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Sense and Sensibility. The title of the book, and most of its tone, derive from the contrast between Elinor's character and that of her mother and younger sister.

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Introduction

Sense and sensibility Elinor is the eldest of three daughters. She opens the book living at her family estate with her mother, an estate which has just been inherited by her half-brother. The means by which the estate fell into the hands of that half-brother are somewhat elaborate and an early introduction to the careful attention to money, property, and inheritance that's typical of Austen. Suffice it to say that he is rather excessively focused on wealth, and his wife is even worse. In short order, the Dashwood girls and their mother are displaced, with very little of the family money, but luckily find a place in a cottage (well, an Austen sort of cottage, which apparently has at least four bedrooms and multiple sitting rooms) on the property of Sir John Middleton. It's there that much of the book takes place. The title of the book, and most of its tone, derive from the contrast between Elinor's character and that of her mother and younger sister. Elinor is the sense of the book: a reasonable, careful, cautious person who pays attention to things like living within her means. She is being slowly courted by Edward Ferrars, but that situation is tricky because she has little money and Edward's mother is determined that he marry someone of a higher station. ...read more.

Middle

I found that, once I got past the first few pages, I could barely put it down. The other delightful thing about Austen is that the narrator is wonderfully snarky. The narrator always seems to be taking the side of whoever she's describing, shifting viewpoints in third-person omniscient and even changing styles of expression to suit the focus character, putting him or her apparently in the best light. But underneath there are often little digs, little twists, little moments of irony where you can see that the intended meaning is the opposite of the apparent description. In this book, that's often in the form of describing some trait in a way that shows that the person carries it to stunning extremes. It's hard to overstate how delightful this is. Sense and Sensibility isn't funny, in the traditional sense, but I was laughing out-loud repeatedly while reading it. One needs this, since apart from Elinor and the narrator (who is not a named character, but who is so present in the writing that I have to consider her a character), and the rare sensible supporting character like Colonel Brandon, one wants to take every character in this book and shake them. The rest of Elinor's family, in particular, shouldn't be let outside without a minder. This book is full of people being hopelessly optimistic, willfully blind, uncommunicative, overly dramatic (teenage girls on LiveJournal have nothing on Marianne), or just completely and utterly impractical. ...read more.

Conclusion

Dramatic romance thrives on adversity, and this gives Austen lots of adversity to work with. As 19th century novelists go, Austen's books are relatively short, but only relatively. This one may look brief from the sidebar page count of just over 220 pages, but that's in an omnibus edition with miniscule font. In a modern mass market paperback with a reasonable font, I suspect this would come to 400 pages of rather verbose phrasing. But Sense and Sensibility kept me way up my intended bedtime twice because I couldn't stop reading. It may feel a bit padded at first, but once I got the flow, rooting for Elinor sucked me right in. The lack of sympathetic characters apart from Elinor and the degree to which many problems in this book could have been bypassed if the characters didn't have turnips for brains causes Sense and Sensibility to fall short of the best books that I've read. If you're somehow new to Austen entirely, or don't remember her from high school, I'd start with Pride and Prejudice instead. But Sense and Sensibility is still worth reading, and you can't beat the price. It's both a classic and out of copyright, so there are numerous print editions, or you can download it in various electronic formats for free from your favorite purveyor of out-of-copyright literature. ...read more.

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