Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sense and Sensibility (reviewed December 2007)

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (the Oxford Illustrated edition)[*****]. I haven’t read Jane Austen in years – probably more than a decade – and I had forgotten that she is not just Great British Literature Worthy of Being Studied and Enjoyed. I had forgotten that in addition, she is page-turning, neglect-your-family, who-cares-about-insomnia? I’m-reading-Jane-Austen good! I just loved her voice, probably in part anyway, because two centuries later, I found so many of her constructions charming in the same way that idiom in another language is charming. Her sentences sometimes made me laugh out loud, when I finally got to the end and realized what she had accomplished. Sometimes I would read a sentence over and over, not because I didn’t understand it (although there were a few of those) but mostly just for the pure pleasure of it. I saw in all of her characters bits of people I know; some of her characters are more virtuous, some more villainous, but few are purely either. I loved that. I loved how she made me hate Willoughby, so simply and purely, and then made it all complicated again in ways I couldn’t deny. I loved that our heroines had warts – Marianne could certainly be exasperating in her self-absorption, and even the near-saintly Elinor was saved by snide thoughts and unkind judgments under her calm good manners. I loved the romantic happily-ever-after ending that seemed true and unsentimental because of the grief along the way. I identified with the theme that love and family can carry us through and past grief, and that our contentment in love and family is all the more rich and deep for having come through it. And I loved that everything good resulted from the marriage of sense and sensibility, of reason and passion. My friend Pat Imms says it’s no good when the holes in the Swiss cheese line up, and I think that’s right. As Jane Austen shows us, the marriage of sense and sensibility both completes and changes everyone for the better. I would love to meet Marianne and Elinor again in twenty years, to see how they have changed. Julie (my partner) says she is all sense, and I am all sensibility, and that is certainly how our temperaments tend, but I think we’ve worn off on each other in nice ways.

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