Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen, Juliet Stevenson

This was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read, and it retains a special place in my heart because of that.


Well, not entirely because of that. To be honest, it deserves a special place in my heart entirely on its own merits, and I always debate between this and Northanger Abbey as my favorite of her novels. Here, it is the characters that draw me in.


I love Elinor. I really do. I want to be Elinor. She is brilliant and poised and handles even the worst of things with aplomb. She is an artist and a reader and a first-born child who understands what that means and how having younger siblings gives you a certain requirement to look after them as best you can, and all of the sufferings that that can entail. She is a good sister to Marianne, who has a host of problematic behavioral issues (the titular "sensibility" is the cause of most of these), even when Marianne is not a good sister to her.


At the same time, I feel for Marianne, I truly do. She goes through an awful lot of trouble because of the way she wears her heart on the sleeve, and while I'm pleased everything came out okay in the end (let's be honest and admit this is not a spoiler--if you are reading Jane Austen for anything other than happy endings of some sort, I'm not sure what you are thinking), it was rough going for quite some time, and much of it was her own fault.


I will not pardon the behavior of certain others, of course, who ought to have known better and who certainly have an awful lot to answer for, but Marianne could have perhaps prevented intentionally increasing her own suffering at several points. It was not healthy, and it was not easy to read.


The side characters are, as always, remarkably lively and feel like just barely caricatured versions of people that exist even now. I'd buy them living in a small town in the 1800's, and I'd buy them working in an office building with me now. Everyone has a Mrs. Jennings in their life somewhere, I feel quite sure of it.


Lucy was intriguing enough, and listening to her instead of reading her gave an interesting interpretation to certain of her phrasings I don't think I had quite understood.


I quite enjoyed the ending, though I did find one aspect,

the suggestion that Colonel Brandon was "owed" Marianne for his help to the family,

(show spoiler)

to be a bit out-of-touch. Admittedly, given I was rooting for that anyway, I am okay with assuming that things worked out okay and all was happy in the end. The rest of the ending was definitely satisfactory.



I really enjoyed listening to this (and had no clue I had apparently spent half a day doing so...); I'm quite getting into audiobooks, I think, and Juliet Stevenson's Jane Austen readings are a large chunk of the reason why. She does each character with just the right tone that you recognize them, but without ever seeming to over-do it, and she somehow makes pieces of the text pop alive in ways I had not previously considered simply by how she speaks. She catches the tone of the work perfectly and has become my go-to Austen narrator.


If you've read any Jane Austen and enjoyed it, make sure to pick this up. If you haven't, then this is a great introduction to her work, whether you read or listen.