Jane Austen is iconic: her books have multiple film adaptations, are referenced in many tv shows, and are generally just a part of popular culture. But why? The plots aren’t action-packed and because her books were written over 200 years ago, they sound antiquated. They’re not a fast or easy read unless you’ve spent a lot of time in that world— whether through books or film. Although everyone has heard of Austen’s books and probably watched some or all of them in one of their film iterations, I don’t actually think that most people today have actually read them. I myself went into this having only read Pride and Prejudice so I’m not especially Austen-literate either. I’ve decided that I want to know what the hype is though. I want to understand why Jane Austen is still relevant after all these years. So I’m reading all six of her published works in order.
Sense and Sensibility really surprised me. I really enjoyed the characters! Elinor and Marianne are just extremely lovable and you find yourself on their sides so effortlessly. I have to admit *spoilers ahead for rest of review* that I really started to want Colonel Brandon and Elinor to get together toward the end. Why was he so forthcoming to her and yet still loved Marianne? It seems like he enjoyed Elinor’s personality better but Marianne’s looks and temperament more. Of course, he was always meant to be with Marianne, as we can see by the ending of the book. But I definitely thought it was going to end differently for Colonel Brandon and Elinor for a while there.
I think the thing that gives Sense and Sensibility its enduring power may, in some respects, have more to do with the sometimes unloveable secondary characters than with the easily much-loved protagonists. Lucy Steele, ahem... I mean Mrs. Robert Ferrars, is a wonderful character that you just love to hate! We all know that girl, I swear. I’m pretty sure my “best friend” in junior high used a similar manipulative tactic on me to lay claim to our mutual crush. And talk about the mother-in-law from hell— Mrs. Ferrars makes my mother-in-law look like a cute cuddly kitten. Actually my mother-in-law is quite wonderful, but you get the idea. And how many Walloughbys have I dated in my life? Best not to think about it, really.
Which leads me to my takeaway. To me, the biggest thing that gives this story such an enduring power is that Jane Austen really saw people in all their imperfect, quirky, and inter-relationally awkward glory. Although time and customs have changed a great deal, people really haven’t. Jane Austen understood people then and if she were still around I have no doubt she’d understand us still today. Sense and Sensibility is a simple story with simple characters, yet I was hooked til the very end. I just had to know what would happen to these Miss Dashwood girls!
I gave the book 4 stars. Austen really got it right the first time! I’m eager to continue reading her works in order to see whether her books are more or less the same or to see if her writing matures. In the meantime, I’m glad to have another Austen novel and all its characters to add to my repertoire of cultural references that “everyone” knows.