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Wit and Wisdom,
This review is from: Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Sense and Sensibility focuses on the two eldest Dashwood sisters, Eleanor and Marianne. Marianne is passionate, vivacious and above all naive. Eleanor is calm, quiet, and sensitive to how others might see you. The Georgians were obsessed with both money and respectability, meaning that Marianne's tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve can only lead to other ladies whispering about her behind their fans.
When the novel opens, the Dashwoods, Eleanor, Marianne, their younger sister Margaret and their Mother are waiting for half brother John Dashwood and his vile wife Fanny to arrive in the wake of their father's death. (More about them in a moment). John is from the first marriage of the recently deceased Mr Dashwood senior and due to the terms of his estate, John inherits everything. He had promised his father that he would help his sisters but fails to do so. Mrs Dashwood resolves to stay at Norland, the country estate that John has just inherited, for as long as she possibly can, partly through grief and partly to spite Fanny. During this time Edward Ferras, Fanny's brother, comes to stay and he and Eleanor form a romantic attachment.
The family eventually move to Barton Cottage, where they become friends with a mixture of people; the excessively genteel Lady Middleton, the jovial party throwing Sir John Middleton, his gossipy, interfering but generally good hearted mother in law Mrs Jennings, the uneducated and manipulative Lucy Steele and her socially inept sister, the honourable and reserved Colonel Brandon and the charming, dashing John Willoughby. Both Brandon and Willoughby fall in love with Marianne but Willoughby is the one who most closely fits her romantic ideals and she falls for him hook, line and sinker. They flaunt the prescribed norms of behaviour and in so doing they risk Marianne's reputation, which is the only thing that she really has as without it, all her lady-like skills are not going to get her very far. It is only when Mrs Jennings takes the two eldest Miss Dashwoods off to London that things really start to go off with a bang.
The one main themes running through this book is money, and the different effects that having money, or having no money can have. You have those who are vain and greedy because they have money, John and Fanny Dashwood are a fantastic example of this. Fanny is an excellent example of a woman that you just love to hate because she seems to have no redeeming features, at all. I've met a few women like her in my life and I can assure you that Fanny is an excellent example. There are those who are desperate for more money and will marry just about anyone to get it, and there are those who have suffered at the hands of richer relatives as they are reliant on those relatives for their income.
Another main theme is that of the title; the Eleanor's sense versus Marianne's Sensibility (although now we would say sensitivity). The novel is said to have been based on the relationship that Austen had with her own sister Cassandra, with Cassandra being Eleanor and Marianne being Jane herself. It feels as though Austen had a change of heart as to which one she thought should triumph, as it were, although in the end I think she decided that although it would be great for Sensibilities to win, society would always favour Sense.
And of course, love is a theme. Austen's characters marry for a variety of reasons, and I get the impression that the characters who marry for love have more integrity than those who don't. Austen famously wasn't allowed to marry for love and so by giving her characters the chance to do so, she was joining a wave of innovative writers who were questioning the way Georgian society functioned.
Is this book a classic? I would say so because Austen is laying her characters bare to your scrutiny, she never hides any of their flaws or tries to make them seem better than you might suspect that they are. Her writing is witty and challenging. Her characters are multi-faceted and her plots are multi-layered.I would recommend this book to everyone, really. I love this book, I always have.