The first read in My Year With Jane Austen challenge was Sense and Sensibility. This was the first of Austen’s novels to be published and follows the fortunes of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. After the loss of their father, their mothers meagre income forces the family to move to a cottage in Dorsetshire in much reduced circumstances. The story follows them through their romantic disappointments all the while with a witty look at the society of the period.
I haven’t read this book since Emma Thompson adapted it for the big screen, which I’ve just looked up and was seventeen years ago! I’d forgotten some of the differences, including some of the characters, such as Lady Middleton and Miss Nancy Steele, but I definitely hadn’t forgotten how lively and sparkling the writing is. I loved the second chapter where Fanny is trying to disuade John Dashwood from giving his half-sisters or his step-mother money after promising his dying father that he will look after them when he inherits his estate. I sometimes find classics hard to read, as the style of the writing and the language can feel quite foreign to a modern reader, but Austens words just seem to flow off the page, and her characters, even the ones we shouldn’t like, have a charm about them.
For me, Elinor is the heroine of this novel, the sensible, reserved sister, who hides her own disappointments in order to prevent distress for her family, and supports passionate Marianne through her more public failed romance. Interestingly, the character who I’ve really changed my opinion of from my memory of my original reading, is Willoughby, who I used to feel a sympathy for (although I suspect this is because I find him a more sympathetic character in the film adaption) but who I now feel is much more selfish and self important than I remembered. This was particularly pertinent for me after his discussion with Elinor at Cleveland, when I completely lose any sympathy I may have been holding for him up until that point.
I’m so glad I started with this novel for my Jane Austen reading, and it’s been an absolute joy to read again.