Monday, May 09, 2011

Classics Circuit - Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I wonder if there is a word that describes people that make the same confession over and over again? If there is, I am about to be guilty of it.

This is my confession:

I have never read Jane Austen.

I know that I have shocked people before when I have confessed this, but somehow I made it through school without reading her, and then managed until now without picking up her books despite being an avid reader for most of my adult life.

This year it is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility so I signed up for the associated challenge with the vague intention of reading Austen at some point this year. It was really only when the call went out for this Classics Circuit event that I got the incentive to start. I had read a Dickens book a couple of years ago so now was the perfect time for me to finally, finally read Jane Austen.

I think there are a couple of reasons for not having read Jane Austen. The first is that I was a bit concerned that maybe I might be one of those people who doesn’t actually like her writing (and they do exist!). It’s not the quickest read as you do have to concentrate on the language but I am enjoying the characterizations, the dialogue and the sharp observations on the society of the time.

The major reason for not reading the books is that I already knew the story that was contained within the pages, particularly in relation to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and to a lesser extent Northanger Abbey. What I am finding though is that I only thought I knew the story. I have only partial memories of the story of Sense and Sensibility which I gained through watching bits and pieces of the mini-series. I found myself reading something early in the book and thinking how can there be more than 200 pages to go if this is happening now! I am finding that I can’t help but see Alan Rickman whenever Colonel Brandon enters the narrative, and similarly Hugh Grant every time that Edward Ferrars is mentioned, but that isn’t a totally terrible imposition really.

So far, I like the book. I am not quite finished, but I can definitely see myself reading more. It’s not all plain sailing though. Let’s start with the not so good aspect. Reading this book, particularly the section where we first meet Colonel Brandon makes me feel very old! I am rapidly approaching the end of the decade where my age begins with a 3, so when this is the first description that we read of Colonel Brandon, I wasn’t particularly thrilled:

He was silent and grave. His appearance was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.

Perhaps he is so gentlemanlike because he had so much practice! A bit further on there is reference to the rheumatism he occasionally suffers from. In context, I know that the expected life span was much shorter when the book was written, and that when you are 19 years old, then 35 does look like a long way away, but when you are past that point, you don’t necessarily feel old.

There were plenty of times that I really could appreciate Austen’s ability to comment on the human condition. This passage, for example, very much sums up how I think I am thought of by all but my very closest friends:

"Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, “whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delight to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.”

As I think about the characters, it is clear to me that Austen either likes her characters, or she doesn’t. There isn’t always a lot of nuance. I do expect that this is partially because this is her first published book and so will be interested to see if this changes in future books. To be fair, for several of the characters like Mrs John Middleton for example, there isn’t much to like, and for those sensible characters like Elinor, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon there is obvious affection from the author, which this reader shares.

I have about 80 pages left to go, and I have every intention of finishing the book in the next couple of days. Not only do I want to get to the end so that I can say that I have finished it, but also because I will have yet another reason to watch the mini series again, and then this short clip from Vicar of Dibley, just because I can (not a blatantly gratuitous Richard Armitage posting - honest).

And then, it will not be another 20 to 30 years before I read another book from Jane Austen.

To see all the stops on the Dueling Authors: Austen vs Dickens tour, check out all the tour stops here


  1. I had never seen the Vicar series and this clip had me lmao!! Then I watched the proposal and laughed so hard I was crying...AT WORK!
    Thanks for the laugh!!

  2. I'm with you on the Austen front. I've only managed to get into a few and haven't actually finished any. i have just decided that it's simply not my style. Sigh; I'm a social flop, sadly...

  3. I have only read a couple of Austen's books, and this is not one of them. I do really want to read them all eventually, but since I know there are no more coming, I try to ration them out to myself. I have been thinking that this might be the next one I try. Glad you are liking it!

  4. LOL, I never read Jane Austen either. Mark Twain said that classics are book that everyone wished they have read, but no one wants to read.

  5. I confess I've never watched The Vicar of Dibley! I think I need to start, as I have already watched and read all of Jane Austen! Loved your review and thanks for the clip.

  6. I admit, Sense & Sensibility is my least favorite Austen book. In fact, it is the only one of her major six novels that I really didn't enjoy. I think I should give it a reread before I write it off completely.

  7. Sense & Sensibility was the first Austen book I read, many years ago in high school. I read it on my own; we never read Austen in school. I loved it, but I've loved her other novels more. Hoping to re-read this one for the challenge, and looking forward to your final thoughts on it.

  8. Yeah... I was really hesitant about Jane Austen as well. I reviewed Persuasion though for the Classics Circuit and really liked it ... much better than her other stuff that I've read, including Sense and Sensibility.

  9. I guess I'm close behind you. I have only read Emma and I keep meaning to read another by her. Like this one. Sometime?

  10. This is great post very interesting and I love your other posts as well they are also very interesting. I also have books by Emma and they are great as well.

  11. thank you for the glimpse of Richard Armitage and I am now lying down in a darkened room to recover.....

    My favourite Austen is Persuasion. I have read all of her books multiple times but this one wins out each time. The letter she received from Captain Wentworth at the end: 'I am half agony half hope'

    I cannot read that without a shiver up my spine and tears in my eyes

  12. Hi Marg,

    I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the classics.

    I am ashamed to say that I have only ever read 'Pride And Prejudice', by Jane Austen, yet I only live 10 miles away from Bath, where she lived for five years and where both 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Persuasion' are set!!! How bad is that?


  13. Lol, I am not saying no to a Armitage clip!

  14. I'm glad you are enjoying Austen, I enjoy the way she writes.

  15. Well what do you know - just watching very old version of Sense and Sensibility. I have read Emma, and while its not an easy read I think it was worth it.

  16. I love P&P but maybe because I first loved it as a teen. This one was okay for me. I think I too prefer watching the movies to reading Jane (gasp!)

  17. Haha, don't feel bad because you've never read Austen before! I hadn't read her before this Circuit either, beyond half (or nearly half) of Pride and Prejudice. I don't think she was even an option for any of the high school literature classes-- we mostly stuck with Dickens, which had the unintended consequence of my hating him for almost a decade (finally got over that this year, thankfully).

    I'm happy S&S is going so well for you. :D

  18. I like Austen, but I couldn't read her books back to back. Am reading Sense and Sensibility now.

  19. I'm so glad you like Sense and Sensibility. It's my 2nd favorite Austen, right after Pride and Prejudice, which is weird since I think Colonel Brandon and Edward are both quite boring. :)

  20. I reread S&S for the umpteenth time earlier this year, so welcome to the club. Austen isn't nearly as scary as she's sometimes made out to be.

    I liked your point about Austen either liking her characters or not. She is well-known for accurately portraying people, and I think your right in that she has her favorites...which leads people like me to spend countless hours of our lives debating whether those she loved were actually as noble as she made out!



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