The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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October 19, 2011

A new sense, on re-reading

This is my third or fourth time reading Sense and Sensibility, but I wanted to honor its 200th anniversary, as if I needed a reason.  It doesn't hurt that it's so much better, by far, than any of the new books I've picked up and put down this past week, and, as always, I've been finding things, significant and minor, that I'd missed before.

I'm reading David Shapard's annotated edition (as I did last month with Persuasion), and although the notes can be distracting, and I'd rather read and re-read these books for sheer pleasure, he does point out things that I didn't know or hadn't noticed.

I'm at the point in the story where Marianne and Elinor have gone to London with Mrs. Jennings, and Marianne is watching for a note or a card from Willoughby.  So far, one of these newly appreciated things is the way that Jane Austen continues to set up the contrasts between Marianne and Elinor by depicting the way each woman reacts to the departure of the man she loves.  For Marianne, it's all about sobbing, long solitary walks and hiding in her room. For Elinor, when Edward cuts his visit to Barton Cottage short, the mood is different and the point is subtly made.

Without shutting herself up from her family, or leaving the house in determined solitude to avoid them, or laying awake the whole night to indulge meditation. Elinor found every day afforded her leisure enough to think of Edward, and of Edward's behavior, in every possible variety which the different state of her spirits at different times could produce; -- with tenderness, pity, approbation, censure and doubt. There were moments in abundance, when, if not by the absence of her mother and sisters, at least by the nature of their employments, conversation was forbidden among them, and every effect of solitude was produced. Her mind was inevitably at liberty; her thoughts could not be chained elsewhere; and the past and the future, on a subject so interesting, must be before her, must force her attention, and engross her memory, her reflection, and her fancy.
The other, bigger, better thing that has come through this time is that the business of Edward's secret engagement to Lucy Steele is much more interesting in the novel than I remembered.  It's a significant plot point (as it was in the film), but it's much more than that:  a chance to explore complicated emotions (Elinor's) and questionable behavior (Edward's), and to draw a nasty character (Lucy). Miss Steele is much more of a deliberate villain in the book; we're reminded again and again that not only is she unkind and undermining toward Elinor, she is also uneducated (her grammar is bad) and lacking in social graces, and completely unsuitable as a wife.  Her intentions are more purposeful {is she there to study the competition, or does she confide in Elinor to warn her off?, her interactions with Elinor are more provoking, and their long, private talk is much more of a verbal and mental cat-fight, and much funnier, than I had realized before.

I get teased by family and friends {if not by my very cool virtual friends} for reading and re-reading Jane Austen, but I can only try to be like Elinor, and condemn their wrong-headedness while hoping that they might still find happiness, somehow. :)


Jillian said...

Awesome book!! I also try to be like Elinor. :-)

Lisa May said...

I've come to appreciate this book more & more. It has a sharper tone than the later books - but so much humor and such wonderful characters, even if Col. Brandon didn't really look like Alan Rickman :)

Mystica said...

I am guilty of the same (for Pride and Prejudice). First read it when I was around 15 and have lost track of how many times I have gone back to it.

Lilacs In May said...

Elinor and Anne in Persuasion are fairly similar characters to my mind, and in any given situation if you ask yourself what would they do? You can't go far wrong.

Vintage Reading said...

Very interesting post. It was only on my fourth re-read of S&S that I noticed how Lucy Steele's speaks differently to other characters to mark that she is of a lower class and more vulgar. Austen is so good at dialogue.

Karen K. said...

I'd also forgotten how much more manipulative Lucy is in the book! It's much more downplayed in the movie. And John Dashwood is much worse also -- he's such a selfish hypocrite!

I do love the Shaphard versions, I really got much more out of my recent re-reads from reading his editions. I'm really looking forward to the release of Emma next spring. It's not my favorite Austen but I'm sure I'll understand it much better having read the annotations.

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