Sensible and Sensitive–If Not Altogether Clear

A different sort of book today–if you’ve read my posts about my reading challenges for the year, then you’ll know that one of my goals is to read more classics.  Despite a college preparatory high school and an English major undergrad, there are a lot of classics I have somehow missed.  High on the list are Austen and the Brontes.  Somehow I was never assigned any of them (unless you count a seventh-grade book report on Pride and Prejudice, but even that I think I picked myself from a list of suggestions).

I reread Pride and Prejudice some months ago, and found out that Austen is not nearly as challenging as the impression given to my twelve-year-old self.  I shouldn’t have waited so long to pick her up again!  I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice–it’s quite funny in spots, very memorable characters (Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy!  Need I say more?) and the society was fascinating.  Although I did want to shake Jane when she didn’t give us dialogue in the final romantic scene…

After Price and Prejudice, I recently tried Sense and Sensibility for the first time.  The society was still interesting, maybe even more so.  What would it be like to spend all your time simply traveling about and living in other people’s houses, sitting around having tea or going shooting (depending on your gender) and to expect to live on your inheritance or your interest entirely?  Earning money seems to be out of the question.  And the endless societal rituals…although sometimes I think the boundless rules for interaction might almost make things easier, like knowing all the rules to the game and what it means whenever anyone does something.  The book was funny in spots too, sometimes because of the boundless societal rules.  All that said, though, I can see why Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s more popular book.  I wasn’t as attracted to the lead characters in Sense and Sensibility, for one thing, but the chief dilemma for me was the romances.

You see, there are two triangles in this one, one for each of the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne.  Marianne is the one represented by “sense”–emotive and dramatic to an extreme.  Elinor, by contrast is, well, sensible.  The trouble is, Elinor is so sensible and restrained that, when she fell in love, I couldn’t tell she’d done it.  Her romance begins earlier in the book, while Marianne’s (which is abundantly obvious when it happens) doesn’t come along until later.  So I was left for chapters trying to figure out which of the vast cast of supporting characters actually mattered.  I enjoyed the book more in the second half, after I’d worked out the two triangles and could see what plot threads I was following.  But it took some time to get there.

I watched the 1995 movie version after reading the book, and decided I should have handled things in the opposite order.  It would have been so much easier to discern the romances in the movie–when Hugh Grant walks onto the scene, you know he’s an important character!  The movie held up very well, even though I watched it immediately after reading the book (which doesn’t usually serve movie versions well).  I thought it was a faithful retelling, and the cast alone is impressive: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie…it’s just too bad they didn’t get Judy Dench into it somewhere; I thought all British movies based on classics required Judy Dench.  But no matter, it was a very good movie.

And it was a good book too, though I think I’ll like it better if I ever reread it, and already know which characters to pay attention to.  I have a new policy with my classics reading, to watch a good movie version first.  So far I’ve tried it with Jane Eyre, and found the book much easier to read because I watched the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version first.  And I ended up staying up late reading because I knew a good scene was coming and wanted to get there…

I can recommend Pride and Prejudice entirely, and Sense and Sensibility with a few reservations.  But possibly not at twelve years old, considering it did scare me off for a while…

3 thoughts on “Sensible and Sensitive–If Not Altogether Clear

  1. ensign_beedrill

    So a few July 4ths ago, I went out with my dad, uncle, and cousin to go car shopping, leaving the rest of the women in the family at home. When we got back, they were watching Sense and Sensibility on TV. I about died because Hugh Laurie and Alan Rickman were in the same movie. Yes, please. I really oughtta’ watch that from the beginning.

  2. Diane

    One reason I think these books are not so good for 12 year olds is that they are written in a way that is somewhat old-fashioned, and because I think they are better when read as an adult. You have more life experience (even as a young adult) and a better perspective on the stories. Thanks for some good recommendations.

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