1811 Sense and Sensibility

1 April 2011

Sense and Sensibility Vol. 1

Well, it’s time to move on to the next step of our Regency Read and Sew-Along! I hope everyone has their patterns picked out and ordered! I’ll be doing the Period Impressions bib-front dress in a chocolate-brown cotton.

I hope everyone has had fun ‘researching’ the styles and materials in the movies! I’ve heard from a couple of you on the movies you’ve watched, and I wanted to share this story from one of my ‘gentle readers’ that I greatly enjoyed:

“We have movies that are supposed to be en route from Netflix but my hubby’s choices mysteriously keep ending up coming first… I’m looking forward to sitting down and watching them, though. We were watching an episode of one of his Sci-Fi/Fantasy series the other day – the characters have adventures in different time periods. I got excited and started saying “they’re all in Regency clothing!” He seemed to think I’d gone a bit crazy, but I was excited to really recognize period clothing!”

I know exactly what you are talking about…my husband has given me that look several times!

Now for chatting about the book!!! I think the first noticeable theme in this book is the comparison drawn between Elinor and Marianne, but there has been something else this time around that has really struck me, and that is what I find my thoughts really dwelling on. The Dashwood family, a mother and three daughters, is made up of some very different personalities, but one thing I keep noticing is the level of love, respect, and devotion they have for each other.

Mrs. Dashwood can be seen as a Marianne-type, as in Emma Thompson’s screenplay, but I much prefer BBC’s 2008 version of Mrs. Dashwood, and I find it truer to the novel. Mrs. Dashwood is not the most sensible of people, but the reader loves her no less for it. Her lack of sense stems from a lack of education in practical matters and an indefatigable devotion to her daughters. Her reliance on Elinor’s advice in practical matters shows that she is sensible enough to see her own weaknesses, and pride does not get in the way of her taking and valuing advice from a family that she is now the head of, which in my opinion is quite a strength in her personality. She does not allow her daughters to criticize each other, or even their favorite young men, without taking the matter quite seriously. She values each daughter, and as an extension of them, their intended husbands, for who they are and what they bring to the family unit. When Elinor teases Marianne, and Marianne responds as though it were a serious comment, Mrs. Dashwood smoothes the way by making clear that no harm was meant, but adds that were harm intended, she would certainly take a stand on that type of behavior. Mrs. Dashwood welcomes the young men whom her daughters love into her family as if they were her own sons. She defends Willoughby as well as any mother when Elinor points out her suspicions. She welcomes Edward Farrars with such kindness and generosity that he is able to forget his worries and be himself for a little while, and even Elinor was not able to do so much for him.

Elinor and Marianne are about as different as can be in terms of personality, which seems a common theme among sisters even in real life; however, they love and care for each other as their own flesh and blood. They do not always understand each others’ emotions and motives, but there is a tie that bonds them together as they defend each other, as they protect each other from railings of outsiders, as they take over unpleasant duties for the sake of each other. They serve each other in various ways, all out of love and concern. The only person for whom Marianne will bear up against her sorrow is Elinor. When Edward comes to visit, Marianne musters her courage and happily makes emotional way for Elinor as the center of attention and concern. Her own private heartaches are just beneath the surface, and often peek out, but she keeps them under better control then than at any other time. Elinor, in her logical way, also shows courage for the sake of her sister. She makes conversation out of duty with tiresome people when she knows that Marianne’s patience with them is at an end. She also looks out for her sister’s well-being by encouraging her to walk with them and not be so much alone in her sorrow.

In the first volume, we meet, become acquainted with, and learn to love the Dashwood family as Mrs. Dashwood does, seeing and honoring each for who they are and what they bring to the family unit. We know they will only be called upon to endure greater trials as the novel progresses, and happily they have a firm family foundation on which they can each lean for support as the winds of life buffet them about.

I also wanted to include a few historical notes about things mentioned in the book. My copy does not have notes…and unless you’ve got the Penguin or the Oxford editions, yours may not either. Plus, I just love little trivia like this!

1. When Austen says “mother-in-law” this can mean a mother-in-law as we define it today, or it may also mean a step-mother. John Dashwood’s step-mother is Mrs. Dashwood, but she is referred to as his mother-in-law. Some printers change this for clarity, but others leave it. I’ve seen this in Charles Dickens’ books as well, so this is a good thing to keep in mind as you read anything from this time period.

2. A “natural” child is a child born out-of-wedlock. Miss Williams is said by the local gossips to be Col. Brandon’s natural daughter.

3. Elinor looks for Marianne to correspond with Willoughby as proof that they are engaged. This was the social custom at the time; only engaged couples could write to each other. This is also why it hits Elinor so hard when she sees Edward’s letter to Lucy. As a side note, this is why Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice could not respond to Mr. Darcy’s letter, as she had turned down his proposal. (I wondered about that for a long time….why didn’t she ever write him back?)

4. Mr. Palmer wants to be in Parliament. (An MP is a Member of Parliament.) Mrs. Palmer comments that if he makes it, he vows he will never frank for her. MPs could “frank” a letter which allowed them to send their mail without being charged postage, because they had so much correspondence in their business. It is a running joke, it seems, in literature of this time that to be friends with an MP is quite a wonderful thing as they can send your letters for free. Remember too, that this time period is famous for its letter-writing. This is also mentioned in Mansfield Park, when Edmund Bertram asks his father to frank Fanny Price’s letter to her brother. She is quite astonished and too shy to ask, but Edmund thinks nothing of it.

I hope you have enjoyed the first volume of Sense and Sensibility as much as I have! I am of course looking forward to continuing the story!


16 May 2011

Sense and Sensibility Vol. 2

I must be very careful to avoid any spoilers, as my youngest sister is reading Sense and Sensibility for the first time, and she is lucky enough to have a mind untainted by others’ visions of the story and characters (i.e. she hasn’t seen any of the movies). So she has no idea what is going to happen! I remember when I read S&S, along with all the other Austens for the first time. The only movie I had seen was Pride and Prejudice (2005) before reading the books, so I, too, was fortunate in that regard.

Not that the movies are bad; in fact, I quite enjoy them! But still…there’s nothing like the books!

So, in Volume 2, several characters’ true characters are revealed. (Dun da dun…) I can’t think of anything else to say without giving anything away. But my post on Vol. 3 will be spoilerful!

A few things that caught my eye this time around that might be helpful to know:

Names. In a family, the eldest sister would be called, for example, Miss Steele. This is Lucy, but she is only called such by close friends and relatives. Miss Nancy Steele is Nancy’s formal title as the younger sister. (Lucy calls her Ann for short.)

Another ‘rule’ of the time was that an engagement could not be broken off by the man. A gentleman would never give his word to a lady and go back on it, and asking a lady to marry him is considered giving his word to love and honor her. The engagement could be broken off by the woman, but again, she would not be looked upon very kindly for trifling with a man’s affections. It would be quite a serious matter to call off the engagement. It was therefore obviously important to make this decision with care. This is referred to directly and indirectly several times. The main exception to this rule for both guys and gals is if the fiance is found to be unfaithful. A bit of Austen-related history here…Jane Austen herself was engaged and broke off the engagement. She was asked by a younger man who was also a family friend that she had known since childhood. She said yes the evening he asked, but apologized and broke it off early the next morning. We don’t have any letters or journals that describe her feelings about this, but I would hazard a guess that as a well-known friend, and also as a man of fortune, she was tempted to marry him (her own family were not rich, aside from one brother), but upon reflection, found that she could not love him well enough to marry him and so called it off. A letter of later date containing advice to her niece is a commonly-cited reason, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.”


10 June 2011

Sense and Sensibility Vol. 3

I meant to get this posted the beginning of this week, but Monday afternoon Sarah fell ill, and the 24-hour bug soon worked its way through most of the house. We are now all feeling much better. One good thing about a week of sickness; I got in a lot of reading! I finished rereading Jane Eyre and hope to get a post on that soon, and I’m halfway through Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

I’ve received word (about a week and a half ago now) from my sister that she is finished reading Sense and Sensibility and that she greatly enjoyed it! She had mentioned early on that Willoughby reminded her of an old boyfriend, and I told her I wanted to know if the comparison held true through the end. She said it did. Times change…but people don’t!

I am still struck with the level of devotion and love between Elinor and Marianne. They were always loyal to each other, perhaps because of the example given them by their mother in her almost blind dedication to each of her girls. Mrs. Dashwood sees nothing devoid in any of her daughters, but Marianne and Elinor both see certain aspects of the other’s personality that could be improved upon. And to a certain extent they are both right, but as they grow in understanding of each other’s temperaments, they grow in their love for each other as well. Elinor Dashwood is the very model of emotional fortitude. She bears up under trials and does not wish Edward to do something that is wrong for happiness’ sake, because she knows that this entire idea is an illusion. They could never be happy together knowing it was wrong for him to go back on his word to Lucy. If Lucy insisted upon keeping the engagement, then he was bound in honor. Throughout the book, I think that Elinor learns to be more understanding of other personalities. She is great at putting up with all sorts of annoying and rude people, but she seems to gain more true understanding of others, demonstrated especially when she hears Willoughby’s side of the story at the end. She at first is very angry and defensive of her sister, but after listening, she feels compassion for him. She still sees what he has done in clear light, but she does truly feel sorry for him as well. With only a little guidance, he could have been a good and happy person.

Sense and Sensibility, to me at least, is a coming-of-age story for Marianne. She learns temperance; to moderate her feelings, and to bear sorrow with a greater amount of fortitude. She also gains quite a bit of maturity. Her ideas are all romantic in the beginning, but she learns that life and the people in it are not always just what one would paint in the imagination. Willoughby had the look, situation, and personal address of a storybook hero, but he lacked the character. And Col. Brandon was too old and too passive for nonpareil status, or so Marianne thought at first! By the way of a personal note, I can now play BOTH of Marianne’s piano pieces: My Father’s Favorite from the 1995 movie and Marianne’s Song from the 2008 movie (the song she is playing right above!). Hurrah! Also…for those interested in unimportant tidbits…the dress Marianne is wearing in the picture above is the same dress Elizabeth Bennet wears in Pride and Prejudice 2005 when she visits Pemberly to meet Georgiana. Yes, I’ve seen these movies too many times.

And now for the mysterious gentlemen! We always get a pretty good idea of what is going on in the ladies’ heads, but much more is left open for discussion and debate on the mens’ motives and feelings! I wish we could have gotten to know Edward Farrars a bit better- or perhaps that we just would have been able to see him in a less emotionally confined situation. He has a playfulness about him that creeps out once in a while (his “I have been guessing” conversation with Marianne made me laugh…page 95 of my book) but we don’t see that side of him very much. He is so often quiet, melancholy, and downtrodden because of the strain he is under. He gave his word, and because he is a virtuous person, he will stick to it. But that means he is stuck in an engagement without love, threatened with being disowned by his family, and a continual disappointment (in different ways) to all around him. He has hope that the virtuous path will eventually lead to happiness, but he knows it will be a long road. Though Elinor enjoyed his company and liked him before, his willingness to undergo his trials for the sake of principle is what truly endears him to her, which makes it all the more painful when the very reason she loves him so much is the same reason she can never marry him. I think Edward sees this, which is why he also respects and loves Elinor as well.

Col. Brandon shows fortitude in the form of patience. “What is essential to the virtue of fortitude is not aggression or self-confidence or wrath but rather steadfastness and patience…To be patient means not to allow the serenity and discernment of one’s soul to be taken away.” (Pieper) This is a good thing, because the poor guy had to wait until he was 35 to meet the love of his life. But I think it’s also easy to see him as Marianne does at first, and misinterpret his patience for passiveness. Why didn’t he pursue Marianne with more enthusiasm? I mean, if the gossipy Mrs. Jennings hadn’t alerted us to the fact, would we have even known he liked her? Why didn’t he reveal what he knew about Willoughby when he thought Marianne would marry Willoughby? Perhaps because that act could be misread; he was not exactly a disinterested friend as he had designs on Marianne himself. But I think he would not worry so much about how a choice would make him look if it were the right one. He cared for Marianne’s happiness, but he also respected her choice. He did not like Willoughby, but hope allows us to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps a partnership with a woman like Marianne would help Willoughby to become a better person. I like Col. Brandon a lot, but it is still hard for me to come up with a fully satisfying reason that he would not warn Marianne that she would be irrevocably attaching herself to an ‘errant knave’. A similar situation comes up in Austen’s novel Persuasion, and again, it’s a hard point for me to understand there as well.

It’s kind-of sad really, that Willoughby truly fell in love with Marianne (though the extent of his ability to love could probably be debated upon), and would have been able to marry her had not his past sins come to haunt him. He had not yet rectified the mistakes of the past, and therefore could not have happiness without doing so. Unfortunately, his decision was not to rectify those wrongs, but to continue down the selfish road. I agree with Elinor when she opined that Willoughby would never have been happy, even had he married Marianne, because his entire existence had been one of selfishness. What he had, he did not value; and what he wanted, he placed higher than the skies. He will never find happiness until he learns the virtues of justice (because he wants more than is his due) and charity (because he loves himself more than he loves others).

Well I don’t know about all of you, but I greatly enjoyed rereading, thinking, and talking about this book! Thanks to all those who read along! I’d still love to hear any of your comments and thoughts about the book, characters, situations, or whatever!

And Happy Anniversary to Jane Austen for her first published novel! I’ve already made up my mind that I’ll reread all of Austen’s books on their 200th anniversary, which means you’ll have to put up with me rambling on about them once in a while. On a side note, I rented the movie From Prada To Nada, which is a modern-day Latino adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. They obviously change some things, but it is cute nonetheless. However, I think the viewer would have to be a fan of the book and enjoy finding all the connections to the original story. Otherwise, I think it would come across as rather disjointed. The characters are simplified to extremes; mere caricatures of their originals, but hey…it’s Hollywood, what do we expect?