Sense and Sensibility was written around 1795 as Elinor and Marianne, revised in 1797 and published in 1811, her first published book.
Sense and Sensibility is perchance my favourite Austen book. It was my first Austen and I had read it as an adolescent. I read an old time-beaten hardback pale pink version that I have now inherited. It must have been printed in the 1930s (there is no date of publication marked) when my mother was a girl and it has travelled with me all these years. I remember as I was growing up wishing that Marianne would marry Willoughby. I felt such disappointment when he let her down and she married a man more renowned for his humanity than for his charisma or chutzpa. These men, the Colonel Brandons of the world, can and do offer happiness, while the Prince Charmings, although eminently interesting, can sometimes prove to be selfish and disappointing. And luckily I have my own, decent and dependable man; a Colonel Brandon.
For those of you who haven’t been introduced or feel it has been a long time since you have caught up, here are the:
Manipulated-and-Mean Brother John
Once the father has died, the Dashwood family, the mother, Childlike-Mrs Dashwoodand two daughters, Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor and Spontaneous-and-Sentimental-Marianne, are left with a reduced income and must give up their home(the stately residence Norlane) to the eldest step son,Manipulated and Mean Brother John. He is much manipulated by his wife, Superior-Supercilious-Sister-in-law-Fanny Dashwood. The Dashwoods retire to a small cottage in Devonshire where Spontaneous-and-Sentimental-Marianne meets the “impecunious and unprincipled” Willoughby (affectionately known hereafter as Prince-Charming-Willoughby). It is as if Marianne has conjured him from her very own imagination as indeed he is all she could wish for. Their views, ideals and planets seem perfectly aligned. But all does not end smoothly with Prince Charming-Willoughby leaving abruptly for London where he quickly becomes engaged to an heiress. Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor does not fare much better. She has fallen for Manipulated and Mean Brother John’s brother in law, Honourable-Edward Ferrars. Both are obviously attracted but he is hesitant as unbeknownst to everyone he has been secretly engaged to a very manipulative young woman, Social-Vampire-Lucy Steele. Despite having regretted the attachment himself, he will not dump her for the sake of his aspiring family who feel she is beneath their dignity. But as we know with Jane Austen, all does indeed end well. Social-Vampire-Lucy Steele dumps Edward having found his brother more to her liking and marries him. Responsible Elder Sister Eleanor therefore can marry Honourable Edward and our jilted Spontaneous-and-Sentimental-Marianne, after wallowing in her grief, finds true love with the older but more sincere and principled Decent and Dependable Colonel Brandon.
For those that want more:
The Dashwoods:Elinor is our responsible elder sister and a goody two shoes. Her most significant characteristic is that she is indeed wise beyond her years. We can only feel sorry for Marianne, her younger sister, to have such a near perfect person within such close proximity always doing and saying the sensible thing. Marianne, a more realistic younger sibling, flighty and flawed, is the spontaneous aesthetic; she is sentimental and idealistic and was played soooooooo well by Kate Winslet in the 1995 film adaption. In today’s world she might be seen as ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ or ‘indie”. She is the one we all fall in love with. (Perhaps this shows that the person who does indeed do the right thing is not necessarily the person we warm to – a few faults are always endearing.)Anyway, Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor finds that she must navigate both her sister and her mother through some truly trying times when her father dies and leaves them impoverished. Indeed Elinor seems to be locked into her role of responsible elder sister because her mother refuses to take the responsibility for the family. I give her the title, Childlike-Mrs Dashwood.
The Ferrars: Honourable-Edward-Ferrars is Elinor’s love interest, but it goes badly. Edward has fallen in love in his youth with Lucy Steele. Social-Vampire-Lucy Steele secured Honourable Edward’s affection long ago and as a man of honour Edward feels duty bound to marry her despite having grown apart. Lucy realises that Edward’s heart is with Elinor and in a manipulative twist she uses Elinor as a confidant, telling all her delicious details of their secret engagement. To add interest to the story is Ambitious Matriarchal Mother in law, Mrs Ferrars who manipulates the family to her heart’s content. There is also Edward’s younger brother, Robert, who ends up inheriting the family fortune once Edward falls from grace because of his alliance with the socially inferior Lucy. The wonderfully ironic twist comes when Robert is then captured and trapped by the same social vampire, Lucy Steele who makes her his wife and freeing our honourable hero for Elinor.
The Lovers: While Elinor and Edward pine for each other but are trapped by their code of ethics and moral conduct, Marianne lets loose. Her Prince Charming rides in and steals her heart, but with wicked intent. Initially only planning to pass some time, Prince-Charming-Willoughby becomes ensnared instead. He is
well and truly smitten by the lovely but poor Marianne, but not enough to pass up the opportunity of catching a rich heiress. Despite professions of his deep passions, the lure of 50,000 pounds tempts Prince-Charming-Willoughby. A cottage would satisfy him, he declares to Marianne, but his deeds suggest that a mansion is more to his taste after all. Willoughby abandons Marianne in a state of depression and distress and she must find her way clear. In the end Spontaneous-and-Sentimental-Marianne finds true love, but through the circuitous Austen route -discovering a partner’s real values as opposed to their professed ones. Fortuitously, Decent-and-Dependable Colonel Brandon has been steady in the background and the story ends with another happy coupling, but not before Marianne and the reader have learnt some very important life lessons about the nature of love and the choices that we all make.
The Bit Players
As well as the heroes and heroines who take centre stage, it is the characters with the bit parts that entertain and educate. Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor and Spontaneous-and-Sentimental-Marianne have a half brother, John Dashwood. He stands to inherit their home and turn them out of it. Naturally, John has a wife, Superior-Supercilious-Sister-in-law Fanny Dashwood, dominating and controlling, a nasty piece of work. There is much fun in watching him continually manipulated. When Jane Austen said that marriage could be a great improver, I don’t think she meant this couple! John’s miserliness is just inflamed by Fanny’s selfishness. The way this couple treat those “beneath” them is worthy of a whole soap opera.