For our fifth installment of Jane Austen Book Club we read Sense and Sensibility (S&S). Not only is this book the penultimate book of this year’s book group, it is my last Austen re-read for the Classics Club! That makes it my 42 Classics Club book and I’m glad to still be slowly chipping away. Goodreads reminds me I’m 29 books behind schedule from my original Classics Club start date, but I abandoned the five-year plan ages ago. I figured I should enjoy the Classics when I want to enjoy them and not force myself to meet some arbitrary time limit.
Like all of Austen, I’m confused why I haven’t re-read this in so long. Obviously, there are so many other books to read, but it went by so fast and the story is just so great that I really should make an effort to re-read more than just Pride and Prejudice (P&P) every so often!
What I forgot most about S&S was how “saucy” it was, to use a regency/Jane Austen term. Seriously, this is Austen at her sassiest; and I LOVED it. I’m sure someone a lot more scholarly than me could tell you whether Austen was writing in her own voice of just channeling the voices of the time. I like to think these two passages were exact quotes that she’d thought before and never had the opportunity to say at loud because of propriety or whatever reason.
“‘That is an expression, Sir John’ said Marianne warmly, ‘which I particularly dislike. I abhor every commonplace phrase by which wit is intended; and “setting one’s cap at a man,” or “making a conquest,” are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity.'” (54-55)
“They arrived in due time at the place of destination and as soon as the string of carriages before them would allow, alighted, ascended the stairs, heard their names announced from one landing-place to another in an audible voice, and entered a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When they had paid their tribute of politeness by curtseying to the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd and take their share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add.” (154)
“This specimen of the Mis Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, and as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty and the shrewd look of the youngest to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.” (115)
So. Much. Sass. I’m pretty sure Jane Austen is my spirit animal.
I think the freedom with which Austen wrote in this novel shows her youthfulness and sass. In both S&S and P&P Austen has an easiness and playfulness that explains why they are her most loved, most popular and most well-known books. You see this in Northanger Abbey as well in her parodying of the popular Gothic genre (and allegedly in her Juvenilia, which I still need to read).
What’s great is you can also see her response to each of her novels in the next book she wrote. Many passages early on in S&S felt like direct responses/opposites of Northanger Abbey. It’s great to see Austen evolve over her oeuvre, but I’m sad there’s no more than the six. When she got a little older her writing remained playful, but became much more nuanced. Using her mastery to bore a reader because they had too much fun in the previous book is hilarious and shows off her real talent.
Recommendation: I could go on for thousands of words, but I’ll leave it at this. No matter how many times I’ve read each of these novels, when I re-read them I always find something new to fall in love with. Yes, even the most despised Emma. If you want a recommendation on which one to start with shoot me a message and we’ll have a quick conversation and I’ll find the one for you!
Opening Line: “The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.”
Closing Line: “Between Barton and Delaford there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate; and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within site of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from Sense and Sensibility
“Mrs. John Dashwood did not at all approve of what her husband intended to do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject. How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum? And what possible claim could the Miss Dashwoods, who were related to him only by halfblood which she considered as no relationship at all, have on his generosity to so large an amount. It was very well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages; and why was he to ruin himself and their poor little Harry by giving away all his money to his half sisters?” (25)
“On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course everybody differed, and everybody was astonished at the opinion of the others.” (43-44)
“In Mrs. Dashwood’s estimation he was as faultless as in Marianne’s; and Elinor saw nothing to censure in him but a propensity, in which he strongly resembled and peculiarly on every occasion without attention to persons or circumstances. In hastily forming and giving his opinion of other people, in sacrificing general politeness to the enjoyment of undivided attention where his heart was engaged, he displayed a want of caution which Elinor could not approve in spite of all that he and Marianne could say in its support.” (57)
“Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort but a disgraceful subjection of reason to commmonplace and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behavior at all times was an illustration of their opinions.” (61)
“…and at length, because there was no necessity for my having any profession at all, as I might be as dashing and expensive without a red coat on my back as with one, idleness was pronounced on the whole to be the most advantageous and honourable, and a young man of eighteen is not in general so earnestly bent on being busy as to resist the solicitations of his friends to do nothing. I was therefore entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since.” (99)
“What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could there e but that Elinor might be informed by it of Lucy’s superior claim on Edward and be taught to avoid him in future? She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of her rival’s intentions; and while she was firmly resolved to act by her every principle of honour and honesty directed, to bombat her own affection for Edward and to see him as little as possible, she could not deny herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy that her heart was unwounded. And as she could now have nothing more painful to hear on the subject than had already been told, she did not mistrust her own ability of going through a repetition of particulars with composure.” (127-128)
“I have known myself to be divided from Edward forever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection. Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me. I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister and the insolence of his mother, and have suffered the punishment of an attachment without enjoying its advantages. And all this has been going on at a time when, as you too well know, it has not been my only unhappiness. If you can think me capable of ever feeling, surely you may suppose that I have suffered now. The composure of of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been wiling to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion; they did not spring up of themselves; they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first. No, Marianne. Then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely—not even what I owed to my dearest friends—from openly showing that I was very unhappy.” (223)
“…Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, how ever it might be avoided by the family in general, so procured herself a book.” (254)
“Marianne’s note, by assuring me that I was still as dear to her as in former days, that in spite of the many, many weeks we had been separated she was as constant in her own feelings and as full of faith in the constancy of mine as ever, awakened all my remorse. I saw awakened because time and London, business and dissipation, had in some measure quieted it; and I had been growing a fine hardened villain, fancying myself indifferent to her, and choosing to fancy that she too must have become indifferent to me; talking to myself of our past attachment as a mere idle, trifling business, shrugging up my shoulders in proof of its being so, and silencing every reproach, overcoming every scruple, by secretly saying now and then, ‘I shall be heartily glad to hear she is well married.’ But this note made me know myself better.” (272)
“Her thoughts were silently fixed on the irreparable injury which too early an independence and its consequent habits of idleness, dissipation, and luxury, had made in the mind, the character, the happiness, of a man who, to every advantage of person and talents, untied a disposition naturally open and honest, and a feeling, affectionate temper. The world had made him extravagant and vain. Extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish. Vanity, while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment which extravagance, or at least its offspring, necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Each faulty propensity, in leading him to evil, had let him likewise to punishment. The attachment from which against honour, against feeling, against every better interest he had outward torn himself, now, when no longer allowable, governed every thought; and the connection, for the sake of which he had, with little scruple, left her sister to misery, was likely to prove a source of unhappiness to himself of a far more incurable nature.” (276-277)
“The whole of Lucy’s behavior in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience.” (312)