Adventures in Reading

Sense & Sensibility
September 12, 2007, 7:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sense & Sensibility was published in 1811 and ideally I had hoped to read Austen’s novels in order but as Pride & Prejudice (1813) was assigned I had to make do. The first chapter of Sense & Sensibility details the Dashwood’s family history. There is no dialog and the chapter entirely traces the succession of the family property and worth to the present Dashwood generation. Here we discover that Mr. Henry Dashwood has past away. His son John will inherit everything at Norwood and his daughters (from a second marriage) will have to make do and rely on the kindness of their brother.

On Mr. Dashwood’s deathbed his son John promised to care for his half-sisters and step-mother but very quickly this begins to fall apart as Austen reveals her characters. Mr. John Dashwood (here forth known simply as Mr. Dashwood) is married to Fanny who very early in the story comes across as a greedy, manipulative, and selfish person. Very soon after Henry’s death the Dashwood couple move into the property that is entailed to Mr. Dashwood despite his wife and daughters still residing at the property with no place to go. Immediately Fanny talks her husband into refusing to help his family as it is not his duty. Mr. Dashwood is a weak character that is not only malleable to his wife but agrees to harm his family and under such little pressure.

The Dashwood daughters are Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret and with their recently widowed mother Mrs. Dashwood must make do with the income they have. Almost from the start the group begin looking for new living quarters as they find their once beloved home unbearable with Mr. Dashwood and Fanny. The one silver lining of this otherwise uncomfortable existence is Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars. Elinor and Marianne are the embodiment of sense and sensibility. Elinor is practical and reserved while Marianne is passionate and forceful. A good example of this are their differing perspectives on Edward. Marianna views him as a bore with no taste while Elinor is quite taken by the quiet and reflective man.

Edward is the oldest son of the Farras clan and thus his mother Mrs. Farras as well as his sister Fanny have certain ideals and what he will and will not achieve in life. Thus when his affections towards Elinor are noticed the family drama begins. Mrs. Dashwood is very much like her daughter Marianne – very romantic, emotional, but often lacking in sense. Nothing pleases her more than her daughter’s happiness and she is a true believer in companionate marriages and is more than thrilled with Elinor’s acquaintance with Edward. Fanny, on the other hand, sees Elinor as nothing more than a young woman with little money and no connections. Certainly not what she wants for Edward.

One of my favorite occasions at Norwood are Fanny’s remarks as she desires Mrs. Dashwood’s furniture and breakfast china. The BBC adaptation of Sense & Sensibility does a brilliant job with this scene and it provides a clear depiction of how self-centered Fanny is. While these family tensions are tightening the ever practical Elinor does her best to steer clear of emotional entanglements with Edward. Elinor is no fool and knows that any marriage would be unwelcome on the Farras side of the family and soon mother and sisters leave Norwood for Derbyshire and Barton Cottage.

Mrs. Dashwood received an invitation from her cousin Sir John Middleton to move to a cottage at his estate. The family is warned that it is a smaller home but has everything they could desire. These scenes occurring in chapter six introduce a new cast of characters including the Middleton family, Lady Middleton’s mother Mrs. Jennings, and Colonel Brandon. I can not help but reference Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate & Charles Dickens Knew as he explains a rather odd sentence at the beginning of chapter seven. “…but it was moonlight and everyone was full of engagements” is Sir Middleton’s explanation for the lack of people to meet the Dashwoods. As Pool’s book explains, with no electric lights and lanterns allowing for little or no driving light in the 19th Century many balls, dances, and gatherings would have to be planned around the phases of the moon to ensure safe travel by the light of the full moon.

So far I have found Sense & Sensibility to be rather dry in comparison to Pride & Prejudice. The change to more internal dialog is intriguing but the story does not seem to have the same grip.


One must have an enormous tolerance for Marianne’s silliness to adore this novel. In contrast, Elinor is a bit dry and uninteresting. The plot is quite melodramatic as well. For my taste, I admire Mr. Palmer exceedingly. His attitude towards those surrounding him hits just the right note.

Comment by Ms. Place

So true! Last evening I finished the part where he declares his son to be satisfactory but nothing more. Tolerance is definitely something I am trying to work on with S&S as it is all too easy to become frustrated with the main characters. Overall I am enjoying the book.

Comment by bookchronicle

[…] period prior to electricity is that there is no TiVo to turn to on long lonely nights. As I have mentioned before from Daniel Pool’s book What Jane Austen Ate & Charles Dickens Knew, even nighttime […]

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