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19th September
2011
written by Steph

I don’t have very many reading rules, but one rule that I have set for myself and that I have managed to observe for the past 3 – 4 years (read: ever since I made it up), is that I only ever read one Jane Austen book a year. Austen is one of my favorite authors, so it would be really easy for me to just read and review her over and over again, but that might get tiring for you guys, so instead, as a means of maintaining balance, I instead limit myself to one book by her each year. Admittedly, this rule also partially stems from my deep-seated fear of running out of Jane Austen novels, and is my attempt to ration them. The thought of living in a world where I have no new Jane Austen to discover chills me to the marrow of my bones. I do realize that since Jane Austen only published six full-length novels that this reading plan would only preserve me from my greatest fear for six years, BUT you’ll note that my rule says nothing about reading a new Jane Austen novel each year, so if I wanted to read P&P for the next decade, that’s totally kosher. As it is, since establishing my One Austen Per Annum rule, I have actually only revisited works of hers that I’ve already read. I still have Mansfield Park and Persuasion on the TBR pile, and even though I always claim that this will be the year that I finally try one of them, it never seems to work out that way. When Nicola over at Vintage Reads pointed out earlier this year that this was the 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility, that pretty much sealed the deal regarding which Austen I’d be cozying up to in 2011! My desire to do so was heightened after popping the Oscar award-winning film featuring Emma Thompson into the DVD player a few months back. In retrospect I think that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to follow up the film with the original source material, simply because Emma Thompson’s adaptation is just SO good, and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two and I have to say, Austen’s version didn’t always come out on top. [Also, everything from here on out presupposes that you have more than a passing familiarity with the plot of S&S. Spoilers and in depth discussion ahoy!] In particular, I think certain characters are painted in a better, more satisfying light in the movie than in the novel itself. When I read Nicola’s thoughts on S&S, she points out that some have called the ending stupid… and before having revisited the novel myself, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would feel that way at all! BUT, having now gone back and spent time with the Dashwoods and the Ferrars, I think I do see how, at the very least, the ending can be seen as unsatisfying. You see, in the film version, I love Edward, and find him super charming and well-meaning, if bumbling and hopelessly shy. Is this perhaps due to the magnificent portrayal done by dreamy Hugh Grant? Well, it might be unfair to solely attribute the delightfulness of Edward to Grant’s performance, but he certainly enhances the character and adds to his charms. But in the book, I was far less impressed by Edward. He struck me as kind of cold and awkward and also just a bit cruel… the way his interactions are written with the Dashwoods, you have to think that he might not have been the pleasantest of men to spend time with. The thing that sticks in my mind is that he seemed somewhat condescending to them all. Such a far cry from Edward of film! On the other hand, Willoughby, who is very much a blackguard and villain in the film, is by far a more interesting character in the original novel, with far more depth and there is one rather important and poignant scene in which he visits Cleveland when Marianne is dying and pleads his case and explains his bad behavior to Elinor. I really thought it was a shame that such a pivotal scene was cut from the film, because I think it actually turns Willoughby into one of Austen’s classic characters – that is one who is more than just a vain/greedy caricature but rather a full-bodied person who has both positive and negative traits. I think Austen’s ability to attain balance through her characters is one of the reason she is so satisfying and involving: we become invested in her characters because we are able to recognize true moments of humanity in them, and perhaps even see bits of ourselves in them. No one, not even her heroes and heroines, demonstrates unalloyed perfection. For all her good qualities, Elinor experiences much unhappiness due to her willingness to put others before herself and tread with such caution.  And Marianne… well, she may get her happy ending, but certainly it was a rough road getting there! The one character who was just as delightful on page as he was on screen was Colonel Brandon. Such a dreamboat, though I admit that when reading, I always conjure Alan Rickman to mind! No other Colonel will do! 😉 One thing that definitely stuck out on this re-read is how risqué much of the subject matter was, especially given that this was Austen’s first novel. It is chockfull of scandal (like children out of wedlock!), and a naïve reader is left to believe up until the very last moment that Edward has gone and married Lucy, robbing Elinor of a happy ending. Every Jane Austen novel has its fair amount of strife, but this one really has a lot of angst and takes it right down to the wire. I don’t generally think of Austen’s novels as being like soap operas, but I definitely vibed on the sudsy overtones this time around. All in all, it took me almost 3 weeks to read S&S, and at times it did feel like it was dragging on forever (perhaps because the plot was so fresh in my mind from having watched the film, so I had a very strong sense of how much was still to come despite seemingly having read for ages!). I know that sounds bad, but I will say that I did find the book a huge comfort, even if my praise for it is not unrelentingly positive. I got a great deal of laughs as I read through S&S (for the third time now, I think), and I agree whole-heartedly with Nicola that this is one of those books that one will always find something new within upon each reread. While I can’t say that I’m looking forward to being closer to Mrs. Dashwood’s age than I am to either Elinor or Marianne, I do think it will be fun to see what wisdom I glean when that is my framework! All to say, this certainly won’t be my final encounter with the delightful Dashwoods. Rating: 4 out of 5

15 Comments

  1. 09/19/2011

    Wonderful review, Steph! Your affection for Austen shines through every word 🙂 I haven’t read ‘Sense and Sensibility’ but have seen parts of the movie, when it came on TV. I need to read the book and then watch the movie, one of these days. I loved the movie version of ‘Mansfield Park’ (it had Frances O’Connor playing the role of Fanny Price) and have seen it a few times. Have you read a book called ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ by Karen Joy Fowler? It is about a book club which has five women and a man as members and they read an Austen novel every month and discuss it. I watched the movie version first and then read the novel, and I liked the movie more. So I could understand why you felt Emma Thompson’s movie version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was better. I love your idea of rationing Austen’s works to one book a year 🙂

  2. 09/19/2011

    I love that you elevated Emma Thompson’s version of Sense and Sensibility above the original. I kind of enjoy reading Austen and have only read two of her novels so far but I have seen all of her films. I am a huge fan of Thompson and would love to put her to work adapting other novels for the screen. Imagine what she might do with Pym…

  3. 09/19/2011

    I am NOT the hugest fan of Austen, but I think that’s BECAUSE I tried to read her too fast. I was part of a book club that read primarily Austen, and too much too quickly led to complete burnout. I did love P&P (the fourth one I read) and eventually adored Northanger Abbey as well. Unfortunately this one and Persuasion definitely stayed at the bottom of my list, and haven’t gotten better over time as i remember them. Especially Persuasion…

  4. 09/20/2011

    I’ll also be re-reading this one this year to celebrate its 200th. Was actually planning to post the review on Austen’s birthday (18 Dec).

    Very interesting points! I agree that S&S has a good dose of drama and always blamed age for it. I think eventually Austen realize that you don’t need so many gimmicks to get emotional involvement. And also agree re. Edward, he is the weakest of Austen’s hero – maybe by that time she hadn’t met enough young men from which to draw inspiration (young men that were not her brothers)?

    Interesting that you didn’t mention which of the sisters you identify with – obligatory procedure in any S&S review!

  5. 09/20/2011

    Ahhhh, I am the same way. Have not finished all the Austen’s but adore her (and S&S is one of my favorites because I love Elinor so much). I have bought two books to accompany reading Austen (to get the very most out of them) and once I use them for the books I haven’t read, I’m going to go back and re-read the ones I have (even though I’ve already read P&P twice). Can you really every get enough Austen though??? Even the movies are such comfort food aren’t they? 🙂

  6. 09/23/2011

    @ Vishy: I haven’t read Mansfield Park, but I have seen the film version you mention at least two times. That said, not much of it has stuck with me, so I’m sure reading the book will be an experience all its own.
    And I have both read The Jane Austen Book Club (way back in the day) and seen the film. I know a lot of people didn’t like the book, but I seem to remember thinking it was ok, and I did like the movie too.
     
    @ Thomas: I have to say that by & large, the Austen movies are done very well, so I always feel like as long as people see those and enjoy them, then that’s ok by me! And Emma Thompson really is brilliant! I hadn’t thought of Pym adaptations, but I can only imagine the deft touch she would lend them!
     
    @ Amanda: Yes, I saw that this was a book you didn’t rate very highly on GoodReads! I’m at least happy it didn’t fall into your “The Worst” shelf! 😉 I haven’t read Persuasion yet, but I’m definitely curious. A lot of people call it their favorite Austen, which obviously intrigues me…
     
    @ Alex: Oh, I am not nearly organized enough to have planned far enough ahead to post this on Austen’s birthday… Fail for me!
    And you’re right that I neglected to say which sister I liked best… I think I admire Elinor best of the two, but perhaps may fall rather close to the Marianne end of the spectrum at times. I haven’t Elinor’s knack for social graces and diplomacy, that’s for sure! 😉
     
    @ Wallace: I have a few Austen companions that I’ve been given as gifts, but I haven’t dipped into any of them, perhaps because I keep discovering so much on each re-read on my own? I just never get tired of Jane!
     
    @ Pam: I know there are people out there who I respect who don’t get Jane Austen, but she and I are just so simpatico. I might suggest trying one of the movie adaptations (like this one, or the Mirimax version of Emma, or the dreamy 5-hour BBC Pride & Prejudice), if you’d like to get a quick sense of why so many of use are Janeites. Those adaptations really capture the romance of her books as well as her wonderful sense of humor, I think.

  7. Wow, I have never been a big Austen fan but this review has so much love in that I sort of want to read this, now. :0)

  8. 09/21/2011

    I am on the same Austen rationing plan as you are! I have a few left to read, and only have read three so far. I didn’t read your whole review for fear of the spoilers, but I think you might have just convinced me to make this one my choice for this year. I must let you know what I think of it when I am done!

  9. 09/21/2011

    I have yet to make friends with Jane. Every time I try to read one of her books I fail. I just. don’t. get it.

  10. 09/23/2011

    S & S has never been my favorite Austen mainly because I also found Edward to be an unsatisfactory hero. I loved the movie though.

    There was also an Indian movie version based on the book, and I loved that too. It captured the spirit of the book so very well.

  11. 09/23/2011

    @ zibilee: I think it would be very fitting for you to read S&S this year… I hope you do so that we can talk about it some more! 😀
     
    @ softdrink: I am sorry you don’t feel the Jane love! I just find her books so wonderfully comforting and funny and romantic; they’re pretty much everything I look for in a book!
     
    @ Nishita: It’s so weird because I know I’ve read this book before, perhaps even twice before, and I never once previously felt disappointed by Edward. But this time I found him rather unromantic and kind of dastardly.
    Also, what is this Indian movie based on S&S? I love a good Bollywood flick!

  12. 09/23/2011

    I’ve only read one Austen novel so far (Northanger Abbey). I think Pride & Prejudice will be my next read. After that, I don’t know where I’ll go next. I can totally understand needing to ration authors’ books! Sounds like you have a good system worked out 🙂

  13. 09/26/2011

    You make me want to reread Austen! Ever since finishing Northanger Abbey and Lady Susan not so long ago, I’ve had to deal with having no new Austen left. I suppose there is juvenalia I haven’t gotten to yet, but that isn’t nearly as excited. But I’m only a little sad about this, since reread Austen is so much fun!

  14. 09/30/2011

    Hi Steph, here I am a day late and a dollar short as usual! Very much enjoyed your S&S review. As I am now Mrs Dashwoods age(!) I think Edward less of a sap than I did when I was younger, but I really can’t think Marianne will ever be happy with Colonel B! I’d like to see the Emma Thompson film, now. I envy you not having yet read Persuasion – I hope you will review it here when you do!

  15. 10/17/2011

    Wonderful review, Steph! I really loved S&S and think Emma Thompson did a great job with the adaptation (fortunately I saw it after reading the novel!). I like Persuasion even more and hope that you enjoy it.

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