Bout of Sensibility

Bout of Books fail.   Ah, well, who can focus for a week?  My laser-like focus, like a laser,  lasts mere moments.  I did, however, finish Sense and Sensibility.  If you haven’t read it, don’t read on, because it’s not the sort of book I can talk abut without spoiling everything.  Two young women named Dashwood embody Sense and Sensibility or Feeling as we would probably say now.   This is the emotions vs. thinking slapdown.  Marianne voted Miss Sensibility 1796 falls for the perfect man in chapter 3 or so.   They appear to be all set to live happily ever after, except they never quite say they are definitely going to do that.   Compared with her sister, who won Miss Sense in 1795, who is apparently quite solidly engaged to Edward Ferrars, (not sure why Willoughby is always known by his last name Willoughby while Edward is Edward) but then it turns out this engagement is all in her head as well.   So there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.   Each has lost her heart to a guy who then leaves abruptly and starts acting peculiar and distant.    Edward shows up wearing someone else’s hair in a ring on his finger!   Does this set off any alarm bells?  Nope.   It must be his sister’s hair, though it doesn’t look like his sister’s hair.

But Edward gets all the points for being a fine upstanding citizen though in my book he lead Elinor on and didn’t have the guts to clearly indicate he was not free to marry.   She has to find this out from his secret fiancee, Lucy.   Elinor and Marianne hang out with their neighbors and their friends and go to London and generally look down on everyone except Colonel Brandon, and I’m thinking how are they both going to marry the Colonel because there’s not another eligible boy for miles even after they go to London.  

I was rather shocked by this book.   The only Austen I’ve read previously is Pride and Prejudice which is just oh so decorous next to S&S, whose characters are only decorous when they legitimately need to know something and won’t ask, like, Marianne, are you engaged to this engaging young man who has just cut a lock of your hair, because that doesn’t seem like something nice ladies allowed except to their betrotheds.   Oh, but no, can’t ask.   Just let him go off with his intentions kept carefully to himself.   

Unexpectedly they journey to London with Mrs. Jennings.   Marianne writes to Willoughby who ignores her.   Col. Brandon shows up and calls frequently as the only person worth marrying in the book.   He tells Elinor the horrible truth about Willoughby which is that he seduced, impregnated and abandoned Brandon’s 15 year old ward, Eliza.   It took Brandon months to find her and now he’s put her in a nice little house in the country.   I am the only one truly appalled by this apparently because while Elinor says she’s appalled, she never really writes off ol’ Willoughby who is pictured below:


Marianne is devastated by the loss of Willoughby even after she learns what he’s done.    He marries for money, is horribly cold and disdainful and then later on when she might be dying he rides breathlessly to say he’s not as bad as they all think.   Elinor buys this.   He’s actually worse, because it turns out in the beginning he was just toying with Marianne and only fell for her later.   A feeling he ignored in favor of filthy lucre and didn’t have the guts to just tell her.   He partially blames Eliza for her own downfall and says she could have found out his address if she wanted.   He didn’t know she was living in abject poverty.    One of the worst scumbags in 19th century lit.   And they’re all like, well, he’s not so bad.   He was sorry in the end, and he kind of liked Marianne at one point.   Unbelievable.    

The one thing that makes partially forgivable all this nonsense is they’re 17 and 19 which I forgot in the process of reading this and was reminded at the end.  Thank the good Lord we don’t get married that young any more.   And Edward at least is man enough to make straight for Elinor when released from his engagement, so they don’t have to be bigamists and no one has to be killed off.   This was Austen’s first published book, so I’ll cut her some slack and not go off about what a ridiculous coincidence it was that Willoughby happened to seduce Brandon’s ward.

4 thoughts on “Bout of Sensibility”

  1. I’m about to reread this for Austen in August, It has not, traditionally been one of my favourite Austen’s, so I will see how the reread pans out.

    Last year I reread MP which had also been low on the favourites list. The reread revealed a much more complex and satisfying story than I remembered…I wonder if I will discover something deeper in S&S this time?

    Your review leaves me a little doubtful :-/

    1. Oh, I think it’s likely you will. I think I was startled by how unlike P&P it is, which is the only Austen I’ve read before. I guess I had her pegged as someone who wrote the same book 5 times, which is, of course, silly of me. Also I’d seen the movie and didn’t remember despising anyone in it, so either the adaptation changes Willoughby or I just wasn’t paying close attention. I should re-watch the movie!

  2. What a great review of S&S! That was wonderful! I think Edward was called Edward because he was their sister in law’s brother, so he was part of the family and therefore could be called by his first name. Willoughby was no relation. I felt the same way as you about Willoughby when I first read S&S long ago. But fairly recently (5 or 7 years?) I reread it. This time I remembered Austen’s father was a rector of a parish church. Then I saw that whole meeting between Elinor and Willoughby in Christian terms. The whole forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; love your enemy, etc influence. Elinor, in acknowledging that there was some good in Willoughby, in pitying him for his sinful life that has left him miserable, and in being truly able to feel forgiveness towards him is really an exposition on what it means to be merciful! There is quite a bit of depth there as I recall, in all of Elinor’s emotions and thought processes. The whole time I was reading your review I kept waiting for you to mention the thing that really didn’t work for me in the novel. I just couldn’t be satisfied with Marianne marrying Brandon. Marianne is only 18, isn’t she? And Col. Brandon must be in his late 30’s or early 40’s. Blech. I just thought there was just too much of an age difference for me to really buy the romance. That element ruin Emma for me too.

    1. You make very good points both about calling Edward Edward and forgiveness being a virtue worth striving for and far too little illustrated in our culture. If I reread it someday, I’ll try to bear this in mind.

      The age difference doesn’t really bother me because that was far more usual then. Women got married at 18 because there wasn’t anything else for them to do, what with not being allowed to work or get a serious education. And men were frequently older because they needed to make their way in the world before settling down. It was normal then as opposed to how it would be now which is creepy. I did find it surprising how they only ever seemed to meet two men, though they went into society. Although I supposed once you have your heart set on on some particular jerk gentleman, it’s difficult to change.

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