lifetime book-lover who writes about - what else? - a variety of books.
here's the thing: i love Jane Austen. i've read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, and enjoyed them immensely. simply put: Austen was a phenomenal writer who created thoroughly fleshed-out characters, and contrary to popular belief, she didn't write romance novels so much as she wrote stories of morality and manners. yet, far from being preachy or pompous, Austen - either through her characters or through narration (or both) - is often witty, friendly, wise and sympathetic. she is an author with whom i'd love to spend a day or a dinner. hell, i'd even take a cup a coffee (or tea, as the case may be), because any time spent with Austen is bound to be both entertaining and enlightening.
and yet, i did not enjoy Sense and Sensibility. let me rephrase that: i enjoyed the writing, which is as good (and witty and wise) as anything found in Austen's later novels, and i enjoyed how vibrantly alive all of the characters were. what i did not enjoy was one character in particular: Marianne. as i've said before: i thought she was exceedingly irritating and selfish. if, as i've read in other places, Austen meant to determine by the end of the novel whether it was better to have sense or sensibility - well, this was a clear winner for sense. especially, if sensibility is best exhibited by the melodrama associated with a teenager's first love and heartbreak.
i tried to sympathize with Marianne, i really did. but seriously, all that "i shall never love again!" drama just did not sit well. especially since it lasted for chapters upon chapters. especially, when the drama came after her being such an obnoxious know-it-all in the first half of the book. especially when, even after she's been shown how foolish she's been (or being) she continues to be selfish and ungracious, and it isn't until after she makes herself sick (thereby unnecessarily becoming an even greater inconvenience and worry to the people around her) does she repent. kind of. i kept wishing Elinor would smack her, or at the very least sternly tell her how ridiculous she was being.
and then, at the end of all of that, Marianne gets the best guy in the book! i mean, come on. i kind of get it - their marriage wasn't so much about what she deserved, as it was about what he deserved. Austen isn't shy about saying that he loved Marianne, and had behaved honorably (and sensibly) enough to deserve the object of his affections. now, i'm just going brush right over how much the idea of a woman being a man's "prize" for his good behavior puts my feminist panties in a bunch, and get right to the point where i say that, excluding the idea of desert, i couldn't for the life of me figure out what he saw in her. except, of course, that she was young and pretty. and, as unsurprising as that idea might be given -- SPOILER ALERT! -- their age difference, i find it frankly disappointing. i mean, I thought the Colonel was supposed to be more sensible than that. SPOILER END
in the end, my biggest problem with this book was that Marianne's moral development did not seem particularly earned. she suffers for her indiscretion of manners by getting her heart broken by a cad, but she doesn't learn anything from this heartbreak. in short, she's as overwrought in her emotions after the breakup as she was before it, and she never really changes even when she says that she has. for example, she faints and has to be carried from the room when the family learns that Elinor's love interest has been married. apparently, even in the end, Marianne's sensibilities are so delicate that she can't even take the idea that her sister is the one whose heart is being broken. i tell you, i wanted to give that girl a good boot to the butt.
and Elinor. well, I liked Elinor. truly i did, but perversely, she was so good and so sensible that she was . . . well, she was kind of a bore. needless to say, it was the side characters who shone for me. Mrs. Jennings, Lucy, Mrs. John Dashwood, Mr. John Dashwood, the Middletons, and the Palmers among others were what kept this novel moving for me.
so, four stars because i love Austen's writing and three stars because I did not love Marianne nor did i particularly enjoy how this story was resolved, which leaves us with 3.5 stars. this one is recommended if you've read and enjoyed, or would like to read, a Jane Austen novel. you might enjoy this more than i did (many others definitely have), but i make no promises.
UPDATE (6/30): incidentally, i just remembered that i loved The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, which i read a few years back. Goodman's novel has frequently been compared to Austen's Sense and Sensibility and, after having finally read Sense and Sensibility, i get the comparison -- the two protagonists in The Cookbook Collector are sisters with very different views about life. but as exasperating as i sometimes found Jess, i didn't find her nearly as annoying as Marianne. and the romance between the Jess and her guy made much more sense despite their differences. the Amazon reviews on Goodman's book are mixed, but i'd recommend it. it makes for an interesting comparison to Sense and Sensibility at least, and whatever her faults, Goodman is an evocative and beautiful writer.