Friday, January 04, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

There's a moderately interesting article about Sense and Sensibility in the Telegraph which is inspired by the BBC's new adaptation of the book. Quite rightly, it seeks to set the record straight about the darkness that Jane Austen was capable of:
Yet I can never read Sense and Sensibility without it sending a shiver down my spine. I don't recognise this as a "wonderfully entertaining tale of flirtation and folly", as one edition bills it.
Instead absent fathers, inadequate mothers, ambitious women on the make, financial insecurity, near-fatal illness and abandonment stalk this book. It should be taken only with a large glass of whisky on a stormy night, when Dostoevsky seems too much of a giggle.
Of course, Sense and Sensibility can be very funny: Marianne's conviction that her would-be suitor Col Brandon, a flannel- waistcoat-wearing 35-year-old, is ancient and decrepit skewers the workings of the 17-year-old mind exactly - Austen began a version of this novel in 1795, at just 20. But from the beginning, poverty, desertion and grief lurk darkly at the edges.
The Dashwoods are thrown out of a home they love, become dependent on the charity of a distant relation, and Elinor's love affair with Edward Ferrars is thwarted. All before we reach Chapter Five.
I recently re-watched the most excellent BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and found myself more struck than ever by the elements darkness. Maybe it's due to my advancing years, but Lydia's downfall and the seduction of Darcy's sister disturbed me more than normally, and characters such as Lady de Bourgh and Mr Collins came across as grotesque rather than humorous. I'm also gradually seeing a darker side to Mr Bennet too.
For those who like such things, there's also a Sense and Sensibility quiz in the Telegraph:
1 - A possible suitor is 35 years old. You think he is:
a) Wise, interesting and kind, with much to commend him
b) Far too ancient, feeble and infirm at that age to be interested in romance
c) He's a man. What's not to like?


Argent said...

...when Dostoevsky seems too much of a giggle

Funny! But funnier still:

Maybe it's due to my advancing years...

ROFLOLOL! Are your joints bothering you, Z?

Enbrethiliel said...


One of my professors said the same things about Jane Austen's novels. We're often too distracted by her "light and bright and sparkling" style to see the darker issues behind them. He was quite critical of Mr. Bennett, whose lax parenting he found at the root of many of the Bennett girls' problems. My classmates and I, all relatively younger, hadn't yet overcome our disgust at Mrs. Bennett and Lady Catherine to fully understand that, at the time . . .

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Z! Doesn't it go some way toward explaining why curmudgeonly Alasdair MacIntyre finds so much to love in Jane? His narrative finds perfect confirmation in hers: finding herself among the moderns, Austen depicts a world where reliable sources of authority have been vitiated. (So too with institutions, which are corrupt and corrupting. Consider the actual marriages depicted in the novels. But this may put too fine a point on it.)

It's heartening to work toward sharing a more genuine appreciation with you all. And pleasant finding your page via Seraphic.