pages (including back matter): 346
publication date: 1811
By most accounts, Sense and Sensibility was the first novel written by Jane Austen. In my opinion, it is also her wittiest and her most biting.
Sense and Sensibility begins after Mr. Henry Dashwood has died and left his three daughters and wife with little inheritance. Elinor, the eldest daughter, maintains a keen sense of proprietary and practicality. Marianne, the middle daughter, is spirited and fervent. The youngest daughter, Margaret, is too young to be married off. Consequently, Austen does not bestow on her a personality. The novel follows Elinor and Marianne as they move to a new home and fall into, and out of, love.
Elinor is arguably Austen’s most sarcastic heroine., which leads to many humorous passages. One example is when Elinor and Marianne are speaking with Edward Ferrars after the sisters have moved away from their birth home, Norland. Elinor asks Edward if he has recently been near Norland and this exchange ensues:
“I was at Norland about a month ago.”
“And how does dear, dear Norland look?” cried Marianne.
“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”
“Oh!” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall!”
I love how charming Marianne is in that passage, but she is absolutely ridiculous, too. And Elinor calls her out on it.
As hinted at in the above passage, Marianne and Elinor are fully-realized characters. They have flaws and virtues, just like anyone else. Austen makes them utterly likable, however, and you root for them. Most of the other dozen or so characters in the book are likewise fully-formed. The plot of the book is also intricate and, for the most part, convincing. There are credible plot twists, and even some well-crafted suspense, especially toward the end of the book.
Austen additionally sprinkles delicious satire throughout the book, most of which still applies today. For example, this passage, in which the Dashwoods meet Sir and Lady Middleton:
On every formal visit, a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse. In the present case, it took up ten minutes to determine whether the boy were most like his father or mother, and in what particular he resembled either, for of course every body differed, and everybody was astonished at each other’s opinion.
How many times have we all gone through that conversation with parents? Well it turns out we’ve been part of a time-honored tradition of feigning interest and stifling boredom.
I hadn’t read Sense and Sensibility since high school. I’m glad I revisited it, because it is Jane Austen at her finest.
6/6: instant classic
Here are some other reviews of the book: