what they each believe to be the perfect love." Well. I can certainly relate to the two sisters moving separately part.

At the risk of sounding like a nerd here, allow me to suggest that Jane Austen does in Sense and Sensibility what D.H. Lawrence would do on the topic of sisterhood nearly a century later when he wrote Women in Love, which I studied this semester. There are, of course, several very important differences, such as, you know, the entire themes and points of the book not being at all the same. But both novels feature two very different sisters each working out what it is to be in a relationship with another person, and those departures very much represent the gap between Realism and Modernism, in a way.

One thing about the book that really struck me was the significance of the title. I discussed this with my group tonight (the group consisting of LP and DM, because lucky CH is in New Zealand!) I didn't quite understand what Sense and Sensibility were supposed to mean; certainly not in the same way that one understands what Pride and Prejudice mean instantly. But it appears to be all about context. Sense is rationality and responsibility and control, prudence etc. Therefore, Sense is Elinor. Elinor almost seems to be the minor character in the novel because she is so reserved. Her story is less told and therefore not as romantic. One is almost inclined to feel that it was less important to Jane Austen herself, and yet at the same time, Elinor is clearly more the protagonist than Marianne. We often see things about Marianne from Elinor's point of view, but that role is seldom reversed. This is much due to Elinor's feelings of responsibility towards her sister, which at time tend to be even maternal. That two sisters so opposite should get on so well astounds me. Marianne is the Sensibility of the book, meaning in this instance to experience everything fully... with all five sense, feeling all, and expressing all she feels. If she is sad, she weeps, if she is happy, she laughs. She enjoys cavorting about with Willoughby and ignores the impropriety of their doing so in the absence of a formal engagement. I guess this is why her relationship to Col. Brandon almost seems like that of daughter and father. Plus he's 20 years her senior. But I'd still go there.

That was a rather large paragraph, so here's a picture to look at while you rest your brain.

Now, let's talk about some boys.

I'd have to say, Willoughby showing up through the rain to rescue Marianne after she falls is akin to Darcy coming out of the lake... but then again, Austen never trusts the 'pretty guy.' In a way, it was the same with Henry Crawford last week. Too good looking, too charming, too easy a conquest to be true love seems to be the right way to think about it. And she turns out to be right. Shame.

Colonel Brandon on the other hand seems very... okay so he's kind of doting in that he takes an interest in what Marianne does, and he listens to her play music and stuff, but does anyone else think that it's quite... wrong... for him to be pretty much seeing a relationship with her as a do-over for missing out on loving Eliza? And also, if I were Eliza Williams the younger, and my dad married a woman who was younger than me, AND also a woman who had been attached recently to the man who'd knocked me up and run away, I might be a little annoyed. Just a little. Yet, I am whole heartedly on the Colonel's side. Who doesn't want a man who is faithful, and strong, and loves them ferociously? (And who doesn't want the first declaration of this to be to their mum? Awww.)

Finally, Edward. Egh. Boring. The special features on the 1995 film version DVD have Emma Thompson saying that Edward is funny in the book, but I must have missed that. Edward is almost as bad as Edmund Bertram except that he is also deceitful. And foolish. And Elinor is probably going to wear the pants in THAT relationship. Also comparing him to Edmund Bertram, I am inclined to wonder whether Jane Austen had a thing for men of the cloth.

I'm actually with Mrs. Jennings on this one, much as I loathed that character. I would have loved to see Elinor end up with the Colonel and Marianne living with them like their grown up daughter. She was quite resigned to living out her days divided between books and music, and she has to pretty much change her whole personality in the course of the novel just to justify the match. Plus, the elopement of Lucy Steele with Robert Ferrars (even more snorey than his brother) is so ludicrously contrived that I must condemn it as a transparent deus ex machina. Bad form. It's set up much nicer in the film that Emma Thompson wrote because at least it is foregrounded.

But please, for your own safety, do not get me started on Lucy. I may accidently wound you with the harsh things I have to say about her and her insipid sister.

I hope, after all that, that you don't mistake me for hating the book. I actually loved it. There was such a liveliness in the prose, and after struggling through Mansfield Park, that was very refreshing.

What did you all think?

Next week, we cover Persuasion.

1 comment:

  1. Very true about Jane Austen hating on pretty boys. If they are devilishly handsome and charming, they must be evil.
    Also, Elinor and Col Brandon were clearly meant for each other and it seems very forced to have Marianne end up with him :(

    Also, for people who don't know, that blue stuff in the corner of the last picture is a lovely piece of crochet by Elimy :)


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