Sense and Sensibility (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austin, 1811
~350 pp. (varies by publisher)

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2011

Jane Austen liked nothing so much as to poke fun at convention, and in her novels she does just that. In Sense and Sensibility, she takes aim at the then-current craze for all things sentimental.

Novels in the late 18th- and early 19th-century featured characters of delicate emotions, or sensibility. They wept, sighed, and fainted—proof of their heightened sensitivity to intellectual and emotional stimuli. (Think Heathcliff wandering the moors or, better yet, the Heathcliff of Bridget Jones who bangs his head against a tree, shouting "Cathy, Cathy, Caaaaathy....!")

The sensibility movement was a reaction against the dry rationalism of scientific inquiry. But Austen would have neither extreme. And so she devised her story of two sisters representing those extremes—rationality vs. emotionalism. It's the novel we know as Sense and Sensibility—and Austen's cri de coeur for the middle way.

I don't want to insult you by reviewing the plot. Nonetheless, a quick sketch follows—mother and daughters are cast out of their home after the death of the mother's 2nd husband. Settling in a country cottage, the two sisters each fall in love, one tempestuously and one more rationally. The travails of their romances highlight the errors in the two young women's differing inclinations in life and love. In the end, both learn from their mistakes.

In Jane World, all's well that ends well, and this novel is no exception. But between open and close, Austen plies her wonderful, satirical trade, commenting on the society around her. It's a great read...and could be complemented with clips from one of several film versions (BBC productions or Emma Thompson's).

And why not pair it with The Three Weissmanns of Westport? Oh! 'Tis too much happiness!

See our Reading Guide for Sense and Sensibility.

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