Jane Austen Book Club: Sense and Sensibility

Sunday, 30 June 2013
In 1811, Sense and Sensibility became the first published novel "by a lady" whom the world would come to know as Jane Austen (1775-1817). Perhaps to maintain her privacy, Austen published all her books anonymously and no one, apart from immediate family, would know who the "lady" was until after her death in 1817.

Today Sense and Sensibility is often overshadowed by Jane Austen's other works, such as Pride and Prejudice, which was published next and coincidentally is The Quintessentially English Jane Austen Book Club's book for July. However that doesn't mean Sense and Sensibility should be ignored. I found it a perfectly enjoyable read about two very different sisters and the social conventions of the time.

Jane Austen

Mr. Dashwood has died, leaving his wife and three daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret) with very little income. Inheritance went to the eldest son in those days and Mr. Dashwood hoped the son from his first marriage, John, would look after his stepmother and half-sisters. However, John Dashwood is a half-wit and is easily manipulated by his wife to believe his "family" will be perfectly fine without any contributions from him.

The Dashwoods are left to fend for themselves and  they find a little cottage at Barton Park, far away from their half-brother and the witch he's married to. This is not before they meet Edward Ferrars, their sister-in-law's brother. Elinor is quite taken with Edward and it is implied that he is with her, although you can't be sure because it's all looks and conversations about the weather. However his sister must see some sort of attraction between them because she is more than glad to see the back of Elinor, as Elinor is deemed not worthy of Edward's hand.

At Barton Park the Dashwoods are introduced to Colonel Brandon, a part played by Alan Rickman in the 1995 film adaptation - which I couldn't get out of my head! Colonel Brandon is an intelligent man in love with Marianne who is frankly young enough to be his daughter. They didn't care about that in those days though, then again they don't care much about it now, look at Hugh Hefner and his girls. I won't call them women as most of them have been too young to be classified as such.

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility 1995)

Sadly for Alan Rickman, sorry I mean Colonel Brandon, Marianne's heart is taken by John Willoughby, the dashing and more age-appropriate choice. Willoughby is equally attracted to Marianne, or so it seems, and the two flaunt their affection for a couple of chapters causing mild discomfort for Elinor. She is the more sensible of the pair and finds their obvious attraction too flamboyant.

In the end, Willoughby exhibits classic bad boy behaviour and departs for London where we later learn he has married a wealthy heiress and Marianne is left devastated. Around this time we are introduced to the Steele sisters, most notably Lucy Steele who decides that she and Elinor are going to become BFFs. However the whole thing is a facade, as Lucy actually befriends Elinor so she can chase away her love rival. For it turns out Lucy is engaged to Edward!

I first believed this to be a misunderstanding, that Lucy was actually engaged to Robert, Edward's brother, and that Elinor had misunderstood. Or that Lucy had decided to say Edward to disguise her true fiancé. Well I was kind of right because in the end Lucy ends up running off and marrying Robert anyway. In the meantime, it turns out Lucy truly is engaged to Edward and Elinor is saddened. She doesn't stop eating like Marianne does over the loss of Willoughby but like I said she has more sense or is she sensible? Oh it's all too confusing.

After spending months in London, which is where they find out that Willoughby married and it all comes out about Lucy being engaged to Edward, the sisters begin their journey home. But before they return to Barton Park, they stop at the home of some friends to stay. It is here that Marianne gets gravely ill, causing both Elinor and Colonel Brandon to fear the worst. Yes, Colonel Brandon is still around even though he appears to have no chance with Marianne.

Colonel Brandon has been a loyal and honourable friend to the Dashwoods throughout the novel, and he offers to fetch the girls' mother from Barton Park and bring her to the dying Marianne. One who has been less loyal and honourable, Willoughby, also makes an unexpected visit to check on Marianne. He begs Elinor for the chance to explain himself and his actions to Marianne. Willoughby admits to just playing with Marianne's affections at first, typical playboy behaviour, but in the end he truly came to care for her. He is devastated about the possibility of her dying and basically admits she is the only woman he will ever love.

Sense and Sensibility illustrated by Jacqui Oakley
© Jacqui Oakley
In the end it's all sunshine and roses, it comes out that Lucy has run off with Robert, so Edward and Elinor are free to marry. In the end Marianne marries Colonel Brandon as well, for what reason I couldn't possibly say. I'm with their brother John Dashwood on this one, it seems Colonel Brandon and Elinor would have made a much better match. But no, Colonel Brandon marries Marianne who until the last chapter still doesn't like him. Come on Austen, why did you put these two together? Marianne should always have been with Willoughby. If this novel were set in modern times Willoughby would be getting a divorce and a fat settlement from his heiress wife and running off with Marianne! It just makes more sense that way!

Which brings me to one final point, what was the point of Margaret? Margaret who you might justifiably ask. Margaret, the daughter I mentioned in one of the first paragraphs and never mentioned again. Pretty much exactly what Jane Austen did with Margaret but worse, because Austen forgot to write about her for pretty much the entire book. Oh I'm sorry, you're right, there was that one line at the end in which she states that Mrs. Jennings is happy because now Margaret is of marrying age. Congratulations Austen, you could have saved yourself some ink for all the use she was in Sense and Sensibility.

Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility 1995)

Q: What did you think of Sense and Sensibility? Will you be joining us in July to read Pride and Prejudice?

Erin x

The Quintessentially English Jane Austen Book Club


  1. Great review! I will pop mine up later (after work eurgh). I love that picture of Alan Rickman, I really fancied him in the film! I hadn't thought about Margaret, but yes - what was the point of her?!?

  1. Work on a Sunday? Oh dear! Yes I really don't know what the point of poor Margaret was. Looking forward to reading your post!

    Erin x

  1. Unknown said...:

    I will admit I had a photo of Alan Rickman on my wall as a teen because I had seen him in this film. Hope to have my post up tomorrow. x

  1. Unknown said...:

    Wonderful review. I was a little confuses about Margaret too. Not sure what her purpose was. I just posted my review. Looking forward to jumping into Pride and Prejudice now that I am use to how Jane Austen writes. It was a bit of a shock to me when I initially started Sense and Sensibility and had to get use to her use of words.

  1. Thanks Gina! My review was really long, I don't think I'll do it that way again. I think Pride and Prejudice is actually an easier read than Sense and Sensibility.

    Erin x

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