Friday, September 29, 2006

On Rereading Sense and Sensibility

I've just finished reading Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, for about the 100th time - but the first time in several years. My remembrance of it had definitely been coloured by the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee adaptation (which is brilliant as far as feature film length butcherings of 3 volume novels go), so I was surprised by the depth of the thing. Which is weird, as I am well versed in the dazzling brilliance of all things Austen. Let's just say that when I went to England I visited the Chawton House Austen museum, the grave, the house where she passed her final days, took the Jane Austen tour of Bath, etc., and generally reveled. But I've avoided Sense and Sensibility in recent years because I've been feeling a little prejudiced against it - Marianne is too romantically dramatically teenaged in her outlook, Edward is undeserving, Colonel Brandon's an old bore, Mrs. Jennings is crass and dim, Elinor's a bit stodgy, and so on. But it is so not true! I've maligned this brilliant fantastic book. It is so nuanced. It is so much less an all out romantic comedy than a surface or immature reading would have you think. There is so much depth to the characters - Mrs. Jennings is a bit crass, but she also comes out with some of the most clear sighted commentaries on human nature and society in the book. They are just hidden in there amongst all her gossiping. And Colonel Brandon - a wet sock? - no - what a character! He seems so old and boring at first, because that is how he is being maligned by the young female lead, but even through this his internalized passions and care, and sorrows can still be glimpsed. And Marianne and Elinor are not nearly so polarised as I had been judging them. Yes, they demonstrate certain qualities of extreme sense and sensibility, but neither of them is wholly one nor the other of these things. Neither of them is wholly blameworthy or blameless. Yes, Jane Austen's stories are comedies - they are very funny. But they are also very serious and very cutting commentaries on society, on social mores, on her world, on life. She is entirely serious in her storytelling, and it is this that makes the stories so funny, and gripping, and romantic, and lasting. I'm so glad I took a little time out from new books to rediscover this old favourite, and I suggest that everyone go out and find themselves a little Austen to brighten and enlighten their days this Autumn.

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