Jane Austen – Sense And Sensibility

I usually don’t venture into the realm of women’s literature except by accident if the backcover of a book does not give away the usual stereotypical elements of the story. There are of course exceptions. Some works of women’s literature have survived the test of time and they are of an age they also represent and depict the times they are written in as they are contemporary novels of that period. I am not speaking in a negative way about these novels. Just like there are books that mainly men like, there are also books that only have female fans. Usually one sex does not cross over to the territory of the other sex. That’s just how things are.

Among those works are the novels of Jane Austen. I have a collected works edition which I purchased for a cheap price six and a half years ago. It thus took some time before I was in the right mood to give it a go. I have started with Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense And Sensibility (1811). It was different than I expected. First off was Austen’s prose which is easy to read. She does have a tendency to use certain words and phrases frequently but not too often. It’s not like other authors don’t do so, but the words Austen uses are rather different from the typical. Secondly the settings and events were much more mundane and not as dramatic as is more common these days. Yes there were some dramatic scenes but they were limited and Austen wrapped them in a proper wrapping in which the characters behave in a bit more constrained way.

Austen narrates the story from an all-knowing third person viewpoint. With this she also constrains the dialogue she uses. Much dialogue is unsaid and mainly summarized while these would often lead to an interesting interaction between characters. On a few occasions the dialogue became more extensive as a character started holding a long monologue which was more of a long rambling than making sense or a point.

Although the story is told by an all-knowing narrator most of the focus is on one female character. Secondary are her younger sister and a old matron with whom they spend much time. It are these three which we get to know best. There is a range of side-characters, most of which get very few lines of dialogue and of whom we learn little background. Opposite those three female characters are three male characters who take center stage and of whom we learn more. They are however not that often around but can be seen as the main side-characters.

The story itself is somewhat peculiar. We mainly get a view of the lives of English upper class women. They do not work and if they have children they don’t need to spend all their time on them. Much time is spent on gossiping, reading, handicraft or play cards. They also take many walks in the countryside if they reside there, or shopping when they are in a city. It depicts a rather leisurely life in which not much happens. One typical element is lengthy stays at other people as everyone tries to seek variation in companionship so they can introduce their guests to their own circle in society. Of the men we get to know very little as they are mostly out of sight.

The plot is very much about gossiping and possible engagements between men and women. Austen throws in some twists to provide some dramatic developments but she keeps these constrained so that the events are not deepened more than necessary.

Overall Sense And Sensibility was a much better read than expected. The main character was well chosen due to her great sense and composure and was very likable. The settings and many side characters however remained rather shallow. As relationships form the core of the story, anything that is not related to it is mostly ignored. There was thus a lack of detail which made the story not that contemporary. Many events are relatively timeless, despite the lack of quick communications and ways to travel.

I made quite some remarks but these do not make this a poor novel. I won’t really say it is a good novel. It is a decent one and the peculiarities depicted through the times it is set in allow for a different atmosphere. Together with the fine prose these make this novel a fine read.

 

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