Audiobook Review: Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Wanda McCaddon

As someone who has both repeatedly read and listened to [1] Jane Austen’s novels, one might wonder what one gets out of an experience like this one.  Sense & Sensibility was clearly not Jane Austen’s best work, but there is still something deeply intriguing here about the contrasting fates of the two sisters whose limited social connections and absence of sufficient information lead them to private heartache.  Older sister Elinor is all good sense and prudence, but finds herself emotionally attached to a diffident young man (Edward), her relative by marriage, who is already engaged in a secret engagement with a wholly unsuitable woman who worms her ways into Elinor’s confidence and burdens her with a secret that makes her intensely miserable even if she handles it with honor.  In contrast, open-hearted and careless Marianne finds herself attached to an unprincipled and impecunious scoundrel and nearly dies of grief in a most sentimental way.  Because Jane Austen was a writer of romantic comedies rather than melodramas or tragedies, fortunately for us, the fates of the two sisters are happy ones, but at times her authorial providence is of the most deeply interesting kind.

The seven discs of this audiobook cover the three volumes of Jane Austen’s work.  In the first volume, we are introduced to the Dashwood family and to their plight, as the surviving “second family” of a man who only briefly held large properties before passing them to a weak older son married to a horribly greedy woman of the Ferrers family.  After mourning for some months, the Dashwoods move to a cottage near Barton Park, which is owned by a friendly and decent-hearted man, where the two eligible sisters find themselves involved in the romantic intrigue of gentry with few connections or opportunities to spark, and inevitably the closed world of the heroines provides difficulties, especially when a trip to town involves both of them in the intrigues of ambitious schemers.  Marianne’s public rejection by Willoughby shows him to have impregnated one woman, toyed with the affections of a second, and then married a third for her money–while simultaneously blaming her for her jealousy afterward.  Meanwhile, Elinor finds herself through little fault of her own the keeper of a secret that bears heavily on her heart even as she attempts to encourage and hold up Marianne.  It is by authorial providence that things work out well, and they do with Austen’s characteristic wit, her sympathies being especially with Elinor.

Sense & Sensibility, though clearly an early work by Austen, is clearly a work that has deep importance when it comes to fiction by, for, and about women.  Austen sympathetically shows the limited education and opportunities for women, and shows how deeply women suffer by the failures of men as well as their own internal weaknesses.  She shows that neither intellect and good sense on the one hand or openness of heart on the other can safe us from deep heartache in a world filled with people who are unscrupulous, and that happiness and love in relationships require a fair amount of providence in sorting things out.  Austen’s heroines live in a small world and Austen is toughhearted and unsentimental about how people get their way through false dealing and flattery, and how relationships are viewed from a mercenarial perspective, and how those with money try to enforce their will on those who do not have it.  If Sense & Sensibility is a romantic novel about women whose troubles of the heart end up in wonderful marriages, it is certainly not a sentimental novel or one that avoids addressing the reality of the situation for Austen herself or her readers.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Audiobook Review: Sense & Sensibility

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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