I think I’ve passed the age at which I can enjoy Jane Austen. I finished reading Sense and Sensibility (1811) and number 54 on the BBC book list, but I didn’t really care to. I felt bored and yawned through it. A lot.
The plot doesn’t have much action. In fact, there’s hardly any action. It is about the sisters of a family who are trying to find husbands. Hmmmm. That sounds an awful like the rest of Austen’s books.
(Today, I don’t have my own photo of the book cover, but I found several lovely covers online and I’ll paste them throughout. I love seeing different renderings.)
What the book did offer, for me, was an exploration of the difficulties in being a woman during that time. The book begins with a discussion of the Dashwood sisters as children from their father’s second marriage, and that he had first had a son. Of course, this son inherits everything of the father’s, leaving the daughters nothing. The son must then decide, with his selfish wife, how much or how little to share with his sisters. The sisters must also worry about how to live and whom to marry. And the men who are courting the sisters must worry about the lack of dowry money.
This causes the bigger problem in the book, with loathsome Willoughby choosing another woman over Marianne even after an agreement of being engaged. Marianne is heartbroken and whines a lot about it. In fact, it seems she might die of disappointment. And then to prove how stupid and despicable he is, Willoughby comes back and tells Elinor his mistake and how much he despises his wife. He just married her for money, but he still loves Marianne. What a jerk!
And then, when it looks as if Marianne and Elinor will finally find happiness (read marriage) they hear that Edward Ferrars has run off and married somebody else. Then Marianne cries and whines some more, but, oh joy, they are mistaken. It was Edward’s brother who had done it, not him.
The books ends in typical comedy fashion, with everybody marrying everybody else. The women are saved financially and have found “true love.”
Here’s what I took away from the book. Austen explores the difficult theme of women’s rights, especially when it comes to owning property, inheriting, and earning power, but she falls short of demanding that the structures creating such problems be fixed, and instead yokes her characters to men with money and earning potential as a solution. It highlights the difficult reality for women in her time, even women of status or class, that they still had limited freedom when it came to supporting themselves and making decisions regarding their futures. I applaud Austen’s work for tackling complicated and timely subjects.
I just have a hard time reading those sappy endings and lackluster plot lines nowadays.