Other people have already said very clever things about Sense and Sensibility (either as part of the Advent with Austen readalong or independently), so I have a high standard to live up to. But since this is a time of challenges, here are my two cents on the first 9 chapters.
I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I got back into Austen. I have to confess that this is only the second novel of hers I’m reading – the first was Pride and Prejudice many, many years ago. So there goes another bit of what little bookish street cred I ever had – Only the second Austen?! I hear you cry. What in the world has she been doing with her life the past ten years? Truth be told, I’m not quite sure myself. Because I loved Pride and Prejudice and I really don’t know what kept me from reading more Austen until now. My wild guess is other books (and, of course, stuff), but if anyone can provide a pointer as to where the last 10 years have vanished I’d be grateful to hear it. Alas, I digress.
The first two chapters are mostly spent introducing the main characters (Chapter 1) and the main problem: Women Who Have Inherited Too Little Money (Chapter 2). So far, so Pride and Prejudice-ish. In fact, while the conversation between the hilariously manipulative Mrs John Dashwood and her meek husband is quite funny, I was tempted to whip out a calculator just to keep track of who had inherited how much from whom and who was getting the money next. I was pacified by Jane Austen’s irony though, which is sharp as could be.
But then, Sense and Sensibility quickly picks up as we are introduced to Edward Ferrars. In fact, I would have liked to be introduced to him a little better. While we know that something is going on between Elinor and Edward (Edinor? Elward?), Edward’s character remains a bit underdeveloped. As the Dashwoods move house and meet new people, I found that character development improved considerably, drawing me more into the story. Other readalongers have remarked on whether Marianne’s character is annoying – I’d agree with them that this is not so. She just seems very young. In fact, I feel like Elinor’s constant caution might have the potential to be just as irritating.
Out of the first nine chapters, I have to say I particularly enjoyed chapters 6 and 7. They’re just jam-packed with Austen’s fabulous sarcasm. Without further ado and because it’s been a long week, I will leave you with my favourite quotes from the first part of the readalong – they’re all from those two chapters! Maybe I was in a particularly cheerful mood while reading them?
“In the mean time, till all these alterations could be made from the savings of an income of five hundred a year by a woman who never saved in her life, they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was” (Ch. 6)
This part actually made me chuckle on the underground to work – let me tell you that at 8:30 in the morning making me laugh is no small feat – and of course this drew the corresponding funny looks from other passengers. Next up:
“On every formal visit, a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse.” (Ch. 6)
Can’t you just imagine the awkwardness of the situation? Just picture the Dashwood ladies with their hosts, Sir John and Lady Middleton, having absolutely nothing to say to each other. Who hasn’t lived such a moment? This is when you start talking about the weather – or children, if they are around.
I also really enjoyed the part where the supposed frailty and advanced age of Colonel Brandon are discussed. Poor guy! At 35, he feels positively ancient to Marianne, who is… well, a teenager. And it prompts the kinds of discussions that could be taken straight from conversations I had with my own Mother when I was 16:
“‘But he talked of flannel waistcoats,’ said Marianne. ‘And with me a flannel waistcoat is invariably connected with aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species if ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble.'” (Ch. 7)
Come on – you can’t tell me you didn’t have arguments with your mum about whether you were dressed warm enough where you argued that undershirts and such were for the elderly! I love how this argument goes as far back as Jane Austen’s time. I’m going to have to introduce this section to my Mother over Christmas. And now will you please excuse me while this old lady shuffles off to put on some more clothes. It’s rather chilly.