Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Know Your Own Happiness"

Finally finished my first Jane Austen book of the great reread!  It took me a while mostly 'cause the weather was being dumb and when the weather would cooperate I was on an ambulance keeping people alive.  Anyways a couple of nice days with some free time and I've finished Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  Are we ready for my thoughts on this first novel by our famous lady?  But first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
I'm not gonna go into a ton of detail as full on synopsis are available in a zillion places, but here is the bare bones gist.  Our story centers on the Dashwood women.  We have Mrs. Dashwood, the widowed second wife of a gentleman.  She has three daughters, the sensible Elinor, the passionate Marianne and the young Margaret.  Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters must find a new living under diminished means after the late Mr. Dashwoods son from his first marriage inherits almost all of his assets.  The ladies are fortunate enough to be offered a cottage by a distant relation, Sir John Middleton and his wife.  Though much less the they are used to, the women find a way to get comfortable.  Elinor is stoically nursing a secret attachment to her brother's wife's brother...that makes sense right?  Anyways the gentleman in question is Edward Ferrars, who is even more stoic and controlled then Elinor.  Unfortunately for our stalwart couple, his mother and sister are set against any marriage that does not improve the family fortune.  The family is continually invited to the main house of the Middleton's where they make the acquaintance of Colonel Brandon, a man out of his 20's who very much admires Marianne and her free spirit.  She of course being young and wild does not consider the man a true prospect.  While out exploring her new surroundings, Marianne falls and injures her ankle and is rescued by the dashing young Willoughby.  With what feels to Elinor a lack of propriety the pair begin a very obvious flirtation, spending as much time together as humanly possible.  One day at a party headed by Colonel Brandon, he is suddenly called away on urgent business.  Elinore learns from the effusive Mrs. Jennings (Sir John's mother-in-law) that the Colonel has a tragic past that involved a young free spirited girl that he was not allowed to marry, leading to the young woman landing in very dire straights.  Not much later Willoughby with an apparent sudden change of heart bids farewll to the Dashwoods in a very abrupt and painful manner, leaving Marianne a not so happy creature.  Meanwhile two young lady's by the name of Ann and Lucy Steele have taken up residence with Sir John and his family.  Elinor is taken into the confidence of Lucy and is informed that Lucy has been engaged to Edward for several years.  The engagement has been kept a secret as his mother would not be pleased to see her eldest son wed to such a low person.  Marianne and Elinor are invited to London by Mrs. Jennings and they agree to go.  Upon arrival Marianne promptly does her best to get in touch with Willoughby to no avail.  The Steeles also arrive to plague Elinor with Lucy's continual talk of her engagement.  Marianne eventually gets to see Willoughby, but he is very cold and very formal with her.  This is followed by a letter letting her know in no uncertain terms that there is nothing between them.  Marianne is devastated and succumbs to a crippling emotional melancholy.  Colonel Brandon arrives soon after to tell Elinor that the reason he and Willoughby left was because Willoughby and seduced, impregnated and then abandoned Colonel Brandon's ward.  After much back and forth, it finally comes out to Edward's mother and sister of his engagement to Lucy...and it does not go well.  He is essentially disinherited in favor of his younger brother, but Edward shows his true colors by refusing to break of he engament just for the sake of money (good job Edward).  Elinor is resigned that he should follow his honor instead of his heart and prepares herself to live with the idea of him married to Lucy.  The Dashwood sisters start their journey home, but are stalled when Marianne falls very ill.  She is tended by Elinor, Colonel Brandon and eventually her mother. At some point Willoughby comes to seek if not forgiveness, then at least understanding.  Mariann starts to recover and they head home with Mariann being clamer and wiser for her illness.  Upon arrival they are greeted with the news of Lucy becoming Mrs. Ferrars.  Everybody believes that Edward and Lucy married...until Edward shows up to refute that idea.  Apparently after shifting the inheritance to Edward's brother, Lucy found she preferred him and left Edward.  This has the happy consequence of allowing Edward to follow his heart to Elinor, who agree's to be his wife.  They soon marry.  Marianne eventually grows to love the Colonel who has stayed by her through thick and thin and also finds happiness.  Everybody gets what they deserve, learn to be better people and live mostly happily ever after.

World Building - Set in the late 1700's in various parts of England, this at the time could be considered contemporary.  Of course we all now think of it as historical fiction...but yeah.  Anyways, the author does a good job of setting the various scene's, making us feel like we are in the various locations and really really making me want to visit 18th century England.  I always feel like I could walk the streets or parks or paths of whatever place the characters happen to be.  One of my favorite things about this author.  In this book in particular I am always enamored with Barton Cottage and the surrounding areas.

Story - With the exception of a few overly convenient plot points, the story is very well done.  We have the weaving of several story lines, a bunch of characters and a setting the brings everything together in a fairly believable fashion.  This is one of the more full on romantic of this authors novels, focusing mostly on the love lives of the main characters, but so many other things are also taken into consideration.  The ability of the author to balance romance, everyday living, practicality, humor, pathos and every other literary thing is pretty awesome.  It is even cooler when I remember that this was at the time a contemporary novel so it was written for the time, and yet still resonates now.

Character - The varied and complex characters are for me what really make a Jane Austen novel.  She has the ability to create characters that at first glance seem to be stock or even extreme, but as the novel goes on we notice nuance and growth for almost every single character.  Take the two main characters for example.  Elinor is portrayed as stoic and sensible.  This is mostly a good thing, but we see where her inability to share her feelings with the people she loves leads to miscommunication.  Marianne on the other hand is overly emotional leading people to try and calm her or tame her, yet at the same time she is shown to be able to truly enjoy life in a way most people can't.  We see Mrs. Jennings as portrayed to be a well-meaning gossip, yet by the end of the book both Elinor and Marianne see that she acts with genuine love and care.  I LOVE that everybody has a motive, arc and even in most cases some sort of redeeming quality.

Editing - To me this book makes perfect sense.  Some people have a bit of difficulty with some of the language...not Shakespeare level trouble, but enough to turn some people off.  There are several editions that contain footnotes and blurbs that explain some of the more arcane language or turns of phrase.  I find this both helpful and enlightening and find it a smart editorial choice.

Love - This book is chock full of love.  Family love, sister love, friend love, but most prominently love love.  I like this book because it shows us the many ways a person can fall in and out of love.  We have Elinor and Edward who take there time and fall in love with the whole person.  They also suffer because they are both stoic and honorable and are constantly giving each other up for various noble reasons...I'm just glad they finally got together.  Marianne shows us violent young love that does not wait for true knowledge of the other person, but rather falls in love with idea's and circumstances.  Marianne's later acknowledgement and acceptance of the slower, deeper, yet way less passionate love of Colonel Brandon shows a maturity in here way of thinking.  Lucy Steele shows us a more selfish and catty love as she attaches only to improve her station AND to make people (mostly Elinor) feel bad.  Willoughby's flirtations, seductions, abandonment's and finally marrying for money show us the worst of immature love where one only loves to gratify ones own feelings.  By exploring the various kinds of love and their consequences I feel like every teenager regardless of gender/identity should read this book to get an idea of the craziness that is what we call love.

Humor - When one talks about classics or even more specifically Jane Austen one does not necessarily think of humor.  I will probably address this again, as it is one of my favorite things about Austen's style, but let's start here.  Ms. Austen has a very subtle tongue in cheek style that can catch one of guard if you are not paying attention.  There is more then one occasion when I have laughed out loud at a turn of phrase or a well placed pun.  Also certain characters (the elder Ms. Steele and Charlotte Palmer comes to mind) that seemed to be placed in the book for comic relief.  It is this well roundedness that adds a lot to the overall reading experience.

 Ages - This is just a bit of a personal thing for me.  I know that the era that this was written in was vastly different then ours is now...but still.  In this book in particular, the ages of the girls who are looking to be married are very young, like 17 years old young.  In this book Marianne, who is 17 marries the 36 year old Colonel Brandon...who has a 15 year old female ward...who has a baby of her essentially he married a girl who is the same age as his adopted daughter and made her an instant grandmother...kinda ew...and I like Colonel Brandon...but ew...and apparently lots of ellipses...Anyways.  I know there are probably worse things, and that the age difference still happens today and there are many happy couples who have a significant age difference.  I think it's the idea of a 17 year old grandmother that really gets to

Overall Impression - This first novel of my beloved Jane Austen does not disappoint.  I love the complicatedness of it, I love the humaness of it, I love the eloquance of it, I don't love the overly convenient plot fixes...but that is minor compared to the awesomeness of this debut novel.  I give it 8 out of 10 painted screens and recommend it to anybody who wants a great story, loves a classic or is looking for a non vomit inducing romance.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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