Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jane Austen Week: Day 4 - Reflections on Sense & Sensibility

As  Jane Austen Week wraps, I felt like there was a hole here on the blog for Day 4 and I wanted to shore it up.

As part of the official festivities, we watched Sense & Sensibility together - even if you didn't get to participate, you may enjoy reading over the threads! It was a lot of fun, and I'll do something similar again another time.

Watching the movie over again reminded me of my experience reading Sense & Sensibility in preparation for the writing of Jane of Austin. You see, when I was first tapped to write Jane, all I had was a title. From there, I had free reign to go anywhere I liked.

I hadn't read Sense & Sensibility yet - I'd read Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion. But I knew I wanted to write a more rebellious, headstrong character than I'd been writing for the last several years. Of Austen's likable rebels, Marianne was the strongest choice - unlike other rebels (*cough* Lydia *cough*), Marianne gets an entire redemption arc. She learns, she grows, and she's offered a chance at happiness.

But it's not an easy book to adapt. Much of the story - not unlike Pride & Prejudice - is a critique on the English tradition of primogeniture. Not unlike the Bennet sisters, the Dashwoods missed out on having any protections not only because they were daughters, but because they were half-sisters of the heir. Their sudden loss of fortune was exactly the eventuality that Mrs. Bennet worked to prevent for her own daughters.

It's a story of the series of men who have failed the Dashwood women in one way or another - their father, their half-brother, by Willoughby - who falls in love with Marianne but marries another for money. Even Edward, in his failure to tell Elinor sooner of his prior attachment to Lucy Steele, causes Elinor undue angst for the bulk of the novel.

Emma Thompson's ability to write Edward into a shy beta hero is nothing short of remarkable; in the novel, he visits Barton Cottage but spends his time distract and unhappy, fingering a piece of jewelry we later discover was gifted by Lucy. It's Mrs. Dashwood who counsels him choose his own path.
But there are bright spots for the Dashwood ladies - there's Sir John, who's happy to rent the cottage on his estate to his cousin and her family on easy terms. There's Mrs. Jennings, who - yes, is a gossip - but she also offers to take the elder Dashwood girls to London where they might find husbands. 

And then there's Colonel Brandon. 

The Colonel, we learn, was once disappointed in love, seeing his sweetheart married to his brother, and caring for that woman's illegitimate child after her divorce - setting her up in the country, very much as Harriet Smith had been. But rather than find happiness with a local farmer, the girl is seduced by Willoughby; it's Brandon who finds her, who challenges Willoughby to a duel, who provides. He's a romantic, and his second chance at happiness arrives in the form of Marianne.

The second chance trope is one that Austen reaches for more than once. It's at the center of Persuasion, as well as the third act of Pride & Prejudice. That both Brandon and Marianne can make the most of it is one of the truest pleasures of the novel. 

Thompson's other marvel, in the film, is giving voice to the Dashwood sisters. There's a great deal of dialogue in Pride & Prejudice that crosses from page to screen easily; likewise Emma. But in Sense & Sensibility, the characters talk around Elinor and Marianne - we are told they respond, but their voices don't appear on the page. Is it a stylistic choice? A tool to show how little voice either sister had in her own life? Either say, Thompson's screenplay provides them with words that feel so Austen-esque that you wouldn't know they're not original to the book.

The film is a pleasure, as is the original novel. I hope you've had the chance to enjoy them, and if not, will be able to do so soon. Because even though we live in a time when a woman can publish a book in her own name without risking notoriety, the people are largely the same. Money will never not be a part of our social construct; love and happiness will always be complicated by our own choices. 

Like I said, if you haven't read the novel and enjoyed the original - I highly recommend it. It's more challenging than the film, but its pleasures are rich and deep. Every time I got stuck in Jane, I could reliably open the book and find that Austen had something lovely inside, waiting for me. 

If you'd like a copy of your own, make sure to enter the All Things Jane Giveaway if you haven't yet! And if you've read it, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!


  1. I missed watching it the other night, but watched it today. My young son was in the room and first and when I was explaining the idea of inheritance and how these daughters relied on their half brother's generosity (or lack thereof), he was shocked. Things are very different nowadays!

  2. I'm looking forward to reading Jane of Austin!! I love Jane Austen books. Sense and Sensibility is a great one!!

    1. I hope you enjoy it when you can get your hands on it!

  3. I'd like to have Anne Elliot as my best friend. ☺

  4. I loved this book! I have always been a fan on Sense and Sensibility, and watch the movie several times a year. This book was a great modern day rendition of one of my favorite novels!


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