So here is the discussion for Sense and Sensibility. Feel free to discuss it back in the comments or in a blog post.]
"Elinor now found the difference between the expectation of an unpleasant event, however certain the mind may be told to consider it, and certainty itself. She now found that, in spite of herself, she had always admitted a hope, while Edward remained single, that something would occur to prevent his marrying Lucy; that some resolution of his own, some mediation of friends, or some more eligible opportunity of establishment for the lady, would arise to assist the happiness of all. But he was now married; and she condemned her heart for the lurking flattery which so much heightened the pain of the intelligence."
Though Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite Austen work, every now and then I get a great longing for it. There's something about the Romanticism (captial R) versus the stoicism that pulls at me, and there's something about Elinor. Though I am decidedly a Lizzie in character, I think there's a big part of me that relates to and resembles Elinor as well. She's a very internal person, and she's the responsible one, as much by force as choice, and I connect to her because of this. You can't help but feel for Elinor as she deals with her mother and Marianne and their overblown emotions and sentimentality, and you really can't help but feel and cringe as Marianne wallows in her misery and continually makes references to Elinor feeling nothing, or not understanding, etc., when Elinor is heartbroken herself, with no recourse but to pretend everything is normal. This story is almost painful in its dramatic irony.
There is displayed in S&S Austen's scathing wit when it comes to over-sentimentality and selfishness. The word "selfish" (or "selfishness") is used more than 20 times in S&S, and Austen's opinion of selfish, thoughtless people is very clear. But rather than a dry, moralizing story, Austen writes with her characteristic fun, light tone. The audience is made to laugh and cringe at the selfish behavior in the book, and as Marianne does, compare it with what it ought to have been.
But before we get to the biggest reason I love it, let's discuss what it is that make me dubious. Might as well get this out of the way so you can start yelling at me and writing angry letters...
Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon.
Look, I like them, okay? But I am...leery. It's not the men themselves, but I sometimes find myself doubting that they are right. For the Col and Marianne, (once I've set aside their comparative ages), I always find myself wondering if there is any genuine feeling on Marianne's side. Did she settle? Did she give up? Was it just a mixture of gratitude and defeat? It's not that I don't think they can't love each other, but I wonder...I don't know, I guess I wonder if either of the girls ever really got a dream-world happy ending. Are any of the characters involved, men included, ever going to regret. Most of the time I'm able to set this aside, but sometimes it does pop up, and it's always a little niggling thought in the back of my head.
(That being said, I am glad they all end up together, and I was rooting for them to all along...)
So I do set it aside, because I do love this book. I can't help myself. Everyone likes to see thwarted lovers come together, and everyone likes to see a seemingly hopeless situation turn out right. I love rooting for Elinor and seeing her actually get what she wants. I love the snatches of stolen romance.
Most of all, though, I love the great, full characters Austen creates. With just a short little scene, a bit of dialogue, she is able to give you an entire understanding of a character. Take, for example, the scene where Mr and Mrs John Dashwood talk themselves down from truly helping their now homeless relations (John's sisters and step-mother):
"It was my father's last request to me," replied her husband, "that I should assist his widow and daughters."and they then proceed to talk themselves down even further to "sending them presents of fish and game, and so forth, whenever they are in season." They even talk themselves out of giving them pieces of furniture! In the matter of a page or two, Austen has made you completely comprehend the characters of John and Mrs Dashwood. Her hand is so deft in this story at creating memorable, alive and present characters that you can't help but fall into it and immerse yourself.
"He did not know what he was talking of, I dare say; ten to one but he was light-headed at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not have thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half your fortune from your own child."
"He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny; he only requested me, in general terms, to assist them, and make their situation more comfortable than it was in his power to do. Perhaps it would have been as well if he had left it wholly to myself. He could hardly suppose I should neglect them. But as he required the promise, I could not do less than give it; at least I thought so at the time. The promise, therefore, was given, and must be performed. Something must be done for them whenever they leave Norland and settle in a new home."
"Well, then, LET something be done for them; but THAT something need not be three thousand pounds. Consider," she added, "that when the money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry, and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our poor little boy—"
"Why, to be sure," said her husband, very gravely, "that would make great difference. The time may come when Harry will regret that so large a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, for instance, it would be a very convenient addition."
"To be sure it would."
"Perhaps, then, it would be better for all parties, if the sum were diminished one half.—Five hundred pounds would be a prodigious increase to their fortunes!"
"Oh! beyond anything great! What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if REALLY his sisters! And as it is—only half blood!—But you have such a generous spirit!"
"I would not wish to do any thing mean," he replied. "One had rather, on such occasions, do too much than too little. No one, at least, can think I have not done enough for them: even themselves, they can hardly expect more."
Trailer to the 2008 version: