First, I want to talk about this gorgeous Penguin Classics cover - I adore it! I chose to read Sense and Sensibility first, mainly because of the cover, well it serves me right. Don't judge the book by its cover!
I have read somewhere, although I am not sure how reliable the source was, that Sense and Sensibility is considered to be the weakest novel of Austen. Now I am kicking myself, for it was my very first novel by her. I really wish I have chosen something else to be introduced to the author, because this book did not work out for me at all.
Let's start with some of the characters:
Edward Ferrars is the dullest secondary character ever written. He is devoid of any emotion until maybe the last 20 pages of the book, and even then it is very mild. I also found him quite lazy and spineless, for he seemed almost content with having everything decided for him by women in his life. He does take a stand and stands up for himself very late in the book, but by that time I was so done with him.
Elinor Dashwood is a step behind Edward in her dullness. She is the composed sister. She is a sensible one. She is so good at hiding her feelings that she doesn't even know she has any feelings, despite all that time that she devotes to sitting around and sorting through her emotions.
Marianne Dashwood is the irrational sister. The unstable one, if you might say. She loves and hates equally passionately and is often found falling into hysterics because of her personality. If not for Marianne, I would have probably stopped reading. She brought some liveliness into all of the grayness of other characters. I enjoyed Marianne's main storyline the most.
Margaret Dashwood is the third sister. She has about 10 sentences devoted to her in the whole 350 pages of the book.
Mrs. Dashwood is the mother of the 3 sisters. She has no opinion of her own and relies on her two older daughters to stir her in a correct direction. When she does make assumptions on her own they are always completely wrong.
John and Fanny Dashwood. John is a half brother of the sisters and Fanny is his wife. Fanny is manipulative and John is spineless. The dynamic of their relationship can be seen at the very beginning of the book and that chapter is gold!
Mrs. Jennings is mother of Dashwood's neighbor's wife. She always puts her nose in other people's business. Follow the gossip and you will find Mrs. Jennings.
Sense and Sensibility is a world in which only your money and birth status matter. Where people judge you by your manners, your money and your estate. For most of the book characters indulge in gossip and judging others behind their backs. Nobody looks at the person's heart - they all look at your etiquette and your ability to hold a conversation in their snobby society. Also I got an impression that living in that time period required a lot of sitting around in your own house doing nothing, or visiting others - to sit around in their houses.
Now to the part that bugged me the most:
Edward is engaged to Lucy. Lucy enters into a relationship with his brother, marries his brother and then sends Edward a letter saying that they are done. Edward then runs to Elinor (not even 24 hours has passed after his engagement was over) and asks her to marry him, even though in the whole book they were not romantic whatsoever, for he was engaged to Lucy in secret, and Elinor says yes! (in the beginning of the book they had a relationship, but he was engaged at that time and Elinor was the one who thought that it was leading somewhere, while it was not). What?? Now, I understand that the times were different, but even so, this seems completely ridiculous. If this book was written in modern times people would be throwing fits for Edward's ridiculous affairs! Yes, it turned out that Elinor did love him all this time (she has feelings!!) and yes he did love her too even while he was with Lucy, but it seems to me that she just picked up a reject after Lucy was done with him.
Marianne, while believing in strong love and passion her whole life (well 17 years is not a whole life, but still) succumbs to reality and ends up married to an older Colonel Brandon, who was swooning after her from the first moment he saw her, and who she had no interest in till, again, last 10 pages of the book.
I guess what antagonized me the most was how the sisters sat around waiting for their perfect man to arrive. They endured pain and loneliness, but never did much to change it. They just took what life handed them and made their best with it. I like female characters who are rebels, who are headstrong and take their fate in their own hands. That is why it was very hard for me to resonate with sisters, especially with Elinor. Marianne, thankfully, had some fire in her.
The ending also seemed very forced to me - like two sisters just had to be married in the end of the book.
There was a point when I though that Marianne was going to die, and I thought, yes finally some drama. But no, she pulled through, which is good for her, but that was the only moment in the book when I was really invested in the story.
Now onto some things that I did enjoy.
I really liked Marianne's love for reading (hello fellow book worm!). Her resolution to read for 6 hours a day really resonated with me. Also her need for solitude with herself and nature, and her ability to walk out of the room any time she didn't feel like interacting with other people made her my absolute favorite.
I also think that I grasped the general message of the book. In the society where money and status ruled all - Elinor finally gave into her feelings and ended up marrying to a poor reject, because she loved him. And all of their financial struggles they handled together. Marianne grew out of her temperamental feelings and got married to the person who truly loved her, not the one who was just a fleeting romance. She grew to love her husband with all of her heart, like she did with everything. So in the end, sisters grew even closer together for they then understood how each of them felt.
There were a lot of brilliant quotes through the book. Here are some of my favorites:
“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!”
“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”
“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect”
“I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter in all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.”
Even though this book was less than mediocre for me, I am not giving up on Austen and will read another novel of hers, before I decide that maybe this is just not my style. But I honestly hope that the next novel of hers that I read I end up liking.