Monday, August 13, 2012

Sense & Sensibility: Review

It may well be that the best of Jane Austen is behind me.  I loved Persuasion--that for me is Austen's best work so far.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Love & Friendship.  Next in line, Northanger Abbey and Pride & that order.  I actively dislike Emma.  And now, Sense & Sensibility....well, it's better than Emma.  At least I can say that.  It's obvious to me that S&S is Austen's first book--even without knowing that beforehand. (*My mistake--as Adam points out below--her first published novel.)  She seems to be searching for her style and voice.  She's quite good at most of the us Mrs. Jennings to amuse us and Willoughby and Lucy Steele and the John Dashwoods to annoy and vex us.  There are hints of her wit and stunning social commentary.  But overall the story seemed to drag on so.  It would have been even worse if I had actually read the whole thing--but I was helped out immensely by a sudden urge to travel to Chicago this past weekend.  I stopped by the local library, picked up a CD version, and let Wanda McCaddon read to a captive audience of one for 8-9 hours.  Her terrific reading of the novel and interpretation of the characters did wonders for me (and upped the star rating a bit).

Unfortunately, Edward Ferrars is one of biggest drips in romantic hero history.  I'm not terribly convinced of all the virtues that Elinor finds in him.  Of course, pretty much everything we're told about the man comes second-hand.  We don't see him up close and personal or in conversation with Elinor (or anyone else for that matter) much. It's difficult to see him as a viable character.  We get far more insight into the character of Willoughby than we do of Edward--not that Willoughby's character is one I really want to know.  From what we actually see of the man, I certainly can see no reason why he might make Elinor's heart flutter.  Perhaps I would understand it better if we were actually given the chance to see these two interact more (more than the stiff, formal visitations when Edward is engaged to someone else).

I also find it highly unsatisfactory that Robert Ferrars and that snake Lucy wind up back in the good graces of Mrs. Ferrars.  If we're going to tie up all the ends in a happily-ever-after sort of fashion--marrying people off right and left at the end and making everyone who deserves to be happy, happy--then by all means, let's also give the despicable characters a bit of what's coming to them as well.  But, I suppose, one can't have everything.  And, as I've already mentioned, this was Austen's first published book.  She had time to improve her narrative abilities and find a way to make the reader (this reader, anyway) more engaged with her characters.  Three stars--one whole star for a lovely reading performance on audionovel.

One might argue that the boring cover on my edition of this novel influenced my reading.



Amelia said...

In a ranking of the six novels S&S is #6, I agree that it seems to drag. I also find myself not caring about the characters and what happens to them. I don't even particularly like the movie versions.

I do however seem to like adaptations of S&S like the movie From Prada to Nada and I just listened to The Weissmanns of Westport and enjoyed it.

Roof Beam Reader said...

Hmm.. Northanger Abbey was actually Austen's first novel (though it wasn't published until much later, posthumously). The Watsons, too, though unfinished, also came before Sense & Sensibility (and could have easily turned into it, or Pride & Prejudice - I talk about that briefly in my review). So, with these two novels (one complete and one incomplete) and her juvenilia and shorter works (Lady Susan), she did have some experience prior to the publication of Sense & Sensibility. I agree, though, that there was still some growth to be had - I found S&S to be almost a bridge between her very rough works (Northanger Abbey and the blatantly anti-Romantic shorter/unfinished works) and her later works, which became something entirely new - not quite Victorian, but certainly not Romantic.

Of the three novels I've read (Northanger Abbey & Pride and Prejudice being the other two - I'm currently working on Mansfield Park), I found this to be my least favorite, but not by so much as you. I haven't read Emma or Persuasion, so can't comment there, but I wouldn't find it hard to believe that they would be better (although you say you dislike Emma most?).

I actually enjoyed the book quite a lot, though I agree with you about the romantic "hero" - to me, Austen always falls a bit flat on these fellows. She writes "good" and "bad" women (and women in general) far better than she does men. Her vile men are certainly vile - but her good men, well, I never entirely understand why they're so "swoon-worthy."

That being said, I was okay with the ending, overall - I don't think Austen intended this novel to be entirely happily-ever-after, so it's okay, to me, that it doesn't quite reach that level of perfect neatness. Austen's early works were quite cynical and snarky, and though she tried to cull it here - I think hints of it definitely still show up, and we see that in the items you mention, where resolutions are had that shouldn't have been, characters relationships' mended when they should have remained broken, etc.

All-in-all, I quite enjoyed Sense & Sensibility. It can't displace Pride & Prejudice, which I found to be quite perfect in craftsmanship, nor can it replace Northanger Abbey which, though it is not as accomplished, was my first Austen and is the most brazen of the bunch, so will always be my favorite. :)

Bev Hankins said...

You're right, Adam. I should have said (and have now added an addendum)...that this is Austen's first published novel.