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Monday, 10 August 2015

THE 2015 CLASSICS CHALLENGE: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My rating: ☆☆

Elinor is as prudent as her sister Marianne is impetuous. Each must learn from the other after they are they are forced by their father's death to leave their home and enter into the contests of polite society. The charms of unsuitable men and the schemes of rival ladies mean that their paths to success are thwart with disappointment but together they attempt to find a way to happiness. [summary from Goodreads]

When I discovered this classic:
Like I said with Persuasion last month, my mum is quite a big Jane Austen fan so I've always been vaguely aware of all her works but hadn't read anything except for Pride and Prejudice.

Why I chose to read it:
I really wanted to read Persuasion after seeing a performance of it so after searching for nice editions I found these beautiful Vintage Classics editions and received three of them for Christmas, including Sense and Sensibility. After reading Persuasion last month and loving it, I was really in the mood for more Austen and decided to see if I liked Sense and Sensibility as much.

What makes it a classic?
Sense and Sensibility is a novel of manners which set the foundation for Austen's body of work which, as a whole, can be seen as a critique of the novels of sensibility of the 18th century and marked the transition into the realism of the 19th century.

The fact that Jane Austen can take what sounds like the basic plot of a dull, made-for-tv movie (two sisters, one extremely reserved, one far too emotional - how will they ever find love?!), and create something intelligent that is rich with dry humour and sharp, well-crafted prose, is enough to mark Sense and Sensibility as an instant classic. 

What I thought of this classic:
Although I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Persuasion, as it moves a little slower and I didn't feel quite as warmly towards the characters, it is still technically brilliant and an extremely enjoyable read. One of the things that stands out for me in Austen's writing is her characterisation, which is truly excellent. She presents a large cast of characters, each fully fleshed out, pretty well-rounded and very realistic; none are ridiculous caricatures of personality traits which is sometimes the case in early 19th century prose.

I think the reason why I didn't enjoy it as much as Persuasion is because although the characterisation was generally brilliant, the extended character development of the main characters felt slightly rushed and somewhat unfinished. Elinor and Marianne are respectively the 'sense' and sensibility' of the novel's title and critics have argued over which one Austen intended to triumph over the other in terms of their value in good judgement. However, I believe that Austen actually intended to demonstrate that both qualities are equally important by helping the heroines find a balance. However, by the end of the novel I wasn't convinced that both characters had changed enough for this idea to be convincing. As I said, the ending felt a little rushed and the third person narrative, though usually very effective, felt rather sweeping at this point and I would have liked more of a demonstration of the heroines' changed characters.

This is only a small complaint and didn't hugely affect my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. Sense and Sensibility offers a wry social commentary, focusing particularly on etiquette, wealth and relationships and Austen's observational prose demonstrates her oustanding insight into human behaviour. 

Will it stay a classic?
Austen's works will never not be classics. Ever. I can definitely say that with the upmost confidence. Sense and Sensibility is important not only because of its brilliant content but for the fact that it was Austen's first published work, which she began at age 19.

Who I would recommend it to:
Anyone who's already an Austen fan! Anyone who enjoys character driven over plot-driven novels. Anyone who's a fan of satirical humour. Anyone who prefers nice men over bad boys haha!

The 2015 Classics Challenge is hosted by Stacey of Pretty Books and you can find out more about it here.

Have you read Sense and Sensibility? What did you think?


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