Quibbling about Austen

I purchased a Collins Classics edition, a bargain line of classic novels from HarperCollins, of Sense and Sensibility expecting something as enjoyable as Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey, my two favorite Austen novels.  Though I am currently only about halfway through, so far I have found it to be a mild disappointment.

With the help of the tiniest smidge of research, I was not surprised to find that Sense and Sensibility was Austen’s earliest written novel.  The plotting is fine and the ironic wit is just as amusing and biting, but it lacks a strong protagonist. Neither Marianne nor Elinor is as strong or interesting a character as Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth or Northanger Abbey’s Catherine.  Not that there is anything wrong with Marianne or Elinor, but neither seems interesting enough to carry the novel herself and the point of view wavers a between them too much to make a case for either one.  The central theme of the novel, the conflict between sense, which Elinor possesses in abundance, and sensibility, which Marianne exhibits to an exaggerated degree, works against the characters.  While Elinor is eminently sensible but to such a degree that it makes her somewhat boring and Marianne’s sensibility makes her ridiculous.  Elizabeth is the focal point of Pride and Prejudice, and possesses the two traits of these characters in amounts much more compelling than either sister.  The relation ship of her and Jane mirrors that of Elinor and Marianne, but neither leans one way in the extreme that Sense and Sensibility’s protagonists do.

This waffling of protagonists also hurts the wit of the novel.  Not that the tertiary characters are any less amusing, but the ironic observations come not from the protagonist, like Elizabeth’s biting observations, but from the narrator.  While moving the skewering of the hypocrisies and improprieties of characters moving from the protagonists may seem like it would make the characters a little more relatable, it somehow makes them seem full of themselves.  The observations become that much more damning because they come from the knowledge of the all knowing narrator rather than the fallible characters. Those complaints are actually minor, though.  I am enjoying Sense and Sensibility, just not as much as Austen’s other works.  That being said, my opinion could change dramatically over the 2nd half of the book.

To follow up on the bit from last week, yes I found this.  It was jammed as far under the couch as possible, probably from my probing under there with a stick while looking for it.

3 thoughts on “Quibbling about Austen

  1. While S&S is not my favorite Austen (of course it’s P&P with Emma a close second), I’m surprised that you think Catherine from NA is more interesting than either Marianne or Elinor. I find Catherine to be one of the weaker female leads, she comes across as a Lydia Bennett rather than a Lizzy. I guess that does make her interesting, but it doesn’t say much for women.

    Happy Reading!

    • Catherine isn’t Lizzy, but she’s not Lydia either. She lacks experience and has a surplus of romanticism, but that combination is what makes her so compelling, though less accomplished than Lizzy. Elinor and Marianne both kind of fade into the background rather than driving the novel.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Quibbling about Austen « We are Finally Cowboys -- Topsy.com

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